Review: The Library of Lost and Found by Phaedra Patrick + Giveaway

Review: The Library of Lost and Found by Phaedra Patrick + GiveawayThe Library of Lost and Found by Phaedra Patrick
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: hardcover, large print, paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: women's fiction
Pages: 352
Published by Park Row on March 26, 2019
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

A librarian’s discovery of a mysterious book sparks the journey of a lifetime in the delightful new novel from the international bestselling author of
The Curious Charms of Arthur Pepper

Librarian Martha Storm has always found it easier to connect with books than people—though not for lack of trying. She keeps careful lists of how to help others in her superhero-themed notebook. And yet, sometimes it feels like she’s invisible.

All of that changes when a book of fairy tales arrives on her doorstep. Inside, Martha finds a dedication written to her by her best friend—her grandmother Zelda—who died under mysterious circumstances years earlier. When Martha discovers a clue within the book that her grandmother may still be alive, she becomes determined to discover the truth. As she delves deeper into Zelda’s past, she unwittingly reveals a family secret that will change her life forever.

Filled with Phaedra Patrick’s signature charm and vivid characters, The Library of Lost and Found is a heartwarming and poignant tale of how one woman must take control of her destiny to write her own happy ending.

My Review:

What is lost and finally found at this library is the heart and spirit of volunteer library worker Martha Storm. The story of how she was “lost”, is told in flashbacks, but the story of what she found and how she found it is part of the present.

And it’s completely charming.

I found myself caught up in Martha’s initially self-restricted life and eventual flowering almost in spite of myself. To the point where I started and finished the book in a single day.

Not a lot happens in this story. There aren’t any great adventures or major events. Well, not exactly. Except that there are – mostly in the sense of a journey of the spirit, with signposts provided by the events of her life along the way.

Martha Storm volunteers at her local public library in tiny little Sandshift – a small town on the coast of England. She’s the person who does everything for everybody, always going above and beyond on every side, with no hope of compensation and nary a word of thanks.

She’s a woman who seems constitutionally incapable of saying “No” to anyone. And no one seems to appreciate her for it – not her boss, not her co-workers, not the villagers she helps and certainly not her sister. Not until she finally, suddenly, almost inexplicably manages to say that one word – and both her world and that world’s view of her, begins to shift.

So does she. And as Martha starts to find herself, she also finds what she lost long ago – her grandmother.

Escape Rating B+: This is a story about family secrets, their power to harm, and their power to destroy. And it’s about the freedom that comes with setting those secrets free.

In my own family, there was a secret. At my grandfather’s funeral my aunt revealed that my grandmother was not her mother – that my grandfather had been married before. It wasn’t a big secret – nor was it destructive in the way that the secrets in this story were. But it told me a vital piece of information that explained a great deal about my childhood – I was my grandmother’s only grandchild. She was already deceased, so it had no effect on my relationship with her – but it colored my memories of her differently.

The secrets that have been kept from Martha Storm all of her life, while they don’t change the past, definitely put it into a much different light. A light that illuminates so many events and relationships that defined her – and not always for her benefit.

When she was in her early teens, her parents told her that her charismatic, beloved grandmother Zelda was dead. They refused to let her go to the funeral, and she never found the grave.

When a local bookseller gives her a worn-out copy of a book, written by her grandmother, made up of stories that Martha wrote and told to her grandmother and stories that her grandmother wrote and told to her, she’s flabbergasted. When she reads the dedication at the front of the book, a dedication to her, written three years after her grandmother’s “death”, Martha’s world starts to unravel.

But what unravels are all the accretions and protections, all the shoulds and don’ts, all the negging that her uber-controlling father wrapped around Martha, her mother, and her sister. All the things that kept Martha from venturing out into the world, and letting the world venture into her.

All the things that would have challenged her father’s control of her. Like her grandmother.

In her search for her grandmother, Martha rediscovers herself and her childhood joy of the world around her.

She gets a second chance at life. At love. And with her beloved Zelda. The truth sets her free to be her best self.

And it makes an absolutely charming story.

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Review: Glory Road by Lauren K. Denton

Review: Glory Road by Lauren K. DentonGlory Road by Lauren K. Denton
Format: ebook
Source: publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: hardcover, paperback, large print, ebook, audiobook
Genres: Southern fiction, women's fiction
Pages: 368
Published by Thomas Nelson on March 19, 2019
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

Written in Lauren Denton's signature Southern style, Glory Road tells the story of three generations of women navigating the uncertain pathways of their hearts during a summer that promises to bring change--whether they're ready for it or not.

At thirty-eight, garden shop owner Jessie McBride thinks her chances for romance are years behind her and, after her failed marriage, she's fine with that. She lives contentedly with her fiery mother and her quiet, headstrong daughter. But the unexpected arrival of two men on Glory Road make her question if she's really happy with the status quo. Handsome, wealthy Sumner Tate asks her to arrange flowers for his daughter's wedding, and Jessie finds herself drawn to his continued attention. And Ben Bradley, her lingering what-could-have-been from high school days who's known her better than anyone and whom she hasn't seen in years, moves back to the red dirt road. Jessie finds her heart being pulled in directions she never expected.

Meanwhile, Jessie's fourteen-year-old daughter, Evan, is approaching the start of high school and trying to navigate a new world of identity and emotions--particularly as they relate to the cute new guy who's moved in just down the road. At the same time, Jessie's mother, Gus, increasingly finds herself forgetful and faces a potentially frightening future.

As all three women navigate the uncertain paths of their hearts and futures, one summer promises to bring change--whether they're ready for it or not.

My Review:

Good things come in threes, and so it proves in this lovely story of three generations of the McBride women. Take that as a hint that, in spite of Goodreads characterizing this as a romance, it’s really women’s fiction or relationship fiction. While romances do occur within the pages of this book, the backbone of the book is the relationship between the women and not the men who find their way into – or back into – their lives.

Also, in spite of the Amazon classification of Glory Road as both “Christian” and “Historical”, it isn’t either. This is a contemporary story set in a small (very small) Alabama town. And even though the book is published by noted Christian publisher Thomas Nelson, there’s nothing particularly religious or inspirational in the story, although the romantic aspects are downright squeaky clean.

I like a good romance. It doesn’t have to get to the bedroom to qualify as romance – and I like a well-written “fade to black” better than a risible risque scene. I didn’t notice that no one did anything more than kiss, and very little of that, until I finished and thought back on the story. So it works.

But what is it?

