Review: Meant to Be by Jude Deveraux

Review: Meant to Be by Jude DeverauxMeant to Be by Jude Deveraux
Format: eARC
Source: supplied by publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: hardcover, large print, ebook, audiobook
Genres: contemporary romance, family saga, historical fiction, women's fiction
Pages: 416
Published by Mira on March 16, 2021
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
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An inspiring new family saga by New York Times bestselling author Jude Deveraux
Two headstrong sisters are bound by tradition but long to forge their own path.

It’s 1972 and times are changing. In the small farming community of Mason, Kansas, Vera and Kelly Exton are known for their ambitions. Vera is an activist who wants to join her boyfriend in the Peace Corps. But she is doing her duty caring for her widowed mother and younger sister until Kelly is firmly established. Kelly is studying to become a veterinarian. She plans to marry her childhood sweetheart and eventually take over his father’s veterinary practice.
But it’s a tumultuous time and neither sister is entirely happy with the path that’s been laid out for her. As each evaluates her options, everything shifts. Do you do what’s right for yourself or what others want? By having the courage to follow their hearts these women will change lives for the better and the effects will be felt by the generations that follow. Meant to Be delivers an emotional, smart, funny and wise lesson about the importance of being true to yourself.

My Review:

Shakespeare said that “the course of true love never did run smooth”. That’s especially true when you don’t know where it’s going in the first place. Or rather, when everyone around you is dead certain that you are “meant to be” with someone – everyone except you, that is.

Because what you’re really meant to be is – you.

Everyone in tiny Mason, Kansas knows that Vera Exton is meant to be with Adam Hatten, and that they are meant to run off together, far away from Mason. That same everyone is equally certain that Vera’s younger sister Kelly is meant to be with Paul, the stepson of the local vet.

What that same everyone did NOT know was that Vera loved escaping from Mason considerably more than she loved Adam, and that Kelly loved her future as a veterinarian, going into partnership with Paul’s stepfather Dr. Carl, more than she ever did Paul. That Adam loved taking over his responsibilities to the Hatten holdings way more than he did Vera, while Paul loved his fledgling organic apple orchard considerably more than he ever loved Kelly.

The story that opens Meant to Be in the summer of 1972 is the story of that entire herd of drama llamas sorting themselves out into a configuration that no one in town had the remotest thought might ever come to be.

Except for one important part. When the dust settled – and was there EVER a lot of dust – Vera Exton left Mason, just as she had always planned to.

Vera became a world-famous journalist and war correspondent, while life in Mason went on its slightly altered way, as Kelly married Adam, the man that Vera was supposed to marry. Paul’s organic farm became a very successful part of a growing trend – and he finally came out of the closet.

While, the man that Vera really loved stayed in Mason to raise the daughter that he fathered the night he deliberately drove Vera away to seek her fame and fortune, and fulfill her dreams and her destiny. He set her free – and she flew.

When Vera returns home for a brief visit 20 years later, the family she left behind is broken and hurting. It turns out that there are plenty of secrets still left to reveal from the mess of that singular summer so long ago.

It’s time for all of Vera’s, and everyone else’s, chickens to come home to roost – and maybe even lay a few more eggs.

Escape Rating B: I have to say that it is weird seeing a time period that I remember living through portrayed as historical. I was in high school in 1972, and the ferment about the Vietnam War was very present and feels true to life. It was also a time when attitudes towards women’s careers and women’s accomplishments were just beginning to change. We were told we could do and be anything, but faced a lot of skepticism when we tried and had few examples to follow.

Which meant that parts of both Vera’s and Kelly’s dilemmas felt very real, while at the same time their situations felt like a bit of a throwback. And it may very well be that I remember this period a bit too well and that I’m too close to it to step back and see it as “historical”.

At the same time, this is very much of a “family saga”, more women’s fiction or relationship fiction than romance. Romances definitely occur, but the backbone of the story feels like it’s wrapped around all of the many, many interrelationships among the families and the town itself.

Mason is small enough that everybody knows everyone else’s business whether they want it known or not. Expectations and assumptions are impossible to escape.

Vera and Kelly are both caught on the horns of multiple familiar dilemmas. Vera is expected to stay in Mason to take care of her mother and her sister until Kelly finishes vet school and gets married so she and her husband can take over that job. And then Vera can leave town as she’s always wanted to.

Kelly feels like the only way she can get to stay in Mason, where she wants to stay, and be a vet is to go into partnership with her boyfriend’s stepfather. Because her boyfriend’s mother is snooty and hates everyone and won’t allow a young woman to become her husband’s assistant unless that young woman is married to her son.

