Review: The Light at Wyndcliff by Sarah E. Ladd + Giveaway

Review: The Light at Wyndcliff by Sarah E. Ladd + GiveawayThe Light at Wyndcliff (Cornwall, #3) by Sarah E. Ladd
Format: eARC
Source: supplied by publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: historical fiction, historical romance, romantic suspense
Series: Cornwall #3
Pages: 320
Published by Thomas Nelson on October 13, 2020
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

In the third book of this sweet Regency Cornwall series, one young man must search for truth among the debris of multiple shipwrecks on his newly inherited property.
When Liam Twethewey inherits the ancient Wyndcliff Hall in Pevlyn, Cornwall, he sets a goal of fulfilling his late great-uncle’s dream of opening a china clay pit on the estate’s moorland. When he arrives, however, a mysterious shipwreck on his property—along with even more mysterious survivors—puts his plans on hold.
Evelyn Bray has lived in Pevlyn her entire life. After her grandfather’s fall from fortune, he humbled himself and accepted the position of steward at Wyndcliff Hall. Evelyn’s mother, embarrassed by the reduction of wealth and status, left Pevlyn in search of a better life for them both, but in spite of her promise, never returns. Evelyn is left to navigate an uncertain path with an even more uncertain future.
When the mysteries surrounding the shipwreck survivors intensify, Liam and Evelyn are thrown together as they attempt to untangle a web of deceit and secrets. But as they separate the truths from the lies, they quickly learn that their surroundings—and the people in it—are not as they seem. Liam and Evelyn are each tested, and as a romance buds between them, they must decide if their love is strong enough to overcome their growing differences.

My Review:

The Light at Wyndcliff is lovely and slightly bittersweet, best categorized as historical fiction with romantic elements. A romance does happen, but it’s not the central point of the story.

The plot wraps around the sometimes exciting, sometimes dangerous and always criminal smuggling operations that the rougher bits of the Cornish coast are notorious for But this is not a story that romanticizes smuggling. Rather, it paints an all-too-clear portrait of the rot that burrows into the whole town when smuggling – and the protection of it – become the whole town’s economic mainstay.

But at its heart, it feels like this is a story about figuring out not just who you are, but who you want to be, and taking the steps to achieve that goal – no matter how difficult the road or how many people and institutions stand in your way.

For Liam Twethewey it seems as if that goal should be easy to achieve. He’s 22, he’s male, and he’s just come into his inheritance, Wyndcliff Hall on the Cornish Coast. His dream is to make the property profitable, and to make the area that surrounds it self-sustaining for the benefit of the people who live there.

He wants to provide good jobs at good pay. He wants to be someone who administers his land for the good of everyone, and not just his own profit. He wants to be a good man and a good steward of his property, just as his uncle and mentor has taught him to be.

Ironically, the person standing squarely in Liam’s way is his own steward. Once upon a time Rupert Bray was the owner of his own wealthy property, but either unwise investments or an addiction to gambling or some combination of both cost him his estate. Now he’s the steward of Wyndcliff, and has become the unofficial leader of the nearby town in the long interregnum between the death of the previous owner and Liam’s ascension.

It’s a power Bray doesn’t want to give up. Not over the estate, not over the town, and especially not over his grown-up granddaughter, Evelyn. Partially, that’s because Bray is, quite frankly, a petty tyrant. Much of it is because Bray has secrets that he fears that an active master at Wyndcliff will uncover.

And a whole lot of it is because Evelyn is female, and women didn’t have nearly as much as agency as men, a situation that was even more true in the 1820s setting of this story.

So an important but sometimes frustrating part of this story is Evelyn’s hesitant search for who she wants to be now that she is grown up. A quest that is under siege, caught between her grandfather’s desire to keep her safe, his secret plans for her, her absent mother’s ambitious plans for her future marriage to a man of her mother’s choosing – and the written and unwritten expectations of behavior that society holds over her head.

The more time that Liam and Evelyn spend together, no matter how publicly or how innocently, the more the townspeople judge her for her behavior. In their eyes, she is reaching above herself and consorting with an enemy – even though neither Liam nor Evelyn are aware that the villagers consider him such.

When the crisis finally comes to a head, everyone has fixed their places in the drama – except Evelyn. Everyone makes demands of her. Her grandfather – and the townspeople – expect her to lie for them. Liam, and the agents of the Crown, expect her to tell the truth. And her mother expects her to abandon all of them for the glittering future that she has always promised her daughter.

No matter what she decides, Evelyn is going to make someone she cares about absolutely furious with her. She has to find her own way in a life where she has been discouraged from doing just that at every turn.

Escape Rating A-: A romance between Liam and Evelyn does happen in this story, but it doesn’t feel like the romance is the point of the story. More like it’s the reward for doing the right thing. Figuring out what that right thing is, that feels like it’s the central point of the story. And that’s the story that swept me away.

The suspense and tension in this story come from Liam’s efforts to become the true master of Wyndcliff, in spite of Bray’s opposition. The more Liam digs into what’s really going on, the more obvious it is that Bray and the villagers are hiding a whole lot of skullduggery that no one – except Liam – wants to see brought to light.

This story’s treatment of smuggling, showing it as a criminal enterprise that leads to even more – and darker – criminal behavior reminded me of last year’s The Woman in the Lake by Nicola Cornick. So if the exposure of the smuggling ring and its corruption of the town is something that intrigued you, you might want to check that story out as well.

But Bray’s corruption and the town’s participation in it felt fairly obvious from the very beginning. The reader may not know at the outset exactly what he’s hiding but it’s exceedingly clear that he’s two-faced at best.

Liam’s perspective was interesting but not particularly new. I liked him as a character, and it was clear that he was trying to do his best – and that his best was going to turn out to be fairly good. But the story of a young man taking up his inheritance, feeling some uncertainty while facing some challenges is a story that’s been told many times and will be again.

The fascinating and frustrating part was Evelyn’s story. She was caught betwixt and between in so many ways, and was aware of it and often confused and flummoxed about it all. She knew what she was supposed to feel – and she knew that she didn’t feel it – while also being aware that she was hemmed in by so many conflicting expectations. It felt very much as if The Light at Wyndcliff is more Evelyn’s story than anyone else’s. She’s the character who is stuck in a role that everyone expects to be passive – and yet isn’t.

But speaking of expectations, this series is focused on Liam’s family, the Twetheweys. And his story is central to the book, even if it doesn’t feel as much his journey as it does Evelyn’s. He becomes the person he’s always been expected to be, while Evelyn’s journey has all the twists and turns.

That being said, Liam has moved away from his family, the protagonists of the first two books of this series, The Governess of Penwyth Hall and The Thief of Landwyn Manor, to take up the inheritance that kicks off this book. This distance from his family means that it isn’t necessary to have read the first two books to get immediately drawn into this one. He’s moved away and the story has moved away too.

