This is the post-ALA “OMG don’t all the books look shiny!” edition of Stacking the Shelves.
But let me be clear, I didn’t walk out with ARCS of any of these – or actually anything at all. These are, for the most part, books I saw or heard about at the conference and then picked up eARCs from Edelweiss and NetGalley. I can’t carry this many books. Galen and I together can’t carry this many books. And we didn’t have room for nearly this many books in our luggage. I did see plenty of people walking around – let’s be honest here, lumbering around – with either big stacks of books in their arms or multiple overflowing bags of books hanging from their arms. And it looked PAINFUL. This is why I love eARCs. My iPad weighs exactly the same no matter how many books are in it.
Occasionally, however, this presents a problem. As you can see, I also don’t know when to quit!
She planned her own funeral--but did she arrange her murder?
A wealthy woman strangled six hours after she’s arranged her own funeral.A very private detective uncovering secrets but hiding his own.A reluctant author drawn into a story he can’t control.
What do they have in common?
Unexpected death, an unsolved mystery and a trail of bloody clues lie at the heart of Anthony Horowitz's page-turning new thriller.
This is a weird book. That’s not to say that it wasn’t good and that I didn’t enjoy it – because it is and I did. But it was not what I expected.
Not exactly what I expected, anyway. I was, after all, expecting a murder mystery. What I was not expecting was for the book the break the fourth wall as much as it does, or for the author to be a fictional character in his own book.
I’ll confess that I began looking up some of the people in the story, to see if they really were real. The degree to which the author inserts himself and his own history makes everyone in the story seem like they must be equally real.
Or if not real, then at least recognizable stand-ins for some true-life counterpart. But they are not. At least I don’t think they are. Or if they were I couldn’t figure out who they were standing in for.
What adds to the verisimilitude is the way that author Anthony Horowitz seems to include so many easily verifiable details of his own work, if not his own life. He is the creator of two of my favorite TV series, Foyle’s War and Midsomer Murders. He is also the author of two excellent Sherlock Holmes pastiches, The House of Silk and Moriarty.
But in The Word is Murder he seems to find himself playing Watson, both as a sidekick and as a recorder of events, to an even more misanthropic Holmes than the original.
Daniel Hawthorne is not a likeable protagonist. As a detective he is every bit as brilliant as the ‘Great Detective’ he is so obviously modeled after, while at the same time so focused on whatever case he is following that he does not care who he pisses off or how much he ignores all of the social niceties that keep the wheels of society grinding.
He’s a man with zero friends, lots of enemies, and a nose for figuring out “whodunit”.
And even though Horowitz-the-author seems to draw the man in all of his misanthropic ‘glory’, we are drawn into the cases every bit as much as the author seems to be, and we understand why he follows along – because we are every bit as compelled as he is.
Escape Rating A-: I picked this up because I loved both The House of Silk and Magpie Murders, although I admit that I enjoyed the historical portions of Magpie Murders more than the contemporary framing story.
I didn’t know what to expect with The Word is Murder, just that I was interested enough to give it a try. I had not read any of the reviews beforehand, so I was at a bit of a loss when the author himself appeared as a character in the book.
I knew the book was supposed to be fiction, but so many well-known details of the author’s career were introduced into the narrative that I’ll admit I started to wonder.
While the way that this book is written is meta (actually very, very meta), the story itself is a classic. A woman goes to a funeral home to plan her entire funeral. When she is murdered a few short hours later, it seems obvious that the long arm of coincidence just doesn’t stretch that long.
The police want the murder to be a burglary gone wrong. That’s a simple crime with a simple solution. But ex-cop Daniel Hawthorne is certain that it’s not that easy. He knows that when the Met calls him in as a consultant, it’s because someone at the top is certain it isn’t that easy – even if they can’t articulate exactly why.
Figuring it out is Hawthorne’s job. Annoying all of the investigating officers involved in the case seems to be part of the fun of it – at least for him. Dragging his narrator out of an important meeting with OMG Steven Spielberg and Peter Jackson shows just how little Hawthorne can be bothered with anything outside his laser focus on the case.
In the end, the case is both simple and complex. The reasons for the murder are classic. The misdirection is epic. And even though I figured out who didn’t do it before the narrator, the reveal of just who did was as much of a surprise to me as it was to him. Just like the narrator, I was too caught up in the story to follow the clues to their final destination.
There’s going to be a sequel. I’m more than curious enough to see what Daniel Hawthorne investigates next – as long as Anthony Horowitz is at his side.
