Review: The Marriage Bureau by Penrose Halson

Review: The Marriage Bureau by Penrose HalsonThe Marriage Bureau: The True Story of How Two Matchmakers Arranged Love in Wartime London by Penrose Halson
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: history, World War II
Pages: 352
Published by William Morrow Paperbacks on May 2nd 2017
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

A riveting glimpse of life and love during and after World War II—a heart-warming, touching, and thoroughly absorbing true story of a world gone by.
In the spring of 1939, with the Second World War looming, two determined twenty-four-year-olds, Heather Jenner and Mary Oliver, decided to open a marriage bureau. They found a tiny office on London’s Bond Street and set about the delicate business of matchmaking. Drawing on the bureau’s extensive archives, Penrose Halson—who many years later found herself the proprietor of the bureau—tells their story, and those of their clients.
From shop girls to debutantes; widowers to war veterans, clients came in search of security, social acceptance, or simply love. And thanks to the meticulous organization and astute intuition of the Bureau’s matchmakers, most found what they were looking for.
Penrose Halson draws from newspaper and magazine articles, advertisements, and interviews with the proprietors themselves to bring the romance and heartbreak of matchmaking during wartime to vivid, often hilarious, life in this unforgettable story of a most unusual business.

My Review:

Fiction may be the lie that tells the truth, but sometimes that truism runs headlong into another, the one that goes, “The truth is not only stranger than we imagine, it’s stranger than we CAN imagine.” Fiction has to actually feel plausible, or it turns the willing suspension of disbelief into the unwilling, and bounces the reader out of the story. Nonfiction doesn’t have to be plausible, it just has to be true.

The history of The Marriage Bureau is one of those stories that would feel a bit too contrived if it were fiction. But it isn’t. Fictional, that is. It still feels a bit contrived, but because it actually did happen, the reader ends up marveling at human nature in all its sometimes crazy variety (much as the proprietors did) instead of picking apart the characters.

Because if these folks weren’t real, we’d all be sure it was a bit too good or too strange to be true. Mostly strange.

Not bad strange, just, well, people.

In 1939, both Heather Jenner and Mary Oliver had dipped their toes into the marital well, and come out either scalded or completely tepid. Heather was divorced and Mary hadn’t found anyone she wanted to spend the rest of her life with. Or even more than few weeks with.

It was Mary’s Uncle George who suggested the idea that became the Marriage Bureau. Providing a registry for people who were looking for spouses, and using interviews, common sense and intuition to match people up, had the possibility of providing both young women with both an independent income and a purpose in life, allowing them to remain single and independent of their families while providing a much needed service.

A service that was much more needed than either of them anticipated. From their very first day the line for interviews went down the stairs from their rented office and practically out the door of the building, three stories below.

The story in The Marriage Bureau is that of the first ten years of the Bureau, a period that encompasses the end of Empire, the Phoney War, the London Blitz and the years of post-war rationing. Through it all, Londoners and many others crossed the threshold of the Marriage Bureau, hoping that the ladies of the Bureau could do for them what they had not managed to do for themselves, find a congenial and suitable spouse.

One of the fascinating things about the way that the Bureau worked was that, unlike many British institutions, particularly of that era, it was not restricted to class. The fees were modest, and structured so that it was in the agency’s best interest to find each client a spouse who would suit them, not anyone else’s ideas for them.

Yes, most people were looking for someone of their own class, or close to it, but the Bureau had clients of every class and station from working to landed to titled and all the gradations in between. Just as today, those who are too busy making a living or caring for others or a combination of the above are often too busy, too shy or both to put themselves out where they have a chance at finding a life-partner.

And for the women who ran the Bureau over that decade (and beyond) it was a labor of love. And a rousing success.

Reality Rating B: The story in The Marriage Bureau is episodic rather than a continual narrative. The story dips into the lives, loves and ambitions of the people who came the Bureau as clients, rather than delving deeply into the lives of its proprietors and agents. Although the years of the London Blitz are part of the story, we read more of the Blitz’s impact on people’s lives and their desire to marry than we follow any one person’s story.

Being a series of dips rather than a deep dive, the story is not a compelling read. One isn’t riveted, wanting to see what happens next, because the narrative doesn’t follow individuals in the way that compels. However, and it is a very big however in this case, it is both easy to dip into and out of, and the story as a whole is quite charming. Even the more “interesting” and less matchable clients get their due. And while there is a certain amount of shared laughter at some clients’ wilder expectations, every client and their story are treated with respect, sometimes including a direct “talking to” about just how wild their expectations might be. And sometimes they are very wild, whether for self-aggrandizement, out of self-absorption, or, on occasion, out of sympathy and hope.

It isn’t all sweetness and light. There are a few stories where the clients tipped over (or barged over) the line, and got shown the door. There is one haunting story of parental interference in what should have been a happily ever after. And, of course, life happens. The war brings an end to some marriages, and the peace brings an end to a few more. Some merely grieve, but some return in the hopes of striking lucky a second time.

In the end, this is a story of two women and the execution of one great idea. And it’s a story that shows that there is someone out there for everyone, even if we occasionally need a little help with the looking.

TLC
This post is part of a TLC book tour. Click on the logo for more reviews and features.

Review: Goodnight from London by Jennifer Robson

Review: Goodnight from London by Jennifer RobsonGoodnight from London by Jennifer Robson
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: paperback, large print, ebook, audiobook
Genres: historical fiction, World War II
Pages: 400
Published by William Morrow Paperbacks on May 2nd 2017
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

From USA Today bestselling author Jennifer Robson—author of Moonlight Over Paris and Somewhere in France—comes a lush historical novel that tells the fascinating story of Ruby Sutton, an ambitious American journalist who moves to London in 1940 to report on the Second World War, and to start a new life an ocean away from her past.
In the summer of 1940, ambitious young American journalist Ruby Sutton gets her big break: the chance to report on the European war as a staff writer for Picture Weekly newsmagazine in London. She jumps at the chance, for it's an opportunity not only to prove herself, but also to start fresh in a city and country that know nothing of her humble origins. But life in besieged Britain tests Ruby in ways she never imagined.
Although most of Ruby's new colleagues welcome her, a few resent her presence, not only as an American but also as a woman. She is just beginning to find her feet, to feel at home in a country that is so familiar yet so foreign, when the bombs begin to fall.
As the nightly horror of the Blitz stretches unbroken into weeks and months, Ruby must set aside her determination to remain an objective observer. When she loses everything but her life, and must depend upon the kindness of strangers, she learns for the first time the depth and measure of true friendship—and what it is to love a man who is burdened by secrets that aren’t his to share.
Goodnight from London, inspired in part by the wartime experiences of the author’s own grandmother, is a captivating, heartfelt, and historically immersive story that readers are sure to embrace.

My Review:

Reading this book gave me an unending earworm for the song “Wouldn’t it be Loverly” from My Fair Lady. This is a bit odd in multiple directions – the Broadway musical didn’t premiere until 11 years after the end of World War II, and the setting for the musical, Edwardian London, occurs 30+ years before the start of World War II.

But the book was definitely “loverly”. Or at least lovely. It reminded me of all the reasons why I love Jennifer Robson’s work.

Unlike her previous novels, Somewhere in France, After the War is Over and Moonlight Over Paris, this one does not deal directly with the Great War and its aftermath. Unless, of course, one considers World War II as part of the aftermath of World War I. Which it certainly was.

And for readers hoping to start afresh with this marvelous author, Goodnight from London does not follow the other books directly, as they loosely did with each other. Except, again, in so far as WW2 was a fairly direct consequence of WW1.

Instead, Goodnight from London follows the adventures of young American journalist Ruby Sutton, a self-made woman if there ever was one. After a brief but illustrious stint at an American weekly magazine, Ruby receives an unexpected offer that she can’t resist. Everyone knows that war is coming, and the U.S. is hoping to stay well clear of the mess in Europe.