So if you’re looking for a story that brings a small town to life, contains a bit of true-to-life historical suspense and features characters who manage to do the right thing, catch the bad guys, pay the emotional price AND get rewarded by a happy ever after, The Light at Wyndcliff is guaranteed to sweep you away to the Cornish Coast!

~~~~~~ GIVEAWAY ~~~~~~

I’m giving away a copy of The Light at Wyndcliff to one very lucky US commenter on this tour!

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TLC
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Review: A Duke for Miss Townsbridge by Sophie Barnes + Giveaway

Review: A Duke for Miss Townsbridge by Sophie Barnes + GiveawayA Duke for Miss Townsbridge by Sophie Barnes
Format: eARC
Source: author
Formats available: ebook
Genres: historical fiction, historical romance, regency romance
Series: Townsbridges #4
Pages: 100
Published by Sophie Barnes on October 20, 2020
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKobo
Goodreads

She threatens to conquer his heart…
When Matthew Donovan, Duke of Brunswick, proposes to Sarah Townsbridge, she’s shocked. After all, she’s never met him before. One thing is clear though – he obviously needs help. So after turning him down, she decides to get to know him better, and finds out she’s right. But fixing a broken man is not the same as adopting a puppy. Least of all when the man in question has no desire to be saved.
Matthew has his mind set on Sarah. Kind and energetic, she’ll make an excellent mother. Best of all, her reclusiveness is sure to make her accept the sort of marriage he has in mind – one where they live apart. The only problem is, to convince her, they must spend time together. And the more they do, the more he risks falling prey to the one emotion he knows he must avoid at all cost: love.

My Review:

Life may or may not be like a box of chocolates, but A Duke for Miss Townsbridge is a deliciously light confection of froth and fluff with a tasty but chewy center to give it just the right amount of bite.

I’ve just realized that this analogy makes Sophie Barnes’ work the equivalent of that box of chocolates, and that definitely works. They are always delicious!

Initially, the duke in question is not for Miss Townsbridge. At all. Oh, he thinks he is, but she’s having none of him after he invades an afternoon party being held in her honor, gets down on one knee and doesn’t so much propose marriage as command it.

The Duke of Brunswick’s literal first words to his intended bride are “Marry me,” as though he has the right to order it and she has no choice but to go along.

In spite of being near the end of her sixth season, 22 years old and in danger of being considered permanently on the shelf, Sarah Townsbridge does have a choice in the matter, and her choice is to decline the honor.

But that “no” is only the beginning of a romance that Brunwsick had intended to forgo altogether. He needed a wife and a mother for his eventual heir. He wanted someone capable of presenting herself as his duchess while maintaining her own household and keeping herself occupied for the rest of their lives.

He had no intention of loving, or frankly even liking his would-be Duchess. His entire family had been killed in a carriage accident when he was a child. An experience that he has NEVER gotten over. Or past. Or even let the tiniest bit go of.

That’s what makes Sarah decide to give him another chance. She’s made a hobby of taking in wounded animals and “fixing” them. And Matthew Donovan, the high-in-the-instep Duke of Brunswick, is definitely a wounded animal that needs just Sarah’s kind of care. He needs to heal, and she wants to “fix” him.

It should be an even worse beginning for a relationship than his initial commanding proposal. And it very nearly is. Until it finally isn’t.

Escape Rating B+: All of the stories in the Townsbridges series of historical romantic novellas have been utterly delicious, and A Duke for Miss Townsbridge is certainly no exception.

They have also all been romances with just a little bit of bite. Romances where there’s something unconventional in the way that the hero and heroine begin their romantic adventure. Even better, it’s never the same something.

It’s also generally something that shouldn’t work, from When Love Leads to Scandal, where the heroine begins the story engaged to the hero’s best friend, to Lady Abigail’s Perfect Match, where the hero initially makes the heroine literally sick to her stomach, to the previous story, Falling for Mr. Townsbridge, when a son of the household falls for his mother’s new cook – and chooses to ignore convention and marry her.

It’s not necessary to have read the previous books in the series to enjoy this one, but they are all lovely, short, eventually sweet and utterly delicious.

In this outing, Sarah falls for the Duke because she wants to fix him. In real life, this is downright dangerous, and relationships like this one nearly always end in disaster AND heartbreak. Plenty of people have issues that need fixing, but no one can BE fixed. They have to want to fix themselves and then carry through – something that doesn’t happen nearly enough except in Romancelandia.

And it nearly doesn’t happen here, either. It’s not that Matthew is a terrible person, it’s that he’s lived his entire life up to this point clinging to his pain – and he doesn’t know how to stop. Sarah, at least doesn’t think it will be easy, but she does see that it’s necessary. Her mistake is thinking that Matthew is all in on doing the work, when he really isn’t.

So there’s a romance here, where these people fall in love but only one of them is willing to admit it. And they marry anyway. It’s only after Matthew breaks Sarah’s heart that the healing can begin.

That the author didn’t gloss over just how much hard work is going to be involved made this unworkable premise work. In the end, their happy ending was definitely earned!

But speaking of earning a happy ending, the jilted fiance from the very first book in this series, will finally have the chance to earn his in the next book, An Unexpected Temptation, when he gets stranded in a winter storm with his nemesis, just in time for the holidays.

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

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Review: The Emperor’s Wolves by Michelle Sagara

Review: The Emperor’s Wolves by Michelle SagaraThe Emperor's Wolves (Wolves of Elantra #1) by Michelle Sagara
Format: eARC
Source: supplied by publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: epic fantasy, fantasy, urban fantasy
Series: Wolves of Elantra #1, Chronicles of Elantra #0.1
Pages: 512
Published by Mira on October 13, 2020
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

At the Emperor’s command
Multiple races carefully navigate the City of Elantra under the Dragon Emperor’s wing. His Imperial Wolves are executioners, the smallest group to serve in the Halls of Law. The populace calls them assassins.
Every wolf candidate must consent to a full examination by the Tha’alani, one of the most feared and distrusted races in Elantra for their ability to read minds. Most candidates don’t finish their job interviews.
Severn Handred, the newest potential recruit, is determined to face and pass this final test—even if by doing so he’s exposing secrets he has never shared.
When an interrogation uncovers the connections to a two-decade-old series of murders of the Tha’alani, the Wolves are commanded to hunt. Severn’s first job will be joining the chase. From the High Halls to the Tha’alani quarter, from the Oracles to the Emperor, secrets are uncovered, tensions are raised and justice just might be done…if Severn can survive.
The Wolves of Elantra
Book 1: The Emperor’s Wolves

My Review:

In the beginning, a 5-year-old girl named Elliane and a 10-year-old boy named Severn were two scared orphans doing the best they could to raise each other in a place so dangerous that no one expected them to live another year. And no one could afford to care because everyone was too busy attempting to make their own survival last more than another day, another hour, another minute.

That dangerous place was the fief of Nightshade, in the no-being’s-land that surrounds the city of Elantra. A place entirely designed and maintained as a buffer zone between Elantra and the Shadow at the heart of the world.

Their lives and their story should have been both brutal and short. It was often brutal, and always on the knife’s edge of destruction.

But it was not short.

Elliane’s story has been told in the Chronicles of Elantra, beginning with Cast in Moonlight. It is the story of a young woman with a terrible gift and an equally terrible secret, set in the high-fantasy world of Elantra, but often told with an urban fantasy sensibility. It is the story Elliane, now called Kaylin Nera, as she becomes first the mascot of and later a Private in the Imperial Hawks who serve as the equivalent of police in the empire. (Occasionally she rises to Corporal in the Hawks, but usually not for long.)

Elantra is an empire that is ruled by a Dragon and protected as his hoard. An empire that contains citizens of all races, Barrani (read as Elves), Leontine (yes, they’re lions), Aerians (feathered and flying) and more humans than all of the above.

And the Tha’alani. The telepathic Tha’alani who serve as the Emperor’s inquisitors when the need is great – or desperate.

But The Emperor’s Wolves is not Kaylin’s story, although it touches on her story and will undoubtedly connect to it eventually. Because Severn always connects to Kaylin, whether she wants that to happen or not. And initially in the story from her perspective, it’s very much not.

Instead, this is the story of that once upon a time 10-year-old boy, Severn Handred. Severn swore an oath to Elliane’s mother before she died, that he would protect Elliane no matter what. When Elliane couldn’t live with the price of that protection, they separated, walking through very dark places on entirely different paths.

Paths that have now converged. Elliane – as Kaylin – is now 15 and the mascot of the Imperial Hawks. To keep watch over her, Severn, now 20, becomes a member of the Imperial Wolves, the branch of the Halls of Law that investigates major crimes – and serves as the hand of the Emperor when those criminals are brought to summary justice in his name.

The story of The Emperor’s Wolves is Severn’s story. A story that fans of the series have been waiting and hoping for since we first met Kaylin in 2001.

A story that was definitely, utterly, fantastically worth the wait.

Escape Rating A+: I finished this book and now I have a terrible book hangover. But then I always do after a trip to Elantra. This world feels so complex and so complete than when I’m forced to leave it at the end of a story a part of me feels like it’s still back there and doesn’t want to come out.

As if part of my memory has been captured and held by the telepathic gestalt of the Tha’alani.