It seems like a lot of the story in 1972 is set up that way, where each person assumes that they have to take care of someone or something else in order to have half a shot at getting what they want. In a place where everyone relies on everyone else, no one seems to be allowed to just reach out and grab their own dreams – especially if they are female.

The first two thirds of this story, the 1972 part, read a lot like a soap opera. Everyone seems to be saying one thing, doing another, and hiding all of it from as many people as possible, until all the secrets blow up in everyone’s face, with all the mixed results and circling drama llamas that one might imagine.

What lifts this story from something typical to something a bit more interesting is the way that it continues from that 1972 soap opera start into the 1990s and eventually comes almost to the present. We get to see the consequences of the earlier events into a troubled middle and a bittersweet end.

All of the characters manage to find, not necessarily a happy ever after, which is why this isn’t strictly speaking a romance, but rather, to not just find out but to actually live as the people they were Meant to Be.

Review: Museum of Forgotten Memories by Anstey Harris

Review: Museum of Forgotten Memories by Anstey HarrisThe Museum of Forgotten Memories by Anstey Harris
Format: eARC
Source: supplied by publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: family saga, literary fiction, women's fiction
Pages: 336
Published by Gallery Books on November 3, 2020
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
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At Hatters Museum of the Wide Wide World, where the animals never age but time takes its toll, one woman must find the courage to overcome the greatest loss of her life—from the author of Goodbye, Paris.
Cate thought she’d met her match in Simon at university—until she laid eyes on his best friend, Richard. Cate and Richard felt an immediate and undeniable spark, but Richard also felt the weight of the world more deeply than most. As the three matured, he receded further and further into darkness until he disappeared altogether.
Now, four years after Richard’s passing, Cate is let go from her teaching job and can’t pay the rent on the London flat she shares with her and Richard’s son, Leo. She packs the two of them up and ventures to Richard’s grandfather’s old Victorian museum in the small town of Crouch-on-Sea, where the dusty staff quarters await her. Despite growing pains and a grouchy caretaker, Cate falls in love with the quirky taxidermy exhibits and sprawling grounds and makes it her mission to revive them. When the museum is faced with closure because of a lack of visitors, Cate stages a grand reopening, but threats from both inside and outside the museum derail her plans and send her spiraling into self-doubt.
As Cate becomes more invested in Hatters, she must finally confront the reality of Richard’s death—and the role she played in it—in order to reimagine her future. Perfect for fans of Evvie Drake Starts Over, The Museum of Forgotten Memories masterfully weaves life with death, past with present, and grief with hope.

My Review:

The Museum of Forgotten Memories sits on an uneasy border between literary fiction and women’s fiction. By uneasy, I mean one of those uncomfortable boundaries marked by a wooden fence, the kind that leaves splinters up your ass if you sit on it too long.

That’s appropriate, as the situation that Cate Morris is in when the story opens is uncomfortable in the extreme – and it looks like things will get worse before they get better. Not that she’s sure that they ever will. Get better that is.

And for a significant chunk of the story, they don’t.

When we first meet Cate, she’s in the process of packing up her London flat. She’s been laid off from her teaching position, she can no longer afford the apartment, and she’s been unable to find another position. She’s been forced by her circumstances to retreat to the only place she has left, Hatters Museum of the Wide Wide World in tiny, remote Crouch-on-Sea.

And that refuge that only exists because the museum belongs to her late husband’s family, and her son is permitted to live there whenever he wants to – or in this case needs to – as part of the trust that maintains the museum.

But this retreat is just as fraught as everything else in Cate’s current situation. Her husband committed suicide four years before, leaving her a mountain of debts and fractured memories of both their early happiness and his early life. The little he told her about Hatters and Crouch-on-Sea is sketchy at best and uncomplimentary at worst. And may have no resemblance to current or real truths.

Her son is 19 and was born with Down Syndrome. Leo lives a fairly independent life in London, but then Cate has crafted a circle of friends, activities and community in which he is occupied, stimulated and safe. The move, his reluctance to leave his friends and his incomplete understanding of the reasons why it is necessary only add to Cate’s stress.

As does her initial introduction to Hatters. The place is nothing like the trust agent told her, and the combination caretaker and museum manager is nowhere near as friendly or helpful as Cate was led to believe. And only seems too happy to inform her that her refuge may be even more temporary than she thought. The woman, who seems to be the proverbial old family retainer, tells Cate that the addition of herself and her son to the tiny museum household will push the budget so far into the red that they will be forced to close by the trustees who are eager to sell off the assets.