But England will be right in the thick of it, and one of the London weekly papers is looking for a young, female, American reporter who is willing to come to London and write the war. For Ruby it’s a dream job, she’ll get to be where the action is, and she’ll get to learn her craft while having something important to write about. She has no ties in America, no family, almost no life outside her work, so she’s the perfect writer to send to London.

And in the thick of the Blitz, she finds everything she didn’t know she was looking for. Not just the chance to write important stories, but also the opportunity to find a family, a sense of belonging and home, and finally, love.

But more than anything else, Goodnight from London is the story of an intrepid young journalist who finds herself in the middle of the great story of her times, and runs with it. Sometimes she’s down but never out. She never gives up, she never gives in and she never surrenders.. And she always gets the story.

Even, at last, her own.

Escape Rating A-: One of the things that I love about this author’s work is the way that she puts her intrepid heroines in fascinating, real-life circumstances and dangers, and then lets them work. The story here is Ruby’s reporting of the war, both on the homefront and eventually on the front lines. It’s also about her involvement in the real life of London during the war, living through the Blitz, losing all her possessions and becoming part of the fabric of life, while London becomes part of her.

We see her work, we experience her triumphs and her tragedies, we feel her setbacks. But the story is about her experience. While this is a historical novel, it is not historical romance, although Ruby does find love in the end.

It feels like the point of the book is the work, and the happy ever after is her reward. The romance is not the point of the story, and it shouldn’t be. The world was in dire straits. Although life went on, her work was too important to put on hold in the hopes that her prince might come. Or however one wants to put that.

This is a story where it felt more realistic that her career came first, and it is one of the few historic periods where that is realistically true.

It helps a lot that Ruby is a very likable protagonist. She’s both self-made and self-motivated. She’s doing her best (and occasionally her worst) to put her past behind her. The secret almost costs her everything, and that was the one part of the story that didn’t live up to how much I loved the rest. Other readers may feel differently.

But that one “bobble” was not enough to dim my enjoyment of the book. I loved the way that Ruby’s personal story interwove with the history that we know. We got to see World War II London and especially the Blitz through her eyes, and the perspective brought this reader right into her world and to the story.

As I read Goodnight from London, it reminded me a bit of The Race for Paris by Meg Clayton, which is also about female World War II correspondents. I liked The Race for Paris but the soap opera of the protagonists’ trainwreck love triangle took a bit out of the story. Goodnight from London is much, much better.

Goodnight from London is, as I said at the beginning, a very lovely book. Read it and you’ll see.

TLC
This post is part of a TLC book tour. Click on the logo for more reviews and features.

Review: The Baker’s Secret by Stephen P Kiernan

Review: The Baker’s Secret by Stephen P KiernanThe Baker's Secret by Stephen P. Kiernan
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: hardcover, large print, ebook, audiobook
Genres: historical fiction, World War II
Pages: 320
Published by William Morrow on May 2nd 2017
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

From the critically acclaimed author of The Hummingbird and The Curiosity comes a dazzling novel of World War II—a shimmering tale of courage, determination, optimism, and the resilience of the human spirit, set in a small Normandy village on the eve of D-Day
On June 5, 1944, as dawn rises over a small town on the Normandy coast of France, Emmanuelle is making the bread that has sustained her fellow villagers in the dark days since the Germans invaded her country.
Only twenty-two, Emma learned to bake at the side of a master, Ezra Kuchen, the village baker since before she was born. Apprenticed to Ezra at thirteen, Emma watched with shame and anger as her kind mentor was forced to wear the six-pointed yellow star on his clothing. She was likewise powerless to help when they pulled Ezra from his shop at gunpoint, the first of many villagers stolen away and never seen again.
But in the years that her sleepy coastal village has suffered under the enemy, Emma has silently, stealthily fought back. Each day, she receives an extra ration of flour to bake a dozen baguettes for the occupying troops. And each day, she mixes that precious flour with ground straw to create enough dough for two extra loaves—contraband bread she shares with the hungry villagers. Under the cold, watchful eyes of armed soldiers, she builds a clandestine network of barter and trade that she and the villagers use to thwart their occupiers.
But her gift to the village is more than these few crusty loaves. Emma gives the people a taste of hope—the faith that one day the Allies will arrive to save them.

My Review:

The Baker’s Secret might have been more descriptively titled as Emma’s War. Or perhaps Resistance is not Futile, or even How to Resist without Joining the Resistance. Or simply, Survival.

Because the story encompasses all of those things, and more.

From first to last, this is Emma’s story. And it is the story of the frog who dies by degrees as his cool pan of water heats up and boils. But unlike that proverbial frog, neither Emma nor her coastal French village actually die during the German Occupation, although they often wish they had. And all too many individual citizens actually do die, whether directly for German atrocities or less directly by being conscripted or simply by being unable or unwilling to drudge through another day.

Emma is the town baker. She has a gift for baking, and that gift is both blessing and curse. It is because of that gift that the occupying Germans discovered her tiny village. And it is that gift which keeps her relatively safe. The Kommandant doesn’t want his baker unduly harassed, or raped, and certainly not killed, without good reason. For admittedly select values of reason.

He wants his morning bread, and for that reason, gives Emma enough of a flour ration to bake a dozen loaves for himself and his officers.

That bread makes Emma the center of a ring of resistance. Not THE Resistance, but a resistance. Emma manages to make those dozen loaves into 14, with just a bit of subterfuge. And with those two extra loaves, she has something to trade. Because everyone wants just a little bit of solace in what are very dark times. So she has her circle of bread for eggs for tobacco for oil for fish for bread. Around and around the village she goes, keeping everyone, if not well fed, at least alive for the duration.

Because Emma brings not only food, but just a tiny bit of hope. Which is ironic, because Emma has none of her own. While everyone around her is certain, to varying degrees of informed certainty, that the Allies will come to rescue them, Emma is not. She hates the occupying army, but also believes that no one will come. Survival is all they have.

Until June 6, 1944, when the Allies storm the nearby beaches. And bring a hell on earth to everyone left in their way.

Escape Rating A-: The Baker’s Secret is a quiet book, and with good reason. For most of the occupation, life goes on, however badly. Emma’s days acquire a dull, unending sameness, only broken by incidents of brutality or audacity, either the Nazis’ brutality or her own audacity. She lives because the village depends on her, and in turn, she helps keep them alive.

We see the village in all its sadness. Too many are gone. Too many have been murdered out of brutality or caprice. And, although it is just a few, too many who have decided, like Emma, that the occupation is forever have also determined that the best way to survive is to capitulate, to cooperate, to collaborate with the enemy.

Emma’s story is about the courage of the small things in the face of the large disaster. She can’t kill all the Nazis, but she can hide a pig from them, getting meat into everyone’s pot for at least a month. She can’t stop baking, but she can stretch the ration by adding straw. It’s a life of tiny but important defiance.

What makes this a hard book is the description of the Nazis’ brutal treatment of the village and its inhabitants. There is no individual evil at work in the village (Hitler may be both individual and evil, but he is not personally present in the village), but there is great evil nevertheless. The way that the Nazis are portrayed in this story feels like a meditation on the saying about power corrupting and absolute power corrupting absolutely. These young men, and they are mostly very young, however kind and gentle they might be to their families or their fellow countrymen, have decided to swallow the big lie that non-Germans are lesser forms of humans, and that some people, notably Jews and other minorities, are not human at all. And have chosen to use that power and that license not merely by following orders, but to seemingly go out of their way to grind every person down and then punish them both for being ground down and for resisting the grinding.

It does not make for easy reading, but it does make the reader think. It seems to have been so easy to reduce these young soldiers to brutal and brutish beasts. All that was necessary was to drum into them that everyone was less human than themselves. Once non-Germans were made into “the other”, any strike against them could be justified.