cast in shadow by michelle sagaraThe Emperor’s Wolves is a bit of a contradiction in terms. It is, without a doubt, the first book in the author’s new Wolves of Elantra series. It is also a prequel for nearly all of the Chronicles of Elantra series, taking place between the prequel novella, Cast in Moonlight, and the first novel in the series, Cast in Shadow.

But this book doesn’t feel like either a prequel or the opening of a new series. Instead, it feels like…enlightenment. Those of us who have followed the Chronicles have already met Severn Handred. We’ve witnessed most of his protective partnership with Kaylin Nera – a partnership that involves a great deal of love but no romance at all – through that series. We’ve also become immersed in Elantra and traveled much of the city and the places outside of the Emperor’s Hoard in Kaylin and Severn’s company.

But Severn, well, Severn is a man of much depth and very few words. He’s an enigma in pretty much everything except his tie to Kaylin – although that has plenty of enigma-ness in it, in ways that neither Severn nor Kaylin understand – at least not yet.

And the period of Severn’s life when he became one of the Imperial Wolves – the time that he spent without Kaylin – has been the biggest enigma of them all. He doesn’t talk about this time period, and we haven’t heard much about what he did – although there have been plenty of enigmatic hints. So this story, and whatever follows it, sheds light on an otherwise dark corner of the history of Elantra – or at least of the people we have come to know and love there. And provides a few tantalizing hints of events that we already know but are yet to come from Severn’s perspective at this point in his life.

Which means that, in spite of seeming like a beginning, The Emperor’s Wolves really isn’t. It’s a missing piece of the complex puzzle that is Elantra, and will be best appreciated – and enthusiastically so – by those who have already made the journey. If you’ve never been to Elantra and are thinking of going there, it’s a marvelous trip but this is not the place to begin.

If you’re already acquainted, however, one of the things that The Emperor’s Wolves does well is return to some of the elements that made this series so fascinating in the first place. As the longer story has continued, while Kaylin is still a member of the Imperial Hawks, her world has expanded beyond the streets of the city and she has become, sometimes willingly, sometimes unwittingly, sometimes dragged kicking and screaming, a power in this world and has moved among the high and mighty – although she would be the first to admit that she herself is neither.

But the series began as an epic-set urban fantasy, and The Emperor’s Wolves returns fantastically to that kind of story. Severn’s first case as one of the Wolves is to solve a crime. To open a case that everyone thought was closed and cold. As part of his investigation, he is forced to navigate the Barrani High Halls, the telepathic mindscape of the Tha’alani group consciousness, the mean streets of the city and the Emperor’s Palace.

Along the way he discovers friends, obfuscates foes and is confronted yet again with the choice that he’s been forced to make over and over since his childhood. That there are all too many times when the cost of justice is more unjust than any crime.

When I picked up The Emperor’s Wolves, I looked forward to learning more about Severn. But now that I’ve seen this world through his eyes, I’ve discovered that I want more. I need it. I hope to see more of Elantra from both Severn’s and Kaylin’s perspectives as their series continue.

Review: Return to Virgin River by Robyn Carr + Giveaway

Review: Return to Virgin River by Robyn Carr + GiveawayReturn to Virgin River (Virgin River, #19) by Robyn Carr
Format: eARC
Source: supplied by publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: hardcover, large print, ebook, audiobook
Genres: contemporary romance, small town romance, women's fiction
Series: Virgin River #21
Pages: 320
Published by Mira on October 13, 2020
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

#1
New York Times
bestselling author Robyn Carr returns to the beloved town of Virgin River with a brand-new story about fresh starts, new friends and the magic of Christmas.
Kaylee Sloan’s home in Southern California is full of wonderful memories of the woman who raised her. But the memories are prolonging her grief over her mother’s recent death. A successful author, Kaylee hoped she could pour herself into her work. Instead she has terrible writer’s block and a looming deadline.
Determined to escape distractions and avoid the holiday season, Kaylee borrows a cabin in Virgin River. She knows the isolation will help her writing, and as she drives north through the mountains and the majestic redwoods, she immediately feels inspired. Until she arrives at a building that has just gone up in flames. Devastated, she heads to Jack’s Bar to plan her next steps. The local watering hole is the heart of the town, and once she crosses the threshold, she’s surprised to be embraced by people who are more than willing to help a friend—or a stranger—in need.
Kaylee’s world is expanding in ways she never dreamed possible. And when she rescues a kitten followed by a dog with a litter of puppies, she finds her heart opening up to the animals who need her. And then there’s the dog trainer who knows exactly how to help her. As the holidays approach, Kaylee’s dread turns to wonder. Because there’s no better place to spend Christmas than Virgin River.

My Review:

The story in Return to Virgin River is all about Kaylee Sloan’s, well, return to Virgin River. But Kaylee was never a resident of that much-loved little town. Rather, Kaylee was an occasional visitor during her childhood, and her most recent visit was ten years in the past, during a previous crisis in her life. Because Kaylee has never really been a part of this community when she returns to Virgin River less than a year into her mourning for her beloved mother, she makes an excellent point of view character to introduce new readers (like me) to this well-loved place and series.

As Kaylee is introduced to everyone who has come to, or come back to, live in this lovely little place, we get to meet them for the first time along with her. For readers who have been here before, It’s undoubtedly lovely to catch up with old friends from previous books in the series.

But Kaylee’s advent makes this a great place for new readers to jump in without feeling like they missed the plot. I knew these people had history, as one does whenever one is introduced to new people in real life, but I didn’t feel like I had missed something important to this story by not knowing everyone’s past.

This turned out to be a great way of getting involved in Virgin River, right along with Kaylee.

And for any long-term readers who may have lost track of everyone in the 8 year hiatus since the previous book in the series, My Kind of Christmas, Kaylee’s arrival in town should serve as a great way to get caught back up!

Kaylee returns to Virgin River because she needs a long, quiet, productive getaway. She inherited her mother’s house, and has been living there since her mother’s death. She and her mom were very close, best friends, and Kaylee feels surrounded by her grief in that house – no matter how much she loves it.

Kaylee makes her living as a mid-list author of suspense thrillers, and she has a book on contract that is not merely due but overdue. She hasn’t been able to write since her mother’s diagnosis, but she has to get her own life on track in order to support herself. She has a cushion, but it isn’t infinite.

They seldom are.

So Kaylee returns to Virgin River, the place her mother took her to several times during her childhood, and the place her mother brought her to heal after her divorce. Kaylee comes to Virgin River to be close to her memories of her mother but not so close that she continues to drown in them.

She arrives to find her planned six-month rental house on fire. Literally on fire. She can’t go home because she’s rented out her own house until after New Year’s – and it’s currently AUGUST. She feels both overwhelmed and stuck.

And that’s where her life takes its unexpected turn. As one door closes – or catches fire – another door opens. The door to Landry Moore’s guest house.

As Kaylee’s life opens up and fills up, between her rescue of the orphaned kitten Tux, the abandoned dog Lady and her puppies, and everyone in the welcoming town of Virgin River – especially her handsome landlord – Kaylee discovers that her grief for her mom, while it hasn’t exactly gotten less has become a less all-consuming part of her much-expanded life.

And that those we love never leave us, not even when they’re gone.

Escape Rating A-: There’s definitely a life imitates art imitates life thing going on here. Kaylee is supposed to be writing a suspense novel – which she eventually manages to do. But she also begins a kind of fictionalized journal or a contemporary romance/women’s fiction novel, which is also the category that Return to Virgin River fits into.

Kaylee’s novel-of-her-heart is a story about a woman who comes to a small town for a fresh start after a death in HER family. Her fictional character falls for her equally fictional landlord – except that neither of them actually is. Fictional, that is. Kaylee pours her growing feelings for Landry into her character’s growing feelings for “Landon”. The disguise is adorably cute and rather “paper” thin. But fun and a great way for Kaylee to process both her hope and her grief.

But the course of true love never does run completely smooth, and in this story the waves are provided by Landry’s long-absent wife. Yes wife. He and Laura have lived apart for 10 years of their 11-year marriage, but neither of them ever bothered to file for divorce.

So naturally, just as Landry realizes that he wants a divorce so that he can become more involved with Kaylee, Laura decides that her acting career, the reason for their separation, isn’t going anywhere and that she wants Landry – or at least the security he can provide – back.

I have mixed feelings about this plot thread. Something had to derail what would have otherwise been Landry and Kaylee’s straightforward amble towards domestic bliss. But the Laura angle felt particularly tacked-on. It was so obvious that she only wanted the security, to the point where not even Landry took her “act” all that seriously.

On the surprising but definitely plus side of the reading equation, Return to Virgin River turned out to be an unexpectedly poignant counterpart to yesterday’s book, Millicent Glenn’s Last Wish. Both stories are about mothers and daughters, but Kaylee and her late mother had the kind of mother-daughter relationship that Millicent and Jane had stopped dreaming of long ago. These two stories make a great back-to-back read if you are well-prepared with plenty of tissues.

Closing on a much happier note, I enjoyed my first trip to Virgin River and now that I’ve met everyone, I’ll be back. Whether by starting at the very beginning with the first book in the series, Virgin River, continuing on with the next whenever it comes around, or maybe BOTH!

