Spotlight + Excerpt: Sisters by Choice by Susan Mallery

Spotlight + Excerpt: Sisters by Choice by Susan MallerySisters by Choice (Blackberry Island, #4) by Susan Mallery
Formats available: hardcover, large print, paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: contemporary romance, women's fiction
Series: Blackberry Island #4
Pages: 400
Published by Mira Books on February 11, 2020
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

From the
New York Times
bestselling author of
California Girls
comes an all new original Blackberry Island novel told with Susan Mallery's trademark humor and charm.
Sisters by Choice
is a heartfelt tale of love, family and the friendships that see us through.


Cousins by chance, sisters by choice...

After her cat toy empire goes up in flames, Sophie Lane returns to Blackberry Island, determined to rebuild. Until small-town life reveals a big problem: she can't grow unless she learns to let go. If Sophie relaxes her grip even a little, she might lose everything. Or she might finally be free to reach for the happiness and love that have eluded her for so long.

Kristine has become defined by her relationship to others. She's a wife, a mom. As much as she adores her husband and sons, she wants something for herself--a sweet little bakery just off the waterfront. She knew changing the rules wouldn't be easy, but she never imagined she might have to choose between her marriage and her dreams.

Like the mainland on the horizon, Heather's goals seem beyond her grasp. Every time she manages to save for college, her mother has another crisis. Can she break free, or will she be trapped in this tiny life forever?


Don't miss the Blackberry Island series by Susan Mallery! Order your copy of
Barefoot Season, Three Sisters
and
Evening Stars
today!

Welcome to the Excerpt tour for Sisters by Choice by Susan Mallery. This is going to be my first trip to Blackberry Island, but Susan Mallery is an author that I love and I am always thrilled to be part of a tour for her newest book. Sisters by Choice will be coming out on February 11, and I’ll be reviewing it that week. But in the meantime, here’s a bit of Chapter Two of the book to whet your reading appetite. I’m certainly looking forward to this one, and I hope you will be too!

Excerpt from Sisters by Choice by Susan Mallery

Chapter Two

The Blackberry Island Inn featured comfortable beds, views of the water and a daisy motif Sophie wasn’t sure she totally understood. Daisies weren’t exactly a big thing on the island. If a business wanted to appeal to tourists, then the more black­berries, the better. Yet, there were daisies in the room, daisies on the wallpaper and hundreds, possibly thousands, of daisies planted along the driveway leading from the parking lot to the main road.

As Sophie walked toward her car, she shivered in the damp, chilly air. She’d forgotten how the island was given to real sea­sons, unlike back in LA where there was nearly always sun­shine. Today there were gray skies and the choppy, black waves of the Sound.

Under normal circumstances, and on a Monday morning, Sophie wouldn’t have noticed any of that. Instead, she would have been totally focused on her business and what needed to get done that day. But—and she would never admit this to any­one but herself—these days she was feeling a little fragile and disoriented.

It was the fire, she told herself. Losing her business, not hav­ing any of her employees want to move. Okay, and the loss of CK. That reality still had the ability to bring her to her emo­tional knees. And maybe the fact that she was thirty-four years old and she wasn’t any closer to having her life together than she had been at twenty. She was all about the work and with CK Industries in limbo, she felt lost.

“Not after today,” she whispered as she turned right at the end of the drive and headed toward the very small industrial area on the island.

The real estate agent was meeting her at the warehouse at nine. Sophie would get the key and have a look at the space she’d leased for the next five years.

She drove past touristy shops and wineries before heading in­land. There was a small shopping center, the K through eighth-grade school and a few medical buildings. Behind all that were a few office buildings, a handful of small businesses that would do everything from repair your car to clean your carpets. At the end of the street was the large warehouse.

She parked by the front door. She was early and the place looked closed up tight, so she walked around the outside of the building.

There was a front office and reception area with big windows and lots of parking for employees. The loading dock was plenty large. Products would come in and then be shipped out to cus­tomers. Given that this was literally the only warehouse on the island, she figured she’d been lucky to get it. Now she just had to make everything work.

Sophie returned to her car and waited for the agent. She sat in the front seat, with the driver’s door open, sipping her take-out coffee. She’d skipped breakfast at the inn, feeling too yucky to bother eating.

A salty breeze blew in from the west, but despite the gray skies, she didn’t think it was going to rain today. Sophie won­dered if her years in Los Angeles would make it difficult for her to adjust to the weather, or if it would matter at all. She assumed she would be working her usual sixteen-hour days. As long as the roof didn’t leak, she wasn’t sure she would even care about something as mundane as the weather.

A small SUV pulled into the parking lot. Sophie stood to greet the real estate agent. Once the key was in her hand, she would feel better, she told herself. She could get started on rebuilding CK Industries and everything would be fine.

Twenty minutes, two signatures and a brief conversation later, Sophie walked into the warehouse and waited for a sense of re­lief or even elation. The space was huge—nearly double what she’d had in Valencia. There were about a dozen offices, plenty of bathrooms and a massive open area where she could install miles of shelves and have the shipping center of her dreams. It was great. It was better than great, it was…

“Awful,” Sophie whispered, turning in a circle and taking in the emptiness around her.

She’d started CK Industries in the second bedroom of a two-bedroom apartment she’d rented while still in college, although the concept had been born in her freshman dorm room. From there she’d moved to a small space in a Culver City industrial complex. Two years after that she’d needed more square foot­age. The move to Valencia had come after her divorce and at the time, she’d felt excited—as if she were escaping to a new life.

This relocation wasn’t that. This had been forced upon her by bad electrical wiring. She hadn’t been prepared for the dev­astation—physical and emotional—of it all and to be honest, she wasn’t excited about the work she was going to have to do. It was overwhelming.

She wanted to stomp her feet and demand a do-over. Or at least a recount. But there was no one to complain to. This was her baby and only she could make it a success. “Lead, follow or get out of the way,” she reminded herself. “Winners win. I am the champion. It’s up to me. I can do this.”

None of the words seemed to be getting through but at least saying them was better than admitting defeat. She walked over to one of the huge loading dock doors and pushed the button to open it. Cool air blew in. Sophie lowered her backpack to the floor, sank down to sit cross-legged and prepared to get to work.

She needed everything. Employees, product, shelves, shipping supplies, office supplies, office furniture and Wi-Fi. While still in Los Angeles, she’d picked out everything she wanted but had waited to order until she knew the size of all the various spaces. She also had a big, fat insurance check sitting in her bank ac­count to pay for it all.

She got out her computer and, using her phone as a hotspot, logged on to the local internet provider and arranged for service. She would order everything else back in her room at the inn. The house she’d rented wouldn’t be available until the end of the week. Once she was settled there, she could fully focus on the business. In a couple of months everything would be run­ning smoothly and it would be like the fire never happened. Or so she hoped.

Author Info:

#1 NYT bestselling author Susan Mallery writes heartwarming, humorous novels about the relationships that define our lives-family, friendship, romance. She’s known for putting nuanced characters in emotional situations that surprise readers to laughter. Beloved by millions, her books have been translated into 28 languages.Susan lives in Washington with her husband, two cats, and a small poodle with delusions of grandeur. Visit her at SusanMallery.com.

