Review: The Summer House by Lauren K. Denton

Review: The Summer House by Lauren K. DentonThe Summer House by Lauren K. Denton
Format: eARC
Source: supplied by publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: hardcover, ebook, audiobook
Genres: relationship fiction, women's fiction
Pages: 352
Published by Thomas Nelson on June 2, 2020
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

Sometimes it takes losing everything to find yourself again.
Lily Bishop wakes up one morning to find a good-bye note and divorce papers from her husband on the kitchen counter. Having moved to Alabama for his job only weeks before, Lily is devastated, but a flyer at the grocery store for a hair stylist position in a local retirement community provides a refuge while she contemplates her next steps.
Rose Carrigan built the small retirement village of Safe Harbor years ago—just before her husband ran off with his assistant. Now she runs a tight ship, making sure the residents follow her strict rules. Rose keeps everyone at arm’s length, including her own family. But when Lily shows up asking for a job and a place to live, Rose’s cold exterior begins to thaw.
Lily and Rose form an unlikely friendship, and Lily’s salon soon becomes the place where residents share town gossip, as well as a few secrets. Lily soon finds herself drawn to Rose’s nephew, Rawlins—a single dad and shrimper who’s had some practice at starting over—and one of the residents may be carrying a torch for Rose as well.
Neither Lily nor Rose is where she expected to be, but the summer makes them both wonder if there’s more to life and love than what they’ve experienced so far. The Summer House weaves Lauren K. Denton’s inviting Southern charm around a woman’s journey to find herself.
“The perfect summer read! You’ll feel the sun, taste the salt, and linger with new friends—you won’t want to leave.” —Katherine Reay, bestselling author of The Printed Letter Bookshop and Dear Mr. Knightley

My Review:

I grabbed The Summer House by Lauren K. Denton because a couple of years ago I picked up The Hideaway basically on a whim, loved it, and then read Glory Road and pretty much loved that too. The only book by this author I haven’t read – YET – is Hurricane Season, but in this year where everyone seems to need all the comfort reads they can get I expect to pick it up in the not too distant future.

Like the author’s previous books, The Summer House is relationship fiction, which often gets labeled and more often than not denigrated, as “women’s fiction”, but the relationship fiction label is much nearer the mark. Because it’s always about the relationships between people, often but not always family or found family, and frequently including the relationships between people in a small town.

And if women are the only ones who care about all the different kinds of relationships that people can have, whether in families or groups or communities, doesn’t that explain a whole lot about what’s wrong with the world these days?

The relationships that are on display, or perhaps under the microscope, or a bit of both, in this particular story are centered around two people, Lily Bishop and Rose Carrigan. As the story opens, both are at crossroads in their lives, and the route they each take leads them directly into each other’s path.

A path that runs straight through the retirement village so aptly named Safe Harbor. The place where Rose has been pretty much standing still for the past 40 years or so. Rose is known around town as the “Ice Queen” because she freezes out anyone who tries to get close to her, except for her nephew Rawlins and his daughter Hazel. She’s certainly not looking to shelter anyone under her wing.

But, when Lily Bishop calls Rose asking for a job as the resident hairdresser of Safe Harbor, that’s exactly what she does. Not just because Lily desperately needs the harbor of Safe Harbor, but because Rose is finally starting to scrabble at the walls of her self-isolation. And because she sees in Lily’s lonely aloneness something of herself that she hasn’t let herself see in a long time.

In letting Safe Harbor shelter them both, Lily and Rose both find the space they need to stand up and live.

Escape Rating B+:The blurb makes it seem as if Lily and Rose form an instant, albeit unlikely, friendship, but that’s not exactly what happens. In fact, it seems like this one tries to build its relationships in all kinds of slightly unconventional ways, and that the book is the better for its off-beat notes.

Lily’s desperate straits have to do with the husband who moved her to a place where neither of them knew a soul and then woke up one morning and left her divorce papers on the kitchen table as he seemed to disappear off the face of the earth. But Lily’s not desperately lovesick trying to get him back. She doesn’t even want him back after that – and who can blame her? (Besides her overbearing mother-in-law, that is.) Rather, she’s left with a mess and is just digging her way out, with no support network, no job and about to be evicted from a rental house that came with his job – which he has also fled.

It’s unusual for this kind of story that he wasn’t abusive, she’s not pregnant and she’s not a suddenly single mother. She’s just temporarily adrift and very much alone. She knows she can get back on her feet, she just needs a bit of time and space in which to do that, which is what makes her call Rose about the job doing the one thing she’s always loved, using the gift she inherited from her late mother – cutting hair and providing a place for people to set down their burdens for a bit and come out feeling better. (I’m not saying that a story like this one can’t be excellent with some of those usual starting points, but it is terrific to see one that does it just a bit differently for a change!)

But in giving Lily a chance to recover, Rose also manages to give herself a chance to take a new look at the world around her, and set down some of the burdens that she’s been carrying entirely too long. Since she was Lily’s age. And the story of Rose’s re-awakening is every bit as lovely as that of Lily’s awakening.

That both of them manage to find happiness, community and love in the place where they have found themselves planted is the icing on a very heartwarming cake, and makes for an absolutely delightful story.

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Review: Masquerade at Middlecrest Abbey by Abigail Wilson

Review: Masquerade at Middlecrest Abbey by Abigail WilsonMasquerade at Middlecrest Abbey by Abigail Wilson
Format: eARC
Source: supplied by publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: large print, paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: historical fiction, historical romance, romantic suspense
Pages: 336
Published by Thomas Nelson on May 26, 2020
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

When the widowed Lord Torrington agreed to spy for the crown, he never planned to impersonate a highwayman, let alone rob the wrong carriage. Stranded on the road with an unconscious young woman, he is forced to propose marriage to protect his identity, as well as his dangerous mission.
Trapped by not only the duty to her country but her limited options, Miss Elizabeth Cantrell and her illegitimate son are whisked away to Middlecrest Abbey by none other than the elder brother of her son’s absent father. She is met by Torrington’s beautiful grown daughters, a vicious murderer, and an urgent hunt for the missing intelligence that could turn the war with France. Afraid of what Lord Torrington might do if he learns of her son’s true identity, Elizabeth must remain one step ahead of her fragile heart, her uncertain future, and the relentless mystery person bent on her new family’s ruin.

My Review:

Historical romantic suspense really needs to become its own thing, because that’s what this book really is. It’s straddling a line between historical romance, mystery and something that I want to call “heroine in jeopardy” because it’s all of those things at the same time.

Even though “heroine in jeopardy” isn’t actually a genre – although it probably ought to be.

As this story opens, our heroine is very definitely in jeopardy, just not the jeopardy she thought she was in when a masked man appeared in front of her coach telling the coachman to “Stand and deliver!” The traditional “battle cry” of the highwayman.