The McBride women all live on Glory Road just outside tiny Perry Alabama. They are all at crossroads in their lives. How those crossroads intersect, and how they walk along after, both together and separately, is what makes the story.

Gus McBride is nearly 70. She’s happy to have her daughter Jessie and granddaughter Evan back on Glory Road, but at the same time has become aware that proximity means that the secret she is trying to hide even from herself will be exposed sooner rather than later. Gus isn’t ready to deal with the Alzheimer’s disease that took both her mother and grandmother, and is now overtaking her.

Evan is about to enter 9th grade – she’s starting high school. It’s a new school and a whole lot of new opportunities. She’s growing up and starting to push boundaries. And she’s making new friends, including the older boy who has just moved into Perry with his dad. Evan has her first crush on Nick Bradley, not knowing just how history is both repeating – and not.

Jessie is the sandwich between her mother Gus and her daughter Evan. She has put behind her past with Evan’s wayward father, and has figured out why her marriage didn’t work. She spent her high school years pretending to be someone she wasn’t, and her ex fell in love with that pretense and not the person she really is.

The person Jessie really is isn’t that perky, blonde, highlighted cheerleader. She’s the quietly introspective woman who owns Twig, the local gardening shop. And she’s the person her best friend all those years ago, Ben Bradley, fell in love with.

Ben has returned to Glory Road, and has brought his son Nick. A boy who would have been theirs if things had gone differently. There’s a chance they might this time. Or it might be too late. Or Jessie might make the same mistake all over again.

Escape Rating B+: This was, just like my reading of The Hideaway a couple of years ago, lovely. Not quite as unexpected this time around.

Three is a powerful number, and the three McBrides are powerful women, albeit in different ways. While their stories are individually interesting, the relationship between them powers the story as it switches perspectives from one to another but always making clear the depth of the bond between them.

Evan’s story is the easiest. She’s only 14, her entire life is still before her. This is the summer of her first real crush, her first serious testing of her mother’s boundaries, the deepening of her quest to discover the person she’s meant to be … and the escalating fear over her grandmother’s badly hidden illness.

Gus’ story is both tragic and uplifting, as she faces both the fear that has dogged her for her entire adult life – and the man who is willing to stand beside her in the dark days ahead. She both comes to terms with what the future will bring her, and reaches out to wring all the happiness possible from the days yet to come.

But the lion’s share of the story is Jessie’s. She is caught at multiple decision points, and the crises they bring to her life make her examine who she’s been, who she is, and who she wants to be. They also make her both appreciate her comfort zone and make her willing to step out of it.

She’s worried about her mother’s increasing forgetfulness. She’s also worried about her business, as a nearby “big box” store has opened and is stealing more than a few of her formerly faithful customers.

And her ancient laptop computer gives up its ghost in the middle of it all. Thanks to the aforementioned big box store, money for a replacement is absolutely nowhere in the budget. Then Ben comes back to town and offers to fix it.

Jessie’s relationship with Ben Bradley recalls the famous quote by John Greenleaf Whittier, the one that goes, “For all sad words of tongue and pen, the saddest are these, “It might have been.” Back in high school, Jessie and Ben were best friends. He was the only one besides her family who knew the real Jessie McBride. But their comfortable friendship ended when Ben confessed that he loved Jessie – and she didn’t respond. Instead, she let her popular friends pull her away from the man who loved her and the life that might have been.

A life that would probably have worked out better than her marriage to a man who wanted the perky, popular Jessie she pretended to be. A road not taken that Jessie has never stopped thinking about.

Now Ben is back in Perry, and they might have another chance to see what they might be. But Jessie is also involved with another flashy charmer like her ex – admittedly one who’s a bit more down to earth and sees the person Jessie is now a bit better. But someone who represents a life bigger and brighter than Perry, and a life she left behind.

With everything else going on in her life, the world outside of Perry seems mighty tempting for a brief while.

It’s pretty obvious to the reader who represents Jessie’s best future and happiest self. Watching her figure that out for herself is the charm of the story. And this reader was definitely charmed.

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Review: California Girls by Susan Mallery

Review: California Girls by Susan MalleryCalifornia Girls by Susan Mallery
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: hardcover, large print, paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: Chick Lit, contemporary romance, women's fiction
Pages: 432
Published by Mira on February 26, 2019
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

The California sunshine’s not quite so bright for three sisters who get dumped in the same week…

Finola, a popular LA morning show host, is famously upbeat until she’s blindsided on live TV by news that her husband is sleeping with a young pop sensation who has set their affair to music. While avoiding the tabloids and pretending she’s just fine, she’s crumbling inside, desperate for him to come to his senses and for life to go back to normal.

Zennie’s breakup is no big loss. Although the world insists she pair up, she’d rather be surfing. So agreeing to be the surrogate for her best friend is a no-brainer—after all, she has an available womb and no other attachments to worry about. Except…when everyone else, including her big sister, thinks she’s making a huge mistake, being pregnant is a lot lonelier—and more complicated—than she imagined.

Never the tallest, thinnest or prettiest sister, Ali is used to being overlooked, but when her fiancé sends his disapproving brother to call off the wedding, it’s a new low. And yet Daniel continues to turn up “for support,” making Ali wonder if maybe—for once—someone sees her in a way no one ever has.

But side by side by side, these sisters will start over and rebuild their lives with all the affection, charm and laugh-out-loud humor that is classic Susan Mallery.

My Review:

Last week when I posted the Excerpt and Spotlight for this book, I said that I’d be reviewing it shortly. This is shortly. Probably also a bit longly, as I seldom write short reviews – and this isn’t going to be one.

I can’t do short for this because there are three separate stories packed into this lovely bit of Women’s Fiction. (A term that is attempting to morph into “Relationship Fiction” but I digress.)

Like both of her previous standalone titles, When We Found Home and Daughters of the Bride, this is a story about family. Also like both of those awesome stories, this is a book about three siblings and their sometimes fraught relationship with their remaining parental unit.

This particular story kicks off when all three of the Corrado sisters get dumped on the same day. All the dumps are different, and not all of them are either tragic or even dramatic. But the ones that are really, really are.

Finola, a daytime talk show host in the cutthroat Los Angeles TV market, gets dumped just before showtime. Her husband waltzes in to tell her that he’s leaving her just before she goes on air. Still shell-shocked, her first guest informs her that the woman Finola’s husband has just dumped her for is her. That she’s young, gorgeous and a country music sensation makes the story all that much more titillating to everyone who discovers it.