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Review: St. Francis Society for Wayward Pets by Annie England Noblin

Review: St. Francis Society for Wayward Pets by Annie England NoblinSt. Francis Society for Wayward Pets by Annie England Noblin
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: paperback, large print, ebook, audiobook
Genres: women's fiction
Pages: 384
Published by William Morrow Paperbacks on January 14, 2020
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

If you love Susan Mallery and Jill Shalvis, you won’t want to miss this new novel of second chances, dogs, and knitting, from the author of Pupcakes and Sit! Stay! Speak!

Laid off, cheated on, mugged: what else can go wrong in Maeve Stephens’ life? So when she learns her birth mother has left her a house, a vintage VW Beetle, and a marauding cat, in the small town of Timber Creek, Washington, she packs up to discover the truth about her past.

She arrives to the sight of a cheerful bulldog abandoned on her front porch, a reclusive but tempting author living next door, and a set of ready-made friends at the St. Francis Society for Wayward Pets, where women knit colorful sweaters for the dogs and cats in their care. But there’s also an undercurrent of something that doesn’t sit right with Maeve. What’s the secret (besides her!) that her mother had hidden?

If Maeve is going to make Timber Creek her home, she must figure out where she fits in and unravel the truth about her past. But is she ready to be adopted again—this time, by an entire town…?

My Review:

This isn’t quite the book I was expecting from the blurb. It was much better than that.

On the surface, this looked like a story about second chances. And it is. But not all of those second chances belong to Maeve, the main character of this story. And some of those second chances are in the past and not the present. Or they are an unexpected and unknown present, in the other sense of the word. The present that doesn’t look like a present, the gift that Annabelle gave her daughter when she gave Maeve up for adoption.

A chance for a better life than Annabelle expected for herself – and a much better life than she could have given her daughter if she’d kept her.

But Maeve knows nothing of that past when she comes to tiny Timber Creek to attend her birth mother’s funeral. All she knows is that the woman gave her up as an infant, never answered the letters Maeve sent as a teenager, and has died leaving her everything she owned. Including a small house, a wandering cat and a fully-restored classic VW Beetle.

Along with an empty hole where the truth needs to be.

But Annabelle also left her daughter a circle of good friends, a reputation as a rescuer of last-chance animals, and just enough clues to figure out the secrets of Maeve’s origins – and the seeds that truth sowed all those years ago.

Maeve is 36, and at a crossroads in her life. More than one. Her childhood was relatively idyllic but the present is a whole other matter. Not anything terrible, but she’s just not adulting the way she expected to be in her mid-30s. She’s just lost her job – journalism is not a great career choice these days – and she discovered her boyfriend was cheating on her along with the entire rest of the world – on YouTube. Ugh.

So the trip to her birth mother’s funeral comes as Maeve has reached a big fork in her road – and doesn’t know how, or which way, to take it. There seems to be a place ready-made for her in Timber Creek – the place left achingly vacant by the sudden death of Annabelle – the mother she never knew.

Flailing at the current mess of her own life, Maeve steps hesitatingly, and sometimes more than a bit angrily, into Annabelle’s. Everyone loved the mother who gave her up. It’s awkward and sometimes even painful to feel just how much the entire town loved the woman who didn’t love her enough to keep her. It makes no sense. And it hurts.

But as Maeve gingerly becomes part of Timber Creek, she discovers the truths that lie hidden. The truth about the town, the truth about her birth mother, the truth about herself – and just how much her mother’s love and pain bound those truths together.

Escape Rating A-: I was expecting a small-town feel-good women’s fiction-type story. And it has elements of that, but the St. Francis Society for Wayward Pets isn’t just that – no matter how cute the dog and cat sweaters knitted by the society are.

Instead, this book, like last year’s The Oysterville Sewing Circle, is about a group of women who are doing their best to rescue victims of domestic abuse. It’s the dark and barely hidden underbelly of life in Timber Creek – and everywhere else.

But these women, Annabelle and her friends, are doing something about it. Whenever they can. Whenever a girl or woman is willing to ask for help. Because there was no one to help them when they were abused. Because Annabelle knew that when she became pregnant that if she kept Maeve both she and Maeve would be abused by Maeve’s grandfather – and that they’d have no weapons to fight back and no support.

So Annabelle gave Maeve up for adoption, for a better life than she knew she could give her, and spent the rest of her life rescuing as many girls and women as possible from the situation she had faced – along with rescuing a few “wayward pets” along the way.

The story is told on two levels. The main story is Maeve’s story as she comes to Timber Creek, decides to stick around rather than go back to Seattle to live with her adopted parents – again – and try to figure out where her future lies. The longer she stays in Timber Creek, the more she falls in love with the place – and the more it reaches out and enfolds her in its arms.

And the more she discovers its secrets – and her own.

But we also see bits and pieces of Annabelle’s life. I’ll admit that at first it looked like Annabelle’s story was going to be different – and even more cruel – than it actually turned out to be. Just how Annabelle became pregnant and why she gave Maeve up hung like a Sword of Damocles over much of the story. I actually read those bits ahead because I couldn’t stand the suspense and didn’t want it to turn out to be the worser of two evils. Which it was not – and was a better story for it.

The St. Francis Society for Wayward Pets has a similar storyline to The Oysterville Sewing Circle, at least in the important bits. Meaning that if you liked one you’ll like the other and vice versa. Considering that the issue that underlies both stories is an important one that needs to be dealt with, more such stories, told well, are an excellent thing.

And both of these stories are told very well indeed.

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Review: A Trace of Deceit by Karen Odden

Review: A Trace of Deceit by Karen OddenA Trace of Deceit (Victorian Mystery #2) by Karen Odden
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via Edelweiss
Genres: historical fiction, historical mystery
Series: Victorian Mystery #2
Pages: 416
Published by William Morrow Paperbacks on December 17, 2019
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

From the author of A Dangerous Duet comes the next book in her Victorian mystery series, this time following a daring female painter and the Scotland Yard detective who is investigating her brother’s suspicious death.

A young painter digs beneath the veneer of Victorian London’s art world to learn the truth behind her brother’s murder...

Edwin is dead. That’s what Inspector Matthew Hallam of Scotland Yard tells Annabel Rowe when she discovers him searching her brother’s flat for clues. While the news is shocking, Annabel can’t say it’s wholly unexpected, given Edwin’s past as a dissolute risk-taker and art forger, although he swore he’d reformed. After years spent blaming his reckless behavior for their parents’ deaths, Annabel is now faced with the question of who murdered him—because Edwin’s death was both violent and deliberate. A valuable French painting he’d been restoring for an auction house is missing from his studio: find the painting, find the murderer. But the owner of the artwork claims it was destroyed in a warehouse fire years ago.

