Review: The Secret Women by Sheila Williams

Review: The Secret Women by Sheila WilliamsThe Secret Women by Sheila Williams
Format: eARC
Source: supplied by publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: relationship fiction, women's fiction
Pages: 304
Published by Amistad on June 9, 2020
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

The author of Dancing on the Edge of the Roof, now a Netflix film starring Alfre Woodard, returns with a riveting, emotionally rich, novel that explores the complex relationship between mothers and daughters in a fresh, vibrant way—a stunning page-turner for fans of Terry McMillan, Tayari Jones, and Kimberla Lawson Roby.

Elise Armstrong, Carmen Bradshaw, and DeeDee Davis meet in a yoga class. Though vastly different, these women discover they all have one thing in common: their mothers have recently passed away. Becoming fast friends, the trio make a pact to help each other sort through the belongings their mothers’ left behind. But when they find old letters and diaries, Elise, Carmen, and DeeDee are astonished to learn that each of their mothers hid secrets—secrets that will transform their own lives.

Meeting each month over margaritas, the trio share laughter, advice, and support. As they help each other overcome challenges and celebrate successes, Elise, Carmen, and DeeDee gain not only a better understanding of the women their mothers were, but of themselves. They also come to realize they have what their mothers needed most but did not have during difficult times—other women they could trust.

Filled with poignant life lessons, The Secret Women pays tribute to the power of friendship and family and the bonds that tie us together. Beautiful, full of spirit and heart, it is a thoughtful and ultimately uplifting story of unconditional love.

My Review:

I picked this up because the story was wrapped around family secrets that three women discover in the process of grieving for their mothers’ deaths. This was also the central theme of another book that I read recently, the excellent but completely different Millicent Glenn’s Last Wish by Tori Whitaker.

Although the stories share something besides their theme, as both are set in my own hometown of Cincinnati, Ohio.

I’m attracted to stories like these because I lost my own mother three years ago this December. Everyone’s grief process is different, although stories like this certainly all live up to that old saying about all happy families being alike while misery seems to have a thousand mothers – and fathers.

But stories like this one have resonance for me, especially this time of year, and especially when the women are somewhere in mid-life or thereabouts, as Elise, Carmen and DeeDee certainly are.

All three women are somewhere in mid-life, all are black, and all are having difficulties dealing with the deaths of their mothers – however recently or not. And all of them are stuck wading through the detritus left behind, both in the sense of physical material and emotional baggage.

Elise in particular has an entire apartment full of stuff to go through and make decisions about. Her mother was a ruthlessly organized woman, which is the only thing that kept her from being featured as a hoarder. Her condo and its storage area are full to the brim with her many, many collections, starting with, but definitely not ending with, 15 complete sets of dishes. Not 15 place settings of dishes, 15 sets of 12 or so place settings each. Along with similar amounts of clothing, jewelry, collectibles, knick-knacks and whatnots. Lots of whatnots.

So these women bond, a bit over their yoga class and their snarky comments about their rigid drill instructor of an instructor, somewhat over the losses they haven’t managed to process, and definitely over a shared need to make peace with the women their mothers’ were by dealing with the secrets they left behind.

And the boxes. Boxes of jewelry, boxes of letters and especially boxes of secrets that bring home the realization that none of them really knew their mothers, not the secret women that their mothers really were.

Escape Rating A: Elise, Carmen and DeeDee have reached this point from three very different journeys, and the secrets that they uncover, both about their mothers and about themselves, are all equally different. They cover a spectrum of mother-daughter relationships and women’s lives that will have a lot of resonance for any woman.

Elise is the one with the most regret, DeeDee is the one who has the most to remember, and Carmen is the one who uncovers the biggest revelation.

There, that was cryptic.

Elise has both the hardest journey, because her loss is the most recent, but also the simplest. She has to empty her mother’s condo and she has to forgive herself for not accepting her mother’s new romantic relationship. Her mother moved on from her father’s death, while Elise mostly didn’t. But there are relatively simple ways for Elise to still find closure and forgiveness, and she eventually does. Her issues aren’t easy – none of this is easy, but they are simple.

DeeDee, whose mother has been gone the longest, has to reach back into her own memory to reset what she thinks and feels about her mother, and how those memories have affected her relationships with her sister and her own daughters.