And said country music queen makes sure that EVERYONE does discover it. After all, she goes after married men on purpose because she likes the scandalous publicity – and seems to enjoy watching the dumped wife get even more dumped on by the voracious maws of both the media and public opinion.

Ali gets dumped less than two months before her wedding. By a douchebag who can’t even manage to do the dumping in person so he sends his brother instead. Leaving Ali with both the ugly job of cancelling all of the wedding arrangements AND dumping her with all of the cancellation fees that result. She’s also going to be homeless in the equally cutthroat LA housing market because she gave up her lease. After all, she was supposed to be moving in with the douchebag after the wedding.

Unlike Finola, Ali gets a knight in shining armor in the person of the douchebag’s brother. A little help with the wedding cancellation turns into a solid friendship – and more.

Zennie’s dumping is completely non-dramatic. Her relationship with Clark just isn’t working out. Or, to use the sad but true cliche, she’s just not that into him. But her non-dramatic breakup turns into something very dramatic indeed, as her newly uncommitted status lets her commit to something really, really big. She agrees to become a surrogate mother for her best friend.

The drama only increases when Zennie becomes pregnant with the first IVF treatment – and she discovers that nearly no-one in her circle of family and friends agrees with her decision AT ALL. Except for Clark, that guy she just wasn’t that into. She may not have been into him as a potential romantic partner, but a solid and supportive friendship is an entirely different thing.

But it’s not just Zennie’s decision to be a surrogate that some people disapprove of. Their mother disagrees and disapproves, loudly, frequently and with some pretty damn awful cutting remarks, that she’s unhappy with every single one of her daughters for not living their lives exactly the way she wants them to. And, ironically, for not giving her grandchildren. Yesterday.

We get to watch all of them “woman up” in the ways that work for them as they each (including mom!) discover what’s important to them, and what they want and need to have the lives they’ve each dreamed of.

A life that includes their frequently dysfunctional, sometimes crazy, but generally loving, family.

Escape Rating B+: I enjoyed California Girls, but not quite as much as Daughters of the Bride, which I absolutely, totally adored. Consider that both a recommendation and a comment that if you loved this one you’ll love that one too – and possibly more.

What makes this story is that their happy ever afters are all different, and that they all reach them in different ways. There might be an expectation that everyone ends up coupled at the end, but they don’t.

And they shouldn’t.

In many ways, Finola’s story is the most interesting as well as the most cliched and least traditional – all at the same time. She begins the story thinking she has it all – the fantastic career and the successful, adoring and understanding husband. Only to discover that what she really has is a successful career that she adores, and a whole lot of other people in her life who have played second (or third or even lower numbered) fiddles to that career.

Being dumped makes her take a long, hard look at herself, who she is and what she really wants – after she takes a realistic but not too lengthy dive into victimhood. She deserves it, she is, after all, a victim of the media circus that disrupts what’s left her life. It takes time for her to figure out that she isn’t the victim in her actual breakup. It takes two to keep a marriage strong – and it takes two to weaken it. Owning her part of her situation makes her own up to her part in what went wrong as well.

Ali’s story is the romance that readers will expect in the story – but it has its own twist. She is supposed to bounce back and find true love. She’s just not supposed to find it with her ex’s brother.

That she also finds herself as part of her journey is the icing on her particular cake.

Zennie’s story is different from her sisters’ – just not as different as I wanted it to be. At the beginning, she is happy being single as well as fairly resistant to society’s (and her mother’s) need to see her couple up with someone. Anyone. Her status as a happy single with a solid support network of friends has her mother convinced she must be a lesbian. She’s not. She’s just not interested in being half of a whole, and she hasn’t discovered sex to be “all that” in any way at all.

I was kind of hoping that Zennie would turn out to be an Ace – an asexual. I think that would have made an interesting perspective to follow through in the story as she begins with an unusual perspective and I’d like to have seen it carried through. That’s my 2 cents.

The storyline about Zennie becoming a surrogate felt well done, but also just not my cuppa. That being said, the reasons she did it worked well within the story. Her desire to help her friend and her willingness to put herself on the line for it were terrific. That pregnancy turned out to be a not exactly awesome experience was real, as were her very mixed emotional reactions all the way down the line. That her friends and family were divided and frequently disapproving also felt real.

I also have mixed feelings about their mother’s part of the story. On the one hand, it was absolutely terrific that she got her own second-chance at love with the movie star who once loved her and then dumped her. On the other hand, she was kind of a bitch to all of her daughters for much of the story. I wish her character had been more than two-dimensional.

That being said, a good time was still had by this reader with these California Girls. I look forward to the author’s next standalone story as well as my next visit to Happily Inc.!

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Spotlight + Excerpt: California Girls by Susan Mallery

Spotlight + Excerpt: California Girls by Susan MalleryCalifornia Girls by Susan Mallery
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: hardcover, large print, paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: contemporary romance, women's fiction
Pages: 432
Published by Mira on February 26, 2019
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

The California sunshine’s not quite so bright for three sisters who get dumped in the same week…

Finola, a popular LA morning show host, is famously upbeat until she’s blindsided on live TV by news that her husband is sleeping with a young pop sensation who has set their affair to music. While avoiding the tabloids and pretending she’s just fine, she’s crumbling inside, desperate for him to come to his senses and for life to go back to normal.

Zennie’s breakup is no big loss. Although the world insists she pair up, she’d rather be surfing. So agreeing to be the surrogate for her best friend is a no-brainer—after all, she has an available womb and no other attachments to worry about. Except…when everyone else, including her big sister, thinks she’s making a huge mistake, being pregnant is a lot lonelier—and more complicated—than she imagined.

Never the tallest, thinnest or prettiest sister, Ali is used to being overlooked, but when her fiancé sends his disapproving brother to call off the wedding, it’s a new low. And yet Daniel continues to turn up “for support,” making Ali wonder if maybe—for once—someone sees her in a way no one ever has.

But side by side by side, these sisters will start over and rebuild their lives with all the affection, charm and laugh-out-loud humor that is classic Susan Mallery.

It was almost a year ago that I was posting an excerpt from Susan Mallery’s previous standalone title, When We Found Home. At the time I said that I don’t normally do posts without reviews, but that I was making an exception for her latest because I knew it would be a winner – and it was – and because I was already scheduled for the review tour – as I am again. And, admittedly because I was in the midst of a trip and it made my life easier! All of those things are true again. I’m sure California Girls will be a terrific read because all of Susan’s other books have been. I’m reviewing California Girls next week as part of the tour. And I’m away on a trip. Sometimes history does repeat!

