Review: The London Restoration by Rachel McMillan + Giveaway

Review: The London Restoration by Rachel McMillan + GiveawayThe London Restoration by Rachel McMillan
Format: eARC
Source: supplied by publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: historical fiction, historical romance, World War II
Pages: 336
Published by Thomas Nelson on August 18, 2020
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

In post-World War II London, determined to save their marriage and the city they love, two people divided by World War II's secrets rebuild their lives, their love, and their world.
London, Fall 1945. Architectural historian Diana Somerville's experience as a codebreaker at Bletchley Park and her knowledge of London's churches intersect in MI6's pursuit of a Russian agent named Eternity. Diana wants nothing more than to begin again with her husband Brent after their separation during the war, but her signing of the Official Secrets Act keeps him at a distance.
Brent Somerville, professor of theology at King's College, hopes aiding his wife with her church consultations will help him better understand why she disappeared when he needed her most. But he must find a way to reconcile his traumatic experiences as a stretcher bearer on the European front with her obvious lies about her wartime activities and whereabouts.

My Review:

I picked this one for two reasons. One was the time period. It’s starting to look like the early Cold War era is the new big thing in historical fiction, and so far the books have been excellent – and this one was no exception. Reason number two was that I enjoyed the first two books in this author’s Van Buren and DeLuca series (Murder at the Flamingo and Murder in the City of Liberty) and hoped that this book would be as good if not better.

That hope was definitely realized.

The story begins late in 1945, and the shooting war is over. Diana and Brent Somerville, like so many who married during the war, have to figure out whether the love that sustained their spirits during the war’s separation and all its horrors, can survive in its aftermath. They both carry secrets from those long years, and those secrets form a barrier between them that both are afraid to bridge.

Brent wants to protect Diana from the horrors of his war and the extent of his wounds, both physical and emotional.

Diana needs to protect both Brent and herself from the consequences of her work at Bletchley Park as one of the codebreakers. She signed the Official Secrets Act. She literally CANNOT tell him about her wartime service under threat of imprisonment. That she is still continuing that wartime “secret” service unofficially, as a favor to a friend, adds to the weight of the secrets that fester between them.

Unless she can bring him into the world of shadows that she now inhabits. Before the new “Cold War” claims their marriage as one of its early victims. Or takes both of their lives.

Escape Rating A-: The deeper I got into this story, the more that the multiple interpretations of the title ensnared me.

There’s the obvious one, that this story takes place during the restoration of London after the war is over. But it’s also about the restoration of their marriage, which takes place in London. That would be enough to be going on with. But there’s that third interpretation, the way that Diana’s love of the architecture of the Christopher Wren churches of London loops back to history, to the restoration of London after the Great Fire of 1666.

It was also fascinating to read a romance that is very different from any of the standard tropes, at least in the story’s “present”. The original romance between Diana and Brent is a classic. Lovers meet, discover their other half, fall instantly and completely, have a quirky but romantic wedding and live happily ever after. And maybe they will, but they certainly don’t in the immediate term, because the Blitz rains down on their wedding night, then both of them are off to war.

What makes the romance part of this story so marvelously different from the usual is that it’s a romance between two people who are already married, and yet they are strangers to each other after four years of war. In order for their wartime marriage to survive where so many did not they have to get to know the people they are now and fall in love with each other all over again.

And it’s lovely.

One of the things that this story also does well is the way that it portrays the consequences of the abrupt change to both their lives, but particularly Diana’s, after the war is over and life is supposed to go back to “normal”. The problem is that the aftermath of any catastrophic change is never easy, and that whatever normal is will not be and cannot be the exact same as it was before the catastrophe.

(This is just as true in our own now as ever. The world post-pandemic will be different from the pre-pandemic world, we just don’t know exactly how yet.)

Diana is supposed to become a housewife, taking care of her husband and any children they have. But Diana is one of the most rubbish housewives ever to grace a page. And she’s not going to change. Because she has already changed. Her service at Bletchley Park opened a world for her that she wants to continue to inhabit, just with her husband at her side. For four years she lived a life of purpose and challenge, and she just isn’t willing to give that up. She’s not made to give that up.

Finding a way to bridge the minefield between herself and her husband so that she can continue to serve her country and especially continue to feed her brilliant mind is what really sets her on her course to unofficially help her friend, fellow codebreaker and MI-6 agent uncover the first agents of that Cold War – and nearly gets both her and Brent killed in the process.

Summing up, the history is fascinating, the hunt for the spies is thrilling and the romance is lovely. Come to this book for whichever appeals to you the most. But definitely do come! The London Restoration is a marvelous story from its lonely beginning to its friendship and love-filled end.

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

I am giving away a copy of The London Restoration to one very lucky US commenter on this tour!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

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Review: Murder in the City of Liberty by Rachel McMillan

Review: Murder in the City of Liberty by Rachel McMillanMurder in the City of Liberty (A Van Buren and DeLuca Mystery #2) by Rachel McMillan
Format: eARC
Source: supplied by publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: paperback, large print, ebook, audiobook
Genres: historical fiction, historical mystery
Series: Van Buren and DeLuca #2
Pages: 336
Published by Thomas Nelson on May 28, 2019
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

Hamish DeLuca and Regina "Reggie" Van Buren have a new case--and this one brings the war in Europe dangerously close to home.