Bipolar disorder runs through DeeDee’s family, and her mother suffered from both that disorder and severe postpartum depression, which most likely exacerbated each other. The traumatic childhoods of both DeeDee and her sister – who inherited the disorder – still haunts her. In finally opening the boxes her mother left behind, DeeDee is finally able to remember the good as well as the bad, and to begin to let her own daughters know the artistic genius their grandmother was.

The secrets that Carmen uncovers change her perception of who she herself is and her place in the world, as the boxes her mother left behind reveal her life as a young woman, before she married Carmen’s father and became a preacher’s wife. A time when she traveled the world. A time when she married Carmen’s natural father. When she became a very young widow, and when her young husband’s mother erased both Carmen and her mother from her dead son’s life. Because his mother never accepted her son’s black, gentile wife and their mixed race child.

Carmen’s mother believed that her first mother-in-law’s rejection and erasure was solely because she was black. It’s possible that at least some of that attitude was religiously motivated, as it was not unheard of for Jewish parents at that time to consider a child who married outside the religion to be dead and to perform funeral rites over them, to sit shiva and say kaddish. Whatever the motivation, it was despicable treatment that sent Carmen’s mother back home to her family, to her childhood best friend, to the man who Carmen knew as her father for her entire life.

Until she opened those boxes and discovered her mother’s past.

But all three women find a marvelously supportive friendship with each other. A burden shared is, after all, a burden halved. Or in this particular case, thirded. They all find some much-needed closure, they all make a bit of peace, and they all move forward. For this reader, the story was tremendously cathartic, especially as I found touchstones to my own journey among theirs.

I really wish I could take that yoga class with them – although I’m not too sure about maintaining the headstand pose. But friendship like theirs definitely be worth the effort!

Review: Stories from Suffragette City edited by M.J. Rose and Fiona Davis

Review: Stories from Suffragette City edited by M.J. Rose and Fiona DavisStories from Suffragette City by M.J. Rose, Fiona Davis, Kristin Hannah
Format: eARC
Source: supplied by publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: hardcover, ebook, audiobook
Genres: historical fiction, short stories
Pages: 272
Published by Henry Holt and Co. on October 27, 2020
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

A collection of short stories from a chorus of bestselling writers all set on the same day, October 23, 1915, in which over a million women marched for the right to vote in New York City with an introduction by Kristin Hannah.
Stories From Suffragette City is a collection of short stories from the leading voices in historical fiction that all take place on a single day. The day one million women marched for the right to vote in New York City in 1915. A day filled with a million different stories, and a million different voices longing to be heard. Taken together, these stories from writers at the top of their bestselling game become a chorus, stitching together a portrait of a country looking for a fight, and echo into a resounding force strong enough to break even the most stubborn of glass ceilings.With stories from:Lisa Wingate, M. J. Rose, Steve Berry, Paula McLain, Katherine J. Chen, Christina Baker Kline, Jamie Ford, Dolen Perkins-Valdez, Megan Chance, Alyson Richman, Chris Bohjalian and Fiona Davis

My Review:

Forget, if you can, the David Bowie classic song, Suffragette City, because the song wasn’t about these suffragettes, in spite of the title. And in spite of the song being the first thing that popped into my head when I read the title. To the point where I have an earworm.

But this book is something entirely different.

On October 23, 1915, 105 years ago today, between 25,000 and 60,000 women marched through the streets of New York, in front of at least 100,000 spectators lining the streets, blocking traffic and generally grinding the entire metropolis to a screeching and sometimes cheering halt.

The Five-Mile Suffrage Parade of 1915 (AP Photo)

New York State was just about to vote on a referendum that would allow women the right to vote. The parade was intended to draw concentrated attention to the referendum, to provide a clear and incontrovertible testament that women were political and should be granted the right to vote.

Not all women agreed. And certainly not all men, who would be the ones doing the actual voting, for or against. As it turned out, mostly against. The referendum failed in 1915. It succeeded in 1917. The Nineteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, whose centenary occurred earlier this year, gave all women the right to vote, even if it didn’t – and still doesn’t – mean that all women are actually able to vote.