As a painter at the prestigious Slade School of Art and as Edwin’s closest relative, Annabel makes the case that she is crucial to Matthew’s investigation. But in their search for the painting, Matthew and Annabel trace a path of deceit and viciousness that reaches far beyond the elegant rooms of the auction house, into an underworld of politics, corruption, and secrets someone will kill to keep.  

My Review:

“I think all our memories have a trace of deceit in them,” at least according to Inspector Matthew Hallam, the hero of our story – and of the previous book in this series, A Dangerous Duet.

He’s not wrong, not in the context of the story, and not in real life, either. It’s been said that looking at a memory is like opening a page in a book, and that every time we do so, we change it just a little bit – blur the edges, smudge a section, make it sound better – or worse – until the original memory has been altered into the memory of the story we tell ourselves – and everyone else.

Sometimes we remember things, situations, people being better or happier than they really were. And sometimes we remember them as worse. It all depends on whatever story we want – or need – to tell ourselves.

Annabel Rowe has spent most of her adult years telling herself the story of how her brother Edwin abandoned her. And he did. Edwin fell into drink and eventually drugs at school, and didn’t quite manage to fall out until after a prison sentence made him rethink his life. It probably helped that the man Edwin was rebelling against, their father, was dead.

But Edwin and Annabel had been best friends and close companions as children. And when Edwin was sent off to boarding school, things changed – and not for the better. He did more than leave her behind – as was inevitable. He stopped communicating. And then, like so many addicts, he started making promises he couldn’t – or wouldn’t – keep.

He seemed to have turned over a new leaf after prison. Now Annabel and Edwin, both artists, both living on their own in London, had begun a tentative friendship. Annabel was beginning to trust again – but just couldn’t let go of her old hurts. Hurts which were real and legion. She feared, reasonably so, that Edwin would slide back into his old habits and abandon her again.

They were both young, there was plenty of time to get back to where they used to be – or at least an adult approximation of it.

Until the day that Annabel went to Edwin’s flat and found the police, in the person of Inspector Matthew Hallam, inspecting the scene of his death.

Time has run out for Annabel and Edwin to repair their relationship. But it has just begun on Annabel’s opportunity to provide justice for the brother she still loved. If she and Hallam can manage to figure out exactly why Edwin was killed.

At the heart of this case lies yet another deceit of memory.

Escape Rating A-: I liked A Trace of Deceit better than its predecessor, A Dangerous Duet. The first story was very plot driven, and it felt like the characters, particularly its central character Nell Hallam (Matthew’s sister) was a vehicle for the plot rather than a fully-fleshed out person. (That all being said, it feels like the link between the two books is fairly loose, and this book can definitely be read as a stand-alone.)

A Trace of Deceit, on the other hand, was very much Annabel’s story. She feels like a more rounded person as we explore not just where she is now, but her childhood, her relationship with her brother, with their parents, and her conflicted feelings about who she is and where she’s been.

While I did figure out what happened to Edwin in the past, what made him change, fairly early in the investigation, this is not after all Edwin’s story. And I understood and empathized with Annabel’s need to finally figure out the person her brother had been and what made him that person – and what led to his death.

The title of the story is ironic in a way. Annabel had remembered her childhood with Edwin as being less bright than it was in order to sustain her caution and mistrust. In her investigation of his murder she reclaims the brighter memories of their childhood. Even as she wonders whether they have only become so bright because she needs them to be, or whether she suppressed them because they only made Edwin’s frequent betrayals sharper.

But Edwin’s death is the result of someone else’s deceitful memories. Someone who has cast Edwin as the villain of their story rather than tarnish the image of someone they held dear.

So, I enjoyed the story and found the mystery fascinating. But what made the book for me was the character of Annabel and the way that she fit into her setting. One of the things that can be difficult about female protagonists in historical fiction is the need for the character to have agency and yet not seem out of her time in either attitudes or opportunities. Annabel feels like she belongs. Her story was set at a time when women could just manage to have an independent life if circumstances aligned. She has just enough income to keep herself, but has to be frugal about her expenses. She lives on her own and that’s accepted and acceptable. She doesn’t expect anyone to rescue her or take care of her – and she’s right not to do so. Nothing is easy for her as a woman alone – but it is possible in a way that feels right.

I read this one in a single day and felt like the story closed properly and yet I was a bit sad to see it end. Not that I wanted Annabel’s travails to go on a moment longer – more that I was hoping there would be an opportunity to visit her again.

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Review: The Wicked Redhead by Beatriz Williams

Review: The Wicked Redhead by Beatriz WilliamsThe Wicked Redhead: A Wicked City Novel by Beatriz Williams
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: hardcover, paperback, large print, ebook, audiobook
Genres: historical fiction, timeslip fiction
Series: Wicked City #2
Pages: 432
Published by William Morrow Paperbacks on December 10, 2019
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

In this follow-up to The Wicked City, New York Times bestselling author Beatriz Williams combines past and present in this delicious Jazz Age adventure featuring a saucy redheaded flapper, the square-jawed Prohibition agent who loves her, and a beautiful divorcee trying to remake her life in contemporary New York.

New York City, 1998: When Ella Gilbert discovers her banker husband is cheating on her, she loses both her marriage and the life she knew. In her new apartment in an old Greenwich Village building, she’s found unexpected second love with Hector, a musician who lives upstairs. And she’s discovered something else, just as surprising—a connection to the mesmerizing woman scandalously posed in a vintage photograph titled Redhead Beside Herself.

Florida, 1924: Geneva “Gin” Kelly, a smart-mouthed flapper from Appalachia, barely survived a run-in with her notorious bootlegger stepfather. She and Oliver Anson, a Prohibition agent she has inconveniently fallen in love with, take shelter in Cocoa Beach, a rum-running haven. But the turmoil she tried to leave behind won’t be so easily outrun. Anson’s mother, the formidable Mrs. Marshall, descends on Florida with a proposition that propels Gin back to the family’s opulent New York home, and into a reluctant alliance. Then Anson disappears during an investigation, and Gin must use all her guile and courage to find him.

Two very different women, separated by decades. Yet as Ella tries to free herself from her ex, she is also hunting down the truth about the captivating, wicked Redhead in her photograph—a woman who loved and lived fearlessly. And as their link grows, she feels Gin urging her on, daring her to forge her own path, wherever it leads.

My Review:

I picked up The Wicked Redhead because I absolutely loved this author’s A Certain Age, and liked the predecessor to this, The Wicked City well enough. So I signed up to see what happened next.

Unlike most of this author’s books, which are loosely connected with some of the same people slipping in and out of the story, The Wicked Redhead is a direct sequel to The Wicked City. The action in this book picks up immediately where the other left off – broken bones, bruises and all.

Meaning that while most of this author’s books seem to stand well alone – the connections between them are quite loose – it feels really necessary to have read The Wicked City before The Wicked Redhead – and possibly recently at that – otherwise the story feels very much like it starts in the middle. It took me a bit to feel like I had caught up – or back – to where this story begins as I read The Wicked City almost three years ago..