But it is those very assets that give this story its charm, and the secrets behind those assets that provide both the pathos and the ultimate redemption. Led by an entire host of strange, rare and wonderful animals, marvelously preserved, marching two by two into a brighter sunrise.

Escape Rating B: This is a story that needs an absolute ton of setup. It’s also a story where that setup just seems to pile the angst onto its protagonist, hence my early comment that this has a strong bend towards literary fiction. Not only is there a lot of setup in the first half of the story, but much of that setup consists of piling more stress and angst onto poor Cate. She just can’t catch a break and the story keeps pounding her into the dirt.

And then she gets a bit settled into Hatters and Crouch-on-Sea and things shift, in spite of her failed romance with a guy who turns out to be a con man and a thief.

As Cate finds her footing in the little town, so does her son. Cate begins to bring the museum out of its doldrums, and the town takes both her and Leo to its heart. The more that things seem to be getting better, the more forces seem to be arrayed in keeping them all down.

But they manage, with a lot of grit and a surprising amount of charm, to rise above and triumph.

In the end, the story which began as a deep dive into Cate’s many woes, turns itself into a much more interesting story about families and legacies, about the lies that bind and the legacies that strangle.

With that utterly marvelous museum sitting at the center of it all, and at the heart of what turns out in the end to be a terrific story. I just wish I hadn’t had to wade through that downer of a first half to get there.

Review: The Lost Vintage by Ann Mah

Review: The Lost Vintage by Ann MahThe Lost Vintage by Ann Mah
Format: eARC
Source: supplied by publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: hardcover, large print, ebook, audiobook
Genres: contemporary romance, family saga, historical fiction, World War II
Pages: 384
Published by William Morrow on June 19, 2018
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
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Sweetbitter meets The Nightingale in this page-turning novel about a woman who returns to her family’s ancestral vineyard in Burgundy and unexpectedly uncovers a lost diary, an unknown relative, and a secret her family has been keeping since World War II

To become one of only a few hundred certified wine experts in the world, Kate must pass the notoriously difficult Master of Wine Examination. She’s failed twice before; her third attempt will be her last. Suddenly finding herself without a job and with the test a few months away, she travels to Burgundy, to spend the fall at the vineyard estate that has belonged to her family for generations. There she can bolster her shaky knowledge of Burgundian vintages and reconnect with her cousin Nico and his wife Heather, who now oversee the grapes’ day-to-day management. The one person Kate hopes to avoid is Jean-Luc, a neighbor vintner and her first love.

At the vineyard house, Kate is eager to help her cousins clean out the enormous basement that is filled with generations of discarded and forgotten belongings. Deep inside the cellar, behind a large armoire, she discovers a hidden room containing a cot, some Resistance pamphlets, and an enormous cache of valuable wine. Piqued by the secret space, Kate begins to dig into her family’s history—a search that takes her back to the dark days of the Second World War and introduces her to a relative she never knew existed, a great half-aunt who was teenager during the Nazi occupation.

As she learns more about her family, the line between Resistance and Collaboration blurs, driving Kate to find the answers to two crucial questions: Who, exactly, did her family aid during the difficult years of the war? And what happened to six valuable bottles of wine that seem to be missing from the cellar’s collection?

My Review:

This book is every bit as delicious as the wines produced by the region that it celebrates. And the history that it uncovers has just as many top notes, undertones and hidden flavors as the wine.

The Lost Vintage combines two different fictional varietals, the contemporary second-chance at love story with a heartfelt exploration of the history of the Burgundy region under the Nazi Occupation, along with the excesses enacted after liberation. And it is a story about one family finally coming to terms with all the beautiful and terrible secrets hidden in its past.

This is Kate’s story. The present we watch is her present, and it is her determination and blind luck that uncovers the hidden past.

Kate’s family are wine growers in the Burgundy region of France. Kate has always planned to have a career in the wine industry, but not as a grower. Her plan was to study, become a sommelier and eventually take the prestigious Master of Wine test.

And that’s where she’s stuck.

She’s failed the test twice, and is preparing herself to tackle the test for the third and final time. (It’s a three-strikes and you’re out kind of test). But Kate has a blind spot that is ruining her chances of achieving her dream. She just can’t seem to taste the wines from the region that her family calls home.

A place that she once, almost, made her life.

So she goes back to confront the family history, and her own. She goes back to help her cousin bring in the harvest, and to avoid as much as possible the man she almost married.