Sweetbitter meets The Nightingale in this page-turning novel about a woman who returns to her family’s ancestral vineyard in Burgundy and unexpectedly uncovers a lost diary, an unknown relative, and a secret her family has been keeping since World War II
To become one of only a few hundred certified wine experts in the world, Kate must pass the notoriously difficult Master of Wine Examination. She’s failed twice before; her third attempt will be her last. Suddenly finding herself without a job and with the test a few months away, she travels to Burgundy, to spend the fall at the vineyard estate that has belonged to her family for generations. There she can bolster her shaky knowledge of Burgundian vintages and reconnect with her cousin Nico and his wife Heather, who now oversee the grapes’ day-to-day management. The one person Kate hopes to avoid is Jean-Luc, a neighbor vintner and her first love.
At the vineyard house, Kate is eager to help her cousins clean out the enormous basement that is filled with generations of discarded and forgotten belongings. Deep inside the cellar, behind a large armoire, she discovers a hidden room containing a cot, some Resistance pamphlets, and an enormous cache of valuable wine. Piqued by the secret space, Kate begins to dig into her family’s history—a search that takes her back to the dark days of the Second World War and introduces her to a relative she never knew existed, a great half-aunt who was teenager during the Nazi occupation.
As she learns more about her family, the line between Resistance and Collaboration blurs, driving Kate to find the answers to two crucial questions: Who, exactly, did her family aid during the difficult years of the war? And what happened to six valuable bottles of wine that seem to be missing from the cellar’s collection?
This book is every bit as delicious as the wines produced by the region that it celebrates. And the history that it uncovers has just as many top notes, undertones and hidden flavors as the wine.
The Lost Vintage combines two different fictional varietals, the contemporary second-chance at love story with a heartfelt exploration of the history of the Burgundy region under the Nazi Occupation, along with the excesses enacted after liberation. And it is a story about one family finally coming to terms with all the beautiful and terrible secrets hidden in its past.
This is Kate’s story. The present we watch is her present, and it is her determination and blind luck that uncovers the hidden past.
Kate’s family are wine growers in the Burgundy region of France. Kate has always planned to have a career in the wine industry, but not as a grower. Her plan was to study, become a sommelier and eventually take the prestigious Master of Wine test.
And that’s where she’s stuck.
She’s failed the test twice, and is preparing herself to tackle the test for the third and final time. (It’s a three-strikes and you’re out kind of test). But Kate has a blind spot that is ruining her chances of achieving her dream. She just can’t seem to taste the wines from the region that her family calls home.
A place that she once, almost, made her life.
So she goes back to confront the family history, and her own. She goes back to help her cousin bring in the harvest, and to avoid as much as possible the man she almost married.
And get to the heart of everything that is holding her back from her dream. In the process, she discovers the secrets that her family has buried for 70 years – along with more than enough wine to recover their fortunes.
But first they have to resurrect the past, and begin to forgive while consciously choosing not to forget. And so does Kate.
Escape Rating A: This is an absolutely marvelous book, whether you love family sagas, wine culture, French history, World War II history or even second chances at love stories, because The Lost Vintage is all of the above.
It’s so easy to fall into this book, and especially to feel for Kate on the horns of her many, many dilemmas. She’s been driven to pursue her dreams, and she’s unconsciously following the example of her mother, a woman who pursued her own dreams at the cost of her family.
At the same time, the history that Kate uncovers eats her up, and consumes her family on multiple levels. The Burgundy region was infamous for its collaborators during the Occupation. The young woman who Kate first discovers through a yellowing high school diploma and a box of old science textbooks seems like a woman Kate would like to have met – until she discovers that her great-aunt was punished as a collaborator after the war. Sickened by the discovery of her family’s history of bigotry, at the same time she uncovers the fruits of their lost labor – a hidden collection of famous pre-war vintages, enough to save the family fortunes several times over.
But the discovery comes at too high a cost, as her Jewish cousin discovers that she has married into a family that sent others just like her to the concentration camps. And as their great-uncle creates rifts in the family by refusing to discuss the history that his own parents made him promise never to reveal.
Kate is caught between her need to learn the truth about her family, her need to learn as much as she can to pass her test, and her desire to avoid at all costs the man she almost married. A man whose family holdings are next door to her own, and whose life is interwoven with those of her cousins in France.
There’s history, mystery and romance woven into this story. We feel both for the characters in the present who desperately need to know, and those in the past who just as desperately need to conceal that knowledge.
Even though I guessed some of the history, I was still surprised by the twist at the end. And pleased to be so surprised.
The Lost Vintage is a story to savor. Preferably with a glass of wine. Or several. And some tissues.
Sometimes what you find isn’t what you were searching for...
Beau Petty has been searching his whole life. Searching for a place that fills all the empty spaces in him. Searching for a way to tame the restlessness. Searching for answers to the secret he’s never stopped trying to solve. What he wasn’t searching for was a woman to claim all of him, but when Cora Silvera walks back into his life, he’s ready to search out all the ways he can make her his.
Cora has spent her life as the family nurturer, taking care of others. But now she’s ready to pass that job on to someone else. It’s time to make some changes and live for herself. It’s in that moment that her former teenage crush reappears and the draw and the heat of their instant connection is like nothing either of them has experienced. He craves being around her. She accepts him, dark corners and all.