Not that Elizabeth has anything to deliver, at least not in the usual sense. She’s an unwed mother, abandoned by both her own family and the father of her little boy, on her way to take up a post as companion and governess to a friend and her children, in the hopes of, if not salvaging her reputation, at least being labeled as respectable enough to make a living to support them both.

In other words, she’s flat broke and relying on the kindness of, not exactly strangers, but certainly on the kindness of others. She doesn’t have anything that a highway robber could possibly want – or so she believes.

But that highwayman is not a real highwayman. And her coach and its contents are not exactly as innocent as she believed.

What began as a journey to what she hoped would be a new life for herself and her son, turns out, in the end, to be exactly that. But in absolutely NONE of the ways that she originally thought.

She never expected to marry. She never expected to be accepted back into the ton. And she certainly never expected to help her new husband bring down a nest of spies and saboteurs.

Or that the father of her little boy would be found right in the middle of the entire mess.

Escape Rating B+: A part of me wants to say this was a surprising amount of fun, but calling it fun doesn’t convey the spirit of the story. Because while it’s going on Elizabeth really isn’t having a whole lot of fun a lot of the time. At the same time, calling it a lovely read isn’t quite right either, because there’s a whole lot going on and not all of it is good for the protagonists.

But I had a grand time reading it. Howsomever, calling it fun implies a level of fluff that isn’t here – nor should it be.

It does, however, remind me more than a bit of the Bastion Club series by Stephanie Laurens, in both its historical setting and in the clandestine occupation of the hero – and eventually the heroine.

The era of the Napoleonic Wars, 1803-1815 is ripe for all sorts of historical drama – and occasionally melodrama, as Britain was at war with France. There was plenty of opportunity for spying and general skullduggery, including smuggling illicit but expensive French goods. The period also overlapped with the Regency period (1811-1820) made literarily famous by Georgette Heyer. This particular story is right in the “sweet spot” where the Regency was still in full sway and Napoleon had not yet met his Waterloo.

Elizabeth and Torrington are caught very much on the horns of multiple dilemmas, not all of which either of them are aware of even at the beginning. Torrington is looking for a spy – and for secret correspondence from that spy that is supposed to be in a carriage that looks just like Elizabeth’s. When he waylays her carriage and discovers that it is hers and not the spy’s, circumstances conspire to bind them in a marriage of convenience, so that he can maintain his cover and she can maintain what’s left of her reputation.

It’s really just an excuse to drag them together, but it works for the purposes of opening the possibility of their romance of convenience turning real. It also works to provide an opportunity for the real spy to continue with their illegal activities and make Elizabeth’s life hell into the bargain. Which is where those “heroine in jeopardy” elements come very much into the picture.

And that’s where things get really interesting. On the one hand, her former lover, her son’s father, very much qualifies as the “EVILEX” who must appear before the story and the romance can be finally resolved. On the other hand, that evil ex-lover is also the hero’s brother. I’m still on the fence about whether the multiple parts said villain plays in this story are a fascinating twist or a bit too much of the long arm of coincidence.

On my third hand, the invisible one that isn’t normally seen, while one part of the mystery seemed obvious fairly early on, the other part took me completely by surprise – and that’s always a good thing in a story that relies on suspense and dramatic tension to sweep the reader into the story. Which this one certainly has – and does.

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Review: Mousse and Murder by Elizabeth Logan + Giveaway

Review: Mousse and Murder by Elizabeth Logan + GiveawayMousse and Murder (Alaskan Diner Mystery #1) by Elizabeth Logan
Format: eARC
Source: supplied by publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: cozy mystery, mystery
Series: Alaskan Diner #1
Pages: 304
Published by Berkley on May 5, 2020
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

A young chef might bite off more than she can chew when she returns to her Alaskan hometown to take over her parents' diner in this charming first installment in a new cozy mystery series set in an Alaskan tourist town.

When Chef Charlie Cooke is offered the chance to leave San Francisco and return home to Elkview, Alaska, to take over her mother's diner, she doesn't even consider saying no. After all--her love life has recently become a Love Life Crumble, and a chance to reconnect with her roots may be just what she needs.

Determined to bring fresh life and flavors to the Bear Claw Diner, Charlie starts planning changes to the menu, which has grown stale over the years. But her plans are fried when her head cook Oliver turns up dead after a bitter and public fight over Charlie's ideas--leaving Charlie as the only suspect in the case.

With her career, freedom, and life all on thin ice, Charlie must find out who the real killer is, before it's too late.

My Review:

It is more likely that the Elkview Bugle would win a Pulitzer – after all, the Anchorage Daily News just did – than it is that Charlene Cooke attended her first – and only – year of law school in Anchorage. There are no law schools in Anchorage or anywhere in Alaska.

Not that Elkview actually exists, but there are places just like it along the Glenn Highway. And in spite of some small but mostly necessary changes (I’m still niggled about the law school thing), the Alaska of Mousse and Murder reads like the place I lived in – in all of its cold, wintry “glory”.

But it was great to be back in the “Great State”, even vicariously, for a few hours, to meet the residents of Elkview and solve a perplexing mystery.

The mystery is plenty perplexing, and the red herrings it offers up are as tasty as the offerings at the Bear Claw Diner. Or perhaps that should be the other way around.

Our primary amateur detective in this one is chef and diner owner/operator Charlene Cooke. The Bear Claw is the diner that her mother owned and operated while Charlie was growing up. Charlie herself was practically raised at the counter. Now that Charlie is an accredited chef, her mother can leave the diner in Charlie’s capable hands while traveling “Outside” (that’s Alaskan for anyplace away from the state) with Charlie’s dad.

Charlie’s hands don’t feel all that capable when she and her head chef have one of their epic arguments in the middle of the diner, resulting in Chef Oliver stomping out in a huff. A fact that Charlie doesn’t reveal to her mother in their daily phone call, as mom is half a world away on a Danube cruise and Charlie doesn’t want to spoil it for her.

When Oliver turns up dead, and Charlie is briefly considered a suspect, ruining mom’s vacation is the farthest thing from anyone’s mind. Considering the state of bush policing in Alaska (the statistics Charlie cites are all too real) clearing her name and figuring out exactly who did kill Oliver – and why – shoots right to the top of Charlie’s to do list.

Charlie is determined to leave no stone unturned, and with the help of local reporter and fellow informally sworn-in deputy Chris, she uncovers a web of secrets that shows that absolutely no one really knew Oliver in spite of his decades-long tenure at the Bear Claw.

And that Oliver’s secretive past – and present – provide plenty of motives for his murder.

Escape Rating B+: If you enjoy quirky small-town mysteries, and/or mysteries featuring felines as companion animals, sounding boards and occasional sleuthing assistants, Mousse and Murder is an absolute delight. Oops, I forgot to tell you about Benny.