And get to the heart of everything that is holding her back from her dream. In the process, she discovers the secrets that her family has buried for 70 years – along with more than enough wine to recover their fortunes.

But first they have to resurrect the past, and begin to forgive while consciously choosing not to forget. And so does Kate.

Escape Rating A: This is an absolutely marvelous book, whether you love family sagas, wine culture, French history, World War II history or even second chances at love stories, because The Lost Vintage is all of the above.

It’s so easy to fall into this book, and especially to feel for Kate on the horns of her many, many dilemmas. She’s been driven to pursue her dreams, and she’s unconsciously following the example of her mother, a woman who pursued her own dreams at the cost of her family.

At the same time, the history that Kate uncovers eats her up, and consumes her family on multiple levels. The Burgundy region was infamous for its collaborators during the Occupation. The young woman who Kate first discovers through a yellowing high school diploma and a box of old science textbooks seems like a woman Kate would like to have met – until she discovers that her great-aunt was punished as a collaborator after the war. Sickened by the discovery of her family’s history of bigotry, at the same time she uncovers the fruits of their lost labor – a hidden collection of famous pre-war vintages, enough to save the family fortunes several times over.

But the discovery comes at too high a cost, as her Jewish cousin discovers that she has married into a family that sent others just like her to the concentration camps. And as their great-uncle creates rifts in the family by refusing to discuss the history that his own parents made him promise never to reveal.

Kate is caught between her need to learn the truth about her family, her need to learn as much as she can to pass her test, and her desire to avoid at all costs the man she almost married. A man whose family holdings are next door to her own, and whose life is interwoven with those of her cousins in France.

There’s history, mystery and romance woven into this story. We feel both for the characters in the present who desperately need to know, and those in the past who just as desperately need to conceal that knowledge.

Even though I guessed some of the history, I was still surprised by the twist at the end. And pleased to be so surprised.

The Lost Vintage is a story to savor. Preferably with a glass of wine. Or several. And some tissues.

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Review: The Daughters of Ireland by Santa Montefiore

Review: The Daughters of Ireland by Santa MontefioreThe Daughters of Ireland by Santa Montefiore
Formats available: hardcover, paperback, ebook, audiobook
Series: Deverill Chronicles #2
Pages: 576
Published by William Morrow on August 15th 2017
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
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Ireland. 1925.
The war is over. But life will never be the same...
In the green hills of West Cork, Ireland, Castle Deverill has burned to the ground. But young Celia Deverill is determined to see her ruined ancestral home restored to its former glory — to the years when Celia ran through its vast halls with her cousin Kitty and their childhood friend Bridie Doyle.
Kitty herself is raising a young family, but she longs for Jack O’Leary — the long-ago sweetheart she cannot have. And soon Kitty must make a heartbreaking decision, one that could destroy everything she holds dear.
Bridie, once a cook's daughter in Castle Deverill, is now a well-heeled New York City socialite. Yet her celebrity can't erase a past act that haunts her still. Nor can it keep her from seeking revenge upon the woman who wronged her all those years ago.
As these three daughters of Ireland seek to make their way in a world once again beset by dark forces, Santa Montefiore shows us once more why she is one of the best-loved storytellers at work today.

My Review:

In this second book in the Deverill Chronicles, following last year’s marvelous The Girl in the Castle, the focus shifts from Kitty Deverill to her cousin Celia, as the ownership of Deverill Castle falls out of the hands of the original line and into Celia’s collateral branch – with its better luck and greater fortune.

At least until the fall of 1929, when everybody’s fortunes take a plunge into the depths of the Great Depression.

The story here is still seen through the eyes of the three young women, those daughters of Ireland that we first met in The Girl in the Castle. In that first book, it was Kitty’s story and Kitty’s castle. But times have changed, and now it’s her cousin Celia in extremely proud possession of the family seat.

But the Deverills are cursed, or at least their castle in Ballynakelly in County Cork certainly is. And that’s where the infamous luck of Celia’s father’s, as well as Celia herself, finally crash to the rocks.

As the story begins, Celia has just bought the burned out castle, with her husband’s fortune and a bit of her father’s as well. She throws herself into the restoration with abandon – as well as oodles of Pounds Sterling. She intends to recreate Castle Deverill as she thinks she remembers it from her idyllic memories of her childhood – but it’s much more of a re-imagining than a re-creation. It’s Celia’s vision of what it was, not what it actually was. The heart and soul are no longer quite there.