~~~~~~ GIVEAWAY ~~~~~~

I’m giving away a copy of Return to Virgin River to one very lucky US commenter on this tour!

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Review: Millicent Glenn’s Last Wish by Tori Whitaker + Giveaway

Review: Millicent Glenn’s Last Wish by Tori Whitaker + GiveawayMillicent Glenn's Last Wish by Tori Whitaker
Format: eARC
Source: supplied by publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: Chick Lit, historical fiction, women's fiction
Pages: 352
Published by Lake Union Publishing on October 1, 2020
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleBook Depository
Goodreads

Three generations of women—and the love, loss, sacrifice, and secrets that can bind them forever or tear them apart.
Millicent Glenn is self-sufficient and contentedly alone in the Cincinnati suburbs. As she nears her ninety-first birthday, her daughter Jane, with whom she’s weathered a shaky relationship, suddenly moves back home. Then Millie’s granddaughter shares the thrilling surprise that she’s pregnant. But for Millie, the news stirs heartbreaking memories of a past she’s kept hidden for too long. Maybe it’s time she shared something, too. Millie’s last wish? For Jane to forgive her.
Sixty years ago Millie was living a dream. She had a husband she adored, a job of her own, a precious baby girl, and another child on the way. They were the perfect family. All it took was one irreversible moment to shatter everything, reshaping Millie’s life and the lives of generations to come.
As Millie’s old wounds are exposed, so are the secrets she’s kept for so long. Finally revealing them to her daughter might be the greatest risk a mother could take in the name of love.

My Review:

“Mirror, mirror on the wall: I am my mother after all.” There are whole Etsy shops devoted to pillows and wall hangings and samplers with this quote. It’s the title of a 2011 memoir by Susan Kane Ronning that revolves around a daughter’s resistance to repeating her mother’s mistakes.

It’s also the theme of Millicent Glenn’s Last Wish, a story of the three – soon to be four – generations of Glenn women; the titular Millicent, the tense relationship she has with her adult daughter Jane and the terrific relationship she has with her granddaughter Kelsey – a relationship in which she sometimes feels that Jane, Kelsey’s mother, is intruding.

And Kelsey’s soon-to-be child, gender still unknown, who will make her, at 91, a great-grandmother. A child that all three women are over the moon about, regardless of the stresses in the relationship between them.

Stresses that lie in the past, in the secrets that are hidden in that past. Secrets that Millicent has held close to her heart and grieved over for decades, but that finally need to come into the light. She is, after all, 91, and feels every single one of those years. She’s afraid that if she doesn’t talk soon, her chance will be gone.

And she’s right, but not in the way that she expected. Because secrets come to light on their own time – no matter how much their keepers wish otherwise.

Escape Rating A-: First, this is a timeslip story, or perhaps it might be better described as a memory story. It operates in two timelines; its 2015 present and Millicent’s past in the late 1940s and 1950s, as she replays in her head the history that she has not shared with her daughter and granddaughter – and that she needs to rather desperately.

Initially, Millicent is desperate because of her own circumstances. At 91, even though she is healthy and active for her age, she can’t help but be aware that her time is running out. When Jane admits that she has discovered a lump in her breast, Millicent is suddenly faced with a more immediate threat. Her daughter, like Millicent’s husband, could have cancer. That fear overlays this story like a sword of Damocles.

In the present, Jane wants no muss and no fuss, she wants to take care of herself, as she always has. She certainly doesn’t want her mother to fuss over her as she feels like she has always had to take care of herself.

Through Millie’s memories, we get glimpses of why that is, although not the full story. The full story we do get is the story of women’s lives in the 1950s, the stresses and strains that led to Betty Friedan’s watershed book, The Feminine Mystique, the book that showed that so many women’s lives, lives that seemed perfect on the surface, were restricted in a straitjacket of competitive domesticity, and filled with frustration, boredom, tragedy and all too often, pills and/or booze.

Millie holds the tragic secrets of her own experience close, perhaps a little too close, just as she did Jane when she was growing up. At least some of the time. The rest of the time, Millie left her daughter to her own devices as she worked her way through her grief, her despair, and the pills she took to cope with both.

When the secrets finally come out, the catharsis is both extended and delayed, as they still have to navigate through Jane’s health scare and Kelsey’s advancing pregnancy. In the end, there is healing – but it’s hard won and painful. The band aid over the past that Millie wanted to ease off gently gets pulled off with a hard jerk – and Jane thinks her mother was one.

And perhaps she was.

I ended up with a whole truckload of mixed feelings about this story for all sorts of personal reasons.

I think that people who don’t live somewhere storied or famous or both, like New York City, don’t expect to see their hometown portrayed in fiction. Millicent’s story takes place in Cincinnati, where I grew up. Millicent would have been part of my mother’s generation, and the Cincinnati she remembers from the 40s and 50s match stories my mother told me, or echo things that I remember being told were in the recent past when I was growing up in the 1960s.

If you are ever in Cincy, Union Terminal is every bit as magnificent as it is portrayed in the story, and well worth a visit for its museums and its gorgeous restoration. It was a building that needed to be preserved, but for most of my growing up years it was a white elephant that the city couldn’t find a purpose for. It was a relief when the museum complex moved in and turned out to be a fantastic use for the space.

Cincinnati Union Terminal Museum Center

But the Cincinnati described in the story is the place I remember. As much as I say that Cincinnati is a nice place to be FROM, I was happy to see the author do it proud. Although I still prefer Skyline Chili to Empress (or Gold Star),  Cincinnati chili really is ordered as described and they are all a taste of home, along with Graeter’s Ice Cream, which is still the best ice cream I’ve ever had.

Part of the poignancy of this story, at least for me, was how much the relationship between Jane and her mother Millie reminded me of the stresses and strains in my own relationship with my mother, although the causes were different. But that emotional distance, that chill that happens between two people who love each other but can’t quite reach each other was extremely real, and even cathartic that they managed to find a peace together that my mother and I never quite did.