Benny is the feline who holds Charlie’s heart. He’s a big, fluffy orange cat whose full name is Eggs Benedict. He’s smart enough to answer to either name. He is also clearly the light of Charlie’s life, and he’s adorable. The cat he resembles most closely is Diesel in the Cat in the Stacks series, although he’s not nearly as large. Few domestic cats are.

But Diesel and Benny are both friends and companions for their humans who are the actual amateur sleuths. They are both intelligent, but on the cat scale of intelligence. (As much as I love Joe Grey, one clowder of speaking cats solving crimes is probably enough.) Part of the delight of this story is the way that Charlie loves and cares for Benny, and how much fun they have together. Benny serves as Charlie’s comforter-in-chief and best sounding board. One of the marvelous things about companion animals is that we can tell them anything and they never judge – while humans, of course, pretty much always do.

Mousse and Murder also has shades – or should that be flavors and aromas? – of Diane Mott Davidson and other wonderful culinary mysteries, including a couple of yummy looking recipes tucked into the back. In between investigations, Charlie spends plenty of time at the diner, providing readers with plenty of virtual goodies to salivate over. Remember, there are no calories in the desserts that you only read about – but you’ll be tempted to make some of these!

One of the things that is so fascinating about Alaska is that it is one of the few places where a person can still completely hide in plain sight. In our 24/7 connected world there are very few places where a person can still be part of a community AND be relatively isolated at the same time. That Oliver came to Elkview to live and work in a place where he can both be known and keep his secrets is still possible – and would have been even more so when Oliver started working at the Bear Claw when Charlie was a little girl.

What makes the story so much fun is the cast of characters who frequent the Bear Claw, both the residents of Elkview and the frequent regulars, like the truckers Manny, Moe and Joe, who stop by so often that they have their own booth. I have a feeling we’ll be meeting more of the regulars as the series continues. Based on the ones we’ve met so far, it’s going to be fun getting to know them.

But this first story is all wrapped around Charlie. Hers is the perspective we follow, and she’s an interesting and likeable protagonist, and not just because of Benny. She’s easy to relate to, her fears and insecurities make sense under the circumstances, her mistakes feel real and we want her to succeed.

We also want her to succeed in her potential romance with reporter Chris, but not too soon!

Mousse and Murder is a fun cozy mystery in an unusual setting with a great cast of characters. I did figure who probably “dunnit” fairly early on, but the why was not remotely apparent until very near the end, so that’s also a win.

I’m looking forward to more of Charlie’s adventures, and another visit to Elkview, when Charlie and Benny go Fishing for Trouble later this year.

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

a Rafflecopter giveaway

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Review: Close Up by Amanda Quick

Review: Close Up by Amanda QuickClose Up (Burning Cove #4) by Amanda Quick
Format: eARC
Source: supplied by publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: hardcover, large print, paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: historical fiction, historical romance, romantic suspense
Series: Burning Cove #4
Pages: 304
Published by Berkley on May 5, 2020
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

Welcome to Burning Cove, California where 1930s Hollywood glamour conceals a ruthless killer…

Vivian Brazier never thought life as an art photographer would include nightly wake-up calls to snap photos of grisly crime scenes or headshots for aspiring male actors. Although she is set on a career of transforming photography into a new art form, she knows her current work is what’s paying the bills.

After shooting crime scene photos of a famous actress, the latest victim of the murderer the press has dubbed the “Dagger Killer,” Vivian notices eerie similarities to the crime scenes of previous victims—details that only another photographer would have noticed—details that put Vivian at the top of the killer’s target list.

Nick Sundridge has always been able to “see” things that others don’t, coping with disturbing dreams and visions. His talent, or as he puts it—his curse—along with his dark past makes him a recluse, but a brilliant investigator. As the only one with the ability to help, Nick is sent to protect Vivian. Together, they discover the Dagger Killer has ties to the glitz and glamour of Hollywood royalty and high society. It is a cutthroat world of allure and deception that Vivian and Nick must traverse—all in order to uncover the killer who will stop at nothing to add them to their gallery of murders.

My Review:

Close Up is the enchanting follow up to Tightrope, making it book 4 in the Burning Cove series. But don’t let that stop you from picking up this terrific historical romance, as there is very little that ties this book into the earlier books in the series, beginning with The Girl Who Knew Too Much.

Come to think of it, the entire series features women who know entirely too much, and who use that knowledge to solve murder sprees that they find themselves at the hearts of through absolutely no fault of their own.

Not that it’s remotely coincidental that bad things happen to them, just as it is far from coincidental that photographer Vivian Brazier becomes the target of not one but two murder attempts. The long arm of coincidence is seldom that long, and it certainly isn’t here – no matter how much it seems that the two plots are not related to each other – except in their choice of victim.

It’s up to Vivian, along with her temporary bodyguard, private investigator Nick Sundridge, to figure out who is after her and why – before it’s too late.

Escape Rating B+: The fun in this entry in the series is twofold. Of course there’s figuring out who is doing it. Not to mention, why are they doing it? Well not directly why. The murderer is planning to do Vivian in because he’s being paid to do it. The question is why would someone want to eliminate her?

Her family may be wealthy, but she’s been disowned. She’s a freelance crime photographer and hopeful art photographer, neither of which brought in “big bucks” during the Depression. She’s young and hopeful at the art photography, using the freelance crime photography to pay the rent. So no one is after the money she doesn’t have.

She’s still at the bottom rung of the ladder in her chosen profession, so she’s not in anyone’s way.

At least the first murder attempt was the direct result of her actions. She figured out, not who the “Dagger Killer” was, not exactly, but she narrowed the field enough for the police to hone in on their killer. Who tried to kill her first and failed.

The second plot seems to make no sense. But through investigating it we get to visit the point in history when the question of whether photography could possibly ever be considered “Art” was still the subject of considerable debate. (Man Ray, the famous artist and photographer, was working in Paris at this time, along with one of the characters of yesterday’s book, Salvador Dali)

Times when the world is in flux make fascinating backgrounds for stories and characters. Vivian is at the crux of this particular change, and it makes her compelling to follow. She’s a woman attempting to make a career in a man’s world, and that’s always a challenge. But she’s also a proponent of a new way of doing things at a time when the old way still holds sway. And she’s working at the juncture between commercialism and art, yet another turning point.

She’s right, she knows she’s right, but there’s a question of whether she will live to see her vision proven correct. Not just because she’s in the crosshairs of a murderer, but because pioneers in any field always wonder if they will make it during their own lifetimes.

And on top of it all, there’s a romance. I’ll admit that, like an earlier book in this series, The Other Lady Vanishes, I didn’t quite buy the romance. I expected it as part of the pattern for this series, but there wasn’t quite enough romantic tension between Vivian and Nick to really sell it, at least not for me.

But I still had a great time watching Vivian take on the establishment and help to save herself from being the murderer’s next victim. A murderer that, like both Vivian and Nick, I didn’t suss out until the very end.