Nevertheless, the October 23, 1915 parade was a watershed moment. And this collection of short stories that all take place on that day, within and surrounding that parade, tells the story of that moment and the women who were a part of it, through fictional perspectives from all sides, from the rich and famous – and occasionally infamous – Alva Vanderbilt Belmont to NAACP co-founder Ida B. Wells to Irish and Armenian immigrants to a young niece of the storied Tiffany family.

These are not any of their stories in their entirety. Rather, they are the stories of actions on that one, singular day, the thoughts, feelings and struggles that brought them to the parade, and the joy and occasional heartbreak that surrounded both its triumphs and its failures.

Escape Rating A-: It’s time to talk about the stories themselves.

This is one of those times when ALL the stories in the collection are just terrific. And that feels rare in collections. After all, not every style agrees with every reader. But this time, with its emphasis on this one day and all of the thoughts and feelings surrounding it, works. (If the concept of stories around a significant historical event appeals to you, Fall of Poppies, focusing on the cessation of the hostilities of World War I on the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month is also very lovely and well worth a read on this coming, or any other Veterans Day.)

Back to the stories. Although I will say that the differing perspectives that these stories focus on do lead the reader down plenty of mental and emotional byways. The day may have been singular, but the perspectives on it certainly were not. That’s what makes the collection as a whole so fascinating.

Many of the stories deal with women’s responses to the men in their lives who are either against the idea of women’s suffrage or just think that marching is unseemly and unsafe, and that women are delicate flowers that need protection from the dirty scrum that is politics.

Two of the particularly excellent stories on this topic are A First Step by M.J. Rose and Deeds Not Words by Steve Berry. A First Step also introduces the character of young Grace Tiffany, who flits through almost every story in the book. But in this first story about her, she and her aunt Katrina are planning to march in the parade, even though Grace’s uncle, Charles Tiffany, thinks it’s too dangerous and thinks he’s succeeded in convincing little Grace. He hasn’t. In the end, Grace convinces him.

There are also several stories that focus on the women who were, in one way or another, not welcome in this parade of mostly privileged white women. Ida B. Wells isn’t there. Rather, in Dolen Parkins-Valdez’ story, American Womanhood, Wells is in Chicago, speaking to a group of black women about the issues they face being subject to both racial prejudice and misogyny, expected to always do the most while receiving the least benefits. And as she speaks she remembers her own treatment at the Washington march in 1913, where the genteel southern ladies who had taken over control of the movement refused to let her or any other non-white women march with the main parade. And where Wells did it anyway.

The story that moved me the most was Just Politics by Chris Bohjalian. This story is an immigrant’s story, told from the point of view of Ani, an Armenian woman who has become a teacher in New York. But Ani came to New York during the years of the Armenian Genocide by the Turkish government just before World War I. Everyone around her tells her that the march is “just politics” but Ani has first hand experience of exactly how terrible and deadly “just politics” can become. Her perspective, that combination of hope with bitter, bitter experience, provides a leavening that makes her story just rise.

So, read this collection for its marvelous stories, and for its kaleidoscope of perspectives on what that day, the cause of women’s suffrage, and the cause of equal rights in general and not just the specific. And think about how many times that tide has risen and fallen and just how much is still left to fight for.

And then, if you have not already done so, go out and vote. It’s a right that was hard won, and it demands that we exercise it.

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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Review: The Troubleshooter by Anna Hackett

Review: The Troubleshooter by Anna HackettThe Troubleshooter (Norcross #2) by Anna Hackett
Format: eARC
Source: author
Formats available: ebook
Genres: action adventure romance, contemporary romance
Series: Norcross #2
Pages: 258
Published by Anna Hackett on October 18, 2020
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsiteAmazon
Goodreads

Never, ever fall for your brother’s annoying, infuriating, gorgeous best friend.

Gia Norcross’ life is exactly how she likes it. She has a successful PR firm in San Francisco, a beautiful apartment, a loving family of overprotective brothers, and her fabulous designer shoe collection. Perfection. Sure, occasionally she has to deal with her aggravating nemesis who happens to be her brother’s best friend. Saxon Buchanan: tall, rich, handsome, bossy, and knows how to work her last nerve.

She’ll never, ever admit to anyone that most days, she isn’t sure if she wants to punch the arrogant, tattooed, suit-wearing know-it-all…or kiss him.