I want to say that Emma stands tall in the face of adversity, but she doesn’t. Instead, her posture is always bent over and straining forwards, pulling her cart of burdens behind her like a train. She resisted by hiding in plain sight. I also can’t say that she gets a happy ending, because when we leave Emma in June of 1944, the war is still going on, even if the front has moved until her village is behind it on the Allies side.

But chocolate does indeed sometimes taste like hope. And I hope that readers who loved The Chilbury Ladies Choir and The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society will make a place in their hearts (and in their TBR stacks) for The Baker’s Secret.

TLC
This post is part of a TLC book tour. Click on the logo for more reviews and features.

Review: The Illusionist’s Apprentice by Kristy Cambron + Giveaway

Review: The Illusionist’s Apprentice by Kristy Cambron + GiveawayThe Illusionist's Apprentice by Kristy Cambron
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: paperback, large print, ebook, audiobook
Genres: historical fiction, historical mystery
Pages: 356
Published by Thomas Nelson on March 7th, 2017
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

Harry Houdini’s one-time apprentice holds fantastic secrets about the greatest illusionist in the world. But someone wants to claim them . . . or silence her before she can reveal them on her own.
Boston, 1926. Jenny “Wren” Lockhart is a bold eccentric—even for a female vaudevillian. As notorious for her inherited wealth and gentleman’s dress as she is for her unsavory upbringing in the back halls of a vaudeville theater, Wren lives in a world that challenges all manner of conventions.
In the months following Houdini’s death, Wren is drawn into a web of mystery surrounding a spiritualist by the name of Horace Stapleton, a man defamed by Houdini’s ardent debunking of fraudulent mystics in the years leading up to his death. But in a public illusion that goes terribly wrong, one man is dead and another stands charged with his murder. Though he’s known as one of her teacher’s greatest critics, Wren must decide to become the one thing she never wanted to be: Stapleton’s defender.
Forced to team up with the newly formed FBI, Wren races against time and an unknown enemy, all to prove the innocence of a hated man. In a world of illusion, of the vaudeville halls that showcase the flamboyant and the strange, Wren’s carefully constructed world threatens to collapse around her.
Layered with mystery, illusion, and the artistry of the Jazz Age’s bygone vaudeville era, The Illusionist’s Apprentice is a journey through love and loss and the underpinnings of faith on each life’s stage.

My Review:

The Illusionist’s Apprentice was utterly charming, and quite surprising. We’ll talk about the charming first, and get to the surprising at the end.

Just like last week’s Blood and Circuses, the story in The Illusionist’s Apprentice is set in a world that is gone. In this case, that world is the vaudeville circuit. Vaudeville flourished during the period just before the American Civil until the 1910s, with the advent of movies. During the period of The Illusionist’s Apprentice, it is clear to the participants that vaude is dying, if not yet dead.

For our main character, the illusionist Wren Lockhart, vaudeville is the only life she’s ever known.

This is also a mystery, wrapped not so much in the proverbial enigma, but in a profound conundrum. Also in a web of contacts and enemies. A web that Wren entered as the late Harry Houdini’s apprentice, but must now maintain all by herself.

Or so it seems.

In the 1920s there was a rise in interest in spiritualism. Everyone had lost someone in recent memory, either to the Great War or the Spanish Influenza Epidemic. Lots of people were willing to latch onto any possibility of communicating with their deceased loved ones. And all too many con artists were willing to latch onto the money of those who grieved.

Harry Houdini in 1899

Harry Houdini, the famous illusionist and escape artist, had almost a secondary career in exposing fake mediums and spiritualists. Wren Lockhart was his apprentice, both as an illusionist and as a fake medium buster.

So she has come to see whether one of those fake mediums that she helped ruin, Horace Stapleton, really can bring the dead back to life. In a cemetery. It’s obviously yet another gag, but how did he do it? And why did someone put him up to it?

The FBI is watching Stapleton and the crowd, because it’s so obviously a scam even if they can’t figure out how. FBI Agent Matthews is watching Wren in particular, when the unthinkable happens. Twice. Stapleton, in a flourish of showmanship, seems to actually raise one of the corpses from the grave. Only to have the man walk a few steps and collapse, dead again.

Among the very meager evidence, Matthews finds a note linking the late Houdini and the still living Wren Lockhart to the crime, or event, or whatever-the-heck it was. And Matthews is all too eager to follow that trail, if only for a chance to speak with the woman who fascinates him.

Wren and Matthews find kindred spirits in each other. Both driven, both workaholics before the term was invented, both using their focus on their work to keep others at a distance. They discover that they need each other. At first, Matthews just needs an entree into the world of vaudeville. He needs Wren’s help to figure out just how Stapleton did whatever it was he did.

Wren needs Matthews. She’s not used to relying on anyone, keeping her feelings and her secrets carefully locked away. But someone is targeting her, and she needs an outsider, particularly a very protective outsider, to help her find the snake in the grass at her feet.

They manage to keep each other alive, long enough to dig up all the truths, not just the ones that Wren has been hiding, but also the ones that have been hidden around her, under the cover of illusion.

Escape Rating A-: This was absolutely charming from beginning to end. Just like a member of her audience, I was sucked into Wren’s illusions from the very beginning of the story. She is an absolutely fascinating character. She is so completely eccentric, so much “out there” even for a female vaudevillian, that one can’t help but be captivated. At the same time, her position in the world of vaude gives her the opportunity to be unconventional in a way that makes her easy for a 21st century woman to empathize with. Her perspectives feel like hers, but they also mirror ours.

FBI Agent Elliot Matthews wants to be a hero. More correctly, he discovers that he wants to be Wren’s hero. But in spite of his status as an FBI Agent, he is not a hero in the usual mold. While he’d like to protect her, he comes to recognize that what he wants isn’t what Wren needs, or is willing to accept. Wren is looking for a hero who will walk beside her, letting her fight her own dragons. And Matthews discovers that he is willing to be that person, even though it isn’t easy.

The story here is one of wheels within wheels within wheels. It’s not a traditional mystery, but it is a mystery. And it’s one with ever widening circles of puzzles as it unravels.

Initially the mystery is all about Stapleton and whoever it is that is or isn’t dead. Then it widens to include who wanted to link Wren to the stunt, and why. Then it’s who is trying to kill Wren, and why. And finally, what is the deep, dark secret in Wren’s past that she has spent so much time, effort and money in concealing, and that someone is trying so hard to expose.

The secret of Wren’s past, and her present, is a very slow reveal, as she comes to trust Matthews more and more over time, and she peels away some of her protective layers. Some of the way that this is done is by skipping backwards into Wren’s past, so that we see those events as they happened. The jumps back and forth are a bit disconcerting at first, but in the end it does work.

And keeps the reader on the edge of their seat until the very end. Just like one of Wren Lockhart’s performances.

Now for why I was so surprised that I loved this book. Like The Hideaway, which I reviewed a few weeks ago, The Illusionist’s Apprentice was published by Thomas Nelson Publishers, a well-known and well-respected publisher of Christian inspirational literature, both fiction and nonfiction. And also like The Hideaway, The Illusionist’s Apprentice is not inspirational fiction, even though it is billed as such. And I was wary of it, like The Hideaway, because of that billing and that publisher. So I am left, as I was after reading The Hideaway, both confused and concerned. It is quite possible that people looking for inspirational fiction will be disappointed by this book. It is excellent historical fiction, but not inspie. It is also very possible that readers like myself, who steer far clear of inspirational fiction, will miss this book because of the publisher. I want this book to find its much deserved audience, and I worry that it won’t.

If you love historical fiction, particularly set in the 1920s (which is a fascinating period that’s getting a LOT more love since Downton Abbey), The Illusionist’s Apprentice is marvelous. And that’s no illusion!