Amanda Quick is an author that I love under all of her names, Quick for historical, Jayne Castle for futuristic and Jayne Ann Krentz for contemporary. I look forward to reading her next venture into romantic suspense, no matter when it is set or which name she publishes it under!

Review: Dali Summer by T.J. Brown

Review: Dali Summer by T.J. BrownDali Summer by T. J. Brown
Format: eARC
Source: author
Formats available: paperback, ebook
Genres: historical fiction
Pages: 344
Published by TULE Publishing Group on May 5, 2020
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

Her wild and vivid visions inspire an icon...

Nothing is more important to prim, colorblind Dolors Posa than family and living down the shame of her illegitimate birth, but when the sudden onset of fantastical visions threaten her sterling reputation, she must search for answers before the inhabitants of the tiny village of Cadaqués brand her as demente-- crazy like her mother. In a quest to stop her hallucinations, she befriends a beautiful, intoxicating fortune teller and her handsome anarchist brother, as well as becoming a reluctant muse for thirteen-year-old Salvador Dali. In a summer that changes everything, Dolors must choose between her family's reputation and a life filled with adventure, friendship, rapturous color and the possibility of love.

Set against the political upheaval of 1917 Spain, Dali Summer captures the fierce spirit of Catalonia, the generosity and stubbornness of its people and the blossoming promise of a woman who thought life was bland and empty and had long ago had passed her by.

My Review:

So many stories are about characters that earn their names, their titles, their reputations, or a bit of each. Dali Summer, on the other hand, is the story of a woman who initially owns her name but loses that ownership, and who finally sheds her investment in a reputation that was never her own.

Dolor is Spanish for pain and ache, and for sorrow and grief. Initially, Dolors Posa is all of those things. She is lonely and filled with sorrow, grieving for her father, the mother she never knew, the life she might have had. The story opens with the pain of a sudden, intense, blinding headache that ironically lifts one of Dolors long standing aches while replacing it with a potentially greater one.

Dolors is completely colorblind. She sees the world only in shades of gray. But it was not always so. As a child, she saw colors like everyone else, but when her grandmother, in a fit of temper, struck her with a heavy crystal in the back of the head, Dolors’ color sight was taken away. Seemingly permanently.

But the vision she sees while in a fugue state brought on by that terrible, blinding headache is fantastical in the extreme – and in brilliant, living color. Even in technicolor, although that word hadn’t yet been invented in the summer of 1917.

The sudden re-emergence of color in Dolors’ life is just the beginning. The visions come to the attention of a very young Salvador Dali, just 13 and already on the road to becoming the eccentric artist that he will be remembered for. But in 1917, he is young, still learning, but fascinated with Dolors’ visions and willing to stretch his art to make them come to life.

Dolors’ need to discover the reason for her visions – or more precisely to determine whether or not she is going mad, bring her to the attention of Lidia and Xavi Sala, sister and brother, each revolutionary in their own ways.

Lidia’s revolution is a desire for sexual liberation, she wants to love everyone and doesn’t care who she hurts along the way. Her brother Xavi, however, wants to change the world. Xavi wants to free his country and turn it into a workers’ paradise.

Their flamboyant intersection with Dolors and her tiny little village of Cadaqués will change all of them – some for the better, some for the worse. But before Dolors can be shed of the griefs and sorrows that have weighed down her entire life, first she must drink the bitter cup to its dregs.

Escape Rating B+: There is a LOT going on in this story. At the same time, at its heart its a very simple story, the story of one woman moving out of the long shadow of her family’s expectations and finally making a life for herself.

The complications of the story feel like they are all in the background and setup. The introduction of the very young Salvador Dali is fascinating, but at the same time feels like it’s more of a “hook” to get readers to pick up the book than it is an integral part of the story. He’s kind of a symbol of Dolors unstated desire for more color in her life, both literal color and figurative color, than she is willing to own up to at the beginning.

The political upheaval of the period is represented by Xavi’s revolutionary agitation, but again, it feels more symbolic than it does a real part of Dolors’ personal story – and this is at its heart her personal story and not the story of the wider world.

The political ferment does have its effects. Even in backwater Cadaqués, the world is changing. A change that inveigles itself into Dolors’ life with the return of color and the introduction of the Salas.

But the story is of Dolors’ quiet revolution. The way that she slowly, and initially very cautiously, moves herself out of her grandmother’s long and hateful shadow, and at first carefully and then recklessly starts to live her own life, always looking over her shoulder at the demons of the past.

While Dolors’ is trying to move forward in her life, her grandmother is doing her level best – and worst – to keep the entire family moored in the past and under her heavy thumb. It’s a situation that brews throughout the story until it comes to its inevitable head at the climax.

But the one to watch in this story is Dolors’ every step of the way. This is the story of the brilliantly colored butterfly emerging from its drab cocoon. A story that is slow to unfold but surprisingly lovely in its portrait of a woman on the cusp of change.

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Review: Mission: Her Shield by Anna Hackett

Review: Mission: Her Shield by Anna HackettMission: Her Shield (Team 52 #7) by Anna Hackett
Format: eARC
Source: author
Formats available: ebook
Genres: action adventure romance, contemporary romance
Series: Team 52 #7
Pages: 202
Published by Anna Hackett on April 19th 2020
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsiteAmazon
Goodreads

She’s the one woman he’s always wanted and the one woman he’ll never let himself have, but former Delta Force soldier Axel will risk everything to save his covert team’s beautiful archaeologist.

Axel Diaz knows that fighting the bad guys requires getting down in the muck. He’s done too much and seen too much to ever inflict his nightmares on a woman. Especially a gorgeous, smart archaeologist who ignites his blood like no one else. Axel focuses on his work with the covert, black ops Team 52. He’ll work alongside Dr. Natalie Blackwell as they safeguard pieces of ancient technology, but he’ll never let himself touch her.

Then everything changes when Nat calls for help. Her archaeology conference in Greece has gone horribly wrong…

Dr. Natalie Blackwell loves her work with Team 52. A lonely childhood and an indifferent family have taught her to be independent. She’s been attracted to Axel for a long time, but refuses to be another notch on his very notched bedpost. But when she finds herself in terrible danger, being hunted by something terrifying, all she wants around her are Axel’s muscled arms. She is in the fight for her life, and she’s praying her team—and the man she can’t resist—can find her in time.

My Review:

I keep expecting Team 52 to discover a Stargate, or maybe just a DHD (Dial Home Device), but neither of those are dangerous in and of themselves – although a box of staff weapons or zats certainly would be. Or they could turn up the Tesseract from the MCU – that would certainly make a big mess – as we already know.

In spite of that reference to the MCU, I still say that the Team 52 series has a big Stargate vibe to me. It’s the whole idea that there is just MORE to the world than history teaches us, that civilizations have risen and fallen more time than we were ever aware of, and that those that fell left behind dangers and wonders that we are just not ready for.