Determined to make a life for herself, Regina "Reggie" Van Buren bid goodbye to fine china and the man her parents expected her to marry and escaped to Boston. What she never expected to discover was that an unknown talent for sleuthing would develop into a business partnership with the handsome, yet shy, Hamish DeLuca.

Their latest case arrives when Errol Parker, the leading base stealer in the Boston farm leagues, hires Hamish and Reggie to investigate what the Boston police shove off as a series of harmless pranks. Errol believes these are hate crimes linked to the outbreak of war in Europe, and he's afraid for his life. Hamish and Reggie quickly find themselves in the midst of an escalating series of crimes that seem to link Boston to Hamish's hometown of Toronto.

When an act of violence hits too close to home, Hamish is driven to a decision that may sever him from Reggie forever . . . even more than her engagement to wealthy architect Vaughan Vanderlaan.

My Review:

Luca Valari is still the man of mystery behind the shady goings on in this second book in the Van Buren and DeLuca series. But Reggie Van Buren and Hamish DeLuca are definitely front and center in this atmospheric story of pre-WW2 Boston.

Although, just as in Murder at the Flamingo, it’s almost halfway through the book before the dead body turns up, there’s already plenty of shady goings on.

Nate Reis, Hamish’ roommate and the unofficial Jewish prince of the city’s immigrant North End, is hiding something – not that the increasing amount of Antisemitism and anti-immigrant fury is hiding anything from him.

Hamish and Reggie find themselves in multiple kinds of trouble when they investigate what looks like a potential housing development that plans to create substandard housing on land that is certain to be not merely unsuitable but actually unstable – and not with the consent of the current owner.

The situation gets even dicier when a figure from their past with Luca Valari and his Flamingo Club appears in the shadows – and someone pushes Reggie into the freezing waters of Boston Harbor.

The client they do manage to retain is the Black minor league baseball player Errol Parker, better known as Robin Hood for his base-stealing prowess. Parker has been the victim of an escalating series of so-called pranks, and he wants Van Buren and DeLuca to get to the bottom of it before someone roughs up his 16-year-old nephew. Again.

When the boy turns up dead in the locker room wearing his uncle’s jersey, they are left to investigate whether his murder was due to the color of their client’s skin, the shady people the boy was doing errands for, the rise of racial tension in general – or something else all together.

Something that might lead back to Luca Valari.

Escape Rating B: There’s something about this entry in the series that feels much darker than the previous book. Not that there isn’t plenty of mystery in both, but it feels like there were more lighthearted moments in Murder at the Flamingo – at least before said murder – than there are in Murder in the City of Liberty. Or it may be that Reggie Van Buren and Hamish DeLuca were just a lot more naive in the first book than they are, three long years later, in the second.

Some of that is the time period. While Flamingo takes place during the Depression, which was no picnic, this book is set in 1940. By this point in history, World War II had already begun in Europe, Hamish’ home country of Canada was already involved, and people in the U.S. were dealing with the sense that they would be caught up in the war, whether they wanted to be or not, sooner or later. Most likely sooner.

Which doesn’t mean that there weren’t plenty of isolationists doing their level best – or should that be absolute worst – to keep the U.S. out of the war as long as possible. And a lot of their reasoning revolved around their disgusting propaganda campaigns to keep America white and Christian and to denigrate, persecute and even murder anyone who was not. A propaganda campaign – with its associated violence – that has both Hamish and Reggie’s client Errol Parker and their friend Nate Reis squarely in its sights.

The threats hanging over Parker and Nate are part of the darkness that permeates the story, as is shadowy presence of Hamish’ cousin Luca – who is up to his neck in something shady yet again. Someone is following Hamish, but whether it’s Luca’s agents attempting to keep Hamish safe, or Luca’s enemies trying to get at Luca through Hamish is all part of the puzzle. A puzzle that keeps Hamish – and the reader – guessing until the very end.

Speaking of that end, at the end of Murder in the City of Liberty Hamish is brought face to face with his parents’ past – a past that has been hidden from him all of his life. However, that past is not hidden from the reader – or at least not the readers of the author’s Herringford and Watts historical mystery series, which features Hamish’s mother and her bestie – and eventually leads to the events which led to the “falling out” between Hamish’ parents and Luca Valari’s.

It seems like everything in Hamish’ life comes back to Luca, one way or another. But the Herringford and Watts series looks scrumptious! So it looks like the first book, The Bachelor Girl’s Guide to Murder, will be going on my TBR pile as something to tide me over until the next installment in the Van Buren and DeLuca mysteries!