Excerpt from California Girls by Susan Mallery

“Are you happy with the look?” the saleswoman asked Ali, as if Zennie’s opinion didn’t matter. “Is this what you imagined?”

“Sadly, yes.” Ali laughed. “See, I told you both my sisters were fabulous. No one is even going to notice me.”

“Nonsense. You’ll be the bride.” The woman climbed onto the platform and started pulling pins from the pincushion strapped around her wrist. “I’ll do a little tucking to give you an idea of the look, then we’ll get our seamstress out here to do the final pinning.”

The two women discussed everything from lowering the neckline—Zennie said no to that—to the length of the dress.

“Are you sure you don’t want to wear some kind of heel?” the salesperson asked.

“Very.”

Ali sighed. “Zennie won’t budge on that. Good thing her boyfriend isn’t that much taller than her or they would look weird together.”

Zennie looked at her sister in the mirror. “Boyfriend?”

“Duh. Clark.”

Zennie stared blankly.

“Clark. You’ve been seeing him awhile now. He works with the zoo. He’s a primate specialist or whatever it’s called.”

“Primatologist, and he’s not my boyfriend. We’ve only gone out three times.” She barely knew him and had no idea if she liked him or not. Boyfriend? As if. She hadn’t even told her mother about Clark, which explained the evening text offering to set her up on yet another blind date.

“You said you were bringing him to the wedding.”

“No. I said I might bring him to the wedding.”

“Zennie! I planned on you and a plus-one. You have to bring a date.”

Why? That was the question, Zennie thought as Ali was distracted by whether or not to shorten her sleeves. Why did she have to bring a date? Was she less socially acceptable without a date? Was her conversation less sparkly, her love less welcome? She had no idea why she’d even mentioned Clark, let alone discussed him as her plus-one at the wedding. She wouldn’t want him there, regardless of the state of their nonrelationship. For one thing, people would ask too many questions. For another, her mother would go totally insane at the possibility of Zennie finally settling down with someone and giving her grandbabies. No one could survive that much pressure.

The pinning and tucking finished, Zennie stared at the dress. She would never admit it to her sister, but to her everything looked exactly the same. Of course she had the pins poking her to prove it wasn’t.

“Can you finish up here without me?” Ali asked, glancing at her watch. “I have to stop by the florist before I need to race back to work for a meeting.”

“I’m fine. I will stand here until they release me.” Once again she thought about how Nigel looked at Finola and how Glen didn’t look at Ali. “Shouldn’t your hubby-to-be handle some of this?”

“I would never trust Glen with the flowers. He’s a red roses kind of guy and that would be all wrong.” Ali stepped up on the dais and kissed her cheek. “Thanks for doing this. Love you.”

“Love you, too.”

Ali raced to the door, then looked back. “Bring a date!”

“Bite me.”

Ali was still laughing when she ducked out of the store.

Zennie looked at her reflection and tried not to think about the wedding. It was four, maybe five hours out of her life. Yes, they would be torturous hours, but they were for a good cause. In the name of sisterhood and all that.

As for a date, well, that might be a problem. Because Clark was a nonstarter for sure.

Finola gripped the steering wheel so hard, her fingers ached, but she didn’t dare relax. Not until she was home. She drove slowly, careful to stay under the speed limit as she turned into her exclusive Encino neighborhood. As she approached the gate in front of their small community, she felt her control beginning to slip.

Almost there, she chanted silently. Almost there, almost there, almost there.

She made two rights, then a left before pulling into the driveway and pushing the button to open the garage door. As she eased forward, her hands slipped and the car veered a little to the right. She jammed on the brakes and started to back up, only to realize that she didn’t have to. Who cared if she wasn’t fully in her own section of the garage? It wasn’t as if Nigel was going to be pulling in next to her anytime soon. Of that she was sure.

She turned off the engine and collected her tote bag and purse. Once she closed the garage door, she walked into the house.

She was greeted by silence. She and Nigel had never wanted a housekeeper. There was a cleaning service that came twice a week and a meal delivery service, but both had been put on hold because of the upcoming Hawaii trip. As of two hours ago, the plan had been for her to meet Nigel at home after the show so she could finish packing. They would leave for the airport first thing in the morning. Only none of that was going to happen now. Not the packing, not the trip, not them being together and making a baby.

She dropped her handbag and tote to the floor, then kicked out of her shoes. She needed a plan, she told herself. She had to figure out what to do first, then second, then third. Only with each step she took, the blessed shock faded, leaving behind pain and disbelief and humiliation. The tears came first, then the sobs. She stumbled before sinking to her knees where she covered her face with her hands as she screamed out the agony.

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: The Woman in the Lake by Nicola Cornick

Review: The Woman in the Lake by Nicola CornickThe Woman in the Lake by Nicola Cornick
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: Gothic, historical fiction, horror, timeslip fiction
Pages: 320
Published by Graydon House on February 26, 2019
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

From the bestselling author of House of Shadows and The Phantom Tree comes a spellbinding tale of jealousy, greed, plotting and revenge—part history, part mystery—for fans of Kate Morton, Susanna Kearsley and Barbara Erskine


London, 1765

Lady Isabella Gerard, a respectable member of Georgian society, orders her maid to take her new golden gown and destroy it, its shimmering beauty tainted by the actions of her brutal husband the night before.

Three months later, Lord Gerard stands at the shoreline of the lake, looking down at a woman wearing the golden gown. As the body slowly rolls over to reveal her face, it’s clear this was not his intended victim…

250 Years Later…

When a gown she stole from a historic home as a child is mysteriously returned to Fenella Brightwell, it begins to possess her in exactly the same way that it did as a girl. Soon the fragile new life Fen has created for herself away from her abusive ex-husband is threatened at its foundations by the gown’s power over her until she can't tell what is real and what is imaginary.

As Fen uncovers more about the gown and Isabella’s story, she begins to see the parallels with her own life. When each piece of history is revealed, the gown—and its past—seems to possess her more and more, culminating in a dramatic revelation set to destroy her sanity.

My Review:

After reading The Phantom Tree last year, I was expecting The Woman in the Lake to be yet another marvelous piece of timeslip fiction by this author. I loved The Phantom Tree and was looking forward to more.

That’s not quite what I got.

The Woman in the Lake is what I call horror-adjacent. It’s really creepy with a constant air of menacing danger. Although it does “slip time” between the 18th century and the 21st, those slips just add to the air of Gothic horror.