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

a Rafflecopter giveaway

TLC
This post is part of a TLC book tour. Click on the logo for more reviews and features.

Sneak Peek at Secrets of the Tulip Sisters by Susan Mallery + Giveaway

Sneak Peek at Secrets of the Tulip Sisters by Susan Mallery + GiveawaySecrets of the Tulip Sisters: A Captivating Story about Sisters, Secrets and Second Chances by Susan Mallery
Formats available: hardcover, ebook, audiobook
Genres: contemporary romance
Pages: 416
Published by Harlequin Books on July 11th 2017
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

A wonderful story full of romance, forgiveness and the unavoidable ties that bind, SECRETS OF THE TULIP SISTERS is Susan Mallery at her very best.
The relationship of sisters Kelly and Olivia Van Gilder has been, well… complicated ever since their mother left them as teens, though it's the secrets they have been keeping from each other as adults that have unwittingly widened the chasm. But one thing they do share is the not-so-secret torch they carry for the Martin brothers.
In the small enclave of New Holland, Washington, Griffith and Ryan Martin were demigods. While Griffith was the object of Kelly's high school crush and witness to her mortal teenage humiliation, Ryan was for Olivia the boy who got away-something she's never forgiven Kelly for-and the only person since her mother who appreciated her wild streak.
Now, ten years later, both brothers are newly returned to town. Believing they're destined to be together, Olivia's determined to get Ryan back, until she discovers that she's not the only one keeping secrets…and that perhaps he's not the handsome prince she remembered. And even though Griffith has grown up to be more irresistible than ever, Kelly's impulse is to avoid him and the painful memory he represents, despite his resolve to right the wrong he caused her long ago-and her desire to let him.

Welcome to the  Virtual Pre-Order Tour for Susan Mallery’s upcoming book, Secrets of the Tulip Sisters. I loved her Daughters of the Bride last year, so I was thrilled when not one but two tours were available for Sisters of the Tulip Sisters. This pre-order tour includes an exclusive excerpt, and just in time for Mother’s Day, the opportunity for one lucky U.S. entrant to win a beautifult bouquet, of tulips of course, to be delivered to your own home or to a person of your choosing as a very special gift.

There is also a review tour for Secrets of the Tulip Sisters coming in July. Based on this teaser chapter, I can’t wait to read this book!

Chapter Three

Leo Meierotto, the forty-something site supervisor, stuck his head in Griffith’s office. “Boss, you’ve got company.” Leo’s normally serious expression changed to one of amusement. “Kelly Murphy is here.”

Because Leo was local and in a town the size of Tulpen Crossing, everyone knew everyone.

“Thanks.”

“Think she wants to buy a tiny home?”

Considering she lived in a house her family had owned for five generations, “Doubtful.”

He had a feeling she was here to tell him to back off. Maybe she’d shown up to serve him with a restraining order. Or did that have to be delivered by someone official? He wasn’t sure. Avoiding interactions that required him to get on the wrong side of law enforcement had always been a goal.

He told himself whatever happened, he would deal, then walked out into the showroom of the larger warehouse. Kelly stood by a cross section of a display tiny home, studying the layout.

He took a second to enjoy looking at her. She was about five-five, fit with narrow hips and straight shoulders. A farmer by birth and profession, Kelly dressed for her job. Jeans, work boots and a long sleeved T-shirt. It might be early June, but in the Pacific Northwest, that frequently meant showers. Today was gray with an expected high of sixty-five. Not exactly beach weather.

Kelly’s wavy hair fell just past her shoulders. She wore it pulled back in a simple ponytail. She didn’t wear makeup or bother with a manicure. She was completely no-frills. He supposed that was one of the things he liked about her. There wasn’t any artifice. No pretense. With Kelly you wouldn’t find out that she was one thing on the surface and something completely different underneath. At least that was what he hoped.

“Hey, Kelly.”

She turned. He saw something flash through her eyes. Discomfort? Nerves? Determination? Was she here to tell him to back off? He couldn’t blame her. He’d been too enthused about his plan when he should have been more subtle. She was going to tell him to leave her alone.

Not willing to lose without a fight, he decided he needed a distraction and how convenient they were standing right next to one.

“You’ve never been to my office before,” he went on. “Why is that?”

“I don’t know. You’ve been back about a year. I guess I should have been by.” She turned toward the tiny homes. “You build these?”

“I do. Have you seen one before?”

“Only on TV.”

He grinned. “Gotta love the free advertising.” He gestured to the model next to the cross section. “Micro housing is defined as being less than five hundred square feet. They serve different purposes for different people. In sub-Saharan Africa, micro housing provides sturdy, relatively inexpensive shelter that can be tailored to the needs of the community.” He pointed to the roof. “For example, we can install solar panels, giving the owners access to electricity. In urban settings, modified homes can be an alternative to expensive apartments. They can also offer shelter to the homeless. For everyone else, they fill a need. You can get a single-story house for an in-law or a guest cottage with a loft. You can take it on the road, even live off the grid, if you want.”

She studied him intently as he spoke, as if absorbing every word. “I like living on the grid, but that’s just me.”

“I’m with you on that. Creature comforts are good. Come on. I’ll show you where we build them.”

He led her around the divider and into the back of the warehouse where the actual construction was done. Nearly half a dozen guys swarmed over the homes. Griffith saw that Ryan was leaning against a workbench, talking rather than working. No surprise there. He ignored the surge of frustration and turned his attention to Kelly.

“Clients can pick from plans we have on hand or create their own. If it’s the latter, I work with them to make sure the structure will be sound. A house that’s going to stay in one place has different requirements from one that will be towed.”

She nodded slowly. “You’d have to make sure it was balanced on the trailer. Plus it can’t be too high. Bridges and overpasses would be a problem. Maybe weight, as well.”

“Exactly. A lot of people think they want a tiny home but when they actually see what it looks like, they’re surprised at the size.”

“Or lack of size?” She smiled. “I can’t imagine living in five hundred square feet.”

“Or less. It takes compromise and creative thinking.”

“Plus not a lot of stuff.”

They walked back to the show area. She went through a completed tiny house waiting to be picked up.

“I can’t believe you fit in a washer-dryer unit,” she called from inside.

“Clothes get dirty.”

“But still. It’s a washer-dryer.” She stepped back into the showroom. “It’s nice that you have this setup for your clients. They get to see rather than just imagine.”

He nodded as he looked around. There were photos of completed projects on the wall, along with the cross section. He had a small selection of samples for roofing, siding and hard surfaces. All the basics.

“What?” she asked.

“It’s okay,” he admitted. “I want to make it better, but I don’t know how to do the finishing touches.” He could design the hell out of three hundred square feet, but when it came to things like paint and throw pillows, he was as lost as the average guy in a housewares department.

“I wish I could help, but I can’t.” She flashed him a smile. “I’m totally hopeless at that kind of thing, too. Now if you want to know the Pantone color of the year, that I can do.”

“The what?”

“The color of the year. Every year the design world picks colors that are expected to be popular. You know, for clothes and decorating.”

“Why would you know that?”

“Um, Griffith, I grow tulips for a living. If I don’t get the colors right, nobody wants them at their wedding or on their coffee tables.”

“Oh, right. I didn’t think of that.” He frowned. “Don’t you have to order bulbs before you plant them? What if you get the colors wrong?”

“Then I’m screwed and we lose the farm. Which is why I pay attention to things like the Pantone colors of the year. It’s not so much that people won’t buy yellow tulips regardless of what’s popular, it’s that I’ll lose sales by not having the right colors available when my customers want them. I like being their go-to vendor when they need something.”

He’d known she cared about her business, but he hadn’t thought of her as competitive. Better and better.

“Do you focus on having the right colors in the field flowers as well as those you grow indoors?”

She studied him for a second, as if surprised by the question.