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Review: Murder at the Flamingo by Rachel McMillan

Review: Murder at the Flamingo by Rachel McMillanMurder at the Flamingo (A Van Buren and DeLuca Mystery #1) by Rachel McMillan
Format: eARC
Source: supplied by publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: paperback, large print, ebook, audiobook
Genres: historical fiction, historical mystery
Series: Van Buren and DeLuca #1
Pages: 352
Published by Thomas Nelson on July 10, 2018
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

“Maybe it was time to land straight in the middle of the adventure…”

Hamish DeLuca has spent most of his life trying to hide the anxiety that appears at the most inopportune times -- including during his first real court case as a new lawyer. Determined to rise above his father’s expectations, Hamish runs away to Boston where his cousin, Luca Valari, is opening a fashionable nightclub in Scollay Square. When he meets his cousin's “right hand man” Reggie, Hamish wonders if his dreams for a more normal life might be at hand.

Regina “Reggie” Van Buren, heir to a New Haven fortune, has fled fine china, small talk, and the man her parents expect her to marry. Determined to make a life as the self-sufficient city girl she’s seen in her favorite Jean Arthur and Katharine Hepburn pictures, Reggie runs away to Boston, where she finds an easy secretarial job with the suave Luca Valari. But as she and Hamish work together in Luca’s glittering world, they discover a darker side to the smashing Flamingo night club.

When a corpse is discovered at the Flamingo, Reggie and Hamish quickly learn there is a vast chasm between the haves and the have-nots in 1937 Boston—and that there’s an underworld that feeds on them both. As Hamish is forced to choose between his conscience and loyalty to his beloved cousin, the unlikely sleuthing duo work to expose a murder before the darkness destroys everything they’ve worked to build.

My Review:

This historical mystery begins when two 20-somethings run away from home. Separate homes.

Hamish DeLuca runs away from his home in Toronto, Regina Van Buren runs away from her home in New Haven Connecticut. They both end up in Boston in the midst of the Depression, and they both end up working for, or with, Luca Valari as he performs all the wheeling and dealing necessary to open his high-class nightclub, The Flamingo.

Hamish intended to end up with Luca. Luca is his cousin, his favorite cousin. And the only person who ever seems to have treated Hamish as normal and not as “poor Hamish” afflicted with a nervous disorder. Hamish has severe panic and anxiety attacks. His most recent, or most embarrassing, occured in the middle of a courtroom as he attempted to defend his first client. In the aftermath, he discovered that even the job he thought he’d earned had been given to him as a favor to his father.

Hamish ran off to Luca.

Reggie ran away from her upper crust family and her upper crust boyfriend when said boyfriend decided to announce, in the middle of a huge family party, that he and Reggie were engaged. They weren’t. He hadn’t even asked. The force of the slap she administered could be heard echoing all the way to Boston. Or so it seemed.

She packed a bag and ran away, intending to make a life for herself away from her family’s privilege, money and restrictions. Luca hired her to answer his phone and stave off his creditors, not necessarily in that order, and to provide a touch of class to his new establishment.

Reggie and Hamish find themselves, and each other, working with Luca. But the trail of slimy double-dealings has followed Luca from Chicago to Boston – and it catches up with them all.

Escape Rating B: This is the first book in an intended series. Book 2, Murder in the City of Liberty, scheduled for publication next spring. As such, it has to carry the weight of all the worldbuilding for the series, and it’s a lot of weight.

The characters of both Hamish and Reggie are interesting, and Reggie in her exploration of Boston’s working class precincts is a lot of fun, but they cut themselves off from their backgrounds, leaving a lot about where they respectively began more than a bit murky.

But not nearly as murky as the character of Luca Valari, around whom so much of the story resolves. Luca seems to be absolutely dripping in charisma, and Hamish certainly hero-worships him. Reggie is grateful for a job opportunity that does not involve being groped and ogled, and is caught up in his spell to some extent, but not in a romantic sense. Still, she’s aware that Luca has something that makes people want to please him.

However, while it is obvious fairly early on that Luca is up to his eyeballs in something at least slightly dirty, neither Hamish nor Reggie are savvy enough to figure out exactly what, or how much, until it is far too late. Unfortunately for the reader, Luca is so good at keeping his secrets that even after all is supposedly revealed, it still feels like some things remain lost in that murk.

This is also a very slow building story. The titular murder does not occur until the mid-point of the story, and it is only then that things begin to move into a higher gear. While the introduction to the characters and their situation is interesting, it takes rather long to get to the meat of the story.

Murder at the Flamingo, as hinted at by its art deco inspired covers, takes place in the late 1930s, post-Prohibition, pre-World War II and in the depths of the Great Depression. This isn’t a period that has been seen a lot previously in historical mystery, so readers may not be as familiar with this setting as, for example, the “Roaring 20s” or the WWII time frame. More grounding in the setting might have been helpful.

If this time period interests you, another historical mystery series set in the 1930s, the Jake and Laura series by Michael Murphy, is worth taking a look at. The first book is The Yankee Club, and it comes at the period from a different perspective as both Jake and Laura, while doing well by the time the story begins, both had a much more hardscrabble upbringing than either Hamish or Reggie.

I liked Hamish and Reggie more than well enough to stick around for their next adventure. I want to see if Quasimodo manages to figure out that he really is Superman, and gets the girl after all.

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