This is a beautiful, heartbreaking and ultimately heartwarming story about four generations of women, the secrets that kept them apart and the truths that finally brought them together.

~~~~~~ GIVEAWAY ~~~~~~

I’m giving away a copy of Millicent Glenn’s Last Wish to one very lucky US commenter on this tour!

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Review: Daughter of Black Lake by Cathy Marie Buchanan + Excerpt

Review: Daughter of Black Lake by Cathy Marie Buchanan + ExcerptDaughter of Black Lake by Cathy Marie Buchanan
Format: eARC
Source: supplied by publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: hardcover, ebook, audiobook
Genres: historical fiction
Pages: 320
Published by Riverhead Books on October 6, 2020
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

In a world of pagan traditions and deeply rooted love, a girl in jeopardy must save her family and community, in a transporting historical novel by nationally bestselling author Cathy Marie Buchanan.
It's the season of Fallow, in the era of iron. In a northern misty bog surrounded by woodlands and wheat fields, a settlement lies far beyond the reach of the Romans invading hundreds of miles to the southeast. Here, life is simple--or so it seems to the tightly knit community. Sow. Reap. Honor Mother Earth, who will provide at harvest time. A girl named Devout comes of age, sweetly flirting with the young man she's tilled alongside all her life, and envisions a future of love and abundance. Seventeen years later, though, the settlement is a changed place. Famine has brought struggle, and outsiders, with their foreign ways and military might, have arrived at the doorstep. For Devout's young daughter, life is more troubled than her mother ever anticipated. But this girl has an extraordinary gift. As worlds collide and peril threatens, it will be up to her to save her family and community.
Set in a time long forgotten, Daughter of Black Lake brings the ancient world to life and introduces us to an unforgettable family facing an unimaginable trial.

My Review:

This was marvelous. Not quite what I expected, but marvelous. And as the blurb says, transporting.

Daughter of Black Lake is a time slip story that itself is slipped in time to the first century A.D., to the Roman province of Britannia, in the relatively early years of the Roman occupation. At a time when the Druids still held sway over most of the tribes, and just before the last concerted – and ultimately failed – attempt to throw out the invaders.

But that’s not obvious at first.

The story takes place 17 years apart, among a village of bog people on the shores of Black Lake near modern-day Wroxeter in Shropshire. The village is remote, and life there hasn’t changed all that much since the Romans first attempt to conquer Britain, when they threw Julius Caesar back into the sea. Or so the Druids tell.

And yet, things do change, and events in the wider world impact life in the small village. As is exemplified by the events of the story’s present and what happened 17 years before.

The story revolves around one family, Smith, his mate Devout, and their daughter Hobble. Smith lost most of his family, and his family’s status, 17 years ago when his father and all of his brothers paid heed to the Druids who went to the tribes to drum up support to throw Claudius and his forces off their land.

They failed. They died. The Romans settled in for the long haul of “civilizing” this land of barbarians.

But history repeats. The Romans are expanding, and the influence of the Druids is contracting. They’re losing power and don’t want to give it up. And so they are fomenting a rebellion. Again.

The community at Black Lake is caught in the middle of the opposing forces – and betwixt and between the advances of the Romans and a desire to return to the “old ways”. Ways that included human sacrifice. Ways that would see Hobble sacrificed on an altar of blood to one ambitious Druid’s dreams of glory.

A glory that Hobble, apprentice medicine-woman and full-fledged seeress, knows is totally and utterly out of reach.

Escape Rating A-: The one thing that drove me to frequent, repeated dives into Wikipedia was my inability to fix this story in its historical time period until the very end. Thinking about it further, I realize that was part of the point, but it drove me crazy as I was reading. I needed to know and didn’t.

If the history grabs at you as much as it does me, the Book Club Guide at the author’s website is very informative. Particularly the drink recipes! But seriously, one of the terrific things about this book is that it is meticulously researched AND that the research magically disappears into the story as you read it. It gives the story depth and heft without weighing it down at all. Which is very hard to do.

The story here is about a community on the cusp of change, and that’s what gives the story its drive and dramatic tension. While the details are specific to this particular time and place, the concept is universal. The world of the people of Black Lake is changing, whether they want it to or not.

And, like people everywhere and everywhen, some of them want that change, some of them cling to the past, and there’s plenty of pain to go around as the village wrestles with a future that’s coming whether they want it or not. A tension and a wrestling that is happening right now all around us.

Everything old is new again.

So there’s the details of the story, Hobble’s ability to see the future, and the Druid Fox’s desire to make her see only what he wants to be seen – along with his willingness to kill her if she won’t go along with him.

And in the past, the love triangle between her mother, her father, and Arc, the man her mother loved and lost. When those two things intersect, the tragedy of one lost love and the possible tragedy of losing a child, Devout’s world explodes and ALL the lies are revealed, both of the past and of the present.

Reading Daughter of Black Lake, one is swept along into the rhythms of both Hobble’s and Devout’s stories, although I found Hobble’s the more compelling. At first the movement is slow, as life in its broad outlines changes slowly in this remote place. But the story speeds up as it centers more fully on Hobble’s life, just as the pace of change has sped up with the entrenchment of the Roman invaders.

This is one of those stories where, as it goes on, you’re right THERE, only to be dumped back out into the “real” world with a gasp at its bittersweet end.

Excerpt #4 from Daughter of Black Lake (Excerpt #3 at The Lit Bitch, Excerpt #5 next Tuesday at 100 Pages a Day…Stephanie’s Book Reviews)

   Devout took in his tentative mouth, his uncertain eyes, thick lashed as a doe’s. She could not claim friendship. She was a hand, and the hands and the tradesmen clans held themselves apart at Black Lake. Young Smith seldom spoke to her more than a few words called from the low‑walled forge where he worked alongside his kin. Usually “fine day” or “the wheat looks promising,” though once she had wondered if he had said “the hearth is ablaze here, if you’re…”before his voice trailed away.She had given little thought to him as other than a blacksmith of burgeoning skill.He ranked far above her, beyond her reach—a circumstance that was perhaps un‑fair given her usefulness as apprentice healer at Black Lake. And there was her piety,too. She bit her lip as she sometimes did at those moments when she recognized herself as prideful. Mother Earth expected humility.
“I made something for you,” he said now. He held out his hand, and she saw a packet of folded leather about the size of a walnut.
A blacksmith, a tradesman such as he, was offering a gift to a hand on this particular day? She took the packet.
She unfolded the leather and into the bowl of her palm slipped a gleaming silver amulet strung through with a loop of gut. She drew a finger over the raised detail of the arms of the Mother Earth’s cross at the amulet’s center. She touched the outer ring. How had he accomplished the detail—swirled tendrils as delicate and intricate as a fern,a spider’s web,a damselfly’s gossamer wings? Not in nature, not in all the clearing, woodland, or bog had she seen the handiwork surpassed. Never had she conceived that other than Mother Earth was capable of such beauty. Though it was small, the amulet weighed mightily on her palm. “Young Smith,”she whispered and raised her lit face to his.“It’s magnificent.”
He held her gaze and heat rose through her.

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Review: Bad, Dad and Dangerous by Rhys Ford, Jenn Moffatt, TA Moore and Bru Baker + Excerpt + Giveaway

Review: Bad, Dad and Dangerous by Rhys Ford, Jenn Moffatt, TA Moore and Bru Baker + Excerpt + GiveawayBad, Dad, and Dangerous by Bru Baker, Jenn Moffatt, T.A. Moore, Rhys Ford
Format: eARC
Source: author
Formats available: paperback, ebook
Genres: M/M romance, paranormal romance, urban fantasy
Pages: 424
Published by Dreamspinner Press on October 6, 2020
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

When the kids are away, the monsters will play.
School's out for summer, and these dads are ready to ship their kids off to camp. Not just because their kids are monsters--whose aren't?--but because they're ready for some alone time to let their hair down and their fangs out. You see, not only are the kids monsters--their dads are too.
Even the most dangerous of creatures has a soft spot. These bad, dangerous dads love their kids to death, but they need romance.
Every year, for a few short weeks, these hot men with a little extra in their blood get to be who they truly are. And this year, life has a surprise for them. Whether they be mage, shifter, vampire, or changeling, these heartbreakingly handsome dads might be looking to tear up the town... but they'll end up falling in love. All it takes is the right man to bring them to their knees.

My Review:

What a great collection to really sink your reading teeth into!

Or possibly your real teeth, if you’re anything like any of the dads, and their equally supernatural kids, featured in this fantastic collection of novellas.

I have to say that these stories did a great job of reminding me just what it is I read urban fantasy FOR, that lick of the supernatural that takes the world just one or two steps to the Other, where there is magic, and danger, and danger because of that magic.

These are also worlds that interact with or are nestled inside the everyday human world that we know and love and loathe, and that people are people, with or without extra powers – and that sometimes humans are awful. Power and/or other-worldliness doesn’t make them better, it just makes them different.

And there are entirely too many people who hate those who are different, whether that difference is natural or supernatural.

What’s fascinating about this collection is that the kiss of the other comes in so many different flavors – all marvelous – and all feel just on the edge of possible that sends a shiver up the spine. At the same time, each of the protagonists is also a single-parent, and no matter how otherworldly their kids might be, they are all still kids and still challenging parental authority in age-old ways.

Even if they also grow fur. Or fangs. Or flowers.

Every single one of these stories had something in it that I fell in love with, whether it was Nation the undead cat in Jenn Moffatt’s Kismet & Cadavers, the vampire dad running a call center for an insurance company and slurping up the excess negative emotions from his staff to keep them a bit less unhappy (Monster Hall Pass by Bru Baker), or the grandson of a witch who falls for a werewolf peacekeeper whose son has just be given a pomeranian cut in Rhys Ford’s Wolf at First Sight.

But my favorite story was Elf Shot by TA Moore. It just gave me the most marvelous case of the creeps with the way that it blended all of the stories about “tricksy” fae and fae courts with the purely human evil of a young man who was infected with hate and the young woman who was smart enough to escape his clutches. This is one where the supernatural elements should be the most frightening, but it’s the human evil that really creeps the reader out.

And every single one of these single parent dads manages to find the one man who can make his life just that little bit completer – by accepting the person he really is under the fur or fangs that generally put mundanes right off.

Escape Rating A-: Every single story in this collection is a win-win-win. I just wish they were ALL a bit longer, because I’d like to have spent more time in these worlds with these people. Even if they are not always two-legged people. Or perhaps especially because.

Guest Post from Rhys + Part 2 of Hunting for Salvation

Thanks so much for having me here! Since I revisited the world of Once Upon a Wolf for this anthology, I thought I’d drop back in on some familiar characters from that story for this blog tour. I hope you enjoy meeting them, again or for the first time!

Hunting For Salvation – Part 2 (Part 1 is part of yesterday’s tour stop at Boy Meets Boy)

Dean’s eyes stared back at him from a pretty face innocent of war and blood and all of the monsters crawling through Ellis’s brain whenever he closed his eyes. The soft green hazel gaze held him tightly in place, more so than the shotgun Cassandra Kelly held steadily aimed at the centre of his chest. 

Other than her wide, bright eyes, Dean’s younger half-sister shared none of his rough-hewn features. Dean’s familiar sharp angles and hard, high cheekbones were instead soft gentle curves and plump, sun-kissed cheeks, her mouth a full pout rather than the straight, disapproving line of reproach Dean’s lips were often pressed into whenever he dealt with Ellis. She was about a foot and a few inches shorter than Dean, barely coming up to the top of Ellis’s shoulders but with a shotgun, size didn’t really matter. If he knew one thing about the Kelly clan, it was they knew how to handle weapons, cars, and trespassers and Ellis racked up two out of three on that list.

He’d found her on a hillside ranch deep in California’s valleys, raising alpaca of all things. The fluffy overgrown sheep on steroids were milling about in a paddock behind Cassie, bleating and screaming their displeasure at Ellis’s arrival. Cassie might not know what Ellis was, what monstrous horror ran in his blood but the animals knew. They could scent a predator nearby and nothing she’d said to them could still their anxiety.

Cassie caught him glancing over her shoulder at the herd and cocked her head, keeping the shotgun firmly on him. “We’ve had coyote sniffing around. Lucky for me, I’ve got this here to make them mind their manners. Never would have thought it would come in handy in keeping Dean’s trash from piling up on my driveway.”

Ellis regarded the shotgun, noting its worn stock and well-burnished barrel. It was an old weapon, probably had a couple of generations of Kellys handling it. Clearing his throat, he nodded at the herd, “Not a coyote.”

“Just as bad,” she countered with a hard sniff. “Now give me one good reason I shouldn’t blow a hole right through you? Seeing as you left my brother deep down in a hole he’s not crawled out of yet.”

“Because I’m looking for him.” Ellis shoved his hands into the pockets of a pair of jeans he’d nicked from his brother’s dresser before he left Big Bear behind. “We’ve got… things to work out.”

“Only thing he needs to work out is whatever shit you left him holding,” Cassie spat back. “My brother came back nothing like he left and from what I gathered, you were the one who scooped out everything good from inside of him and ground it down into dust. What the fucking hell do you think you can say to him that’s going to change that.”

Ellis considered his options. The road to Cassie’s place was a long, dusty maze of dead ends and slammed doors. She was his only hope in finding Dean and if anyone was going to put him on the man’s trail, it would be his sister. He didn’t find any fault in her fierce defense of her brother or the reasons she wanted to keep him hidden but he wasn’t going to give up. Not after fighting so hard to break loose of the wolf he’d wrapped around himself and especially not after digging into every wound he had to find the man who’d brought him home.

“One reason, Keller,” Cassie repeated. “Else you’re going to be breathing through a hole in your guts.”

“Because I’m in love with him,” Ellis murmured, meeting her glare with as much honesty as he could muster. “And I’m not going to find peace until he knows that.”

    Join us tomorrow at Blogger Girls to hear about ‘Unicorn Snot’ from Jenn Moffatt.