But one of the other differences between the Wicked City series and the author’s other books is that the connection all the others share – along with these two, is a setting among the glitterati of New York City during the Roaring 20s. A period that roared because of all the illegal booze coming into the city and being fought over both in and out of it.

In other words, during Prohibition. (BTW there is an absolutely fantastic Prohibition Museum in Savannah – but I seriously digress.)

What makes this series different is that unlike the author’s other works, this is a time slip story. In both books, the framing story revolves around Ella in the late 1990s, about to divorce her seriously slimy soon-to-be-ex and living in the building next door to the Speakeasy where the 1920s action of that first book takes place.

As Ella can hear the music of the past – literally – her story frames that of Geneva Kelly, the redhead of the title. Also the step-daughter of one of those rumrunner kingpins and the lover of an FBI agent out to fight the trade in illicit booze – albeit mostly because of the even worse crime that surrounds it.

At the end of The Wicked City, Geneva, now former FBI agent Anson Marshall, and Geneva’s little sister Patsy are on the run after the death of her stepfather at their hands. (The two adults’ hands, not little Patsy!)

They run to Cocoa, Florida, straight to Anson’s friends Simon and Virginia, the protagonists of Cocoa Beach.

And that’s where the story really begins, as the FBI reaches out its rather dirty – at least in this instance – hands to grab Anson back again. And then proceeds to lose him.

Gin Kelly isn’t a woman for sitting around and waiting for other people to take care of her business for her. With the help of, of all people, Anson’s mother – a woman who hates Gin’s from the top of her redhead to the bottom of her low-class (at least according to Mrs. Marshall) feet, Gin sets out to find and rescue the man she loves.

While back in the 1990s, Ella works to discover who Gin really was and why the rare, beautiful and quite salacious “art” photos of “The Redhead” have landed in her lap.

Escape Rating B-: The difficulty with time slip fiction usually revolves around how to handle the two separate timelines. When the slip in time revolves around the main character moving back and forth – as in Outlander – focusing on that character takes care of the dilemma. But in most timeslip fiction the story slips between two interconnected time periods – with separate casts in each.

That’s the case here as Ella’s story in 1998 connects to Gin’s story in 1924 through that photograph of “The Redhead” and Ella’s residence in the NYC apartment building that Gin used to own, as well as a connection through a whole lot of people in 1998 whose past back in the 1920s is connected one way or another to Gin Kelly – connections that Ella uncovers – or that they uncover to her – in the course of this story.

And that’s where this one fell down for me. I found Gin’s story absolutely fascinating – as I did in The Wicked City. But Ella’s story was much less interesting – but with all of those discoveries it  was more of it than just a framing story. If we had stayed back in 1924 with Gin and her lovers, friends and enemies – as we did in the marvelous A Certain Age with Anson’s mother! – I’d have been a happy reader.

But Ella’s story – which I found unnecessary in The Wicked City – I just didn’t care for at all this time around. Having her discover that she was pregnant by the ex-husband she left in the first book seemed like just a way of screwing up her life – a life which had plenty of problems already without adding a very untimely pregnancy into the mix. Your reading mileage may vary.

Gin’s story on the other hand was a wild thrill ride complete with epic betrayals, high highs, low lows, boat chases, pirates and a desperate race against the odds. I could have followed her story all day – or at least most of a night of good reading. And I wish this story had stuck with her – because, as one of the characters says – Gin draws all eyes to her the instant she steps into the room and keeps them focused there until after she’s left.

So read this one for Gin and the rumrunners. Her story is worth a book all of its own.

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Review: Meet Me on Love Lane by Nina Bocci + Giveaway

Review: Meet Me on Love Lane by Nina Bocci + GiveawayMeet Me on Love Lane (Hopeless Romantics, #2) by Nina Bocci
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: contemporary romance, romantic comedy, women's fiction
Series: Hopeless Romantics #2
Pages: 304
Published by Gallery Books on December 10, 2019
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

From the USA TODAY bestselling author of On the Corner of Love and Hate comes a romantic comedy about a woman who grudgingly returns home to small-town Pennsylvania, only to find herself falling in love—not only with the town, but with two of its citizens.

Charlotte Bishop is out of options in New York City. Fired, broke, and blacklisted by her former boss, she’s forced to return to her hometown of Hope Lake, PA to lick her wounds. Although she’s expecting to find a miserable place with nothing to do, she is pleasantly surprised to discover it is bustling and thriving.

She’s only supposed to be in Hope Lake temporarily until she can earn enough money to move back to New York. She’s not supposed to reconnect with her childhood friends or her beloved grandmother. She’s not supposed to find her dream job running the local florist shop. And she’s definitely not supposed to fall for not one but two of Hope Lake’s golden boys: one the beloved high school English teacher, the other the charming town doctor.

With a heart torn between two men and two cities, what’s a girl to do?

A perfect blend of humor and heart, Meet Me on Love Lane is the second in a new series from USA TODAY bestselling author Nina Bocci that is sure to charm fans of Josie Silver and Sally Thorne.

My Review:

There are two literary versions of home. One is the Robert Frost version, the one that says that “home is the place that when you have to go there, they have to take you in.” There’s also the Thomas Wolfe version that says that , “You can’t go home again.”

There’s also the romantic version, the one that says that “home is where the heart is.”.

In a way, Meet Me on Love Lane is a story about crossroads. The story is firmly parked at the corner of contemporary romance and women’s fiction, as it’s partly about Charlotte Bishop’s choice between a romance with the new “Dr. Hotness” in town, and something sweeter but more elusive with someone from her past.

It’s also at the intersection of two of those versions of home. Charlotte has returned to Hope Lake because she needs a place to regroup and recharge, and that takes her back to her childhood home in Hope Lake with her father and grandmother. A home that her mother wrenched her away from when she was 10.

She’s returned to Hope Lake because she has no place else to go, and because she hopes that her family will take her back in – no matter that it has been 20 years since she was last there.

It turns out that the story is about Charlotte discovering that her home is where her heart is, and that, in spite of all the years gone by and all the memories that she’s deliberately suppressed, her heart and her home are in Hope Lake – along with all the love – of all kinds – that she left behind.

All she has to do is squelch the bitter voice of her mother that still rings in her head even years after the woman’s death – and let herself remember all the good things her mother wanted her to forget.

Because her heart has found its home – no matter what her head – and the voices from her past – have to say about the matter.

Escape Rating B+: In spite of the title, Meet Me on Love Lane feels like it’s more about Charlotte and all of her relationships – with her dad, her grandmother, her best girlfriend, her other childhood friends and everyone in her former/future hometown than it is about her romantic escapades.

Particularly poignant is Charlotte’s relationship with her grandmother Gigi – who is an absolute hoot. We all wish we had a grandmother like Gigi – while at the same time feeling for Charlotte and everything she’s missed.

She’s also not really in the “torn between two lovers” situation that the blurb implies. Every woman in town – of every age – seems to drool at least a bit over “Dr. Hotness”, but there’s never any spark there. Charlotte may want there to be, but there’s never even a hint of a need to make a decision on that front.