Just as she is on the brink of believing that she has brought everything back to the way it was, only better of course, her entire world goes smash. While she has been swanning around Europe, buying every expensive trinket that caught her fancy, her husband has been in a state of quiet desperation, watching his fortune disappear into the Stock Market Crash. And rather than face the music, he kills himself. Completing the ruin of all Celia’s hopes and dreams, her father dies scant months later.

And she discovers that her father was not quite the man she thought he was. That underneath his devil’s charm and his devil’s luck, there was a man who danced with the devil to get what he wanted. Celia, in a welter of disillusionment and grief, sets out to discover the truth of the man she revered all her life.

What she found, and how she found it, allows Celia to discover the woman she was meant to be – that underneath her very feathery little head lies a brain every bit as intelligent and ambitious as her father’s. But with a lot more heart.

Escape Rating A-: Either they don’t make them like this anymore, or it’s been a long time since I’ve sunk my teeth into such a juicy family saga. The trials, tribulations and machinations of Downton Abbey have nothing on the Deverills – and this saga isn’t over yet.

The Deverills would be an interesting family (read that as fascinatingly dysfunctional) even without the compelling historical backdrop – but with the major historical events swirling around them – their reactions make for great storytelling.

In The Girl in the Castle those events were the Easter Rising and the Irish War of Independence, as the Anglo-Irish Deverills found themselves on both sides of the Rising, while trusted, in the end, by neither. In this second book, The Daughters of Ireland, the action has moved from the tragedies of the immediate post-WWI period to the next great upheaval – the Depression. And the clouds of WW2 are already gathering on the horizon.

The story in the end is about family, the trials and tribulations, the triumphs and failures, the fissures and the ties that bind – even if sometimes that binding feels like a straitjacket.

As the story began with the childhoods of the three women, now we see them in their 20s and 30s, living with the choices they made long ago, and all of them facing the regrets of the roads not taken. Just at the point where it seems that one of them has found an easy road, instead of facing the envy of the others, they find tragedy instead. Triumphs are always brief, while the tragedies seem endless.

Although parts of the story follow Kitty’s and Bridie’s perspectives, this is Celia’s story. At the beginning, she is not a particularly sympathetic character. She’s not nasty, she’s just selfish, self-centered, and self-indulgent. The universe revolves around her, and her husband and father have both conspired to keep her in a very well-upholstered little bubble.

The person she becomes after it all crashes down around her is much more interesting, and much more capable, than anyone imagined – including Celia herself. Her transformation carries the reader along from London to Ballynakelly to Johannesburg, and it’s the making of her.

Whether it also turns out to be the saving of her family from ruin is the story that we shall discover in The Last Secret of the Deverillswhich may have an entirely different title by the time it reaches these shores. But whatever the book is called, I bet that last secret is a doozy.

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Guest Review: Kith and Kin by Kris Ripper

Guest Review: Kith and Kin by Kris RipperKith and Kin by Kris Ripper
Formats available: paperback, ebook
Pages: 438
Published by Brain Mill Press on June 20th 2017
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
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What does it mean to have a family?
Singer and Lisa Thurman did everything right for their entire childhood. Their mother wanted a perfect life, and they knew how to fit that vision. Then they grew up. Singer came out of the closet and Lisa joined a cult. Singer and his partner are adopting a son. Unfortunately, all that practice being the perfect child didn't prepare Singer to be a merely adequate father. Lisa's just trying to get through the day. After three years in a cult, it’s almost impossible to leave her bedroom, so redemption is going to have to wait.
What does it mean to be a family?
When their mother shows up and attempts to reclaim the illusion of her perfect family,  old lives clash with new ones. Recovering from perfection is messy, complicated, and fraught, but the riotous clan that rises from the ashes is full of joy—and the best kind of trouble. A groundbreaking, honest, and provocative novel, Kith and Kin is contemporary family drama that grafts an entirely new species of family tree.
Family is what you make of it.

Guest review by Amy:

Singer Thurman and his long-time partner, Jake Derrie, have been looking to adopt a child for a while. This isn’t as easy for a gay couple, even in California, where they live, as it is for straight couples, but they’re making progress. Singer, who grew up in a very ordinary, mom-and-dad-and-two-kids family, is still adjusting to life with the Derrie clan, a boisterous and diverse bunch. Our tale opens with a knock on the door: Singer’s sister, Lisa. Having recently left a cult, Lisa is not in any kind of normal head space, and Singer immediately offers her the guest bedroom, for as long as she needs it.

Then Social Services calls; they have a foster placement that could easily become permanent.

Then Singer’s too-helpful, too-obtrusive mother shows up.