~~~~~~ GIVEAWAY ~~~~~~

The authors are giving away a $10 Gift Certificate to the etailer of the winner’s choice at every stop on this tour!

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Review: Remember Me by Mario Escobar

Review: Remember Me by Mario EscobarRemember Me: A Spanish Civil War Novel by Mario Escobar
Format: eARC
Source: supplied by publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: hardcover, paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: historical fiction, World War II
Pages: 384
Published by Thomas Nelson on September 15, 2020
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

From international bestseller Mario Escobar comes a 20th-century historical novel of tragedy and resilience inspired by Spain’s famed Children of Morelia and the true events that shaped their lives.
Historians refer to the Spanish Civil War as one of the bloodiest wars of the twentieth century. In 1937, at Mexico’s request and offer, nearly 500 children from Spain—remembered as Los Niños de Morelia—were relocated via ship to Mexico to escape the war’s violence. These children traveled across the sea without their families and were expected to return at the war’s end. No one could have foreseen another world war was on the way—or that that Franco’s regime would prevent the children from coming home. These enduring conflicts trapped the children in a country far from their homeland, and many never made it back.
Remember Me is Mario Escobar’s novelization of these events, as told by a fictional survivor—one of the children of Morelia—who looks back upon his life after making the long and devastating journey across the Atlantic. This story explores the endurance of the human spirit as well as the quandary of a parent’s impossible decision, asking: At what cost do you protect your child in the face of uncertainty?

My Review:

I picked this book up because I was moved by Children of the Stars and was hoping for something similar. And it is that, a fictionalized account of real history, and real history of roughly the same period.

In other words, I was expecting a story where fiction is the lie that tells the truth – in this case the truth about the very real children of Morelia, the nearly 500 children who were sent out of the Spanish Civil War to Mexico in the hopes that they would be safe.

There are all kinds of versions of safe, however. They were safe from the direct effects of the war – and its immediate aftermath. Many of the children were the sons and daughters of the left-leaning Popular Front government. Which was defeated by Franco and his right-leaning Nazi supported Nationalists. Who brutally suppressed the left after their victory. Which meant that their parents weren’t safe either during or after the war. The children weren’t exactly safe either – but neither were they being shelled.