Beau thinks Cora’s had enough drama in her life. He wants to protect her from the secrets of his past, even if it means holding back the last pieces of himself. But Cora is no pushover and she means to claim all those pieces.
On the one hand, this was a terrific airplane book. I mean that literally, as I read most of it while on an airplane between New Orleans and Atlanta. (And it’s GREAT to be home!)
On that other hand, I feel a bit like I got into this story in the middle. Torn is the third book in the Whiskey Sharp series, after Unraveled and Jagged. And while I have both of those books, I haven’t found the round tuit to actually read them – at least not yet.
As the first two books feature the Dolan sisters, and the heroine of Torn is their bestie but not another sister (at least not by birth), I’m not completely sure how much I missed by not having read the first books first. I liked what I got, I liked it a lot, but I wonder how much of Cora’s weird family dynamic was explored in the earlier books since they both feature people other than Cora’s weird family.
As Torn opens, Cora finds herself torn, hence the title, between her continue her role as the family nurturer and quite honestly peacekeeper, and her desire to make a life for herself. Until now, Cora has been handling two high-stress jobs. The one she loves, being the manager of the family art gallery, and the one that needs her, being their uber-demanding mother’s professional keeper.
Cora’s mother Walda is a celebrated artiste who still travels the world creating her art. She’s also a high-maintenance manipulator who wants Cora to be at her beck and call every minute of every day, and basically throws a temper tantrum when she isn’t. The entire family, all of Cora’s siblings and her dad, have left Cora to pick up all of their slack in this department – and its a lot of slack.
It’s time for everybody to grow up and step up, including Cora. Her own peacemaking tendencies make it difficult for her to say no, but this time she must if she’s to ever have a life of her own, not to mention keep her own sanity.
Into Cora’s bid for independence walks Beau Petty. Strictly speaking, Beau walks back in. Beau met Cora and Walda several years ago, when he lived in the same apartment building. At that time, Cora was 15 and had a massive crush on Beau. Beau was 21, barely an adult, but already well on his way in his twin careers of being a model and celebrity chef.
(Personally I’m still having a hard time fitting those two careers together.)
While Cora has a demanding family, Beau has a tormenting and sometimes literally demanding past. But when then meet after all those years, their chemistry is instantaneous. So in spite of all the reasons why neither of them has ever been in a serious relationship before, they suddenly find themselves all in, with no desire to step back.
Only a desperate need to keep their respective demons from bringing an end to the best thing that has ever happened to either of them.
Escape Rating B+: I loved the romance between Cora and Beau. They were terrific together, and I really bought their quick attraction and almost instant falling together. That they had known each other before kept the romance from falling completely into insta-love territory. They were great characters and they really clicked together.
I also enjoyed the family of choice that they had gathered around themselves separately, and how easily their worlds blended together. It was even better when the bouncy and beautiful Jezzy-dog entered their lives.
Cora’s family brought a lot of drama llamas – technically her mother is a whole herd of drama-llamas all by herself. At the same time, Walda is a great portrait of the artist as a complex and complicated pain in the ass. Walda needs to be the center of attention, she’s incredibly and often obnoxiously manipulative, but at the same time she manages not to be the villain.
It’s not just that Cora understands why Walda is the way she is and does what she does. Cora does an excellent job of not giving in while still being both supportive and loving to her mother. And as the story continues, we see that Walda does actually love her family and can be very supportive. It’s not a one-dimensional portrait.
Beau’s situation is the part that I found a bit frustrating. Beau was raised as the heir-apparent of a quasi-religious cult. When he got old enough to start questioning things, he was ex-communicated and abandoned, but his father and the ringleaders managed to escape a couple of steps ahead of the FBI. There are LOTS of charges against the group, including kidnapping, child endangerment, child abuse and rape. But the entire group has been successfully hiding for years now. Beau is determined to find them because they hold his children, even though those children are now adults. Beau wants contact – the cult wants money, and every so often those two wants coincide, as they do in this story. I found the results of the encounter unsatisfying, and there was no definitive conclusion.
While I realize that might be true-to-life, this is fiction and I want to see things worked out – and for the best. I hope that there is a firmer resolution at some point later in the series.
Even with the very indefinite ending to Beau’s long search, I still found the romance between Beau and Cora to be lots of fun and a great distraction on a rather bumpy ride. I’ll be back to read the rest of the series.
International bestselling author Santa Montefiore continues the story of the Deverill family in the third book in her beautiful and moving Deverill Chronicles trilogy—perfect for fans of Kate Morton and Beatriz Williams
1939: Peace has flourished since the Great War ended, but much has changed for the Deverill family as now a new generation is waiting in the wings to make their mark.