You’ve heard about “Say Yes to the Dress”? This is a story where all of the people touched by it should have not merely said “No” to the dress, but really should have screamed “Hell NO” and run far and fast.

The dress is pure evil. Also laced with arsenic. And yes, you really can kill someone that way. The Borgias did, after all.

How the dress came to both embody and emanate so much evil is something that we only find out part of. We do learn how it was made – we just don’t ever find out how it got to be so powerfully malevolent in its own right.

What we see in this story about all the lives that revolve around and are ruined by this one beautiful, deadly, golden dress is that in the way that time slips and history almost repeats – there is a path to freedom.

But the only way to reach it is through fear, and pain. And even more fear.

Escape Rating B: This story was well and truly creepy. A bit creepier than I generally like to go. It did make the cross country plane trip go very fast – but I’m really glad I read it with ALL the lights on – and with plenty of company.

It’s not really about the dress. Well, it is, but it isn’t. The dress can’t make anyone do anything they weren’t already inclined towards, but it does seem to remove the inhibitions of conscience. We all have nasty thoughts from time to time, but conscience, or fear of consequences, prevent most of us from acting on the worst of those thoughts.

The story begins, and circles back around to, a group of men who did not have to let their consciences be their guides. In fact, the opposite. The Moonrakers of Swindon were smugglers. Smuggling wasn’t romantic, it was organized crime. Led by a group of men who would do anything to protect their illicit trade – including murder. In other words, these were men who terrorized an entire region and explicitly told their consciences to STFU.

The plan was for the gang leader to aid and abet a local lord with the murder of his wife, only for the plot to go horribly awry. And for the dress that was intended to do the deed to go skipping through history, leaving death and destruction in its wake.

Until it fetches up in the 21st century, in the hands of a woman who has no clue that she’s part of its long lost history, and a man who intends to reenact that long ago attempted murder.

One of the things that I loved about this book was the way that the story and the history came full circle in the end – and in a surprising way. Not just that history almost but not quite repeated, although it nearly does, but that everything that went around really did come around by the end.

One of the things that drove me a bit batty was the air of creeping menace that hangs over the entire story. It sucked me in. I kept looking for an exit, much as the heroine keeps looking for a way to escape her own past. As was certainly true for the heroine, the only way was through.

In the end, I’m left with mixed feelings. This is not the kind of book that I usually enjoy, but I was enthralled and couldn’t put it down until the end. And I’m still creeped out by the whole thing.

One final note, the ending of the blurb feels very wrong. The revelation at the end does not threaten the heroine’s sanity. Quite the opposite. Instead, the revelation at the end proves that she has been sane all along. It may also kill her.

I’ll be over here in the corner. Still shuddering…

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Review: The Lost Girls of Paris by Pam Jenoff + Giveaway

Review: The Lost Girls of Paris by Pam Jenoff + GiveawayThe Lost Girls of Paris by Pam Jenoff
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: hardcover, paperback, large print, ebook, audiobook
Genres: historical fiction
Pages: 384
Published by Park Row on January 29, 2019
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

From the author of the runaway bestseller The Orphan’s Tale comes a remarkable story of friendship and courage centered around three women and a ring of female spies during World War II.

1946, Manhattan

Grace Healey is rebuilding her life after losing her husband during the war. One morning while passing through Grand Central Terminal on her way to work, she finds an abandoned suitcase tucked beneath a bench. Unable to resist her own curiosity, Grace opens the suitcase, where she discovers a dozen photographs—each of a different woman. In a moment of impulse, Grace takes the photographs and quickly leaves the station.

Grace soon learns that the suitcase belonged to a woman named Eleanor Trigg, leader of a ring of female secret agents who were deployed out of London during the war. Twelve of these women were sent to Occupied Europe as couriers and radio operators to aid the resistance, but they never returned home, their fates a mystery. Setting out to learn the truth behind the women in the photographs, Grace finds herself drawn to a young mother turned agent named Marie, whose daring mission overseas reveals a remarkable story of friendship, valor and betrayal.

Vividly rendered and inspired by true events, New York Times bestselling author Pam Jenoff shines a light on the incredible heroics of the brave women of the war, and weaves a mesmerizing tale of courage, sisterhood and the great strength of women to survive in the hardest of circumstances

My Review:

The story told in The Lost Girls of Paris is absolutely fascinating, all the more so for being rooted in history.

In some ways it’s a lot like the nonfiction stories in Hidden Figures, Code Girls, and other books that have brought the hidden contributions of women to recent events in history out of the shadows and into the light.

During World War II, women stepped up to do all the jobs that used to be reserved for men before the war, because there were few men left at the homefront. This was true in the U.S. and it was especially true in Britain and France as men were either in the armed services, conscripted into labor camps in France, or dead.

As the Allied forces prepared for what we now know as D-Day, the Allies needed the French Resistance to step up their sabotage and misinformation efforts. War is, as always, a very dirty business.

When it became nearly impossible to place any more male agents in France, the Special Operations Executive created a women’s section, run by Eleanor Trigg (based on real-life SOE Officer Vera Atkins), to place female agents in France. By that point, there were so few young, able-bodied men around that male agents were unmasked almost as soon as they hit the ground.

It was hoped that women would be able to blend into the remaining population. They were trained to do the dirty work needed to bring that hoped for invasion to fruition – even if they didn’t personally live to see it.

The story of The Lost Girls of Paris is about those female British agents, and the story is told from three perspectives. Eleanor Trigg, the creator of the women’s section, the designer of their training and the person who chose each and every woman who entered the program; Marie Roux, one of the women she recruited who went to France in those dark days, and Grace Healey, a young widow in the immediate aftermath of the war, who discovers a suitcase full of photographs under a bench in New York’s Union Station, and finds herself drawn into a quest to reveal the truth.

Not just the truth of what those women endured, but the truth about their betrayal by their own government – and that same government’s willingness to bury their history along with their bodies – whether their actual corpses can ever be found – or not.

Escape Rating B+: I have mixed feelings about this book. The story it tells is both compelling and harrowing, but some parts more than others.

I found Eleanor Trigg to be a fascinating character. (She reminds me a bit of the character of Hilda Pierce in Foyle’s War – a woman who also served in the SOE.) A Jewish refugee from Poland, Eleanor and her mother have reinvented themselves as Englishwomen – but Eleanor is never quite accepted as “one of us” by the government bureaucracy – or its bureaucrats.

She began as a secretary to the Director of the SOE, became his unofficial right hand, and then the chief of the women’s section – only to be unceremoniously discarded even before the end of the war – and set up to be a scapegoat for the dirty deeds done by her agents on behalf of the government and by the government TO her unsuspecting agents.