“They’re different,” she admitted. “What we have for the annual tulip festival are more focused on popular colors as well as types of tulips. I use the greenhouses for wedding seasons as well as for the more exotics. It’s easier to control the process when you don’t have to deal with Mother Nature.”

“I hear she can be a real bitch.”

Kelly laughed. “If there’s a spring hailstorm, I won’t disagree. Ten minutes of hail can ruin an entire crop.”

He winced. “That sucks.”

“Tell me about it.”

They smiled at each other. He had a feeling she’d forgotten about why she’d come to see him, which was how he wanted things.

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

Susan is giving away a beatiful bouquet of tulips to one lucky entrant at each stop on this tour.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

TLC
This post is part of a TLC book tour. Click on the logo for more reviews and features.

Review: Slow Burn Cowboy by Maisey Yates + Giveaway

Review: Slow Burn Cowboy by Maisey Yates + GiveawaySlow Burn Cowboy (Copper Ridge, #7) by Maisey Yates
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: contemporary romance
Series: Copper Ridge #7
Pages: 384
Published by Harlequin Books on April 18th 2017
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

In Copper Ridge, Oregon, a cowboy's best friend might turn out to be the woman of his dreams…
If Finn Donnelly makes a plan, he sticks to it. After his brothers left Copper Ridge, Finn stayed behind, determined to keep their ranch going by himself. And when he realized his feelings for Lane Jensen were more than platonic, he shoved that inconvenient desire away. It was easy…until it wasn't. Suddenly his brothers are coming home to claim their share of the property. And Lane is no longer just in his fantasies. She's in his arms, and their friendship is on the line…
He's been her buddy, her handyman, her rock. But until that one breathtaking kiss, Lane somehow overlooked the most important thing about Finn Donnelly—he's all man. They're right together, no matter how much his volatile past has bruised him. Finn wants to hold Lane's body, but he doesn't want to hold her heart. But Lane is falling fast and now she's got a plan of her own…to show Finn there's nothing hotter than friendship turned to slow-burning love.

My Review:

I loved Last Chance Rebel, and my friend Amy loved Hold Me Cowboy, so I expected to love Slow Burn Cowboy. But that’s not what happened.

Instead I have very much of a mixed feelings review on tap. Very mixed.

The friends-to-lovers trope is one of my favorites, so again, I was expecting to like the story line in this book. But something, actually multiple somethings, don’t quite work.

The set up is excellent, Lane and Finn have been best friends for ten years, ever since Lane left her parents’ home back East and moved to Copper Ridge to live with her brother Matt. At the time, Lane was sixteen and obviously just a bit fragile. Finn was 23 or 24 and more than a bit too old for her.

But that 8 or 9 year gap closes pretty quickly after a few years. Now Lane is in her late 20s and Finn is in his mid-30s. They’re both adults. But they are both still awfully fragile.

They are best friends. Really, truly. They spend time together and they care for each other and they need each other. But they are filling the gaps in each other’s lives that would normally be filled by a spouse or significant other. Not that their relationship isn’t significant, but they have fallen into a situation where they are friends with a different set of benefits. She cooks and buys his clothes, he kills spiders, changes lightbulbs and fixes the porch steps. It works for them.

Until it doesn’t.

Finn’s grandfather has just died. Instead of leaving his ranch to Finn, who has been working with him for that same last bunch of years, the old man left it to Finn and his three half-brothers equally. The Donnelly Brothers are all at crossroads in their lives, and they all move back to the ranch, into the house and the land that Finn expected would be his.

All of their relationships are strained and distant, and no one seems to be happy about any of it. So Finn, in a crazed need to re-establish control over something, anything, in his suddenly chaotic life, decides that he wants more from Lane than he’s ever asked for. He wants to push past their carefully maintained boundaries and turn their relationship into that of friends with the usual benefits.

He thinks its possible to make love and not feel at least a little love. And he’s an idiot.

Finn’s perfectly happy to tear down all of Lane’s defenses and push for whatever he wants. But when Lane turns the tables on him and starts pushing him for what she wants out of a relationship, he pushes her away as hard and as fast as he can.

The question of whether Finn can get his head out of his ass long enough to figure himself out is an open one. Finn needs to open his eyes, and his heart, before he throws away his best chance at happiness. And he needs to grovel.

Escape Rating C+: There was so much potential in Slow Burn Cowboy, but it never quite gels into the book that I was looking forward to.

Both Lane and Finn are damaged people, and neither of them thinks that they are worthy of happiness or love. They protect themselves in different ways. Lane by walling off what hurts her, and Finn by pushing away anyone who might get close enough to hurt him.

It’s amazing that they have managed to sustain a friendship, but they definitely have.

While Finn is a bit of an arsehole about it, his trauma is understandable. His dad seems to have been a serial philanderer, leaving a string of exes with his sons all across the country. Dad left everyone. But his mom also abandoned him. And he’s just sure everyone else will too.

Lane’s trauma just isn’t one that was easy for this reader to identify with. Her sense of loss at giving a baby up for adoption when she was sixteen is understandable, but she’s been wearing the past like a hair shirt ever since, to the point where the hair felt like it had been woven from a drama llama rather than anything real. Her story felt like angst for angst’s sake.

Also, these are two people who live inside their heads an awful lot, which also doesn’t feel right for Finn’s character. It felt like there was much more internal dialog than actual dialog. And Lane tended to think and talk in circles a lot of the time. That’s a habit that drives this reader crazy in real life, not just fictional life.

There are a lot of moments when the reader wants them to just stop talking inside their heads and let those words out where they might do some good!

But, and this is where the good stuff comes in, Copper Ridge just feels like a wonderful place. I like the people a lot. One of the great things in this story is all about the enduring power of women’s friendships. Lane, along with her best female friends, have a terrific, supportive and caring friendship. One of the ways in which Lane comes out of this story stronger than she went in is the realization that she is so much better off than she was when she arrived in Copper Ridge because those friendships will always see her through. She’s not alone, with or without Finn.

Finn’s supporting cast is his family, his three half-brothers and his niece Violet. They have all moved into the ranch and are now part of his life, where they have all been separate and alone up til now. Finn is really, really bad at letting people in, but having them be part of his life, whether he originally wanted it or not, is terrific. They bite and snap and growl at each other all the time, but they are all great characters and I’m looking forward to their stories in future books in the series.

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

Maisey and Harlequin are giving away a $25 Gift Card to one lucky entrant on this tour.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

TLC
This post is part of a TLC book tour. Click on the logo for more reviews and features.

Review: The Hideaway by Lauren K Denton

Review: The Hideaway by Lauren K DentonThe Hideaway by Lauren K. Denton
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: paperback, ebook, large print, audiobook
Genres: contemporary romance, small town romance, women's fiction
Pages: 352
Published by Thomas Nelson on April 11th 2017
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

When her grandmother’s will wrenches Sara back home from New Orleans, she learns more about Margaret Van Buren in the wake of her death than she ever did in life.
After her last remaining family member dies, Sara Jenkins goes home to The Hideaway, her grandmother Mags's ramshackle B&B in Sweet Bay, Alabama. She intends to quickly tie up loose ends then return to her busy life and thriving antique shop in New Orleans. Instead, she learns Mags has willed her The Hideaway and charged her with renovating it—no small task considering Mags’s best friends, a motley crew of senior citizens, still live there.
Rather than hurrying back to New Orleans, Sara stays in Sweet Bay and begins the biggest house-rehabbing project of her career. Amid Sheetrock dust, old memories, and a charming contractor, she discovers that slipping back into life at The Hideaway is easier than she expected.
Then she discovers a box Mags left in the attic with clues to a life Sara never imagined for her grandmother. With help from Mags’s friends, Sara begins to piece together the mysterious life of bravery, passion, and choices that changed Mags’s destiny in both marvelous and devastating ways.
When an opportunistic land developer threatens to seize The Hideaway, Sara is forced to make a choice—stay in Sweet Bay and fight for the house and the people she’s grown to love or leave again and return to her successful but solitary life in New Orleans.