When Martha Wallace leaves her home in America to search for her birth mother in Dublin, she never imagines that she will completely lose her heart to the impossibly charming JP Deverill. But more surprises are in store for her after she discovers that her mother comes from the same place as JP, sealing her fate.
Bridie Doyle, now Countess di Marcantonio and mistress of Castle Deverill, is determined to make the castle she used to work in her home. But just as she begins to feel things are finally going her way, her flamboyant husband Cesare has other ideas. As his eye strays away from his wife, those close to the couple wonder if he really is who he says he is.
Kitty Deverill has come to accept her life with her husband Robert, and their two children. But then Jack O’Leary, the love of her life, returns to Ballinakelly. And this time his heart belongs elsewhere.
As long-held secrets come to light, the Deverills will have to heal old wounds and come to terms with the past if they hope to ensure their legacy for the future.
“Oh what a tangled web we weave, when first we practice to deceive!” I’ve always thought this was Shakespeare, but it was actually Sir Walter Scott.
At the beginning of this saga, all the way back in The Girl in the Castle, we were introduced to three young girls peeking through the banister at Deverill Castle, looking over the glittering social whirl of the Anglo-Irish Ascendancy in the years just before the beginning of its end in the Easter Rising of 1916.
Those young girls were Kitty Deverill, her cousin Celia Deverill, and Bridie Doyle, the daughter of the castle’s cook. In spite of differences in class and religion, at the very beginning those little girls were fast friends. But time and betrayal separated them, and they went their very separate ways.
In this final book in the series, the girls have come full circle, and in some ways so has their world. The story began in the bloodshed of the Easter Rising, and the impact of World War I was felt by families on every side. The Secret of the Irish Castle opens as the curtain is rising on World War II, and even though the Irish Republic remained neutral during the war, its impact was still felt.
But this is a story about family betrayals, family deceptions and ultimately about forgiveness.
Over the years the three girls have separated, both physically and emotionally. But just before the war Bridie returned to their home in Balinakelly, with enough wealth to buy the castle from the now impoverished Deverills. Celia ran off to South Africa to resurrect her father’s diamond mine along with the family fortunes, while Kitty stayed in Balinakelly.
The secret that has bound Kitty and Bridie in opposition has grown up to haunt all of them. Kitty’s father seduced Bridie, then rejected her when she became pregnant. Bridie gave her baby up for adoption, but things did not go according to plan. Bridie had twins, but was told that the girl twin was stillborn. Instead she was sold to a family in America. The boy was supposed to be adopted, but her brother stole the baby from the convent and brought the infant back to Balinakelly, where Kitty raised him and her father eventually acknowledged him.
The fate of those two children, and the secrets that surround their birth and adoptions, all come screaming out of the woodwork when they grow up, with consequences that affect the lives of everyone around them. The scabs and scars that have been crusted over for decades are laid bare, but the truth does set many free – even as it dooms others.
In the end, the central theme of this story is all about forgiveness. Not about forgetting the past, but about acknowledge the wrongs done and learning to let go of the hate and resentment that they engendered. It’s a hard lesson for all, but learning it finally sets the secrets of that Irish castle free.
Along with all of its ghosts.
Escape Rating B+: I’ve been looking forward to this one for almost a year, since I finished The Daughters of Ireland and just knew that there had to be more to the story. I was not disappointed.
At the same time, this is a densely packed saga, and it rewards readers who begin at the beginning. I loved it, but I don’t think this final book can possibly stand on its own. In fact, it took me a while to get into this one, because I spent a good bit of time wracking my brain to remember everything that happened in the first two books, The Girl in the Castle and The Daughters of Ireland. If you don’t know what happened before, I don’t think you’ll care about what happens now. Read from the beginning. This series will make a marvelous binge read. And probably a good beach read. It feels like that kind of book.
Even though I had to cudgel my brain to recall who belonged to whom, and more importantly who betrayed whom, this was a great wrap to an excellent series. What I loved is the way that all of the loose ends got tied up, even the one with the castle ghosts, and that it didn’t feel rushed or overly predictable.
Instead, the conclusions felt right and proper. While this isn’t epic fantasy, and therefore not about an epic battle of good and evil, it still felt like the characters who deserved happy endings finally got theirs, while those who had more red on their ledgers got what was coming to them.
If you love dense, meaty family sagas, with lots of ups and downs, twists and turns, betrayals and redemption, start with The Girl in the Castle and enjoy!
Reviewer’s Note: Although this review is being posted rather early for the US edition, this book was published as The Last Secret of the Deverills on July 13, 2017 in the UK. If you can’t bear the wait another minute you can order the paperback from Amazon UK or the Book Depository.
Life is meant to be savored, but that's not easy with no family, limited prospects and a past you'd rather not talk about. Still, Callie Smith doesn't know how to feel when she discovers she has a brother and a sister--Malcolm, who grew up with affection, wealth and privilege, and Keira, a streetwise twelve-year-old.