And that it’s all science-based rather than magic based, even though Clarke’s Law applies. You know, the one about “any sufficiently advanced technology” being indistinguishable from magic. The humans who lived at the time of some of these great but fallen civilizations saw their advanced tech as magic, and enshrined it in myth and legend. But it was science – perhaps science gone very, very far amuck, but still science.

Take, for example, the virus that disrupts Team 52 archaeologist Nat Blackwell’s scientific conference in Athens. A pot is broken, a fellow archaeologist touches something that he really, really, really shouldn’t, and suddenly there’s a MINOTAUR in the room goring bystanders with his horns and scooping up women to make up his expected tribute.

Seven women, just like the myth says. One of whom is Nat. A Nat who fully expects her Team to come and get her. Whether she can survive long enough for rescue is a much bigger question. The team is in Las Vegas. Athens – or wherever the Minotaur has taken his captives – is very far away.

When rescue arrives, it brings a whole host of other problems with it. The initial Minotaur transformation may have been an accident, but now that the possibility is known, there are plenty of, let’s call them basty-assed-nastards, who want to see it weaponized – and sold to the highest bidder.

Nat and Team 52 find themselves exchanging weapons fire with mercenaries from The Hannibal Syndicate in order to prevent those mercs from capturing the Minotaur for study, experimentation and weaponization by whoever will pay them the most.

Nat wants to save the Minotaur, to see if there’s a chance of turning the monster back into the scientist she used to know.

After all, Nat has a thing for saving monsters. Or at least saving men who see themselves that way. Whether they want to be saved – or not.

Escape Rating B+: I had a lot of fun with this entry in the Team 52 series. The books in this series (start with Mission: Her Protection) have generally been a good reading time, something that we all need these days. They do a great job of providing the same kind of escape as something like Stargate, where the exploration of those “brave new worlds” has been brought home to Earth.

This one in particular lived up to my earlier references to both Stargate and the MCU, as the sideways dive into myth and legend has parallels in both worlds, AND Nat, the heroine of this particular entry in the series, shares a name with Natalya Romanov, the MCU’s Black Widow. While Nat Blackwell isn’t badass in the same way at Nat Romanov, I think they have plenty in common, and would have LOTS to talk about, including the stubbornness of their respective teams.

Like all of the books in this series, the adventure of battling the evil mercs and capturing, stealing or re-stealing the dangerous, mythological macguffin is interwoven with a romance between at least one member of Team 52 and someone who is either part of their world or is introduced to it – usually in either a hail of bullets, or by being taken prisoner or hostage by something slightly supernatural.

The romance between Nat and Axel Diaz manages to combine a whole bunch of those elements, as Axel is also a member of Team 52, and Nat is not only a member but manages to get taken hostage – or at least threatened with it – multiple times by both the Minotaur AND the mercenaries.

Nat and Axel have always had seriously explosive chemistry between them, a chemistry that both have denied – for different reasons. Actually, for a bit of the same reason, too. Admittedly Axel has been a bit of a manwhore, and nobody needs to get involved in that kind of drama where they work. But both of them have a bad case of the “I’m not worthy” syndrome. Axel because his former military service had him doing very bad things to people who may or may not have been bad themselves, and Nat because her parents treated her as an obligation or a showpiece instead of a child.

While this is not my favorite romantic trope, it was certainly done well in this particular instance – especially from Nat’s side. Her parents were definitely “pieces of work”. Most people would end up with the same kind of emotional baggage in that situation. In the end, Nat and Axel do an excellent job of making each other strong in their broken places – and of realizing that they make each other better.

So an exciting adventure, a romance that overcomes the odds, another monster down, another merc band out and a good time had by all. A fun action-adventure romance all the way around.

The series feels like it’s winding down. This author has a tendency to have the head honcho find their HEA as the closing of the series. Based on events at the end of this one, it looks like Team 52’s director, Jonah Grayson, is heading for a fall sometime later this year. I’m sure a good ass-kicking and romantic time will be had by all!

Review: Murder at the Mena House by Erica Ruth Neubauer

Review: Murder at the Mena House by Erica Ruth NeubauerMurder at the Mena House by Erica Ruth Neubauer
Format: eARC
Source: supplied by publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: hardcover, ebook, audiobook
Genres: cozy mystery, historical mystery
Series: Jane Wunderly #1
Pages: 288
Published by Kensington Publishing Corporation on March 31, 2020
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

Well-heeled travelers from around the world flock to the Mena House Hotel--an exotic gem in the heart of Cairo where cocktails flow, adventure dispels the aftershocks of World War I, and deadly dangers wait in the shadows . . . Egypt, 1926. Fiercely independent American Jane Wunderly has made up her mind: she won't be swept off her feet on a trip abroad. Despite her Aunt Millie's best efforts at meddling with her love life, the young widow would rather gaze at the Great Pyramids of Giza than into the eyes of a dashing stranger. Yet Jane's plans to remain cool and indifferent become ancient history in the company of Mr. Redvers, a roguish banker she can't quite figure out . . .

While the Mena House has its share of charming guests, Anna Stainton isn't one of them. The beautiful socialite makes it clear that she won't share the spotlight with anyone--especially Jane. But Jane soon becomes the center of attention when she's the one standing over her unintentional rival's dead body.

Now, with her innocence at stake in a foreign country, Jane must determine who can be trusted, and who had motive to commit a brutal murder. Between Aunt Millie's unusual new acquaintances, a smarmy playboy with an off-putting smile, and the enigmatic Mr. Redvers, someone has too many secrets. Can Jane excavate the horrible truth before her future falls to ruin in Cairo . . . and the body count rises like the desert heat?

My Review:

The Emersons always stayed at Shepheard’s when they were in Cairo, but I still picked up this book because of my extremely fond memories of Amelia Peabody Emerson and her tribe of family, friends, associates and enemies from her series, which begins in 1884 with Crocodile on the Sandback, and ends with Tomb of the Golden Bird, set in 1922-23 when Amelia would have been 70 or thereabouts. Possibly. She was a bit cagey about her actual age as the numbers rose.

But still, Amelia and her redoubtable husband Radcliffe Emerson were practicing scientific archaeology as well as amateur detecting, through the years when archaeology in Egypt began to shift from treasure hunting to historical fact-finding. An evolution that is still continuing at the time period of Murder at the Mena House.

Jane and Amelia don’t miss each other by much in time – there’s only three years between Amelia’s final bow in 1923 and Jane’s trip to Cairo in 1926 – and they would have enjoyed each other’s company if they had met. Although if they had, Amelia would probably have rescued Jane from her sadistic husband a LOT sooner, instead of waiting for the war to take care of it for her.

While I may have gotten into this because of Amelia, Jane more than carries this story on her own – with able assistance from Mr. Redvers – or the other way around – whatever his name is. It’s fairly obvious to Jane that the handsome Redvers is hiding quite a lot, and not just the question of whether Redvers is his first or last name. Whatever he is, he’s definitely not like any banker that Jane ever met.