However, Charlotte is much more torn over the choice between returning to New York City and staying in Hope Lake. Some of that is because of her mother’s disparaging voice in her head, and some of that is just because these are very different kinds of places and they represent very different lives. There’s not a right or a wrong answer to that question, but the adjustments to her life will be profound no matter what she chooses – and it is a choice worth serious consideration.

The sweetness in the story comes from Charlotte’s rediscovery of Henry, the man who once upon a time was a 10 year old boy and her absolute best friend in the whole world. The boy who it hurt so much to leave behind that she made herself forget him. Completely.

The way that Charlotte works her way back to Henry, and reconnects with her own past, is her journey in this story. It lets her relearn just how much she loved this place and these people, and just how much of herself she cut off and left behind in order to survive life with her mother.

Exactly what was wrong with her mother is never completely resolved. No one actually knows. That there is no closure for Charlotte to explain so much that needs explaining leaves Charlotte bewildered but coping (and recommending therapy all around) and leaves the reader with a lack of resolution in that part of the story. While admittedly that’s real life – we don’t always get the explanations we need or want or are due – but in fiction most readers, myself included, expect a bit more satisfaction in our happy ever afters.

But Charlotte – and Henry – certainly earn theirs. With everyone in town cheering them on.

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

I’m giving away a copy of Meet Me on Love Lane to one very lucky US commenter on this tour!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

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Review: The Cost of Honor by Diana Munoz Stewart + Giveaway

Review: The Cost of Honor by Diana Munoz Stewart + GiveawayThe Cost of Honor (Black Ops Confidential, #3) by Diana Munoz Stewart
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: romantic suspense
Series: Black Ops Confidential #3
Pages: 352
Published by Sourcebooks Casablanca on November 26, 2019
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

He gave up everything to escape his family

The only male to be adopted into the notorious Parish family, Tony Parish always did right by his vigilante sisters. But when an attempt to protect one of them went horribly wrong, he had to fake his own death to escape his fanatical family. Tony set sail and ended up in Dominica―face to face with the woman of his dreams...

Now he must give up Honor to save her

After the death of her mother, Honor Silva moved to Dominica, where her family could help her heal and move on. But her activist mother left her more than money, she left her proof that could take down one of the richest and most powerful men in the world.

Tony gave up everything he thought he knew when he fled his family. But when a threat too dangerous for Tony and Honor to fight on their own closes in, he has no choice but to go to them for help. Problem is, they'll demand something in return―something that could cost Tony not just Honor, but also the love that changed him forever.

My Review:

Through a certain lens, all three of this week’s books are wrapped around the question about whether the ends justify the means – and who gets to make that decision.

The way that this is worked out in The Cost of Honor, and in the entire Black Ops Confidential series, makes this both a harder and a deeper story than the events on its surface. And a fitting conclusion to the story arc begun in the awesome I Am Justice. (The book is awesome and so is the character of Justice Parrish.)

While some readers have said that this book can be read as a standalone, I’m not totally sure that’s true. Because this story brings full circle the events of that first book, and also adds new layers to the question that was asked in the second book, The Price of Grace.

It’s the question of whether the Parrish family and its League of Warrior Women is just a tight-knit family of adoption – or if it’s actually more of a cult.

That’s an answer I’m not quite sure of by the end of the story. I actually think the question is even more wide open now than it was at the beginning.

The story in The Cost of Honor is the story of one of the few men adopted into that League of Warrior Women – Tony Parrish. A Tony Parrish who either betrayed the family or tried to protect it at the beginning of I Am Justice – and who let his family believe he was dead rather than face the music of that seeming betrayal.

By this point in Tony’s story, he’s been on the run for months. The family he left behind has finally discovered that he didn’t die after all – and they are pissed.

It’s not all about the lie. Well, it is about the lie about him being dead, and the depths of everyone’s grief. But it’s really about the schism that his departure has created in a family that has prided itself on its rock-solid unity for the past 40 years. A unity that has been protected by their ability to erase inconvenient memories and emotions – like the emotions that led to Tony’s disappearance and his memories of a family that acts as judge, jury and executioner on those who have avoided, evaded or co-opted the law.

Because Tony has been found just as he’s found someone worth keeping ALL his memories intact for. But Honor Silva in just the kind of trouble that his family is expert at fixing. Bringing them in will mean that they will “fix” him in return for their help.

The cost of Tony’s honor may be the loss of her. It’s a price that he may be willing to pay – but Honor definitely is NOT.

Escape Rating B: I leave this book, and this series, with a whole boatload of mixed feelings. About the size of the boat used in the “big finish” rescue that concludes the action of this story.

There were three parts to this story, the romance between Tony and Honor, Tony’s very real fears of being found by his family and having his memory erased, and the equally real danger that Honor finds herself in just as Tony enters her life.

The romance was sweet and very hot. Extremely hot. While the romantic element of romantic suspense like this series are often fast and adrenaline fueled, the hot-sex-into-love relationship between Tony and Honor feels almost too fast for their characters and has more than a whiff of insta-love to it.

The danger that Honor is in is very real, but felt at first like it came a bit out of the blue. And then the story digs into Honor’s past, and her mother’s past, and keeps on digging. Until it finds itself very near something like the Harvey Weinstein case, only even longer lasting and with even deadlier consequences. This got deeper and darker than I expected, and I mean that in the best way possible.

But then, on my third hand, there’s Tony’s story. He wants to help Honor. He needs to help Honor. And he needs to run from his family who mean well in the broadest sense but may not mean the best for him. In order to protect their secret operations, operations which really, really need to be protected, they’re going to fuck with Tony’s mind and memories.

I don’t know about you, but I’d run too. While the theory behind what they plan to do is something I’ve run across before, it still feels like something that no one should do, particularly in the name of “love” the way that it’s presented here. Even though this does manage to get to a happy ending I found that part extremely troublesome. Every organization needs people who ask hard questions. And we are the product of who we’ve been, both the good and the bad parts. That everything manages to work out in the end felt like someone got let off the hook in a way that sticks in my mind with very troublesome thoughts.

The Parrish family have decided that the end result of protecting their operations justifies the means of messing with their own people’s minds and memories. And I’m troubled by that being the happy ending. Your reading mileage may definitely vary.

This is one to read, and ponder. And keep right on pondering. I still am.

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

I’m giving away a copy of The Cost of Honor to one lucky US commenter on this tour!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

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Review: The Poppy Wife by Caroline Scott

Review: The Poppy Wife by Caroline ScottThe Poppy Wife: A Novel of the Great War by Caroline Scott
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: paperback, large print, ebook, audiobook
Genres: historical fiction, World War I
Pages: 448
Published by William Morrow Paperbacks on November 5, 2019
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
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In the tradition of Jennifer Robson and Hazel Gaynor, this unforgettable debut novel is a sweeping tale of forbidden love, profound loss, and the startling truth of the broken families left behind in the wake of World War I.1921. Survivors of the Great War are desperately trying to piece together the fragments of their broken lives. While many have been reunited with their loved ones, Edie’s husband Francis is still missing. Francis is presumed to have been killed in action, but Edie knows he is alive.