After a military career spent in a covert special ops team doing hard, dirty, and very classified missions, Saxon Buchanan is happy working at Norcross Security as the company’s top troubleshooter. He also enjoys the perks of civilian life. That includes sparring with smart, sexy Gia of the wide brown eyes, luscious curves, and sharp tongue. He’s spent half his life fighting the pull of his best friend’s little sister.

But seeing a man aim a gun at Gia changes everything.

When Gia’s troubled childhood best friend drags her into a really, really bad situation, soon bullets are flying, precious gemstones are missing, and Gia’s in danger. Saxon’s done pushing away the one woman he’s ever wanted. He’ll do everything to protect her, and he’s not letting anything get in his way: not the bad guys, not his best friend, and especially not Gia.

My Review:

This is the story I was expecting after the hints at the end of the first book in the Norcross series, The Investigator. And it was exactly the kind of terrific doozy of an action adventure romance that I expect from this author!

Gia Norcross has entirely too many brothers – or at least that’s how she sees it at least some of the time.

Not that she doesn’t love every single over-protective one of them. But they do have a testosterone-fueled tendency to try to protect her even when she doesn’t need protecting. And especially when she does.

As she does fairly often in this entry in the series.

Not, as happened a bit too often in the first book in the series, because the heroine couldn’t seem to recognize the obvious risks that she kept walking right into. But rather because Gia’s heart is very big and extremely loyal, and she’s unwilling to cut off one of her childhood friends. Even if that friend has become a liar, a thief, and a user of both pharmaceuticals and people.

And Gia is most often her target. Or her sucker. She’s someone who seriously needs some tough love, but Gia keeps on bailing her out of the trouble that she’s gotten herself into.

In this particular case, seriously big time trouble that follows her friend right to Gia’s doorstep. In search of the stolen jewels that said “friend” is letting Gia hide for her. Gems that are way more valuable – and chased by people way more deadly, than her friend is willing to admit.

Unlike her lying, using, so-called friend, Gia has some real badasses fighting in her corner. Because they’re her brothers, sometimes she’s fighting them more than the bad guys who are after her.

But one of those badasses is not one of her brothers, and in spite of the number of years they’ve been pissing each other off on a regular basis, she definitely doesn’t have any sisterly feelings towards Saxon Buchanan.

Occasionally murderous feelings, but even those are just a cover for how much she wants him and how long it’s been going on. But Saxon has been parading a seemingly endless stream of long leggy blondes through his bed, and Gia’s not remotely interested in being a notch on anyone’s bedpost. Especially not someone who seems to prefer women who are her exact opposite.

But, this isn’t the story of a rake reformed. Instead, it’s the classic story of the older brother’s best friend falling for his friend’s underage sister – who has grown up into the woman he wants but shouldn’t have.

Something about that damn ‘bro code getting in the way.

With at first one, then two and eventually three different sets of villains chasing after Gia for those stolen jewels that she doesn’t even have, Saxon Buchanan finally makes keeping Gia safe and making her his not just his top priority, but his only priority.

No matter what her brothers or any of those villains have to say in the matter. His real challenge is to get Gia to admit that she’s been on that train all along.

Escape Rating B+: I liked The Troubleshooter considerably more than I did The Investigator, so I’m really happy to say that the books stand more than enough alone that you don’t have to read the first to get into the second.

The reason I liked this one better is that Gia was a much more active character than Haven. Haven kept falling into trouble, and seemed to always be reacting to the crap that happened TO her.

Gia, on the other hand, felt proactive. Some of her actions didn’t turn out for the best, or didn’t turn out quite the way she planned, and occasionally the bad guys planned better, but it always felt like Gia was pushing her own action forward. She was never passive. She was not a passive person in any way, and she was always the prime mover of her own story no matter how much Saxon and her brothers tried to wrap her in cotton and keep her safe. Not always successfully. And that lack of success wasn’t remotely always Gia’s fault.

Instead, Gia’s fault isn’t a fault. Well, her temper is definitely a fault, but it isn’t what got her into this mess. Gia’s loyal, and always tries to see the best in people. As faults go, it’s a pretty good one. And it is one that gets her in trouble, but her actions, even when they turn out wrong, still keep the story moving and make her the prime agent of her own story.