But it’s his not-so-well concealed talents that Jane needs when a young woman is murdered at the Mena House – and Jane is the prime suspect.

Jane may have originally come to the Mena House as a companion for her formidable Aunt Millie, but in the wake of that death and the accusation that follows Jane’s mission at the Mena House has multiplied three-fold, if not more.

She needs to clear her name. She wants to figure out who really did murder Anna Stainton, partly to clear herself and partly for the mystery of it. Jane is itching to solve not only that puzzle but all of the other puzzles that ripple out before her, like the identity of the young women that her normally rude and standoffish Aunt has suddenly become so fond of. And then there’s the identify of Mr. Redvers, and his true mission, whatever that might be.

When the murder Jane is accused of tangles itself up with the smugglers that Redvers is trying to catch, the game is definitely afoot. Occasionally camel-foot, but definitely afoot. Also sometimes a-car and a-truck.

Jane is after the murderer, Redvers is after the smuggler, and it begins to look like Jane and Redvers are after each other. If they can get past the many, many lies and half-truths they have told each other in the course of their somewhat impromptu investigation.

If they survive.

Escape Rating B+: Murder at the Mena House is a whole lot of historical cozy mystery fun. And it does a terrific job of opening up this new series. With its meticulous historical details, it also successfully evokes the Golden Age of mystery in which it is set. Poirot would be right at home in the Mena House.

At the same time, this story is written in the 21st century, and like Amelia Peabody written at the end of the 20th, the focus is on its female amateur detective, Jane Wunderly. As a character, Jane makes a good choice for a detective. She’s still relatively young, but as a widow she is less burdened by the restrictions that society placed on young women than she would have been if still unattached.

However, the mystery surrounding her marriage, while easy for the reader to figure out, adds to the depth of her character. She has secrets that, while we may have sussed them out, are not known to her friends and acquaintances, or even her family.

Not that any person in their right mind, as Jane certainly is, would give her Aunt Millie ANY information that could be used later in an attack. Aunt Millie is, frankly, the epitome of an old battle-axe, and the revelations of her own youthful tragedy do not significantly soften her character. Of all of the possible continuing characters for this series, she’s one I hope we don’t see a lot of.

I do hope we see a lot of Redvers, no matter what his name really is. He and Jane form a terrific partnership that contains just the right amount of will they/won’t they. Because Jane has an entire truckload of baggage that she needs to work through in order to be part of a relationship beyond friendship – but she’s getting there.

The mystery in this one, along with the oodles of historical detail, really do sweep the reader back in time and across the ocean to Cairo in the 1920s. In true cozy fashion, there are plenty of red herrings and a ton of misdirection, while at the same time important issues are at least touched on if not dealt with that would not even rate a mention in material actually written at the time this takes place.

And then there’s the antiquities smuggling subplot, which becomes a big part of the main plot. The illicit trade in antiquities – and murder – leads me right back to where I started, with Amelia. She would have been right at home in the Mena House helping Jane investigate this crime spree. I can see the passing of the torch, and I’m so there for it.

Review: Battle Bond by Lindsay Buroker

Review: Battle Bond by Lindsay BurokerBattle Bond (Death Before Dragons #2) by Lindsay Buroker
Format: ebook
Source: purchased from Amazon
Formats available: paperback, ebook
Genres: urban fantasy
Series: Death Before Dragons #2
Pages: 316
Published by Lindsay Buroker on March 14, 2020
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsiteAmazon
Goodreads

If you think having one dragon around messes up your life, imagine what it’s like when a second one shows up.

I’m Val Thorvald, assassin of magical bad guys and tenuous ally to the dragon lord Zav.

He still calls me a mongrel and thinks I’m a criminal, but he healed my wounds after we fought those dark elves together. That’s progress, right? Maybe one day, he’ll deign to use my name.

Not that this is my primary concern. I’m busy with a new assignment. Nin, the awesome lady who makes my magical weapons, has a werewolf problem. Specifically, sleazy loser werewolf competitors who want to drive her out of business. Or worse.

Normally, a couple of werewolves wouldn’t be a big deal, but these ones have powerful allies. And then there’s that new dragon.

It turns out he’s one of Zav’s enemies, and he wants to use me against him.

I don’t know why he’s picking on me—it’s not like I mean something to Zav—but somehow I’ve gotten stuck in the middle of dragon politics. If you think that sounds like a nightmare, you’re right.

If I can’t figure out a way to help my friend with the werewolves while keeping these dragons from tearing me apart, we’re both going to end up flatter than the deck chairs when Zav lands on the roof of my apartment building.

My Review:

After falling into the first book in this series, Sinister Magic, earlier this month, I was on pins and needles waiting for Val’s second outing to arrive on my ereader. And Battle Bond generally did not disappoint.

Even if I haven’t figured out the title yet. I’m saying that because I just realized what the “sinister magic” of the first title referred to. I wasn’t having much luck with understanding the series title either, until I read a bit of background posted on the author’s site and she explained it was all about Val’s perspective, that she would prefer to be dead rather than become a dragon’s pawn or thrall.

Not that she doesn’t keep ending up in just that position – but she gets better. Also her own personal dragon, while still copping a smug and superior attitude that should get him a slap upside the head, is, not exactly mellowing, but becoming a bit less unbearable.

Particularly in comparison to the dragon that has come to our Earth in order to bait, annoy and try to kill Val’s good frenemy, the dragon Zavryd. A dragon who really doesn’t like it when Val refers to him as Zav.

The story in Battle Bond picks up immediately after the ending of Sinister Magic. Val’s government boss is still recovering from the magical cancer that the dark elves infected her with, and Val is still driving the government loaner Jeep that she requisitioned after Zav threw her old Jeep into the upper branches of a very tall tree.

In this outing, Val’s cases, as is probably going to turn out to be usual for her, intersect with a vengeance. Also with actual vengeance.

A dragon has come to Earth to harass Zav, for reasons that will probably become clear later in the series when we – and Val – know a whole lot more about dragon politics back on Zav’s homeworld.

Meanwhile this dragon is kidnapping children. And hikers. And eventually taking over large but remote government compounds, all as part of a twisted desire to put Zav off his game so that he can be eliminated. Possibly eliminating Val along the way.

But Val also has a case that she is taking pro bono. Her friend and magical weapons supplier Nin is being harassed by a pride of big cat shifters who want to drive her out of business. If they put her in the ground as part of that driving out they really don’t care.

Val, however, cares a LOT. She just has to find a way to convince an entire pride of over a dozen members and growing – also growling, that Val AND Nin are not to be messed with. Possibly by messing with them – permanently. Whether she’s supposed to or not.

Both cases prove to Val that none of the things she thought she wrapped up at the end of the first book are remotely done with her yet. And that she’s going to be ass-deep in dark elves AND dragons for the foreseeable future.

If she has one.