Escape Rating: A+. I want to be able to wax poetic about how this couple overcomes great hardship in some fashion to be able to adopt a child and forge a family out of the crucible of great tribulations. I’d love to be able to say how cool it is that we’ve got this book with so much diversity baked into it–an asexual heteroromantic, a gay white couple who adopt an African-American child and start going to a church with the baby’s grandmother, an older empty-nest couple rediscovering themselves and starting over. I’d be thrilled to tell you about the inspiring, uplifting moments in this book, the moments that show love winning over all adversity in the end. And Kith and Kin has all that, or I wouldn’t mention it. That kind of writing makes for exciting reviews, and makes everyone feel good.

The thing is, when I read this story, all of the people that author Kris Ripper shows us are…normal. Ordinary humans, with fears and wants and loves and desires just like the rest of us. Yeah, there’s a boisterous asexual woman who splutters around when she comes out to her friends, and our story focuses on a gay couple, but this doesn’t feel like “LGBTQ+ fiction” to me, at all. This is a story of a diverse group of family and friends, (some of whom are in the LGBTQ+ space) who are dealing with the struggles in their lives, and trying to make things better.

Jake and Singer struggle with their relationship dynamic when a new baby comes into the family, they fret about how to help Lisa, they’re exasperated by Mrs. Thurman’s self-centered antics, everything you’d expect. From cover to cover, once you figure out the big framework, this is a “slice-of-life” story, utterly predictable to the very end. Is that a bad thing? Quite the opposite.

In its ordinary-ness lies the great strength of Kith and Kin; it’s a tale we can “belong” in, a story that could just as easily be mine, or yours, or Marlene’s, or anyone else’s. This is a story about the struggles of real people. Watching Singer, who has always been so confident in so many ways, falling apart with all the stressors he suddenly faces, is such a familiar thing for me that I cried with him. When I watched him struggle to try to make sense of things, I struggled with him. When I saw Frankie trying to sort out her own asexuality, I blustered with her as she tried to explain it to friends and family. When Emery was trying to explain his kinkiness to Lisa, and trying not to scare her away from a relationship with him, I could feel his tension about it. The ending, of course, sees them all making progress, and solving things, just like you and I do, and the tale ends on a strong up-note. What makes this story great is that, almost certainly, you’ll find something in these pages that you identify with, even in the smallest way, and suddenly you become a fly-on-the-wall of a life that could just as easily be your own.

Here’s an example. Singer’s friend Kara (who has adopted multiple children with her husband, Vic) gives him a snippet of advice not too unlike the speech that my own mother gave me when my oldest daughter was small, and I felt overwhelmed and under-qualified:

But then I realized we’re all the same. All of us. The parents who have no problems conceiving, the parents who have their kids taken away, the parents who voluntarily surrender, the parents who are grandparents and aunts and uncles, and the parents who adopt. We’re all equally unqualified, and our kids need us anyway. Do the job. There’s no glory in it, most of the time, but I wouldn’t give up this family for any family I could have had in a different way, Singer, no matter how hard it was, how many tears I cried, how many times I hated myself, or hated Vic, or god help me, hated my kids…That’s the speech I wish someone had given me, in the black moments, when I felt like we were at a dead end.

See what I mean? Kith and Kin is overflowing with such moments; people talking to each other–or themselves–and working through the normal chaos of being an adult human, with the help of their loved ones. There are no amazing heroes here, no evil villains, no grand adventure, no impressive magic, no geeky science, no great mystery to solve. Just…people. People who could be any of us. For that reason, I give this book the strongest possible recommendation.