Eleanor seems like a one-woman representative of all the ways that women were distrusted, disrespected, successful in spite of systemic misogyny, and then betrayed and discarded when they were no longer needed.

Grace’s perspective from the post-War United States is a reflection of that misogyny and betrayal. Her husband died in an auto accident before he deployed, leaving her a widow but not exactly a war widow. She comes to New York City searching for work and purpose in a country that wants all its women to go back to home and hearth and pop out babies. But the soldier who should have returned to her after the war can’t, and she’s not ready to move on.

Putting herself into the middle of Eleanor’s search for truth gives her purpose and new life. As someone who was not a part of the original events, she is both an unimpeachable witness and empathetic searcher.

I’ll admit that I had problems with Marie. The parts of the story that covered her recruitment and training were absorbing – and the story of her capture and torture were harrowing beyond belief, but I stopped being interested in her as a character when she got captured. Not because she was captured, but because of the way it happened. She literally brought it on herself by being TSTL (too stupid to live). Her capture and subsequent torture became inevitable – when they shouldn’t have been. Many of the female agents were captured, tortured and killed through betrayal, bad luck or just circumstance. It wasn’t necessary for Marie to be a fool for love to show the terrible fate of so many of these brave women. For this reader, the spark of romance in this part of the story was unnecessary and detracted from their courage and sacrifice.

On my other hand or hands, the entire story is compelling from beginning to end. I finished it in one day and could not put it down – although I had to pause at points while Marie was being tortured. Those parts of the story are not for the faint of heart – but they are an important part of the story all the same.

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

I am giving away a copy of The Lost Girls of Paris to one lucky US commenter on this tour!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

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Review: A Dangerous Duet by Karen Odden

Review: A Dangerous Duet by Karen OddenA Dangerous Duet by Karen Odden
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: historical mystery
Pages: 416
Published by William Morrow Paperbacks on November 6, 2018
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

This dazzling new Victorian mystery from USA Today bestselling author Karen Odden introduces readers to Nell Hallam, a determined young pianist who stumbles upon the operations of a notorious—and deadly—crime ring while illicitly working as the piano player in a Soho music hall. Perfect for readers of Tasha Alexander, Anne Perry, and Deanna Raybourn.

Nineteen-year-old Nell Hallam lives in a modest corner of Mayfair with her brother Matthew, an inspector at Scotland Yard. An exceptionally talented pianist, she aspires to attend the Royal Academy; but with tuition beyond their means, Nell sets out to earn the money herself—by playing piano in a popular Soho music hall. And the fact that she will have to disguise herself as a man and slip out at night to do it doesn’t deter her.

Spending evenings at the Octavian is like entering an alternate world, one of lively energy, fascinating performers, raucous patrons—and dark secrets. And when Nell stumbles upon the operations of an infamous crime ring working in the shadows of the music hall, she is drawn into a conspiracy that stretches the length of London. To further complicate matters, she has begun to fall for the hall owner's charismatic son, Jack, who has secrets of his own.

The more Nell becomes a part of the Octavian’s world, the more she risks the relationships with the people she loves. And when another performer is left for dead in an alley as a warning, she realizes her future could be in jeopardy in more ways than one.

My Review:

There are plenty of comparisons to life being like an onion – including the bit about weeping through the process.

One of the characters in this story is a bit more specific. His comment is that people’s stories are like onions, that you have to peel them back layer by layer to get the whole thing. And that’s truer of his story than most as it turns out.

But the life that is really being peeled back in this story is Nell Hallam’s. We first meet her as a young woman in Victorian London who has done something just a bit daring and just a tad dangerous in order to achieve her life-long ambition.

Nell is a gifted pianist, and she wants to win a place at the Royal Academy. But even if she wins, such places are not free. And her much reduced family – just herself and her older brother, a Scotland Yard detective, can’t afford the tuition.

So Nell is earning the money using the talent she has been given. She’s the piano player in a Soho “theater” that we would probably label as a dive. And that might be an insult to dives.

But in Victorian London, “nice” women aren’t permitted in such places, and certainly aren’t allowed to work as musicians. Or work much at all, but particularly in Nell’s circumstance.

That’s where that danger and daring come in, because Nell Hallam is sneaking out at night in men’s clothes and playing piano in Soho as Ed Nell three nights a week while her brother works late at Scotland Yard.

When a new fiddle player turns up at the Octavian, Nell finds herself becoming more and more involved in the life of the club – a life that she has previously held at arm’s reach.

But this isn’t that kind of story. That fiddle player does open her eyes to the deadly world operating in the shadows around her – but she is too canny to let him drag her into either his schemes or his arms.

Which doesn’t stop danger from reaching out for her at every turn.

Escape Rating B: This is a plot driven story rather than a character driven story. By that I mean that we follow Nell as she dives under the surface of the Octavian, and with each twist and turn we can’t help but feel for her as her world opens up and the danger closes in.

At the same time, we don’t get much of a peek into the other characters. Part of Nell’s past has trained her to keep her emotions at a distance, and it feels like we don’t know enough about the other characters in this story to do more than understand them at a bit of distance as well.

But the world that Nell falls into, or perhaps digs herself into, is as compelling to the reader as it is to her. Once she has a glimpse beneath the surface at the Octavian, she uncovers a criminal underground that uses young children to pour wealth into the hands of a select and deadly few.

A few that includes the owner of the Octavian, his son, and that dastardly fiddle player.

It’s also the same criminal underground that her brother is investigating for Scotland Yard. When her two worlds combine – her secrets explode, remaking her life, her world and her very self

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Review: The Lady Traveler’s Guide to Deception with an Unlikely Earl by Victoria Alexander

Review: The Lady Traveler’s Guide to  Deception with an Unlikely Earl by Victoria AlexanderThe Lady Travelers Guide to Deception with an Unlikely Earl (The Lady Travelers Society, #3) by Victoria Alexander
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: historical romance
Series: Lady Travelers Society #3
Pages: 384
Published by HQN Books on November 20, 2018
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

Set sail for love in this sparkling new adventure in #1 New York Times bestselling author Victoria Alexander’s Lady Travelers Society series.

Harry Armstrong has spent years in Egypt, recovering relics and disregarding rules. Now he’s back in England with a new title and a new purpose: penning his exploits. But his efforts are overshadowed by London’s favorite writer about Egypt—a woman they call The Queen of the Desert, of all things. Worse, her stories—serialized in newspapers and reprinted in books—are complete rubbish.