Escape Rating B+: I really, really like Val as a character. She has all kinds of doubts and fears, making her very human in spite of her half-elven parentage. She’s also got some really interesting quirks and a seriously problematic Achilles heel. She’s far, far from perfect, and she’d be the first to admit it.

That she has a therapist who can’t help but remind her of all the ways she’s failing herself just adds to the portrait of the kickass heroine as a flawed human being – whether or not she’s only half-human.

For the most part, Battle Bond is at the same breakneck-pace-with-occasional-pauses as the first book in the series. Val’s world, the mixture of the magical and the mundane that she has to navigate, is complicated by its resemblance to the world we know. Finding out what makes it different among the sameness requires some tricky and time-consuming but pace-slowing worldbuilding. Something that I’m generally for and complain about when I don’t get so I’m happy to see that investment here at the beginning.

At the same time there’s still quite a bit of setup over the first half of the book. But once this one gets going – once all of Val’s ducks have been completely knocked out of alignment and all of her plans have been subjected to Murphy’s Law, the entire thing kicks into very high gear.

I want to say that Val leaps out of the frying pan into the fire, but that’s not strictly true. Val is trying to do the right thing under some very difficult constraints – especially the constraint that the government for the most part refuses to acknowledge that magic exists and therefore doesn’t have much of an arsenal for dealing with or recovering from it. And that her mandate is to eliminate the threat to the human population while the dragon Zav’s mandate is to punish and rehabilitate evildoers from his realm who have come to Earth. It’s more like Val leaps out of the frying pan and the fire just appears – over and over and over.

There is a sense that Val spends a lot of this story as a chew toy being fought over by two dragons who both think of her as a MUCH lesser being but are more than happy to use her for their own ends. And that in spite of her stated desire to die rather than become a dragon’s pawn, she spends a lot of this installment being just that.

She does get better. For the most part. But this book does hint at an eventual romance between Val and Zav, and I’ll admit that so far I’m not there for it. It’s going to take a LOT of this author’s generally excellent worldbuilding and character development to get me there.

But I’ll be back next month for the third book in the series, Tangled Truths, to see just how that turns out!

Review: The Sea Glass Cottage by RaeAnne Thayne

Review: The Sea Glass Cottage by RaeAnne ThayneThe Sea Glass Cottage by RaeAnne Thayne
Format: eARC
Source: supplied by publisher via Edelweiss, supplied by publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: hardcover, large print, ebook, audiobook
Genres: contemporary romance, women's fiction
Pages: 384
Published by Hqn on March 17, 2020
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

The life Olivia Harper always dreamed of isn’t so dreamy these days. The 16-hour work days are unfulfilling and so are things with her on-again, off-again boyfriend. But when she hears that her estranged mother, Juliet, has been seriously injured in a car accident, Liv has no choice but to pack up her life and head home to beautiful Cape Sanctuary on the Northern California coast.

It’s just for a few months—that’s what Liv keeps telling herself. But the closer she gets to Cape Sanctuary, the painful memories start flooding back: Natalie, her vibrant, passionate older sister who downward-spiraled into addiction. The fights with her mother who enabled her sister at every turn. The overdose that took Natalie, leaving her now-teenaged daughter, Caitlin, an orphan.

As Liv tries to balance her own needs with those of her injured mother and an obstinate, resentful fifteen-year-old, it becomes clear that all three Harper women have been keeping heartbreaking secrets from one another. And as those secrets are revealed, Liv, Juliet, and Caitlin will see that it’s never too late—or too early—to heal family wounds and find forgiveness.

My Review:

One of the great things about being part of, let’s call it pre-Millennial Generation is that all of our youthful embarrassments and peccadilloes were thankfully NOT recorded and posted on the interwebs for all to see – and for all to resurrect from the dusty vaults of the Internet Archive or the Wayback Machine if we become even semi-famous, whether accidentally or on purpose.

However, some of us wrote in diaries made out of dead-tree stuff. In other words, paper. And paper is a fantastic way of preserving the thoughts and feelings of the past – whether those thoughts and feelings deserve preservation or not.

The things that Olivia Harper and her late sister Natalie wrote in their high school diaries creep out of the dusty past to bedevil and haunt not just the still-surviving – and still wounded – Olivia after all these years, but also Natalie’s daughter Caitlin, now 15 and searching for the baby daddy that her mother never revealed to a soul. Not her daughter, not her mother, not her sister, not her best friend – not even the baby daddy himself.

There’s also a feeling that this story is about self-protection and self-preservation, especially of the variety where we lie to someone in a way that is supposed to protect them, but is really all about covering our own broken places and protecting ourselves.

At the heart of this story, of the Sea Glass Cottage itself, is a circle of those kinds of social – and emotionally distancing – lies.

Olivia’s ability to continue telling herself she is absolutely fine is shaken when she witnesses a senseless attack in her favorite coffee shop. Her emotional and physical distance from her mother is shattered when her mother’s fall from a ladder puts Juliet into the hospital and rehab, forcing Juliet to acknowledge that she needs her daughter’s help – and that she’s in love with her friend and neighbor, Henry.

Olivia’s return to Cape Sanctuary makes her re-examine her life, her relationships, and the job that keeps her well-paid but prevents her from fulfilling her dreams.

And Caitlin’s compulsive reading of both her mother’s and her aunt’s teenage diaries brings all of the secrets that have been hidden out into the open, surprising everyone with just how much they’ve all been hiding in the vain attempt to keep each other “safe”.

The kind of safety they are all trying to maintain is an illusion, but love, on the other hand, is very, very real. If you let it in.

Escape Rating B+: The Sea Glass Cottage isn’t really a romance, in spite of the number of romances that take place within its pages. And not that two of its heroines don’t find their HEA by the time the story ends.

But the heart of this story is the relationship between three generations of Harper women, grandmother Juliet, daughter Olivia, and granddaughter Caitlin. And even 15-year-old Caitlin’s HEA is hinted at being somewhere in her future, just not yet.

But it’s the way that the relationships among the three women are changed by Juliet’s accident and Olivia’s return to Sanctuary Cove that create the beating heart of this story. And at the center of their story – and their estrangements – are a series of lies and half-truths that have kept them apart and in some ways kept them broken for most of Caitlin’s life.

What reshapes their story and their lives is the unraveling of the truth about the events that took Steve Harper’s life all those years ago. Juliet’s husband Steve was the chief of the volunteer fire department, and he died in a fire that he should never have entered, alone and unequipped, because he believed his daughter’s best friend was inside the burning house.

And that’s a burden that Cooper Vance, the best friend in question, has been shouldering alone for all these years. He feels like he’s the reason his friend and mentor died, and indirectly the reason that the Harper family fell to shreds – as well as the reason that Natalie fell into addiction until it killed her.

Caitlin’s discovery of her mother’s and her aunt’s diaries has opened all of the old wounds, but Caitlin, like Cooper, like Juliet and like Olivia, tries to bear the weight of those secrets alone. Until they all come spilling out, all the ugly truths are finally revealed, and healing can finally begin.