Harry, Francis’s brother, was there the day Francis went missing in Ypres. And like Edie, he’s hopeful Francis is living somewhere in France, lost and confused. Hired by grieving families in need of closure, Harry returns to the Western Front to photograph soldiers’ graves. As he travels through France gathering news for British wives and mothers, he searches for evidence his own brother is still alive.

When Edie receives a mysterious photograph that she believes was taken by Francis, she is more certain than ever he isn’t dead. Edie embarks on her own journey in the hope of finding some trace of her husband. Is he truly gone, or could he still be alive? And if he is, why hasn’t he come home?

As Harry and Edie’s paths converge, they get closer to the truth about Francis and, as they do, are soon faced with the life-changing impact of the answers they discover.

An incredibly moving account of an often-forgotten moment in history—those years after the war that were filled with the unknown—The Poppy Wife tells the story of the thousands of soldiers who were lost amid the chaos and ruins in battle-scarred France; and the even greater number of men and women hoping to find them again.

My Review:

I read this book on November 11, the day that was originally created as Remembrance Day. A day to commemorate those who served in the war that is over but not done for the protagonists of this marvelous story.

They always say that funerals are for the living, not the dead. They provide closure, and as humans, we all need that. Or, to put it another way, we need to get through those famous “seven stages of grief“ to move on with our lives after a loss.

This story is not merely about the two protagonists, but about thousands of people – possibly whole nations of people – who are stuck in that first stage of grief, shock and denial. Because there’s no body, no definitive answer. Only a gaping wound where a loved one used to be and no certainty that they are really gone. Only that they are lost – and so are their survivors.

Edie and Harry are linked by one such loss. Her beloved husband Francis was Harry’s oldest brother. Or at least by 1921 the past tense in reference to Francis is presumed but not absolutely certain. Francis is one of the thousands of soldiers who has been labeled “missing, presumed dead.”

Harry saw him wounded, shot in the chest at Ypres. Harry saw him sent back to an aid station, and was certain that his brother’s wound was fatal. But Francis’ body was never processed. If he is truly dead, no one seems to know where or when.

But four years after the war, someone sends Edie a photograph of Francis in the mail. It’s a Francis she never knew, a man who had been ravaged by war. But a man still alive – at least at the time the photograph was taken. There’s no note with the photograph and nothing to say where or when it was either taken or mailed.

So Edie asks Harry to look, again, for Francis. Not that Harry hasn’t looked plenty of times before – and not just for Francis. After all, it’s Harry’s job to go to the battlefields and graveyards and photograph the graves, the artifacts, and the ruins. He is the photographer of the lost. (This book was originally published in the U.K. under that title, The Photographer of the Lost.)

But sending Harry doesn’t stop Edie from also going herself. To look, one more time, for evidence that her husband is dead – or to find him if he is alive. She is not alone on her journey – and neither is Harry.

Their dead travel with them – and with every single person they meet along the way, all hoping against hope that this time they will find what they are looking for. Even if it’s just that much needed but so far elusive sense of closure.

Escape Rating A: The word most commonly used in reviews of The Poppy Wife (under both of its titles) is haunting. Because it is. All of Europe is haunted by the ravages and losses of the Great War, and so are all those left behind, as Edie, Harry and the people they meet along the way certainly are.

I will also add here that while this book is beautiful, it is not one to read if you are already down. This is a story about finding closure, not about finding a happy ever after. Unless you are prone to schadenfreude while watching other people grieve, this is a hard book to read. Beautiful and deeply felt, but if you’re in the doldrums it’s likely to make them worse, not better.

“The past is never dead. It’s not even past.” Or so goes the famous quote by William Faulkner. The Poppy Wife is the story of two people, and an entire generation, who are doing their best to put the dead into their own past. One step, one relic, one graveyard at a time. And we grieve with them.

I leave you, The Poppy Wife and The Photographer of the Lost with this final note. The painful and painstaking journey that Edie and Harry and the many characters of this story are trapped in the middle of continues to the present day. According to the Commonwealth War Graves Commission, there are, on average, 50 discoveries of World War I remains every year, but few are ever identified. The remains of Lance Corporal Frederick Thomas Perkins were discovered in 2018, giving his granddaughter the closure that his family still needed more than a century after he was declared “missing, presumed dead.”

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Review: Gold Digger by Rebecca Rosenberg + Giveaway

Review: Gold Digger by Rebecca Rosenberg + GiveawayGold Digger, The Remarkable Baby Doe Tabor by Rebecca Rosenberg
Format: ebook
Source: author
Formats available: paperback, ebook
Genres: historical fiction
Pages: 318
Published by LION HEART PUBLISHING on May 28, 2019
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

GOLD DIGGER, The Remarkable Baby Doe Tabor!

One look at Baby Doe and you know she was meant to be a legend! She was just twenty years old when she came to Colorado to work a gold mine with her new husband. Little did she expect that she’d be abandoned and pregnant and left to manage the gold mine alone. But that didn’t stop her!

She moved to Leadville and fell in love with a married prospector, twice her age. Horace Tabor struck the biggest silver vein in history, divorced his wife and married Baby Doe. Though his new wife was known for her beauty, her fashion, and even her philanthropy, she was never welcomed in polite society.

Discover how the Tabors navigated the worlds of wealth, power, politics, and scandal in the wild days of western mining.

“Rosenberg’s rollicking Western adventure strikes gold with a gutsy, good-hearted spitfire of a heroine and action aplenty.”—THELMA ADAMS, bestselling author of The Last Woman Standing

Gold Digger tells the true story of Lizzie “Baby Doe” Tabor, a beautiful young woman who in 1878 marries the son of a wealthy miner in order to save her family from penury. Shrewd and stubborn, Lizzie fights back-biting Victorian society, wins and loses vast fortunes, and bests conniving politicians in her larger-than-life story. A twisting tale worthy of Mark Twain, with a big-hearted heroine at the center. —MARTHA CONWAY, author of The Underground River

My Review:

Mark Twain once said that “Truth is stranger than fiction, but it is because fiction is obliged to stick to possibilities;Truth isn’t.” There are plenty of variations on this quote, but the one by Twain is particularly apropos to this story as it was written in 1897, during the time period covered by this chapter of Baby Doe’s life.

Baby Doe Tabor ca 1883

Her real life. Because even though Gold Digger is a novel, it is based on the life of a real person, Lizzie “Baby Doe” Tabor. A person who became a legend, even in her own lifetime.

Baby Doe’s life was a rags to riches story, in the best Western tradition. But, and it turned out to be a very big but, her life turned back into rags, as so many did when their fortunes rose and fell with the price of gold, or in her case silver, and on the vicissitudes of governments and the claiming and production of always chancy mines.

Because Baby Doe was not just a woman but a beautiful, intelligent and ambitious woman at a time when women who were the first were supposed to hide the second and third, and in a place where women of any kind were rare and as hardened as the men, the life she led and the legends that followed her are heavily influenced by those attitudes.