The Spanish Civil War is often referred to as a dress rehearsal for World War II, as the countries who became the Allies supported the Republican government of the Popular Front, while the Axis supported the Nationalists.

And just as happened elsewhere before and even during that war, parents tried their best to keep their children safe – or at least as safe as possible. That meant that parents faced a terrible choice – to keep their children with them, to do their own best to keep them safe in a country that was the front for war, or to send them away in the hopes that they would be safer far from the battlefield.

The story in Remember Me is the story of those children sent to Mexico under the sponsorship of the Mexican government. And while the experiences of the children of Morelia were not as brutal as the Stein brothers endured in Children of the Stars as young Jewish orphans trekking across a Nazi-dominated Europe that hunted them in order to exterminate them, it was far indeed from the safety and security that their parents had hoped for.

Escape Rating B+: This is a hard book. It’s hard because what happens to the children of Morelia is both all too horrible and all too familiar. On the one hand, this was a history that I wasn’t familiar with in its particulars, although the outline of it is part of many stories that happened during the war, from the children of London shipped to the countryside to escape the Blitz to the Kindertransport that rescued 10,000 predominantly Jewish children from Nazi Germany and other countries in the months prior to World War II to the Danish resistance movement’s evacuation of over 90% of the country’s Jewish population to Sweden.

But the rescue itself is only part of this particular story, which is wrapped in the particular circumstances in Spain during and after the Civil War, and of the conditions that the children faced in Mexico.

And quite probably elsewhere, because the story of what the children went through reads like a combination of Lord of the Flies with all the old sayings about power corrupting. Much of what happened read like it could be attributed to people who had power over the children while they were in Mexico either being venal or neglectful or having their own axe to grind. Or multiple axes, as Spanish colonial oppression was not that far in Mexico’s past that there weren’t people who wanted to punish the children for the sins of their figurative grandparents. There was also conflict with the Catholic Church that just added to the issues. Many of the children were secular, having been raised in left-leaning revolutionary families. The Catholic Church in Mexico was very powerful, and there was a fair amount of pious skullduggery involved, with children who still had parents being assigned as orphans to the Church.

The money that was intended to support the children was siphoned into multiple pockets, the people put in charge of the children had no idea how to take care of them, and the facility ended up being run by the bullies. Parts of that story, awful as they are – and they are awful – felt both sad and predictable.

Human beings often suck. While wartime may make some rise to the occasion, it also makes the sucky even suckier.

This is reading like a downer, and that feels appropriate. While it ends on a hopeful note, that didn’t feel like the tone for much of the story. And I’ll admit that I am not in a hopeful mood this week, and this was probably not the right book at the right time, as compellingly readable as it is. And it certainly is.

In the end, the book this reminded me of more than any other was not the author’s Children of the Stars but rather The Brothers of Auschwitz. While a bit of that is the period setting, it is mostly due to the way that both stories are unflinching in their look at a terrible history, and in their emphasis on the ongoing cost of that history to its surviving victims.

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Review: The Ancestor by Lee Matthew Goldberg + Giveaway

Review: The Ancestor by Lee Matthew Goldberg + GiveawayThe Ancestor by Lee Matthew Goldberg
Format: eARC
Source: supplied by publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: paperback, ebook
Genres: historical fiction, mystery, thriller
Pages: 348
Published by All Due Respect on August 21, 2020
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

A man wakes up in present-day Alaskan wilderness with no idea who he is, nothing on him save an empty journal with the date 1898 and a mirror. He sees another man hunting nearby, astounded that they look exactly alike. After following this other man home, he witnesses a wife and child that brings forth a rush of memories of his own wife and child, except he's certain they do not exist in modern times-but from his life in the late 1800s. After recalling his name is Wyatt, he worms his way into his doppelganger Travis Barlow's life. Memories become unearthed the more time he spends, making him believe that he'd been frozen after coming to Alaska during the Gold Rush and that Travis is his great-great grandson. Wyatt is certain gold still exists in the area and finding it with Travis will ingratiate himself to the family, especially with Travis's wife Callie, once Wyatt falls in love. This turns into a dangerous obsession affecting the Barlows and everyone in their small town, since Wyatt can't be tamed until he also discovers the meaning of why he was able to be preserved on ice for over a century.
A meditation on love lost and unfulfilled dreams, The Ancestor is a thrilling page-turner in present day Alaska and a historical adventure about the perilous Gold Rush expeditions where prospectors left behind their lives for the promise of hope and a better future. The question remains whether it was all worth the sacrifice….

My Review:

After living in Alaska for several years, I can never resist an Alaska story when it catches my reading eye. The Ancestor is definitely a fever dream of an Alaska story. Ironic when you think about it, as Alaska is not exactly a place that brings fever dreams to mind. More like the opposite; frozen dreams.

But this is that too, one man’s frozen dream of a past that only he remembers, and his fever dream in the present to recapture the life he once had – not by going back to the past, but by recreating a new version of his old life in the present, no matter how many sins he has to commit along the way.

The Ancestor is kind of a Rip Van Winkle story, if ol’ Rip, instead of being meek, mild, easygoing and henpecked, was instead an amoral sociopath of a serial killer.

Not quite, but closer than any other description I can come up with, considering that old saw about the past being another country where they do things differently.

Because that’s where Wyatt Barlow is from. The past. He went into the ice not terribly far from Nome, Alaska, in 1898, and woke up in 2020. The world has changed – even in Alaska. (Although it’s not mentioned specifically, he probably defrosted because the permafrost in Alaska is melting due to climate change. I digress. I have a feeling I’m going to do that a lot in this review.)

When Wyatt wanders into town, looking pretty much like death warmed over – as that’s none too far from the truth – he discovers that his descendants are still in the area, living in the tiny town of Laner. That he has a doppelganger descendant he hears called “Trav” who turns out to have a beautiful wife and a baby boy who resemble Wyatt’s own lost wife and baby boy.

A baby boy who turns out to be Trav – actually Travis’ – great grandfather. Making Wyatt his great-great-grandfather. Not that either of them have the relationship figured out exactly at the time.

But Wyatt Barlow is a man used to getting what he wants, no matter who or what might stand in his way. So he hatches a plot to involve himself in his great-great-grandson’s life, with an eye to taking over that life.

After all, that uncanny resemblance between them must be good for something. There must be a purpose to it. A purpose that Wyatt can exploit, just as he has exploited so many other things and people in his life, in order to achieve what he wants. Just like he found the gold that brought him to Alaska in the first place. Just like he killed his partner to get that gold.

And now he’s found a way to get back what he lost. A wife and a son. Who won’t even know that he’s taken Travis’ place. All he has to do is become Travis – and put him under that ice. After all, in the here and now, there can be only one Travis Barlow. And Wyatt intends to be that Travis, no matter what it takes.

Escape Rating B: I’ll admit to being all over the place on this one. It certainly kept me turning pages. It’s also not exactly what the blurb says it is, either. I’d certainly debate whether Wyatt falls in love with Travis’ wife. What he’s feeling, and what he’s planning, aren’t nearly so romantic. Or anything even close to that.

There are two stories here. One is the obvious, about Wayne and Travis and the way that Wayne inveigles himself into Travis’ life, his family and eventually his place in the world. But the story that follows Travis’ life and that of his family reminds me a lot of the stories about life in the tiny towns sprinkled through the state. That Nome is the nearest “big” place to Laner, and that Nome only has a population of 4,000 people, gives a hint of the size and remoteness of the place. Callie’s part of this story, Travis’ California-born wife, also feels familiar. Anchorage, with a population of nearly 300,000, feels remote and small relative to anything in the Lower 48, or as it’s called in Alaska, “Outside”. So Callie’s feelings of near-claustrophobia, complete isolation and frequent boredom are all too real. She loves Travis, she loves Laner, but it is a damn hard life and it seriously gets to her.

The other story is Wayne’s story about life during the Klondike Gold Rush. Not that plenty of stories about the Gold Rush haven’t been told before. And perhaps that’s where some of the issues lie.