At the beginning of the story, Caitlin is, quite honestly, a bitch all the way around. She’s 15 and trying to hold a terrible secret. She lashes out at pretty much everyone around her, and her parts are difficult to read for quite a while into the story. She does get less abrasive as the story goes on and the reveals start coming, but it takes a while.

She’s holding her aunt Olivia responsible for crap she said when she was hurting, oddly enough around the age that Caitlin is now. But Caitlin isn’t able to make the leap from her own hurt feelings to the idea that an adult in her life, one that she loved and respected, was once a whiny teenage girl – just like her.

The romances are of the extremely slow burn variety. A burn that catches its fire off-screen, but the slow progression of the romances feels right for the way that the story works. I found it particularly poignant that one of those romances featured 50something Olivia, and was with her younger friend and neighbor at that! Her hesitance and the reasons for it felt very real.

Although the first half of the book was a bit slow-going, it has a lot of heavy lifting to do, setting up the relationships, the crises, the family background and all the secrets. Once this one gets going, it reads really fast as the hits come thick and fast and all of the burning issues get resolved. So when you start this one, have a little patience and hang on for a lovely read!

Review: The Moonglow Sisters by Lori Wilde

Review: The Moonglow Sisters by Lori WildeThe Moonglow Sisters by Lori Wilde
Format: eARC
Source: supplied by publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: contemporary romance, relationship fiction, women's fiction
Pages: 400
Published by William Morrow Paperbacks on March 3, 2020
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

It’s Jill Shalvis meets Susan Mallery in this gorgeous novel by New York Times bestselling author Lori Wilde about three sisters, one small town, a wedding, and the summer that changes everything.

Welcome to Moonglow Cove, Texas, a place where your neighbors know your name and the gentle waves of the Gulf of Mexico lap lazily against the sands. It’s a magical spot, especially in the summertime…

Once the town was the home of the Clark sisters—brought up by their grandmother at the Moonglow Inn. Nicknamed “The Moonglow Sisters”, as children they were inseparable.  Then, a wedding-day betrayal tore them apart and they scattered across the globe and away from each other.  But the sisters have at last come home…

There’s Maddie: smart, sensible, and stubborn. Shelley, who ran off to find her bliss. And Gia, a free-spirit determined to keep the peace. It’s her impending wedding that keeps them together…but Gia has a secret, and when her sisters find out all heck is going to break loose!

The Moonglow Sisters continues Lori Wilde’s trademark storytelling to create an unforgettable novel of family, betrayal, love, and second chances.

My Review:

This is a story that invokes ALL the feels. Seriously. All of them.

By that I mean that this story of sisterhood, family ties, family love, family secrets and especially long-held family grudges swings from grief to anger to joy and back around again as the Moonglow sisters come home, but not together, to take care of their beloved Grammy – but seem to have no intention of taking much care – or paying much attention to – each other.

Once upon a time the Moonglow sisters, take-charge Madison, peacemaker Gia and impetuous Shelley, were the darlings of not just their grandmother and her best friend Darynda but the entire town of Moonglow Texas.

At least until five years ago, when Madison caught Shelley kissing Madison’s fiance on Madison’s wedding day, and the sisters broke apart on the rocks of anger, jealousy and disappointment with each other’s lives and choices.

Madison left for New York City and is now a reality-TV star with her own hit cable TV show about making a beautiful home. Something that she herself lacks, as her controlling nature has pushed away not just her family but also the fiancee with whom she shared a terrible loss.

Shelley disappeared to Costa Rica and her sisters have not heard a thing from her in those same five years. Grammy knows where Shelley is, but there doesn’t seem to be much communication there, either.

Gia turned her passion for kite-making into an apprenticeship with a master kite-maker in Japan, and has returned to Moonglow to open her own business, making and selling artisan kites.

Gia, living in Moonglow, is the one who arrives at Grammy’s for their regular weekly brunch to discover that Grammy has left a note for her, asking Gia to get her sisters back together in Moonglow, to fix their fractured family and finish the “Wedding Ring” quilt that was supposed to have been a present for Madison for that dramatically cancelled wedding.

The note makes it clear that the message may very well embody Grammy’s last wishes. As Gia reads the devastating message, Grammy is in surgery. She has stage 4 brain cancer, and the surgery is intended to remove as much of the cancer as possible to slow down its growth. This won’t make her well, but it may give her more time. It may also kill her or leave her a vegetable for whatever time she has left.

Gia treats Grammy’s message as a mission, as Grammy intended. She gets Madison back to Moonglow, and reaches out to Shelley. Madison comes home looking like a million-dollar New York TV star. Shelley blows in worn-out and haunted, with a backpack containing all her possessions, no cell phone and a $200 taxi fare to pay.

It is not an auspicious start for any of the things that Gia thinks she has to accomplish. It’s not exactly an auspicious middle, either, as Grammy remains in a coma after surgery and Madison and Shelley both threaten to leave. It takes a whopper of a tall tale to get them to stay – at least until they discover they have an entirely different mission to carry out.

It’s going to take a village, the entire little town of Moonglow, to take care of Grammy, save her house, and put the Moonglow sisters back together. And it’s touch and go every step of the way.

Escape Rating B+: This one definitely invokes all the feels from beginning to end. It all starts with Grammy writing that message, knowing that she’s just placed a nearly – but not totally impossible burden on Gia. And not knowing that she’s leaving behind as big of a mess as she actually is.

The family dynamic is so fractured that at first it looks like there’s no fixing it. And all of those fractures were created by a whole bunch of family secrets. The sisters don’t know why their mother stopped speaking to their grandmother, and none of them seem to know exactly what was motivating the others during the wedding debacle.

And then there’s the current set of secrets, all brand new and all created post-family feud.

One of the interesting parts of their dynamic is the way that they don’t fit the usual birth order stereotypes. Oldest sister Madison is plenty take-charge and controlling, but middle sister Shelley is the wild child and youngest Gia is the peacemaker instead of the other way around.

But it’s the way that they pull together while falling apart that carries the story. Even though they don’t figure out the darkness that’s at the heart of their fracture until the very end, they still manage to take care of everything that needs to be taken care of, including each other, in spite of everything that’s wrong between them.

In the end, it was intensely cathartic to see Gia finally break. Because her breaking let all the secrets out, and the healing is stronger, a real fix and not just a temporary patch job over everything that had gone wrong.

I also perversely loved that the ending is bittersweet. The sisters can repair the damage to their relationship, they can finally learn and understand what went wrong between their mother and their grandmother, and that reveal allows Grammy to live her own truth for her remaining time. But that time is sadly, appropriately short. Time may heal many wounds, but it cannot heal brain cancer.

At the same time, she’s content with her ending, that she accomplished what she intended to, and got her girls back together before it was too late.

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