My Review:

The Hideaway turned out to be an unexpectedly lovely read for me. I’ll talk about the ‘lovely’ first and get to the ‘unexpected’ parts at the end. You’ll see why, I promise.

The Hideaway fits very well into a particular sub-sub-sub-genre of women’s fiction/small town romance. This is one of those stories where a woman finds herself obligated to return to the small town she grew up in, after years away in some big city, to take care of some family something-or-other that is left behind when an elderly relative dies (or occasionally has a health crisis). And in the process of taking care of whatever-it-was, she discovers that the relative she sincerely loved but didn’t visit enough had some big secrets that she finds out about much too late, when that person is gone. And that her new knowledge of those secrets both changes the way she views that person, and makes her rethink quite a lot of her own life.

Especially since her return home usually forces her to confront whatever baggage she left behind – because it’s all still waiting for her back at what used to be home.

And for whatever reason, taking care of that final obligation always takes way more time than she planned, and in that time she has a chance to rethink her current life in whatever big city she now resides, the opportunity to fall back in love with her hometown, and the chance to fall in love with someone completely new.

Which also brings her to a major life choice; return to the life she left behind in the city, or stay in the small town she never wanted to return to with a new purpose and a new love.

This particular plot has become a classic for a reason – in the hands of a good writer, it makes a powerful (and lovely) story, as it does here in The Hideaway.

What makes The Hideaway (the book) and the Hideaway (the place) are the people and their stories. Especially Sara and her grandmother Mags. Mags has just died, and has passed the ownership of the run down Hideaway Bed and Breakfast, along with its slightly run down permanent residents, to Sara.

Sara, the proud but workaholic owner of a successful decorating shop in New Orleans, expects to wrap Mags’ estate up in a week, only to discover that it is going to take months to carry out Mags’ final wish that she restore the Hideaway back to its original splendor, and then either sell it or continue to operate it, however she sees fit.

The long-term residents of the Hideaway pretty much HAVE a fit. The four older residents discovered the Hideaway as a safe harbor 30 or more years ago. It’s their home as much as it was Mags’, and they all feel bereft, even though they all know that Mags did the right thing. It was, after all, her house.

But as Sara dives into the renovations, she discovers that there was a whole lot more to Mags’ past than she ever imagined, and that the things she believed, both about Mags and about herself, are not quite what she thought they were.

Knowing now what she didn’t know then, and what Mags didn’t know then, sets Sara free.

Escape Rating A-: The Hideaway is a sweet and lovely take on a tried-and-true trope, and it works very, very well.

The story (and its perspective) flips back and forth between Mags’ arrival at the Hideaway in the late 1950s, and Sara’s return to the Hideaway and Sweet Bay Alabama in 2016. Both stories have a lot of heart. They also mirror each other. Mags has a good life, but she misses her happy ever after. Sara still has a chance at hers – she just has to drop her old baggage and grab it.

On the one hand, there’s that saying about the past being another country, that they do things differently there. There’s also the saying that specifically refers to the South, that the past isn’t dead, it isn’t even past. Both those versions come into play in this story.

The world, and the options for women in it, were rather different in the 1950s than they are today. That Mags managed to carve a life of her own even somewhat away from the expectations of her parents was a major accomplishment for her and a huge disappointment for them in ways that seem almost quaint in 2017 – but were real at the time. That she fell short of the ultimate goal due to other people’s beliefs and expectations does turn out to be a tragedy, but not as big a tragedy as it might have been.

Sara, on the other hand, has the possibility of having, if not “it all”, then at least most of it. Her journey felt easier to identify with, but Mags’ story had more depth. Mags did the best she could in the circumstances she had, and managed to make a life and world for herself mostly according to her own desires. We wish better for her, but it is surprising that she got as much as she wanted.

And for readers, both Mags AND Sara’s journeys are at turns heart-rending and heart-warming, and we feel for both of them and want them to be happy. That Mags came so close but didn’t quite make it is heartbreaking because we care.

I loved this book. It made a neverending day at an airport absolutely fly by. But I was surprised that I enjoyed it so much, and by this point you’re wondering why. Most readers don’t pay a whole lot of attention to the publisher of a book, and with some exceptions, I usually don’t either. But there are a few genres that just don’t interest me, and one of those genres is inspirational literature, whether romance or nonfiction. The publisher of The Hideaway, Thomas Nelson Publishers, is a well-respected publisher of inspirational literature, specifically Christian inspirational literature. When The Hideaway was offered for tour, as much as the description of the book appealed to me, I just wasn’t interested if it was inspirational. I was assured it was not, and after reading it I completely concur, it isn’t. (There is nothing wrong with inspirational literature, it just isn’t my cuppa, and life is too short to read books that you know upfront are just not your jam.) The Hideaway is not an inspirational romance. It doesn’t have any of the characteristics that make a book an “inspie”. The romances in this book are both squeaky clean, but a well-done “fade to black” is a tried-and-true method of handling romance scenes. And I’d much rather read a well-done fade to black than a horribly or laughably written sex scene. But the lack of sexual scenes does not make a book inspirational. And The Hideaway isn’t. It’s just an excellent women’s fiction/contemporary romance story.

This does all lead up to something. At first, based on the publisher, I was expecting an inspie, and was pleased to discover that this book isn’t. But because I enjoyed it so much, I’m now concerned about it. My concern is about whether this book will find the audience it deserves, because of the publisher. People who look at Thomas Nelson for an inspie are going to be disappointed. And people who stay far, far away from inspirational fiction aren’t going to even look at this book, because of the publisher. It’s definitely a dilemma.

So go back to ignoring the publisher. If you like southern fiction, or small town romance, or stories where there’s a choice to be made between the life you have and the life you’ve come to love, read this book!

TLC
This post is part of a TLC book tour. Click on the logo for more reviews and features.

Review: No Getting Over a Cowboy by Delores Fossen + Giveaway

Review: No Getting Over a Cowboy by Delores Fossen + GiveawayNo Getting Over a Cowboy (Wrangler's Creek, #2) by Delores Fossen
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: contemporary romance, western romance
Series: Wrangler's Creek #2
Pages: 384
Published by Harlequin Books on March 28th 2017
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

The golden cowboy of Wrangler's Creek returns home to Texas to discover some old flames never fizzle…
There are plenty of things Garrett Granger hadn't counted on losing—his child to miscarriage, his wife to another man and the family business thanks to a crooked CFO. He also hadn't counted on moving back to the family ranch, where he's met by another surprise—former flame Nicky Marlow, who is renting his grandmother's old house.
Nicky's been rebuilding her shattered life since her husband's death two years ago. But Garrett's timely arrival in Wrangler's Creek doesn't automatically make him the missing piece of the puzzle. Even if he does seem to adore her two-year-old daughter… Even if seeing him again stirs up old feelings Nicky would gladly keep buried, forcing her to wonder if moving forward has to mean leaving everything behind…

My Review:

The Granger Ranch doesn’t just keep cattle. They seem to have plenty of pasturage for an entire herd of drama llamas. Maybe two herds.

Just like the first book in the Wrangler’s Creek series, Those Texas Nights, this one is off to the races from the very first page, and doesn’t let up until the very last sentence. And even then, only sort of lets up, because I fully expect the entire series to be just this kind of crazy.

If you like your romances beginning in chaos, middling in chaos, and ending in chaos, this is a great series.

But about all that insanity, and some of it is, it makes for a very wild ride that occasionally feels like it is going to throw the reader completely off the track. Instead, it’s more like a roller coaster, where just as you pass the crest of the big hill and think you’re going to fly out of your seat, the seat belt (and gravity) pull you back firmly into the ride.