I liked Gia a lot. She’d be a loyal friend and a whole lot of fun. But she’s also a serious businesswoman who has made her own way. There’s just a lot to admire about her character and I did.

I did enjoy the way that Saxon and Gia’s relationship exploded. Developed is not the right word, because it’s been there all along. Definitely exploded. They have explosive chemistry AND explosive tempers and they caught serious fire. Saxon is every bit as troubled as most of this author’s heroes, but the chemistry between them burned up the page and just plain worked.

One tiny thing niggled at me. In the previous story there was an evil old man who collected women to be his sex slaves. In this one there’s an evil old man who buys women to be sold as sex slaves. In neither case was the evil old lech the main villain. He felt over the top both times and I’m tired of reading about him. That’s my 2 cents and I’m sticking to it.

Howsomever, I’m definitely NOT tired of reading about the Norcross family. Especially as the hints at the end of this book promise that the next romance in the series will follow one of my favorite tropes, the falling for the boss trope. This time with the added bonus that the assistant is in no way intimidated by her boss’ power, or his money, or pretty much anything or anyone at all.

This is going to be so much fun!

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: Black Sun by Rebecca Roanhorse

Review: Black Sun by Rebecca RoanhorseBlack Sun (Between Earth and Sky, #1) by Rebecca Roanhorse
Format: eARC
Source: supplied by publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: hardcover, ebook, audiobook
Genres: epic fantasy, fantasy
Series: Between Earth and Sky #1
Pages: 464
Published by Saga Press on October 13, 2020
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
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From the New York Times bestselling author of Star Wars: Resistance Reborn comes the first book in the Between Earth and Sky trilogy, inspired by the civilizations of the Pre-Columbian Americas and woven into a tale of celestial prophecies, political intrigue, and forbidden magic.
A god will returnWhen the earth and sky convergeUnder the black sun
In the holy city of Tova, the winter solstice is usually a time for celebration and renewal, but this year it coincides with a solar eclipse, a rare celestial event proscribed by the Sun Priest as an unbalancing of the world.
Meanwhile, a ship launches from a distant city bound for Tova and set to arrive on the solstice. The captain of the ship, Xiala, is a disgraced Teek whose song can calm the waters around her as easily as it can warp a man’s mind. Her ship carries one passenger. Described as harmless, the passenger, Serapio, is a young man, blind, scarred, and cloaked in destiny. As Xiala well knows, when a man is described as harmless, he usually ends up being a villain.
Crafted with unforgettable characters, Rebecca Roanhorse has created an epic adventure exploring the decadence of power amidst the weight of history and the struggle of individuals swimming against the confines of society and their broken pasts in the most original series debut of the decade.

My Review:

Start out by throwing out any expectations you might have about good versus evil and/or heroes versus villains that might have popped into your head because this Black Sun is labelled as high fantasy or epic fantasy.

We have protagonists here. Points of view. Perspectives. But strictly speaking all of the characters are operating somewhere in the grey, in the shadows created by the solar eclipse that produces the “black sun” of the title.

Everything in this story is on a collision course with that eclipse, an event that the Sun Priests of the great city of Tova call the Convergence. This particular Convergence is going to occur on the Winter Solstice, as the moon eats the sun on the shortest day of the year. And the Sun God is at the lowest point of his power. A point where he might be challenged.

An event that this time, on this once in a lifetime occasion, could result in overturning the balance of the world.

But we begin at the beginning, when a woman sacrifices her life to make her son into an offering – or an opening – for the god of her people. Now blind, scarred and rejected by his father, Serapio faces a series of cruel tutors who prepare him for the role that his mother ordained for him.

This is the story of his journey to meet his destiny. But he is not the only person who will rise or fall on the prophesied day.

His story intersects with two others, a disgraced ship’s captain and the deposed leader of the Sun Temple.

And this is the point where the story could go any number of typical directions – but doesn’t.

Serapio could be the hero – but he can only achieve his destiny by killing the entire hierarchy of the Sun Temple. The Sun Temple should be the forces of good, but they have been corrupted by power and cast out the only truly good person among them.

Captain Xiala should be entirely self-serving, but instead shows Serapio the wonders of the world, just as he is about to leave it.

This is a story where nothing is as it seems – and marvelously and magically so.