Callie doesn't love being alone, but at least it's safe. Despite her trepidation, she moves into the grand family home with her siblings and grandfather on the shores of Lake Washington, hoping just maybe this will be the start of a whole new life.
But starting over can be messy. Callie and Keira fit in with each other, but not with their posh new lifestyle, leaving Malcolm feeling like the odd man out in his own home. He was clever enough to turn a sleepy Seattle mail-order food catalog into an online gourmet powerhouse, yet he can't figure out how to help his new sisters feel secure. Becoming a family will take patience, humor, a little bit of wine and a whole lot of love.
But love isn't Malcolm's strong suit... until a beautiful barista teaches him that an open heart, like the family table, can always make room for more.
In this emotional, funny and heartfelt story, Susan Mallery masterfully explores the definition of a modern family--blended by surprise, not by choice--and how those complicated relationships can add unexpected richness to life.
As I’ve said before, I don’t normally do posts without a review, whether they are spotlight or excerpt posts or whatever. But I’m always happy to make an exception for one of Susan Mallery’s books because I always love them. And because I’m always going to review the book sooner or later – in this case, sooner, as I’m part of the review tour, scheduled for mid-July. So while we all wait to sink our reading teeth into this story when it comes out on July 10, here’s a bit of a teaser to whet our appetites…
Excerpt from When We Found Home by Susan Mallery
Blowing ten grand on a five-year-old’s birthday party was beyond the definition of insane, Callie Smith thought as she positioned the car-shaped cookie cutter over the sandwich and pressed down as evenly as she could. When she carefully peeled away the excess bread, she was left with a perfect car-shaped PB&J sandwich—sans crust, of course.
The menu for the event was fairly simple, and all based on the Disney movie Cars. Small cups contained carrot, celery and cucumber sticks—aka dipsticks. Two kinds of organic punch along with organic apple juice were at the refueling station. The catering firm’s famous mac and cheese had been remade with pasta in the shape of wheels, and there were car-inspired mini hot dogs ready to go. Callie had already put half a cherry tomato and slice of cucumber to simulate wheels onto one hundred toothpicks, ready to be shoved into place when the mini hot dogs were heated and put in the buns.
The cake was an incredible work of art—a stylized twelve-inch-high modified layer cake shaped to look like a mountain with a road circling up to the top where a small car sat, along with a banner reading Happy Birthday Jonathan.
The previous afternoon Callie had filled the loot bags with Cars-related toys, and had carefully rolled all twenty-five Pit Crew T-shirts with the names facing up. Yes, each boy would get a personalized T-shirt to wear for the party and then take home with him.
Janice, her boss and the owner of the catering company, hurried into the kitchen. “I already have a knot in my stomach. The rest of the staff has a pool going on how long it takes the first kid to throw up, but I’m hoping we can get through this one without any disasters. How are you doing?”
Callie pointed to the tray with the PB&J sandwiches. “All ready. I’ll cover them with plastic wrap to keep them fresh. The hot dog wheels are done. Just have someone stick them on before putting in the hot dogs. Veggies are finished, the cake is in place and I’ve put out the loot bags. Oh, and the T-shirts are by the front door to be handed out as the guests arrive. Just so you know, there are three Brandons.”
Janice groaned. “Of course there are.” She looked around their client’s massive kitchen. “You’ve done it again, Callie. You took this idea and ran with it. I would still be trying to figure out how to pull it all together.”
Callie did her best to offer a sincere smile—one without a hint of bitterness. What was going to happen next wasn’t Janice’s fault. Instead, the blame lay squarely on Callie’s shoulders. She could whine and stomp her feet all she wanted. She could point to her ex-boyfriend, but in the end, the decision had been hers and so were the consequences.
Rather than make Janice say it, Callie untied her apron. “I need to get going. The first guests will be arriving and I shouldn’t be here.”
Janice’s mouth twisted as guilt flashed in her eyes. “I’m sorry. I just can’t risk it.”
Callie nodded. “Do you want me back at the shop to help with cleanup later?”
“Why don’t you take the rest of the day off? We have to prep for the Gilman wedding Tuesday morning. I’ll see you then.”
Callie nodded, doing her best not to calculate how much she would have made if she’d been able to stay and work the party. Being an hourly employee meant every penny mattered, but there was no way. She got that…sort of.
“Have fun today.”
Janice gave a strangled laugh. “With twenty-five little boys? I don’t think so.”
Callie got her backpack from the utility room closet, then walked out the back door. She dug out her phone, opened her Uber app and requested a car.
Normally she would just take the bus back home but this part of River Oaks didn’t have a whole lot of public transportation—especially not on a Sunday morning. So she would splurge.
Ten minutes later she was in the silver Ford Focus and heading for her more modest neighborhood. It wasn’t close to work, but it was inexpensive and safe—two priorities for her.