Our story begins with Garrett Granger expecting to add pasturage near his great-grandfather Z.T.’s eyesore of a tumbledown Victorian monstrosity in the middle of Granger Ranch. But instead of seeing a vacant and decaying house, he discovers that the long-abandoned homestead is a beehive of activity.

His mother, Belle, about whom more later, has leased the house to a widow’s support group for an entire year, to serve as a retreat and healing center. Belle just never bothered to tell him, and doesn’t seem to give a damn about the ranch plans that Garrett not only had, but had informed her of. And this is unfortunately typical behavior for Belle.

As soon as Garrett meets the organizer of the “Widow’s House” he figures out exactly what his mother has in mind. That organizer is Nicky Marlow, and Garrett remembers all too clearly the night that Nicky gave him her virginity at that very same house, back when they were both in high school.

It may have been half a lifetime ago, but it seems that neither of them has ever forgotten. And his mother is matchmaking again.

But it was a lifetime ago. Garrett broke up with Nicky, fell in love with another girl (unfortunately not in that order) and eventually married that other girl. He and Meredith had a daughter who was stillborn, and eventually divorced. After Meredith got caught in a YouTube video giving some anonymous cowboy a blowjob.

A cowboy who turns out to have been Nicky’s older brother.

There’s plenty of fodder for those drama llamas just between Nicky and Garrett, without factoring in the other 15 widows and Nicky’s little daughter Kaylee – along with Garrett’s heartbreak at seeing a little girl who is just the age that his daughter would have been.

The discovery of a dead body in the pantry of the old house brings the police onto the scene, along with a whole lot more craziness. And in the middle of all of this, Garrett and Nicky discover that half a lifetime isn’t nearly enough to douse the fire they still raise in each other – even if they have a hell of a time finding a moment or two for each other in the midst of the insanity that surrounds them.

Escape Rating B+: This one went way, way over the top, but in a fun way. There are a couple of points where it seems like the long arm of coincidence is just a bit too long, but then it passes that point and the reader is just along for the ride.

There does not seem to be a single person in this story who isn’t in the middle of some kind of crazy. With the exception of Nicky and Garrett, it’s all in fun, from the three widowed sisters who all have variations of penis-phobia to the tow truck owner with execrable taste in advertising signs who is assuaging her grief with the entire male population of Wranglers Creek and everyone in between. In spite of the tragedies that made all of these women candidates for the Widow’s House, they are a fun and funny bunch, even if often unintentionally. The penis-phobic sisters are a laugh riot all by themselves, albeit usually at their own expense.

The heart of the story is Nicky and Garrett, along with little Kaylee and the machinations of Garrett’s ex-wife Meredith. That Meredith wants him back isn’t much of a surprise. That she thinks she has a chance of getting him back requires an extreme amount of either self-confidence or self-absorption. Having seen Meredith in action, it’s a bit of both.

But what keeps Nicky and Garrett apart is not Meredith’s shenanigans, not that she doesn’t try. Instead, it’s their shared past, and how it affects their present. Not just that long-ago tryst, or even that Garrett broke Nicky’s heart afterwards. Both of them carry a lot of baggage from those years in-between. Most of Garrett’s baggage is out in the open – it seems like everyone saw that video. But Nicky’s is hidden. Not just her horrific childhood in Wranglers Creek, but also her disastrous marriage and its one bright result, little Kaylee.

That there is a secret about Kaylee seems obvious fairly early on. But the nature of that secret is a complete surprise, and not one the reader expects. Also not one that is stock and trope, but still has all kinds of potential negative consequences. That this particular plot thread defied all of my expectations was very well done.

But as much as I liked Nicky, Garrett and Kaylee, I really, really, really don’t like Belle. I didn’t like her in Those Texas Nights, and I don’t like her any better here. I could go a long time without reading another book about adult children who have a certifiably crazy mother. Luckily she is not as big a part of this book as she was the first one, because she doesn’t seem to approve of the way that any of her children have turned out, even though they are all quite functional and successful adults. She acts so far out-there that her children have to continually placate her in ways that drove this reader crazier than Belle. And I’m continually astonished that someone in town, if not her children, doesn’t tell her where to get off and what she can do when she gets there.

Partially because there is more Belle in Those Texas Nights, and partially because the events in the first story that are really important for the second are recapped within the context of this story, it’s not absolutely necessary to read that first book in this series before the second. But it was a lot of fun if you can either ignore Belle or if her “type” doesn’t bother you as much as it does me.

I digress.

But as much as I don’t like their mother, I do like the Granger siblings very much. The chaotic nature of their journeys to their respective happy ever afters is a hoot from beginning to end. I’m very much looking forward to bad-boy Roman finding his own good-bad girl in Branded as Trouble, coming just in time for a sizzling Summer read.

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

I am giving away a signed copy of No Getting Over a Cowboy to one lucky commenter on this tour.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

TLC
This post is part of a TLC book tour. Click on the logo for more reviews and features.

Review: Finding Our Forever by Brenda Novak + Giveaway

Review: Finding Our Forever by Brenda Novak + GiveawayFinding Our Forever (Silver Springs, #1) by Brenda Novak
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: contemporary romance
Series: Silver Springs #1
Pages: 224
Published by Harlequin Special Edition on March 21st 2017
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

New York Times bestselling author Brenda Novak welcomes readers to the town of Silver Springs, where surprises wait around every corner!
The search for her birth mother brought Cora Kelly to the New Horizons Boys Ranch. Getting a job there was easy enough, but confiding in Aiyana, the ranch's owner, that she's really her daughter? Cora's not sure she can do that, not unless she's confident the news will be welcomed. And once she gets to know Elijah Turner, Aiyana's adopted son and ranch manager, that decision becomes even more difficult.
Although Elijah can't deny his deep attraction to Cora, he's always struggled with trust. Anyone with his past would, and there's something about the ranch's newest employee that isn't exactly as it seems. But if the feelings she awakes in his guarded heart are any indication, she might be just what he's long been waiting for.

My Review:

Welcome to tiny Silver Springs California, only two hours from the bright lights and big city of Los Angeles in miles, but light years away in everything that counts.

Everyone believes that Cora Kelly has come to Silver Springs to teach art at New Horizons Boys Ranch. And she certainly has. But that’s not the real reason she desperately wanted the job there, two hours from her family and friends back in LA. And two hours away from the job she could have had, teaching full-time at the school where she’d been subbing for the past six years. A job she had originally been looking forward to. Very much.

But New Horizons has one thing that LA can’t begin to match. Cora’s birth mother is the woman who has poured her own life into New Horizons. And Cora, after years of searching, wants to see who her birth mother really is, and especially find out why she gave her up all those years ago. Because it seems like the woman who has poured her heart and soul into helping, saving and sometimes even adopting boys from extremely difficult and/or troubled backgrounds and circumstances does not seem remotely like the kind of woman who would give up her own child.

Cora’s had a terrific life. Her adoptive parents love her dearly, and never loved her less than their biological son. She hasn’t lacked for anything – except the answers that most of us take for granted. And that lack of answers has driven her to Silver Springs, to take a year out of her life to teach at New Horizons, in the hopes of finally getting at least some of those answers.

But she isn’t sure, when, if, or whether she will reveal who she really is. She’s unsure whether or not she’d be welcome. But concealing that truth, living that very big lie, becomes an even dicier proposition than Kelly had planned on when she can’t resist the attractions of Elijah Turner, her boss, the ranch manager, and her mother’s eldest adopted son.

And in spite of Eli’s scarred past and taciturn present, he can’t seem to resist Cora, either. But the more deeply they become involved, not just romantically but also in each other’s lives, the more difficult it becomes for Cora to risk her heart and her happiness to reveal a truth that could shatter everything.