Escape Rating A: Epic fantasy, which this oh-so-very-much is, usually wraps its dramatic tension around an epic – hence the name – battle between good and evil. That just doesn’t happen here, and now that I think about it, that feels like something that’s not been happening for a while, in spite of the genre’s reputation for it. And I don’t expect one here, not even later in the trilogy. In spite of this being epic fantasy rather than space opera, Black Sun is very much a romance of political agency.

Not that there isn’t plenty of evil – and a smattering of good – but it’s human scale evil and human-shaped and sized good.

The one unequivocally “good” character in this story is Naranpa, the Sun Priestess of Tova and the leader of the world-spanning religion that is centered in the city. She knows that her order has stopped serving its people, becoming isolated and insular in their literal ivory towers, spending all of their time and energy on petty, political squabbles amongst themselves.

The Sun Temple hierarchy is “evil” but it’s the human evil wrapped around the aphorism about power corrupting and absolute power corrupting absolutely. The Sun Temple has had nearly absolute power and it has corrupted them. It has corrupted them so deeply that they depose and attempt to murder the one person within their ranks who even attempts to call them on it.

Part of that evil is that they conducted a purge, essentially a pogrom of religious persecution, against one of the population groups within the capital that did not completely bow down to the supremacy of the Sun Temple. And they are planning to do it again in order to remain in power. Serapio’s quest, the duty that he was created for, is to give his people, the Carrion-Crows, vengeance for that purge – and to prevent a repeat by purging the Sun Temple first.

But we follow Serapio’s and Naranpa’s stories, giving both dimensions a human face and a human scale. In spite of Serapio’s purpose as the avatar of his people’s god, he’s still very human, and we feel for him on his journey, just as we suffer along with Naranpa’s hopes and fears as her hopes for her temple are dashed and her fears are made manifest.

As I read Black Sun, I kept having this feeling that it reminded me of something that I couldn’t quite put my finger on. At first I thought it was Banewreacker and Godslayer by Jacqueline Carey. That duology was one of the best presentations about “good” and “evil” being in the eye of the beholder – along with the eye of the victorious historian – that I have ever read. Those books always come to mind in situations like this one, where those concepts feel more like a wheel where the perception of which is which depends on the position from which they are viewed.

But in the end, and after much discussion, I was presented with the possibility that the story this most reminds me of is A Memory Called Empire by Arkady Martine, even though Empire is space opera and Sun is epic fantasy. Those two genres are so far apart as to come together on the other side of the wheel, after all.

It’s not just that both Black Sun and A Memory Called Empire are utterly awesome, although they both certainly are. Nor is it that both have their mythological underpinnings somewhere other than the much too familiar trappings of Western European mythology.

There were two factors that contributed to that nagging sense that the books had more in common than met the eye. One was the portrayal of the empires, because yes, the Temple of the Sun is the heart of its own kind of empire. Both empires publicly espouse the idea that they serve their people, perversely by deciding things for them and suppressing any dissent. Both are actually completely insular and riddled with backstabbing politics and double-dealing corruption. And both are shaken to their foundations by an internal reformer at the top who is ruthlessly suppressed by the political insiders.

At the same time, both stories also feature a journey by someone who must travel from far outside into the dark heart of that empire, someone who has faced opposition to their mission from before its beginning, and someone whose mission is not entirely clear to them even as they carry it out.

And both stories end in ways that none of their protagonists expected at the beginning, in ways that none of them even believed were possible, let alone likely, but ways that are going to fuel the action in the next chapter of their respective sagas.

I don’t know when the second book in the Between Earth and Sky trilogy will be coming out. But I already can’t wait to see what happens next!