Miss Sidney Honeywell didn’t set out to deceive anyone. It’s not her fault readers assumed her Tales of a Lady Adventurer in Egypt were real! Admitting her inadvertent deception now would destroy her reputation and her livelihood. But when the Earl of Brenton challenges her to travel to Egypt to prove her expertise, accompanied by his dashing, arrogant nephew, what choice does she have but to pack her bags?

With the matchmaking founders of the Lady Travelers Society in tow, Harry is determined to expose Sidney’s secret. But the truth might not be as great a revelation as discovering that love can strike even the most stubborn of hearts.

My Review:

I kept expecting Amelia Peabody Emerson to walk through the lobby of Shepheard’s Hotel at any moment. Not that this is her story, but she and her entourage would have fit right into the adventures of Harry Armstrong, Sidney Honeywell and the gaggle of elderly ladies who are alternately chaperoning and matchmaking the couple – when they’re not aiding and abetting a criminal enterprise or two.

And there’s no dead body – not quite. Not even the one that Sidney and Harry expect to find.

But this is definitely a romp from beginning to end. It’s lighthearted, occasionally light-fingered, and frothy fun.

Sidney has been supplementing her meager income by writing. She has fictionalized the Egyptian adventures of her late grandmother in Cadwallender’s magazine, and the series has been a huge success.

But Sidney knew she was writing fiction, admittedly fiction with an underpinning of fact as well as a scholar’s knowledge of Egypt and her antiquities. However, her readers seem to believe that her stories are absolutely factual from beginning to end.

And the meddling founders of the Lady Travelers Society, not having gotten their members in enough trouble in the previous outings of the series (The Lady Travelers Guide to Scoundrels & Other Gentlemen and The Lady Travelers Guide to Larceny with a Dashing Stranger) can’t seem to resist getting themselves a bit too involved when the Earl of Brenton takes offense at Sidney’s stories.

He claims they are complete bunk, and that Sidney, who writes as Mrs. Gordon, is deceiving her audience unconscionably. What he’s not admitting is that he is incensed that Sidney’s fluff pieces are celebrated while he can’t seem to find a publisher for his earnestly written, utterly factual – and deadly dull – accounts of his own travels in Egypt.

So they’re off on a jaunt to Egypt, paid for by the magazine, so that Sidney can prove her expertise, or Harry can prove she’s a fraud and get a guaranteed publishing contract. With the founding “Lady Travelers” along as chaperones and comic relief, managing to finally take the trip that they’ve always dreamed of.

Sidney claims to be Mrs. Gordon, Harry claims to be his own nephew, and the reporter sent by the magazine hovers over everything, hoping to get a story that will make his career, one way or another.

Then Harry’s somewhat disreputable past catches up with Sidney’s new-found spirit of adventure, and they find themselves in the midst of a classic farce of a treasure hunt.

With so much fun to be had, sun, sand, adventure and the trip of a lifetime, how could they not fall in love? With Egypt, and especially with each other?

Escape Rating B+: This is absolutely wonderful, marvelously tasty, complete and utter fluff. It’s delicious.

It would also make a great Shakespearean comedy. Sidney is deceiving Harry. Harry is deceiving Sidney. The reporter is deceiving everyone. Except that everyone seems to know that everyone is deceiving everyone else and no one is willing to admit it.

And that just adds to the sense of fun and adventure.

It’s also a lot of fun the way that Sidney’s real-life adventures in Egypt seem so much like her fictional adventures. Her friends think she’s been kidnapped by white slavers, when the truth is that an Egyptian princess is a fan of her work, so she gets to spend a night in the harem with the princess and her family.

She steals a priceless Egyptian antiquity from a nefarious smuggler, only to discover that it’s the key to a much greater treasure and a much bigger adventure.

She begins by revisiting the scenes of her grandmother’s greatest adventures – only to have a great adventure of her own. And to clear up her grandmother’s unfinished business.

Her contest with Harry brings out Sidney’s inner adventurer at every turn, and allows her to become the woman she was meant to be. Not because he sweeps her off her feet – although he eventually does – but because he treats her as an equal combatant in their rivalry.

That she also helps him solve the mystery that has been dogging him for two long and lonely years makes them earn their happy ever after – while providing just desserts for the true villain of the piece.

This series is simply loads of fun, and every trip with the Lady Travelers Society is always a lovely adventure. I’m looking forward to their next adventure in The Lady Travelers Guide to Happily Ever After when it comes out in June. It’s sure to be another marvelous lark!

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Review: Apollo to the Moon by Teasel E. Muir-Harmony

Review: Apollo to the Moon by Teasel E. Muir-HarmonyApollo to the Moon: A History in 50 Objects by Teasel E Muir-Harmony
Format: hardcover
Source: purchased from Amazon
Formats available: hardcover
Genres: science, science history
Pages: 304
Published by National Geographic Society on October 30, 2018
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleBook Depository
Goodreads

A celebration of the 50th anniversary of NASA's Apollo missions to the moon, this narrative uses 50 key artifacts from the Smithsonian archives to tell the story of the groundbreaking space exploration program.

Bold photographs, fascinating graphics, and engaging stories commemorate the 20th century's most important space endeavor: NASA's Apollo program to reach the moon. From the lunar rover and a survival kit to space food and moon rocks, it's a carefully curated array of objects--complete with intriguing back stories and profiles of key participants.

This book showcases the historic space exploration program that landed humans on the moon, advanced the world's capabilities for space travel, and revolutionized our sense of humanity's place in the universe. Each historic accomplishment is symbolized by a different object, from a Russian stamp honoring Yuri Gagarin and plastic astronaut action figures to the Apollo 11 command module, piloted by Michael Collins as Armstrong and Aldrin made the first moonwalk, together with the monumental art inspired by these moon missions. Throughout, Apollo to the Moon also tells the story of people who made the journey possible: the heroic astronauts as well as their supporters, including President John F. Kennedy, newsman Walter Cronkite, and NASA scientists such as Margaret Hamilton.

My Review:

It is very rare for me these days to read a book in print – but for this I’m glad that I made the exception. It’s gorgeous, in its own geeky-techie-nostalgic way, and I am glad to have it on my shelves to pick up and dip into, over and over again.

If a picture is worth a thousand words, than this book is worth all the words, or at least all the words about the Apollo Space Program. It may not be the next best thing to being there – in space that is – but it does feel like the next best thing to being there at the National Air and Space Museum seeing these exhibits in person.