Or bring her everything her heart desires.

Escape Rating B+:The romance in Finding Our Forever is a relationship that often gets relegated to “taboo” erotica, but there’s no feeling of that kind of dirty secret here. If Cora and Eli had been raised together, it might feel different, but they weren’t so it doesn’t. They meet as adults, and are attracted to each other as adults. While Cora is aware that Eli is technically her adopted brother, they share no blood or genes to make any relationship actually be taboo.

But it does make things considerably more complicated, and they are plenty complicated to begin with. The angst in this story does not feel either manufactured or false. Cora has a secret, and she has very valid reasons both for keeping that secret and wanting to reveal it. She’s extremely conflicted about it, and so she should be. At the same time, Eli in particular has equally valid concerns about trust. The deeper they get into a relationship that neither of them expected, the more worried Cora becomes that Eli will feel betrayed by Cora’s hidden identity.

On top of that, when her secret comes out, she could be out of a job, as well as brokenhearted AND forced to go back to her adoptive parents to face a cloud of “I told you so’s” They were not in favor of Cora’s quest for her birth mother, feeling as if Cora’s search was an indictment of their love and their parenting, which it isn’t. But again, their conflicted feelings on this matter are also understandable.

The only person whose feelings don’t ring true in this entire mess is Cora’s ex-boyfriend, who shows up early in her school year in an attempt to either manipulate her back to him or otherwise horn in on her life. He’s a jerk rather than a threat, but his appearance and Cora’s reaction to it were the one emotional point in the story that just didn’t quite hit the mark.

But Cora’s story certainly does. She gets her answers, and they are nothing like she expected. And she doesn’t get everything that she wanted. But she gets enough for readers to feel more than satisfied that she got her happy ending. And it happens in a way that feels right for the story and the characters.

I really enjoyed my visit to Silver Springs, and I’m looking forward to more. It looks like the series is going to follow the romantic adventures of Eli’s brothers, and I can’t wait to see what happens next, in No One But You.

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

Brenda and Harlequin are giving away a $25 gift card to one lucky entrant on this tour.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Review: In This Grave Hour by Jacqueline Winspear

Review: In This Grave Hour by Jacqueline WinspearIn This Grave Hour (Maisie Dobbs, #13) by Jacqueline Winspear
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: hardcover, large print, ebook, audiobook
Genres: historical mystery
Series: Maisie Dobbs #13
Pages: 352
Published by Harper on March 14th 2017
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

As Britain becomes engulfed in a second World War, the indomitable Maisie Dobbs is plunged into a treacherous battle of her own when she stumbles on the deaths of refugees who may have been more than ordinary people seeking sanctuary on English soil, in this enthralling chapter in Jacqueline Winspear’s enormously popular New York Times bestselling series
Critics have long sung the praises of Jacqueline Winspear and her bestselling Maisie Dobbs series. In the thirteenth installment, Maisie—“one of the great fictional heroines, equal parts haunted and haunting.” (Parade)—is back with more mystery, adventure, and psychological insight.
When readers last saw Maisie Dobbs, it was 1938 and the world was on the brink of war. Maisie herself was on a dangerous mission inside Nazi Germany, where she encountered an old enemy and the Führer himself. In This Grave Hour, a year has passed and Maisie is back home in England—yet neither she nor her nation is safe. Britain has just declared war on Germany and is mobilizing for the devastating battle ahead. But when she stumbles on the deaths of a group of refugees, Maisie suspects the enemy may be closer than anyone knows.
Old fans will be delighted at Maisie’s return and new readers will be hooked by this thrilling installment in Jacqueline Winspear’s “thoughtful, probing series” (Oprah.com).

My Review:

Welcome to the Sitzkrieg, or as it was better known in Britain, the Phoney War.

As this 13th book in the Maisie Dobbs series opens in the fall of 1939, Britain declares war on Nazi Germany after its invasion of Poland. Then nothing happens. And nothing continues to happen for eight months, until Germany invades France and the Low Countries (Belgium, Luxembourg, the Netherlands) in May of 1940.

But during the period of this book, nothing much happens on the war front. Everyone knows it will come, and many people, including Maisie herself, have known that war was coming for quite some time, but for the moment, there is a pause. Not a peace by any stretch of the imagination. More like a vast inhaling of breath before the six year sigh of loss after loss.

And a murder. A whole series of murders. Deaths that owe their origin, not to the stresses of the upcoming war, but to the unresolved issues of what people are suddenly forced to call “the previous war” – the Great War, the War that unfortunately did not End All Wars, what history came to call World War I.

Murder, unfortunately for the world but fortunately for Maisie, never takes a vacation.

As the story opens, Maisie is dragged away from the war announcement to meet an old colleague. Dr. Francesca Thomas, in her guise as a member of the Secret Service, prepared Maisie for her undercover task in Journey to Munich. Now Dr. Thomas wants to hire Maisie to investigate the murder of a Belgian refugee from the previous war who has been murdered on the eve of this one.

Dr. Thomas is herself a Belgian national, and is now attached to that embassy. The murder of her fellow countryman is a crime that she wants to redress, before it happens again. She is aware of just how good Maisie is at her job, but she still keeps secrets. It is her nature. And almost her undoing.

While Maisie tracks down the patterns of life and causes of death of the late Frederick Addens, more former Belgian refugees turn up dead. By the same method, and most likely by the same hand. But whose? And more important to Maisie, why?

As Maisie begins to close the net around a suspect she also finds herself deep into a problem much closer to home.

Many children were evacuated from London to the countryside at the opening of the war. One such young girl is now boarded with Maisie’s family. But this little girl is a bit different. Not just because her coloring is noticeably darker than English peaches and cream, but because the little girl refuses to speak, and seems to have no documentation whatsoever.

And Maisie can no more resist solving that little puzzle than she can let a murderer go free. No matter the cost to herself.

Escape Rating B+: As World War II begins, this series reminds me more and more of Foyle’s War. (That there are no books for Foyle’s War continues to be a great source of disappointment!) Like Christopher Foyle, Maisie solves her cases with her brains rather than her fists. Also like Foyle, she is solving murders on the homefront, a task that many people think of as less important than the war. But as it so often turns out, those murders are often not divorced from the war, and in some cases are hidden by it until the investigator steps in.

As much as I love this series, this particular entry didn’t grab me by the throat and hang on quite the way that some of the other books have. I still enjoyed it, but it has the feeling of a pause before the storm, much as Britain itself was in during the Phoney War. Pauses, by their nature, just aren’t as dramatic as crises. And so it proves with this book.

There are, as there often are, two mysteries in front of Maisie. They don’t dovetail as well as they sometimes do. The murder of Frederick Addens, and the ones that follow, are one case, and while important, it feels like merely a case. The little girl’s missing identity is the part of the story that strikes Maisie’s heart, and it is the one that felt most important, even if the string of murders was obviously deadlier and had larger implications, or should have.

And that’s part of what fell just a bit flat for me. The serial murders of Belgian refugees and the people who assisted them felt like it was building up to something bigger. The resolution actually turned out to be small and rather close to home. Also frustrating as regards that particular case, both for Maisie and the reader, is just how much and how obvious it was that Dr. Thomas was, if not telling actual lies, certainly lying by omission every time she spoke. And yet she never seriously emerges as a possible candidate to be the murderer.

On that other hand, the case of the little girl was heartbreaking, particularly for Maisie. She sees herself in the child, as well as the child she lost when her husband was killed. Her heart is engaged with someone who will eventually have to go home. Perhaps. That piece of the story has yet to be resolved.

And I’m very much looking forward to Maisie’s further adventures, to discover just how she resolves it. Or doesn’t. I expect to find out next year during the 2018 Month of Maisie Readalong!

TLC
This post is part of a TLC book tour. Click on the logo for more reviews and features.