Review: The Four Profound Weaves by R.B. Lemberg

Review: The Four Profound Weaves by R.B. LembergThe Four Profound Weaves by R.B. Lemberg
Format: eARC
Source: supplied by publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: paperback, ebook
Genres: fantasy
Series: Birdverse
Pages: 192
Published by Tachyon Publications on September 1, 2020
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
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“Thoughtful and deeply moving, The Four Profound Weaves is the anti-authoritarian, queer-mystical fairy tale we need right now.”-Annalee Newitz, author of The Future of Another Timeline
[STARRED REVIEW] “A beautiful, heartfelt story of change, family, identity, and courage.”-Library Journal
Wind: To match one's body with one's heartSand: To take the bearer where they wishSong: In praise of the goddess BirdBone: To move unheard in the night
The Surun' do not speak of the master weaver, Benesret, who creates the cloth of bone for assassins in the Great Burri Desert. But Uiziya now seeks her aunt Benesret in order to learn the final weave, although the price for knowledge may be far too dear to pay.
Among the Khana, women travel in caravans to trade, while men remain in the inner quarter as scholars. A nameless man struggles to embody Khana masculinity, after many years of performing the life of a woman, trader, wife, and grandmother.
As the past catches up to the nameless man, he must choose between the life he dreamed of and Uiziya, and Uiziya must discover how to challenge a tyrant, and weave from deaths that matter.
Set in R. B. Lemberg's beloved Birdverse, The Four Profound Weaves hearkens to Ursula Le Guin's The Left Hand of Darkness. In this breathtaking debut, Lemberg offers a timeless chronicle of claiming one's identity in a hostile world.

My Review:

The Four Profound Weaves has the feel and the sense of a myth in the making, or perhaps a fairy tale. Reading it has filled my head with a weave of more thoughts – profound or otherwise – than one would think that a book this slim would hold between its pages.

It’s the kind of story that, although I’ve finished reading it, I feel like it hasn’t finished with me yet. Perhaps its that the lesson of the fairy tale is still being absorbed.

On the surface, this is a story about two people who want to be different, or want the world to be different, or both, than they or it is. The initial part of the story is their recognition that they have, in their own completely separate ways, handed control over themselves and the changes they wish to make to others.

The beginning of this story, their initial quest, is to take back that control.

Which leads them, directly and almost inexorably, into the path of a ruler who wants the world and everyone in it to remain unchanged, exactly as they are, precisely as he wills it. And them.

This is a world where, as Emily Dickinson once said, “Hope is the thing with feathers”. But this is Birdverse, where so, also, is death. A place where a master weaver can take them both and weave them together into a cloth, and a song, and change, if not the world, than at least one corner of it.

Escape Rating A-: I’m all over the map about this one. In the end, I loved it, but the beginning was slow. I think that part of that was because this was my first trip to Birdverse, and it took me a while to get my bearings in it.

Also, the story begins slowly because it feels like it is meant to. Both of the protagonists have spent 40 years not living their truths. That’s a long time to wait for anything, let alone wait to fulfill their dreams. But they’ve been holding themselves back, so it seems natural that it would take them a while to get moving toward a future that they’ve been inching towards at a snail’s pace for so many years.

Once they finally begin their journey, it initially seems like a lesson in being very, very careful in what you wish for, because when you get it it isn’t anything like you imagined while you were wishing your life away to get to it.

Which is another lesson.

The thing that I kept coming back to while reading was the contradiction and the interchangeability – and the contradiction of that interchangeability – between change and death.

Both Uiziya and the Nameless Man want to change. And they both want that change to be both accepted and acceptable. The irony is that the people having the most difficulty accepting their changes is themselves.

But the Collector of Izya refuses to accept any change, of anything. And he believes that the only way to protect things from changing is to hide them away where only he can see them. He believes that death is the ultimate preservation. The dead, after all, stop changing.

At the same time, change is itself a death. When something or someone changes, it kills the thing or person that came before, even if, or perhaps especially because, the new thing or person marches on. And continues to change.

As my thoughts about this book kept spinning, the image I was left with was the Tarot card of Death, which represents both death and change. The most familiar rendition of Death in the Tarot is of a skeleton riding a pale horse as it steps over a fallen king. Which feels like a piece of the literal interpretation of this story, that not even royalty can stop change.

But this is a story that feels open to as many meanings as any myth. It’s a story about not just discovering your authentic self, but becoming that self and accepting that self, no matter how much childhood programming, loved one’s attempts to call back your tide, or social opprobrium stand in your way. And no matter how much you stand in your own way.

It’s also a story about the price of change, and the cost of redemption. And that the sins of the past may be halted but not eliminated. And that sometimes that’s all you can do, and that it’s enough.

I think there’s more in this story, and more in Birdverse. I look forward to going back and discovering it.

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!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

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
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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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