Review: The Girl in the Castle by Santa Montefiore

Review: The Girl in the Castle by Santa MontefioreThe Girl in the Castle (Deverill Chronicles #1) by Santa Montefiore
Formats available: hardcover, paperback, ebook, audiobook
Series: Deverill Chronicles #1
Pages: 576
Published by William Morrow Paperbacks on September 27th 2016
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
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International sensation Santa Montefiore presents the first book in a trilogy that follows three Irish women through the decades of the twentieth century—perfect for fans of Kate Morton and Hazel Gaynor.
Born on the ninth day of the ninth month in the year 1900, Kitty Deverill is special as her grandmother has always told her. Built on the stunning green hills of West Cork, Ireland, Castle Deverill is Kitty’s beloved home, where many generations of Deverills have also resided. Although she’s Anglo-Irish, Kitty’s heart completely belongs to the wild countryside of the Emerald Isle, and her devotion to her Irish-Catholic friends Bridie Doyle, the daughter of the castle’s cook, and Jack O’Leary, the vet’s son, is unmatched—even if Jack is always reminding her that she isn’t fully Irish. Still, Jack and Kitty can’t help falling in love although they both know their union faces the greatest obstacles since they are from different worlds.
Bridie cherishes her friendship with Kitty, who makes her feel more like her equal than a servant. Yet she can’t help dreaming of someday having all the wealth and glamour Kitty’s station in life affords her. But when she discovers a secret that Kitty has been keeping from her, Bridie finds herself growing resentful toward the girl in the castle who seems to have it all.
When the Irish revolt to throw over British rule in Southern Ireland, Jack enlists to fight. Worried for her safety, Jack warns Kitty to keep her distance, but she refuses and throws herself into the cause for Irish liberty, running messages and ammunition between the rebels. But as Kitty soon discovers, her allegiance to her family and her friends will be tested—and when Castle Deverill comes under attack, the only home and life she’s ever known are threatened.
A powerful story of love, loyalty, and friendship, The Girl in the Castle is an exquisitely written novel set against the magical, captivating landscape of Ireland.

My Review:

The Girl in the Castle is one of those big, sprawling historical family sagas that they don’t seem to make anymore. But maybe they should.

This is a big story. While it focuses on one family, the backdrop is large and tumultuous. The story takes place in the first quarter of the 20th century, and gives readers a glimpse into the causes and the effects of the Irish Rebellion. Our main point of view character is Kitty Deverill, a child of the Anglo-Irish Ascendancy, who feels herself to be Irish to the bone, and English not at all. But through Kitty we see the world around her, her family who both love and hate Ireland, and see that the world they ruled is fading away, while being drenched in blood.

But the Deverills aren’t the only people in their little town Ballynakelly. Kitty’s best friend is Bridie Doyle, the daughter of the Deverill cook. Bridie is the only girl Kitty’s age, and the two become fast friends in spite of their differences in class and religion. The only thing that divides them is that they both love Jack O’Leary, and neither can have him.

As the veterinarian’s son, Jack is too far above Bridie and her poverty stricken family for his family to consider her a good match for him. And aristocratic Kitty is seen as an English interloper, whether she fights for the revolution or not. Her family will see Jack as too far below them.

It’s ironic that a marriage between Jack and Kitty would end an old family curse. A curse that Kitty, gifted with the proverbial second sight, knows is all too real.

But as the Irish Free State rises, the three young friends are forced to scatter. Kitty to glittering salons in London, Bridie to a new life in America, while Jack languishes in prison as a convicted rebel.

It’s only when they all return to Castle Deverill and Ballynakelly that there is hope of healing all the wounds – if they don’t break out afresh over old and new wrongs.

Escape Rating B: This is a book that rewards sticking with it. It’s a big story and it takes a lot of pages to set up the real action. The story begins when Kitty, Bridie and Jack are all children, and it takes a while for them to reach adult age with adult sensibilities.

Not that child-Kitty isn’t very observant, but she lacks adult context that the reader has to piece together. Once the trio are all grown up, both the personal stories and the battlefields heat up.

There is a lot of tragedy in this story, with happiness being difficult for the characters to grasp, even at the end. World War I casts its shadow over much of Kitty’s teenage years, and British treatment of the Irish both during the war and immediately afterwards is as tragic as the loss of life on the battlefields and in the trenches.

Readers who loved Downton Abbey, especially the subplot involving Tom the Irish chauffeur, will find much that strikes the same chord.

The family drama and melodrama are a big part of the charm of this story. This is not a functional family, which makes them much more interesting to read about. Kitty in particular is a high-spirited young woman who refuses to bend to either society’s expectations or her mother’s. While she is capable of doing the right thing, her tendency towards self-indulgence spells trouble for future books in the series.

The other fascinating story is Bridie’s tale of rags to disgrace to riches (and social opprobrium). After her own tragedy, she moves very far from the life she was expected to lead, and becomes something new and different. She also becomes cynical and practical, at least until she returns to where she began, only to discover that not nearly enough has changed.

daughters of castle deverill by santa montefioreThis is the first book in a projected trilogy. The Girl in the Castle was published last year in Britain as Songs of Love and War to rave reviews. It ends with not a conclusion, but an extremely pregnant pause. I’m looking forward to the US release of Daughters of Castle Deverill whenever it makes it to these shores.