She had the Uber driver drop her off at the H-E-B grocery store so she could get a few things. Only what she could carry home and consume in the next couple of days. The room she rented came with kitchen privileges, but Callie preferred to use the small refrigerator and microwave she kept in her room. She’d learned that storing anything in the main kitchen was a risky proposition. House rules were clear—don’t take food belonging to someone else. Unfortunately enforcement was haphazard and Callie didn’t want to chance someone taking her food.
She heated soup—the dented can had been 50 percent off!—then got out a four-month-old copy of Vogue that she’d fished out of a recycling bin to read while she ate. Janice only took day jobs on Sundays and the caterer was closed on Monday, giving Callie almost thirty-four hours off. At ten on Monday night she would start her other job, cleaning offices in the financial district.
She finished her lunch, then loaded her biggest tote with clothes, sheets and towels before heading to the local Laundromat. The afternoon had warmed up and gotten more humid—fairly typical for Houston in early spring, or any time of year.
The temperature inside the Laundromat had to be in the upper nineties. The crowded, noisy space was filled with families completing chores before the grind of the new week began again.
Callie found two free washers together, loaded her belongings and inserted a ridiculous number of quarters. She was lucky—she had to take care of only herself. Her bed was a twin, so the sheets were small. She could get away with two loads every two weeks, but how did people with kids make ends meet when it was three dollars to wash a load of clothes?
Susan Mallery is the #1 New York Times bestselling author of books about the relationships that define women’s lives—romance, friendship, family. With compassion and humor, Susan keenly observes how people think and feel, in stories that take readers on an emotional journey. Sometimes heartbreaking, often funny, and always uplifting, Susan’s books have spent more than 200 weeks on the USA Today bestsellers list, thanks to her ever growing legions of fans.
Critics, too, have heaped praise on “the new queen of romantic fiction.” (Walmart) Booklist says, “Romance novels don’t get much better than Mallery’s expert blend of emotional nuance, humor, and superb storytelling,” and RT Book Reviews puts her “in a class by herself!”
Although Susan majored in Accounting, she never worked as an accountant because she was published straight out of college with two books the same month, January of 1992. Sixteen prolific years and seventy-four books later, she hit the New York Times bestsellers list for the first time with Accidentally Yours in 2008. She made many appearances in the Top 10 before (finally) hitting #1 in 2015 with Thrill Me, the twentieth book in her most popular series, the Fool’s Gold romances, and the fourth of five books released that year.
Susan lives in Seattle with her husband, two ragdoll cats, and a tattletale toy poodle. Her heart for animals has led Susan to become an active supporter of the Seattle Humane Society. Animals play a big role in her books, as well, as she believes they’re an integral component to a happy life.
Susan is giving away a Taste of Seattle Gift Bag. The bag includes:
An “I [Heart] Happy Books” tote bag, Starbucks Pike’s Place ground coffee, Seattle Chocolates gift set (3 truffle jars), Cucina Fresca marinara sauce, Sahale Snacks (6 packs), Maury Island Farms jam (2 jars) a Rafflecopter giveaway
As you read this, I’ll be sweltering in hot, sticky New Orleans at the American Library Association Annual Conference. We went to Denver in February for the Midwinter Conference and now we’re in NOLA for the summer conference. If that sounds backwards to you, you are far, far, far from alone. But it’s always good to see my friends and colleagues, all 15,000 or 20,000 of them. However, there is no thrill of victory, there is only the agony of the feet.
But speaking of the thrill of victory, our offer was accepted on a house. YAY! We’ll be moving again. Admittedly that’s a bit of a BOO! but it will great to put down roots and finally have a place of our own. We’re thinking of getting Freddie and Lucifer a sister, especially since the new house has a giant catio big enough for the cats to share with the humans and enclosed and screened in so that the humans can share with the cats!
It’s a very short stack this week. I’m cutting it off early because I’ll be away this weekend, at the American Library Association Conference in New Orleans. I love New Orleans, and have since the first time I went there at 19. I have fond memories of the place because its the first time I was treated as an adult and not either as a child or an adjunct to my parents. But I’ll fully admit that I’d rather be going there in the winter. Or at any time except the height of summer. It’s going to be too damn hot, and much too humid to be thinking about being in meetings.
Still, c’est la vie and laissez le bons temps rouler!