That she used her beauty and ambition to seduce or ensnare – at least as her contemporaries saw it – a married man who possessed both wealth and political ambition did not endear her to those contemporaries.

That at least according to this book she sincerely loved him, and that she certainly stuck with him through thick and thin – and there was plenty of both – may lend credence to the romantic parts of this story. She certainly stood by him when plenty of others didn’t.

But this is her life – or at least the biggest part of it. And it’s a life well worth learning about – and remembering.

Escape Rating B: I have some mixed feelings about this re-telling of Baby Doe Tabor’s story. On the one hand, her life was absolutely legendary. It makes for the sort of story that would be labeled highly implausible if it were purely fiction. As the fictionalization of a true story, it’s a marvel. The treatment of her life story, both contemporaneously and after her death, is a reflection on the way that the lives of exceptional women are so often dealt with. She was vilified as a homewrecker – and worse – during her lifetime and erased after the fact.

Baby Doe Tabor, photo taken 1885-1895

Her story is well-known in Colorado where she lived, but not outside her old stomping – and mining – grounds.

So on the one hand her story is one very much worth telling.

But this telling of it gave me a bit of pause. Attempting to get inside the head of a historical figure, even in fiction, doesn’t always work. (One of the things that worked well for me in yesterday’s book was that the author did not attempt to get inside Princess Margaret’s head. We saw what she did, and other people’s reactions to it, but we didn’t hear her thoughts and that felt right.)

We spend a lot of time in Baby Doe’s head, and her thoughts as presented owed more to historical romance than history – or so it felt to me. And her internal dialog felt a bit overblown – although that matches with writing of her time period. Leaving this reader a bit torn.

In the end, Baby Doe’s life is one that should be better known, and I would be interested in knowing more about. But this particular treatment didn’t quite work for me.

Your reading mileage, whether by car or mining cart, may definitely vary.

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

For a chance to win a copy of this book and other related prizes, please use THIS LINK to fill-out the Rafflecopter widget.

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Review: The Other Windsor Girl by Georgie Blalock

Review: The Other Windsor Girl by Georgie BlalockThe Other Windsor Girl: A Novel of Princess Margaret, Royal Rebel by Georgie Blalock
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: paperback, large print, ebook, audiobook
Genres: historical fiction
Pages: 400
Published by William Morrow Paperbacks on November 5, 2019
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

In a historical debut evoking the style of The Crown, the daughter of an impoverished noble is swept into the fame and notoriety of the royal family and Princess Margaret's fast-living friends when she is appointed as Margaret's second Lady-in-Waiting.

Diana, Catherine, Meghan…glamorous Princess Margaret outdid them all. Springing into post-World War II society, and quite naughty and haughty, she lived in a whirlwind of fame and notoriety. Georgie Blalock captures the fascinating, fast-living princess and her “set” as seen through the eyes of one of her ladies-in-waiting.

In dreary, post-war Britain, Princess Margaret captivates everyone with her cutting edge fashion sense and biting quips. The royal socialite, cigarette holder in one hand, cocktail in the other, sparkles in the company of her glittering entourage of wealthy young aristocrats known as the Margaret Set, but her outrageous lifestyle conflicts with her place as Queen Elizabeth’s younger sister. Can she be a dutiful princess while still dazzling the world on her own terms?

Post-war Britain isn’t glamorous for The Honorable Vera Strathmore. While writing scandalous novels, she dreams of living and working in New York, and regaining the happiness she enjoyed before her fiancé was killed in the war. A chance meeting with the Princess changes her life forever. Vera amuses the princess, and what—or who—Margaret wants, Margaret gets. Soon, Vera gains Margaret’s confidence and the privileged position of second lady-in-waiting to the Princess. Thrust into the center of Margaret’s social and royal life, Vera watches the princess’s love affair with dashing Captain Peter Townsend unfurl.

But while Margaret, as a member of the Royal Family, is not free to act on her desires, Vera soon wants the freedom to pursue her own dreams. As time and Princess Margaret’s scandalous behavior progress, both women will be forced to choose between status, duty, and love…

My Review:

Vera Strathmore may be telling this story, but it’s Princess Margaret who dominates every single page, just as she does Vera for ten of the best/worst/most notorious years of both of their lives.

This isn’t a complete biography of Margaret, nor is it intended as nonfiction. Not that the reader doesn’t wonder, every single step of the way, how much fact underlies the fiction.

After all, this was a storied life, conducted all too frequently in public, and most of the facts are known. Whether the author has captured the feelings behind those facts? Well, that’s something that the reader will have to decide for themselves.

But what we have feels like a peek behind the scenes of Buckingham Palace – or Buck Place as it is referred to in the book – into the life of Princess Margaret, the younger sister of Queen Elizabeth II, during Margaret’s glory years. The years when Margaret was to the post-war Press what Princess Diana became in the late-20th century – a source for endless photographs and reams of scandalous speculation and gossip, as well as a tear-jerker of a story of tragic romance.

The difference is that Margaret outlived her legend, while Diana never did.

But the times were very different. In 1949, when Vera meets the Princess, Britain is still languishing in the doldrums of post-war austerity. Unlike the US, rationing was still in force – and enforced. The old, privileged aristocratic way of life, so lovingly portrayed in Downton Abbey, was breathing its last – and Vera felt like her life was expiring with it.

Princess Margaret in 1951

Into the gloom of Vera’s life, as well as the gloom of post-war Britain, Princess Margaret, her outrageous bon mots and the larger-than-life antics of her “Set” blew through like a strong wind – a harbinger of change.

In the story, Vera served the Princess from 1949 to 1959. During that decade, Margaret went from the spoiled and self-indulgent but favorite daughter of the King to the disregarded and scandal-prone sister of the Queen. It’s no surprise that the years when Margaret is at her most sparkling are the years before her beloved father’s death.

And that she never manages to recapture that sparkle again.

Instead, we watch through Vera’s eyes as the Princess’ “set” breaks up and Margaret is increasingly alone. While the author never attempts to portray Margaret’s inner life, we see her actions, and their consequences, through Vera as she makes the Princess’ world her own – to her own detriment.

Because the Princess lives in a bubble of her own making. And when Vera, out of love and friendship, pricks that bubble even a little, she finds herself on the outside, alone and adrift, as everyone around her warned she would.

It’s only at that point that Vera finally takes her life in her own hands and forges her own path. A feat that Margaret, for all her privilege, never manages to achieve.

Escape Rating A-: I stayed up half the night reading this. It was like the best kind of gossip – compelling and absolutely fascinating from beginning to end, a peek into a world that I’ll never see in real life. At the same time, it also has the compulsion of driving by a wreck and being unable not to look. Knowing anything of Princess Margaret’s history we already know it’s a train wreck – but we can’t turn our eyes away as the vehicle – in this case Margaret’s life – crashes and burns.

I will also say that it is weird to see events that I remember contemporaneously being treated as historical fiction. Very weird. The whole idea that the 1960s have now become “historical” feels very odd indeed.