Wayne has a difficult time remembering everything that happened to him in the past. Saying his brain is a bit frozen isn’t exactly a stretch. That he survived in the ice is a bit of handwavium, as all time travel stories generally are. That’s the part the reader has to take on faith, and it works that way.

But the way he gets back his memory is to take heroin. Again, not that there isn’t plenty of it available, along with meth and booze, in those tiny remote villages. It’s the same as everywhere else, perhaps even more so considering the long, dark, cold winters. Any escape is chased, even if its just an escape inside one’s own head.

I think where my willing suspension of disbelief went a bit haywire was not just in the way that Wyatt recovered his memories, but what he remembered. And that the consequences of what is clearly already an addiction aren’t dealt with at all.

Smith at bar in Skagway, Alaska, 1898

On the one hand, Wayne’s heroin coma lets him relive his experiences in their seeming entirety. And they are unflinching when it comes to his abandonment of his family back in Washington state, the murder he committed on his way to Sitka, and the murders he commits along his way from Juneau to Dawson City to “The Unknown”, which turns out to be Anvil Creek near Laner. But one of those killings is of a bunch of conmen led by one of Alaska’s more colorful legends, “Soapy” Smith. The problem is that the events in Wyatt’s story occur after Smith was gunned down, extremely publicly, in Skagway. His body was even autopsied. There is no doubt that Smith was dead before he met Wyatt. Which threw off my perception of the accuracy of Wyatt’s memories.

Except those memories really did lead him to the gold. So the question of just how much Wyatt dreamed vs. how much he actually remembered is still bothering me. A lot.

And that I’m thinking about this so much after I closed the book is just an example of what made this book so compelling – even as it drove me crazy.

There is a lot of darkness in this book. While this story begins as winter sort of turns to spring, the fact is that daylight hours in Nome in winter average around 4 hours per day in December and January. It’s a dark place in the winter, and a cold place most of the year. The temps are only in the 30s in April when this story begins and don’t get to 60 even in July. The cold and the dark are part of the “ambiance”.

At the same time, Travis’ family is going through some rough times. The economy is down, the big employers have all closed, his grandfather is dying, his brother was murdered and Travis is generally depressed. Wyatt’s sudden advent into Laner may not be a good thing, but it is a different thing in a place that craves novelty.

Wyatt’s own story is itself dark. It’s brutal in regards to his abandonment of his own family, and equally so about the obsession that consumes his own thoughts. He wants what he wants and no one is allowed to stand in his way. I ended the story feeling sorry for Callie because she’s now married to a monster who will do anything to have her and to keep her, whether she wants to be kept or not.

So there are no happy endings here. Instead, The Ancestor is dark and chilling every step of its enthralling way. A terrific chilling read for this long, hot summer.

~~~~~~ GIVEAWAY ~~~~~~

I’m giving away a copy of The Ancestor to one lucky U.S. commenter on this tour!

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Review: The Brothers of Auschwitz by Malka Adler

Review: The Brothers of Auschwitz by Malka AdlerThe Brothers of Auschwitz by Malka Adler, Noel Canin
Format: eARC
Source: supplied by publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: paperback, ebook
Genres: biography, historical fiction, Holocaust, World War II
Pages: 464
Published by One More Chapter on September 1, 2020
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

An extraordinary novel of hope and heartbreak, this is a story about a family separated by the Holocaust and their harrowing journey back to each other.
My brother’s tears left a delicate, clean line on his face. I stroked his cheek, whispered, it’s really you…
Dov and Yitzhak live in a small village in the mountains of Hungary, isolated both from the world and from the horrors of the war. But one day in 1944, everything changes. The Nazis storm the homes of the Jewish villagers and inform them they have one hour. One hour before the train will take them to Auschwitz.
Six decades later, from the safety of their living rooms at home in Israel, the brothers finally break their silence to a friend who will never let their stories be forgotten.
Told in a poetic style reminiscent of Atwood and Salinger, Malka Adler has penned a visceral yet essential read for those who have found strength, solace and above all, hope, in books like The Choice, The Librarian of Auschwitz and The Tattooist of Auschwitz.
This paperback includes an exclusive 14-page P.S. section with an author Q, an Author’s Note and a reading group guide.
Praise for The Brothers of Auschwitz
I sat down and read this within a few hours, my wife is now reading it and it is bringing tears to her eyes’ Amazon reviewer
‘The story is so incredible and the author writes so beautifully that it is impossible to stay indifferent. I gave the book to my mom and she called me after she finished crying and telling me how much she loved it’ Amazon reviewer
‘It is a book we all must read, read in order to know … It is harsh, enthralling, earth-shattering, rattling – but we must. And nothing less’ Aliza Ziegler, Editor-in-Chief at Proza Books, Yedioth Ahronoth Publishing House
Great courage is needed to write as Adler does – without softening, without beautifying, without leaving any room to imagination’ Yehudith Rotem, Haaretz newspaper
‘This is a book we are not allowed not to read’ Leah Roditi, At Magazine

My Review:

Fiction is the lie that tells the truth, as it does in this biographical novel about two brothers’ harrowing experiences as prisoners in Auschwitz in 1944-45 and their long journey to find each other again. And what happened after.

The story is searing in its intensity, all the more so because so much of it is based on interviews that the author conducted with its protagonists. Even though this is labeled as a “biographical novel”, it feels true in all of its horror.

Although there is a framing story of the author going to visit Dov and Yitzhak to interview them, the power in this narrative comes from the two men telling what feels like the unvarnished and unwhitewashed truth about not just what happened to them during the war, but also what they did to keep themselves alive. And how both shaped the men they became and lingered for the rest of their lives.

It’s a compelling story in its harsh treatment of its subjects, or perhaps it’s better to describe it as harsh in the way that its subjects treat themselves. Death would have been easy to find. Survival was hard and brutal, a desperate struggle every single day for one mouthful of food and precious few hours of sleep. The conditions they existed under were designed to eliminate as many Jews as possible, and succeeded all too well. Even after the Germans knew that the war was lost, they were still doing their utmost to march as many as possible until they died.

But this set of multiple first-person accounts of what barely constituted life under the thumb of the Nazi SS – seemingly even more deadly when not in an actual concentration camp – spares no one in its telling, not the Nazis, not the Christians who were so willing to see the Jews carted away so they could claim their homes and possessions, and not the survivors who saw and felt themselves as barely human when the Nazis were finally gone.

I’m not saying liberated, because that doesn’t seem to be the right word. Long after the war, but particularly in its immediate aftermath, the brothers make it clear that they carried their oppressors and their experiences with them into rehabilitation camps and forever after.

This is a book that compels the reader to stay with it, even as you want to turn your eyes away. Or perhaps especially because of that. It’s worse than war in all its horror, it’s bigger than man’s inhumanity to man, and it needs to be read because this is a story that needs to be remembered.

Escape Rating A: This book felt personal to me in ways even beyond my expectations. The area that Dov and Yitzhak are taken from is the area my own grandmother came from. The man they meet briefly in their first camp, the one who is a landowner, could have been my great-grandfather, who was the same, although as far as is known, he didn’t even make it to one of the concentration camps.

So this story feels true for me because it matches what little history I have from my own family. Most of my relatives were already in the U.S. when the Nazis came, and only one who was not survived the camps. He didn’t talk about it and neither did his wife, my great aunt, who was also a survivor. So that Yitzhak and Dov don’t want to talk about it also rang true.

This is obviously a book that got me in the feels. It reads as raw, and brutal, and honest about not just the hardship they faced – and that’s not nearly a strong enough word – but also the desperate acts they committed themselves in order to just live one more day. Nothing is left to the imagination and it’s a story of horror after horror.

And yet, they survived. They left Europe, went to Israel and became part of the foundation of a country whose odds were desperately stacked against it, but survived anyway. And there’s hope in that. The hope that we can make the cry of “Never Again” stick. If we commit ourselves to remember. Read this book, remember, and weep.

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