She was raised to be beautiful, nothing more. And then the rules changed . . .In icy Dasnaria, rival realm to the Twelve Kingdoms, a woman’s role is to give pleasure, produce heirs, and question nothing. But a plot to overthrow the emperor depends on the fate of his eldest daughter. And the treachery at its heart will change more than one carefully limited life . . .THE GILDED CAGE Princess Jenna has been raised in supreme luxury—and ignorance. Within the sweet-scented, golden confines of the palace seraglio, she’s never seen the sun, or a man, or even learned her numbers. But she’s been schooled enough in the paths to a woman’s power. When her betrothal is announced, she’s ready to begin the machinations that her mother promises will take Jenna from ornament to queen. But the man named as Jenna’s husband is no innocent to be cozened or prince to charm. He’s a monster in human form, and the horrors of life under his thumb are clear within moments of her wedding vows. If Jenna is to live, she must somehow break free—and for one born to a soft prison, the way to cold, hard freedom will be a dangerous path indeed… Praise for The Mark of the Tala“Magnificent…a richly detailed fantasy world.”—RT Book Reviews, 4½ stars, Top Pick“Well written and swooningly romantic.”—Library Journal, starred review
This book comes with ALL the trigger warnings. Jenna’s story is not for the faint of heart, should not be read with the lights off, and probably should not be read just before bedtime. She has to survive a nightmare before she begins to step into the light, and reading her travails just before one’s own bedtime is likely to result in some epic nightmares.
I didn’t even risk it.
What keeps the first two thirds of this story from merely being page after page of increasing, unrelieved terror is that the story is narrated in the first-person, from the perspective of an older, wiser and cannier Jenna. A Jenna who clearly survived all of the terrible abuse she suffered in the first two thirds of the book.
It’s not just that the women of the imperial seraglio in Dasnaria are kept in a prison. Albeit a gilded, perfumed prison with regular, excellent meals as well plenty of companionship and entertainment. They are pampered pets who are raised not to even be aware that they are pets and playthings and not even considered exactly people.
It’s that Jenna is first abused by her own mother, who whips her, poisons her and punishes her to train her to survive what the outside world will do to her. And who is using Jenna to further her own ends and extend her own power.
Then Jenna is married off in a strategic alliance to a man who has murdered his four previous wives – because they couldn’t survive his constant abuse. Jenna’s parents, her father the emperor and her mother the empress, know that King Rodolf is a man who is only sexually aroused by beating women into terrified submission. All the emperor asks is that Jenna’s new husband refrain from damaging her face when he can see it.
The only “help” she gets from her mother is a servant who will provide her with enough drugs to keep the pain and terror at bay.
Jenna’s life is hard to bear, and difficult to read about. Just as she has reached the point where a quick death seems like her best option, her brother opens the bars of her cage, and sets her on the journey to freedom.
We’ve met her brother Harlan before in the Twelve Kingdoms series, of which The Chronicles of Dasnaria is an offshoot. A grown-up Harlan, exiled from his father’s kingdom of Dasnaria, becomes the consort of Princess Ursula in the absolutely marvelous The Talon of the Hawk.
Jenna’s rescue is clearly the first step in Harlan’s journey to become the man worthy of the Crown Princess of the Twelve Kingdoms. But the hero of Prisoner of the Crown is clearly the young, deluded, beaten, abused but ultimately unbroken Jenna.
Escape Rating B+: This is a hard book to rate, because Jenna’s journey from pampered child to determined woman take her through one dark place after another. We feel for her, we want better for her, but we spend most of the book terrified that she isn’t going to get anything approaching that better.
Although Harlan certainly provides a big assist, in the end, Jenna rescues herself, and that’s important for her story and her journey. She begins the book as a child who does not look beyond her cage, and ends by taking her life into her own hands and breaking free.
What makes the story so difficult to bear is that we see the cage tighten around her for so much of the book. Her hard-won freedom barely has time to register before the book ends – while clearly the story does not. She has taken just the first few steps on a journey that is far from over, but readers will have to wait until September to see how Jenna handles and protects her dearly-bought freedom. It’s going to be an exasperating wait.
But for those who have not read the previous series, The Twelve Kingdoms and its followup The Uncharted Realms, this is not a bad place to start as all of the action in this story takes place before The Mark of the Tala, the first book in the Twelve Kingdoms opens. We do meet both Harlan, the hero of The Talon of the Hawk, and Kral, the hero of The Edge of the Blade, as young men. In Harlan’s case, very, very young as he’s only 14 in Prisoner of the Crown. Prisoner, at least, presupposes little previous knowledge of this world. However, I suspect that the future books in the Dasnaria series are going to edge closer to the time period of The Twelve Kingdoms. If you get caught up in Jenna’s journey, there’s plenty of time to catch up with the rest of this world before the next book.
Jenna’s journey continues in Exile of the Seas. And I can’t wait to continue it with her.
When a mysterious stranger finds his way into her bedchamber and offers his help in landing a duke, Lady Felicity Faircloth agrees—on one condition. She's seen enough of the world to believe in passion, and won't accept a marriage without it.
The Wallflower Makes a Dangerous Bargain...
Bastard son of a duke and king of London's dark streets, Devil has spent a lifetime wielding power and seizing opportunity, and the spinster wallflower is everything he needs to exact a revenge years in the making. All he must do is turn the plain little mouse into an irresistible temptress, set his trap, and destroy his enemy.
For the Promise of Passion...