What everyone remembers of Margaret’s life is the irony factor in her tragic romance with Peter Townsend. In 1936, her uncle King Edward VIII was forced to abdicate the throne to her father, King George VI, because he wasn’t permitted to marry divorcee Wallis Warfield Simpson. The head of the Church of England could not marry a divorced person. By 1953, Margaret had dropped from being heir presumptive to the throne on her sister’s ascension to being fourth in line after Elizabeth, Prince Charles and Princess Anne. But she was still high enough in that line, and divorce was still so deeply frowned upon that her desire to marry the divorced Peter Townsend – was forbidden by both her sister the Queen and the Church of England.

I always found it ironic that Margaret’s eventual marriage to Antony Armstrong-Jones ended in divorce. In 1953 it was anathema for her to marry a divorcé, but by 1978 she had become one herself. In all likelihood, Margaret’s marital failure paved the way for the acceptance of the same by several of her royal nephews and nieces, including the Prince of Wales.

Princess Margaret in 1958

But Margaret in the 1950s is a compelling character who stands firmly at the center of this story – to the point where Vera and her own needs, wants and desires fade into the background – even for herself. We also see Margaret change from glittering to brittle as the spotlight moves away from her to her sister, the “perfect” Queen.

While Margaret had always been capricious and frequently cutting, the more she is pushed into the background the more she tried to escape that background by being as outrageous as possible – and the more those around her suffered for her whims and moods. Margaret is never a villain, but she is also never someone that Vera could or should rely on. Her whims could be cruel, and Vera and the other members of Margaret’s household were her closest and most frequent targets.

In the end, this is the portrayal of two women locked together in a crisis of their own making. The one who seemingly holds all the cards having less freedom than the one who initially feels like the dependent partner of a codependent relationship.

Margaret’s life was a train wreck, not all of it of her own making. And we can’t turn our eyes away.

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Review: The Painted Castle by Kristy Cambron

Review: The Painted Castle by Kristy CambronThe Painted Castle (Lost Castle #3) by Kristy Cambron
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: paperback, large print, ebook, audiobook
Genres: historical fiction, timeslip fiction
Series: Lost Castle #3
Pages: 400
Published by Thomas Nelson on October 15, 2019
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

Bestselling author Kristy Cambron concludes the Lost Castle novels with this sweeping tale of art and secrets long buried in England.

It was supposed to be a one-week job: survey an art find, collect a hefty fee, and use that to settle historian Kiera Foley’s life back into balance. But from the moment she sets foot in the East Suffolk countryside, the mysteries surrounding the old English manor and the enigmatic art thief who’s employed her stir more questions than answers. Then, Kiera finds the existence of a portrait captivating enough to upend all of her expectations. This one could be a twin—a painting so close in composition to a known masterpiece, it may be rendered priceless if it truly captured the likeness of a young Queen named Victoria.

Set in three time periods—the rapid change of Victorian England, the tumultuous skies over England’s eastern shores in WWII, and modern day—The Painted Castle unfolds a legacy of faith, family, and stories that are generations in the making.

My Review:

The Painted Castle is a charming and entrancing time slip story – and this reader was so completely entranced that I finished it on one single rainy afternoon.

Like the previous books in this series, The Lost Castle and Castle on the Rise, the story is set in three distinct time periods. In this particular castle, the 1840s, the 1940s and the present. What links the three time periods in this story is a portrait. And a secret. And a secret about the portrait.

In the present day, disgraced art expert Keira Foley is back in Dublin working in the family pub, after her disaster-at-love derailed her career. And it’s there that suspected art thief Emory Scott tracks her down. Scott has a project that he believes is right up her alley – and will provide her with professional vindication as well.

He’s in charge of the restoration of Parham Hill Estate in Suffolk, and he has a portrait that he needs Keira to identify and authenticate. It’s a portrait of Queen Victoria, and it looks like a companion piece to the famous “secret picture” painted by famed portrait artist Franz Xavier Winterhalter in the 1840s. The portrait shows a young, newly married Victoria, with her hair down, looking as if she is thinking rather wicked thoughts about her new husband.

Queen Victoria by Franz Xaver Winterhalter. Signed and dated 1843

Speculation about the existence of such a picture formed a piece of what crashed Keira’s professional career. The personal crash was something else altogether. But determining whether this portrait is what it appears to be is an inducement guaranteed to bring Keira to Parham Hill – where the long-shuttered estate casts its own spell on both Keira and Emory – whatever their initial thoughts on the matter – or each other.

As they research the history of the estate, the past they discover comes alive through chapters revolving around the actual painting of that portrait – and the circumstances that brought Winterhalter’s surprising apprentice to the notice of the Queen.

Alongside the chapters in the 1840s, the portrait of the artist as a young woman, readers are also treated to a later and much more recent chapter in the estate’s – and the portrait’s – history. In the 1940s, during WWII and the repeated German bombings of London and the English countryside, the young widow of the last owner of the Estate is doing her level best to keep body and soul together, not just for herself and the estate, but for a host of children sent to the country for safety – and two German-Jewish orphans smuggled out of their homeland after Kristallnacht.

When the nearby U.S. Airbase requisitions the use of Parham HIll for quarters for excess officers, Parham HIll and its lady, Amelia Wood, open their doors and their hearts. Particularly to one American officer who captures her heart – in spite of how deeply, painfully inadvisable it is to build even friendships that can be taken away in the blink of an eye – or the drop of a bomb.

It is in the 1840s that the portrait is painted, in the 1940s that it is hidden, and in the here and now that it is brought to light. Churning up secrets and lives every step of the way.

Escape Rating A-: I picked up The Painted Castle because I really enjoyed The Lost Castle – and was surprised by how much I did enjoy it. I was expecting more of the same with The Painted Castle and I was definitely NOT disappointed. At all.

That being said, I don’t think one absolutely HAS to read the first two books in order to get into the third. There are links, but they are all in the present and add depth without having the story dependent on having read the previous. Particularly as the link in the present is between Keira and her two brothers, while the important storyline in each book is the link between the women in the three separate time periods.

What makes the interlinked stories so interesting is that all the stories are impacted, in one way or another, by great change. In the 1840s it was the Industrial Revolution – which does impact that part of the story, although not in the way that the reader, or the heroine of that period, initially believes.

The upheaval of the World War II era is obvious, even on the home front.

And then there’s the now, where both Keira’s and Emory’s lives are more than a bit of a mess – as is the neglected estate they are investigating and renovating. And change always stirs up plenty of the elements that make a great story. In this particular case, not one but three.

I think it’s the World War II story that had the greatest depth – or at least it’s the one that pulled at my heartstrings the strongest. But all three have their tragedies – and their triumphs.

My rainy afternoon in The Painted Castle was VERY well spent. So well spent that the middle book in this series, Castle on the Rise, which I have not read – YET – has moved up a whole bunch of slots in the towering TBR piles. The first book in this trilogy, The Lost Castle, was lovely, and so is this entry in the series. I expect great things from that second book and am looking forward to the reading treat some rainy afternoon – soon.

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