Reading these descriptions, accompanied by the carefully chosen pictures, gave this reader the feeling that I was touring the museum with the best tour guide in the universe standing at my elbow, telling me everything I wanted to know.

I kind of wish I’d had this book when I listened to Apollo 8 by Jeffrey Kluger, because these artifacts provide the perfect images to go along with the story as it played in my ears. I think this book could serve as the “accompanying illustrations” for many books about the Apollo Program.

The explanations that go with each picture of each artifact, explaining what it is, what it was for, and most importantly, who designed or created it and who they were and what brought them to the Space Program, brings to light, and back to life, the entire decade of the “Space Race” that put men on the the surface of the Moon.

The sheer scope of the project will make any reader wonder how we managed to accomplish so much in so short a time – and what a waste it is that we not only have not managed to capitalize on those achievements, but that we seemed to have actively turned away from the belief in the power of science that made the journey possible.

Reality Rating A-: I’m tempted to call this an “Escape” rating, or at least to wish that it was. Because I feel like we should be continuing the journey to escape this planet – and we’re not. It feels as if we are about as far from that possibility as we could be, with so many people refusing to believe in science, in the real science that both fueled and was fueled by the Space Program.

This is not a book with a continuous narrative – except the one in my head that says that we should have kept reaching outward. Instead we drew back, and are now amazed that a project this big and this long managed to not only get started but actually successfully completed. And then it petered out.

If you read science fiction, or science fact, have a “thing” for the space program (as I do) or just wish that we were still reaching for that “final frontier”, this book will fill you with nostalgia and sorrow.

But at least this book, and the artifacts that it so accurately and lovingly describes, will remain to speak to the future.

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Review: The Lighthouse Keeper’s Daughter by Hazel Gaynor

Review: The Lighthouse Keeper’s Daughter by Hazel GaynorThe Lighthouse Keeper's Daughter by Hazel Gaynor
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: hardcover, paperback, large print, ebook, audiobook
Genres: historical fiction
Pages: 383
Published by William Morrow Paperbacks on October 9, 2018
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

From The New York Times bestselling author of The Girl Who Came Home comes a historical novel inspired by true events, and the extraordinary female lighthouse keepers of the past two hundred years.

They call me a heroine, but I am not deserving of such accolades. I am just an ordinary young woman who did her duty.”

1838: Northumberland, England. Longstone Lighthouse on the Farne Islands has been Grace Darling’s home for all of her twenty-two years. When she and her father rescue shipwreck survivors in a furious storm, Grace becomes celebrated throughout England, the subject of poems, ballads, and plays. But far more precious than her unsought fame is the friendship that develops between Grace and a visiting artist. Just as George Emmerson captures Grace with his brushes, she in turn captures his heart.

1938: Newport, Rhode Island. Nineteen-years-old and pregnant, Matilda Emmerson has been sent away from Ireland in disgrace. She is to stay with Harriet, a reclusive relative and assistant lighthouse keeper, until her baby is born. A discarded, half-finished portrait opens a window into Matilda’s family history. As a deadly hurricane approaches, two women, living a century apart, will be linked forever by their instinctive acts of courage and love.

My Review:

The Lighthouse Keeper’s Daughter might have been more appropriately titled if the apostrophe had been in a different place. Because this isn’t the story of one lighthouse keeper’s daughter, but instead about two lighthouse keepers’ daughters, living in lighthouses both a century and an ocean apart.

As the story opens, we aren’t sure what links our two heroines – although we certainly do find out.

In 1838 on the coast of Northumberland, Grace Darling is the daughter of the keeper of the Longstone Lighthouse on Farne Island. As a woman, she can’t officially be the assistant lighthouse keeper, or have a hope of inheriting the duties of the lighthouse keeper from her father, but she loves the lighthouse and the work every bit as much as her father and her brothers do.

In the midst of a terrible, Grace, that night’s lookout, sees survivors of a shipwreck clinging to a “so near but yet so far” rock. The storm will sweep those pitiful survivors away if Grace and her father can’t get to them. But the storm is more than capable of sweeping Grace, her father and their tiny boat away if they try.

That trying turns Grace into a heroine, rowing the boat with her father and holding it against the storm as he helped the few survivors into the boat. Her heroism made a her national heroine, and brought her unwanted attention for the rest of her life.

In 1938, Mathilda Emmerson has been sent from her home in Ireland to Newport, Rhode Island, to the care of her cousin Harriet Flaherty, herself the lighthouse keeper in Newport. Mathilda is in disgrace, having fallen pregnant after a night of indiscretion. Her mother intends for her to have the child in America, leave it behind, and return to her life as the dutiful daughter of a politician.

In Mathilda’s possession is Grace Darling’s book of procedures of lighthouse keeping, and her locket. The items have been passed down in her family from mother to daughter for the past century.

Through the eyes of Grace in the 19th century and Mathilda in the 20th, we learn how Grace’s book made its way from Northumberland to Ireland to America, and finally about the ties that bind these two women from such different times and places.

And that those ties are much closer than Mathilda ever thought.

Escape Rating B: For this reader, this was ultimately a sad book, and is both heartbreaking and heartwarming at points. But it felt to me as if the sadness wins out. I think how a reader will feel about this will depend on which of the two women one ends up identifying with. I found Grace’s story to be ultimately tragic. I identified with her strong desire to find and keep a sense of purpose, but I wanted better for her than she had.

Her doomed romance felt like a bit of a misunderstandammit to me. They did love each other, they would have been happy together, but neither of them could break out of the restrictions of their time to actually say anything.

Grace Darling by Thomas Musgrave Joy

As fiction, it felt disappointing. Discovering afterwards that Grace’s part of the book is based on a true story, and that the real Grace Darling never married and died young as she does in the book, makes her part of the story make more sense.

I still wish she’d had a happier ending, or was a bit less of the tragic romantic heroine.

Matilda’s story is the one that is supposed to stick with the reader, and its ending is ultimately hopeful, albeit bittersweet. She does come into her own as the lighthouse keeper, but not until after some rather melodramatic family business that was foreshadowed more than a little bit. And, in keeping with the tone of the book, she has to suffer her own tragedy before she triumphs.

For a story that is for the most part rather quiet – giant storms notwithstanding – the story is very readable and pulls the reader along, or rather back and forth across time and the ocean, from one protagonist to another.

Discovering that Grace Darling was a real historical figure was quite a surprise after finishing the book. They say that truth is stranger than fiction. While her life isn’t stranger than fiction, it certainly made for an interesting story.

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