But there's nothing plain about Felicity Faircloth, who quickly decides she'd rather have Devil than another. Soon, Devil's carefully laid plans are in chaos, and he must choose between everything he's ever wanted...and the only thing he's ever desired.
Anyone who likes the Maiden Lane series by Elizabeth Hoyt or the Diamonds in the Rough series by Sophie Barnes is going to love the Bareknuckle Bastards and Wicked and the Wallflower.
I could stop there, but of course I won’t.
I could, however, also throw in the Cynster series by Stephanie Laurens, and not just because the hero of the first book in that series was also named Devil.
All of those series in some way involve scandalous deeds hidden under a veneer of society polish. Sometimes that veneer is very, very thin indeed.
That’s the case in Wicked and the Wallflower. Once upon a time there was a dastardly duke, who is now a very, very dead duke. His wife and his mistresses all provided him with children, and all on the same day. All those children were boys – except the legitimate one. After the birth of her daughter, the duchess ensured that the duke would not be siring any more bastards – or any more legitimate children either. Not that he seems to have been the actual father of hers.
This book is the first in a series revolving around those four children – who are now all adults. One son won, or stole, the dukedom from the others. His two brothers and his sister plan to make sure that he never enjoys the title he has so ill-gotten.
And thereby hangs a tale. The fraudulent duke has come to town to find a wife. His brothers and his sister plan to prevent him from carrying out his plans at all costs.
Poor forgotten Felicity Faircloth finds herself caught in the middle, between four men who want to use her for their own ends.
Her father and her brother want her to marry the duke in order to restore the fortunes that they lost. The duke wants to use her to bring his brothers and his sister, especially his sister, out into the open where he can trap them. And his brother Devil plans to use her to set the duke up for the ruination of all his plans. Or at least, the ruination of all of somebody’s plans.
But no matter how strong the cage they all try to place her in, every cage has a door, and every door has a lock. And Felicity Faircloth will not be used. She will, however, make expert use of a set of lockpicks.
Escape Rating B+: Wicked and the Wallflower become partners in a very entertaining dance of opposites and equals, and it’s all because of the character of Felicity Faircloth, the wallflower of the title.
While the story is not in the first person, we do see this world mostly from Felicity’s perspective. And in spite of the differences of time and place and station, hers is a point-of-view that it is easy to empathize with.
She wants more than she is supposed to have. She wants more than the world expects her to settle for. She wants to be somebody. She wants to be loved and accepted for who she really is, and not for the mask she wears or how adept she is at squashing herself into the small places that women are permitted to occupy.
When we, and Devil, first meet Felicity, she is on the outside of the ton looking in. She’s 27 and relatively plain and seems to have been put permanently on the shelf. Once upon a time, she was at the center of it all, and she misses being included. She hates being on the outside, and wants back in.
Devil offers her a way to get what she believes she wants – and we understand why she accepts the deal – even though we know that he’s not going to honor it. And it’s clear that in her own heart of hearts, Felicity has some doubts as well. But she’s sure things can’t get any worse than the mess she’s already made. Thoughts like that are always wrong.
That she falls for Devil seems inevitable. Not because of the deal, and not because he intends to seduce her, although he certainly does. But because he sees her as she really is. And not merely accepts her, but actually celebrates the person she is. He doesn’t expect her to conform to a role, and he doesn’t need her to save his fortune – even though he does need her to save his soul.
But Devil is used to seeing women as capable if not exactly equal, and she is match for any woman he knows – even if he is incapable of acknowledging that fact. They make each other better, and that’s what makes the story works.
Even if Devil does do the idiot thing and attempt to give her up because he believes that she’s too good for him. He does, however, grovel quite nicely.
In the beginning, I compared Wicked and the Wallflower to both Maiden Lane and Diamonds in the Rough. I used those two examples because they both contain elements of the Bareknuckle Bastards. Maiden Lane because that series, like this one, explores life in 19th century London outside of the glittering facade of the ton – and finds love and purpose in the lives lived there. Diamonds in the Rough features a family that found itself in similar circumstances to Devil, his brother Whit and their sister Grace. Children who should have been raised in the lap of luxury but were forced into life on the streets – and who made those streets their own. Their ability to look at the ton and see the ridiculousness and hypocrisy that underlie the glitter are part of the charm of both series.
I can’t wait to read Whit’s story in Brazen and the Beast later this year.
PRIZE: To celebrate the release of WICKED AND THE WALLFLOWER by Sarah MacLean, we’re giving away two $10 Amazon gift cards!
GIVEAWAY TERMS & CONDITIONS: Open internationally. Two winners will each receive a $10 Amazon gift card. This giveaway is administered by Pure Textuality PR on behalf of Avon Romance. Giveaway ends 6/29/2018 @ 11:59pm EST. Pure Textuality PR is responsible for the prize and will send the prizes out to the winners directly. Limit one entry per reader and mailing address. Duplicates will be deleted.