Review: June by Miranda Beverly Whittemore + Giveaway

Review: June by Miranda Beverly Whittemore + GiveawayJune by Miranda Beverly-Whittemore
Formats available: hardcover, ebook, audiobook
Pages: 400
Published by Crown on May 31st 2016
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

From the New York Times bestselling author of Bittersweet comes a novel of suspense and passion about a terrible mistake made sixty years ago that threatens to change a modern family forever. 
Twenty-five-year-old Cassie Danvers is holed up in her family’s crumbling mansion in rural St. Jude, Ohio, mourning the loss of the woman who raised her—her grandmother, June. But a knock on the door forces her out of isolation. Cassie has been named the sole heir to legendary matinee idol Jack Montgomery's vast fortune. How did Jack Montgomery know her name? Could he have crossed paths with her grandmother all those years ago? What other shocking secrets could June’s once-stately mansion hold?
Soon Jack’s famous daughters come knocking, determined to wrestle Cassie away from the inheritance they feel is their due. Together, they all come to discover the true reasons for June’s silence about that long-ago summer, when Hollywood came to town, and June and Jack’s lives were forever altered by murder, blackmail, and betrayal.
As this page-turner shifts deftly between the past and present, Cassie and her guests will be forced to reexamine their legacies, their definition of family, and what it truly means to love someone, steadfastly, across the ages.

My Review:

June is two stories that run kind of in parallel, but finally come together at the end. The two stories themselves are fascinating, but how much the reader will enjoy this story may come down to how you end up feeling about the house having, and providing, dreams to its inhabitants.

In 2015 Cassie Danvers inherits the shambling, decaying mansion of Two Oaks in small-town Ohio from her late grandmother, June. When Cassie holes herself up in the crumbling pile, she is suffering from a deep depression and a truckload of survivor’s guilt.

Cassie’s grandmother raised her after her parents were killed in an alcohol-fueled automobile accident when Cassie was 8. The last time Cassie and her grandmother spoke was at Cassie’s exhibition of her photographic recreation of that accident. June was incensed at the wanton display of her life’s greatest tragedy. Cancer took her before enough time passed to heal both their wounds.

Into Cassie’s grief-stricken wallow, comes Hollywood actress Tate Montgomery and her entourage. Tate is Hollywood royalty, her parents, Jack Montgomery and Diane DeSoto, were big Golden Age stars, who, once upon a time, filmed a movie in Cassie and June’s tiny little town of St. Jude. Jack has just died and left his entire considerable fortune to Cassie – but no one knows why.

As the story unfolds, and as Cassie, Tate and her assistants Nick and Hank investigate that long-ago summer, truths are revealed that change the lives of all involved. And some history repeats itself, just a tiny bit.

But when the revelations poke every bit as big a hole in both Cassie’s and Tate’s identities as the giant hole that opens in the mansion’s roof, they both have to go back and figure out who they really are, and what they really feel about the world that has so suddenly changed.

And Cassie has to decide whether she loves Nick enough to forgive him for choosing his job over his life. And hers.

Escape Rating B: The two stories themselves are absorbing. In 1955 we see June and her friend best friend Lindie as the entire town is captivated by the stars that come to their little town. Because the perspective is mostly Lindie’s we also feel her heartache. Lindie, who is 14 when this story opens, loves her friend June, even it she isn’t ready to acknowledge exactly what she feels or what that means about her and her future. June is 18, and has no clue. She expects to live a conventional small town life, marrying the man who has been chosen for her and making her own kind of happiness.

Instead, the events surrounding the movie shoot change both their lives forever. Whether for the better or the worse is something that the reader has to judge for themselves. But Cassie’s discovery of the events of that long-ago summer change her life in 2015.

In the present, Cassie, Tate and Tate’s half sister Esmeralda become caught up in the hunt for the truth about that long-lost summer. It is only after the facts are finally revealed and the Hollywood invasion is long gone that Cassie discovers that the truth has been living across the street from her all along.

As I read June, it also felt a bit reminiscent of Nora Roberts’ Tribute. Parts of the setup are similar – granddaughter inherits house from grandmother, discovers that grandmother’s past with the movie business was different and more dangerous than she was ever told. The difference is that the past in June wants to be revealed, and the past in Tribute contains evil that still wants to be concealed.

Back to June – I found the events in the past more compelling reading than the present. But it’s Lindie’s story at the end that is really sticking with me. What I’m still having a difficult time coming to terms with is the whole thing about the house dreaming and revealing the truth of the past to Cassie through dreams as a plot device in what is otherwise a fairly straightforward – but fascinating – family saga.

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

I am giving away a copy of June to one lucky (US/Canada) commenter on this post:

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