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

Review: Meet Me on Love Lane by Nina Bocci + GiveawayMeet Me on Love Lane (Hopeless Romantics, #2) by Nina Bocci
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: contemporary romance, romantic comedy, women's fiction
Series: Hopeless Romantics #2
Pages: 304
Published by Gallery Books on December 10, 2019
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
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From the USA TODAY bestselling author of On the Corner of Love and Hate comes a romantic comedy about a woman who grudgingly returns home to small-town Pennsylvania, only to find herself falling in love—not only with the town, but with two of its citizens.

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

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

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

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

My Review:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Now he must give up Honor to save her

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

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

My Review:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

a Rafflecopter giveaway

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Review: The Poppy Wife by Caroline Scott

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

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

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

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

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

My Review:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Review: Gold Digger by Rebecca Rosenberg + Giveaway

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

GOLD DIGGER, The Remarkable Baby Doe Tabor!

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

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

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

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

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

My Review:

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

Baby Doe Tabor ca 1883

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Baby Doe Tabor, photo taken 1885-1895

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Review: The Other Windsor Girl by Georgie Blalock

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

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

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

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

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

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

My Review:

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

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

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

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

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

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

Princess Margaret in 1951

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

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

And that she never manages to recapture that sparkle again.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Princess Margaret in 1958

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

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

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

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

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Review: The Painted Castle by Kristy Cambron

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

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

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

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

My Review:

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

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

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

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

Queen Victoria by Franz Xaver Winterhalter. Signed and dated 1843

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Review: Nothing to Fear by Juno Rushdan + Giveaway

Review: Nothing to Fear by Juno Rushdan + GiveawayNothing to Fear (Final Hour #2) by Juno Rushdan
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: romantic suspense
Series: Final Hour #2
Pages: 448
Published by Sourcebooks Casablanca on August 27, 2019
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

The clock is ticking

Fearsome Gray Box operative Gideon Stone is devoted to his work and his team. He's never given reason to doubt his loyalty...until he's tasked with investigating Willow Harper, a beguiling cryptologist suspected of selling deadly bio-agents on the black market.

He knows she's innocent. He knows she's being framed. And he knows that without him, Willow will be dead before sunrise.

Thrust into the crossfire of an insidious international conspiracy, Gideon will do anything to keep Willow safe...even if that means waging war against his own. With time running out, an unlikely bond pushes limits―and forges loyalties. Every move they make counts. And the real traitor is always watching...

My Review:

The title of this nonstop romantic suspense thriller may be Nothing to Fear, but Gray Box hacker-agent-operative Willow Harper has PLENTY to fear – she just doesn’t know it as this story opens.

She’s being setup to take the fall for the murder, while in Gray Box custody, of an enemy intelligence agent code-named “The Ghost”. But he stopped being a ghost once Willow focused her hacker skills on ferreting him out.

Now the mole in the Gray Box has to eliminate the threat to the organization that they really work for, while keeping their hidden status in place. That’s where Willow came in, unfortunately – or so it seems – for her.

Willow may be a genius programmer, and she has mad skills when it comes to data security, but her everyday, run of the mill life skills security is not so hot.

At first she’s just one of many suspects, but the mole has set Willow up to take the fall for everything, complete with a multi-million dollar account in the Caymans. An account that Willow knows nothing about. It’s not that the account is fake – the money is all too real – but that whoever set up the account was definitely not Willow Harper.

When the evidence turns up, with the black operations of Gray Box already in the cross-hairs, the agency’s director has no choice but to take her into custody.

And Gideon Stone, the agent who is certain that Willow is innocent, feels as if he has no choice but to take Willow and go on the run – in the hopes that he can get to the bottom of the set up, find the mole AND protect Willow – before their enemies manage to take her out and complete the frame.

The forces that are after them are bigger and better organized than Gideon imagined, and the hurricane that crosses their path is just the beginning of the danger that they face.

But the biggest danger for both of them is the damage that they can do to each other. If they’re not carefully, they’ll shoot each other in the heart.

Escape Rating B+: Nothing to Fear is absolutely a thrill-a-minute ride from beginning to end. It has all the classic elements of a great romantic suspense story, with its tough hero, offbeat heroine, secret black ops agency and spies, moles and counterspies at every twist and turn.

Not to mention that desperate run through a hurricane – although what happens on the boat stays on the boat. Or at least it’s supposed to.

As a “black” operation of our very own government – and isn’t that a scary thought all the way around – Gray Box makes a fascinating backdrop for a series. Everyone is a spy, or an agent, or an operative, or all of the above. Everyone has secrets – and everyone has committed unspeakable acts on behalf of the country. And all of their actions can and will be disavowed if that country feels it is necessary.

That Gray Box absolutely HAS to find the traitor within its ranks to keep the entire agency from being “whitewashed” just adds to the tension of the whole story. They have to find the mole, they have to clean up the agency, and they have to help Gideon and Willow however they can in the hope that everyone comes out the other side – except the mole, of course.

At the same time, Gideon and Willow are running as fast as they can, trying to stay half a step ahead of their pursuers, while being all too aware that everyone they left behind is in terrible danger – and not just their colleagues at Gray Box. The enemy is going after their families and friends in an attempt to run them to earth or bring them to heel. It’s a deadly chase.

And at the heart of the story are Gideon and Willow. Neither of them feels worthy of being loved nor is either of them quite sure they are capable of feeling or returning the emotion. Gideon is certain that the deeds he has committed are too dark, that his past is too dirty and that he is too much a creature of violence for anyone to be safe around him. And Willow, while a genius with computers, is at a loss with the unpredictability of human behavior and human emotions.

Which doesn’t stop them from falling for each other. But it sure does stop them from trying to stay together once the danger is over. Or does it?

The suspense of Nothing to Fear will keep readers on the edge of their seats from the first page to the last. And the story of this couple who make each other strong in their broken places will warm the least romantic heart.

Nothing to Fear is the second book in the Final Hour series. I haven’t read the first book, Every Last Breath, and had absolutely no problem getting right into the action in this one. But as wrapped up as I was in Nothing to Fear, that first book has certainly climbed higher in my towering TBR pile. After all, I have to read it in time to get the third book in this series, Until the End, late next spring!

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

I’m giving away a copy of Nothing to Fear to one lucky US commenter on this tour!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

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Review: Escaping Exodus by Nicky Drayden

Review: Escaping Exodus by Nicky DraydenEscaping Exodus by Nicky Drayden
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: science fiction
Pages: 336
Published by Harper Voyager on October 15, 2019
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

Escaping Exodus is a story of a young woman named Seske Kaleigh, heir to the command of a biological, city-size starship carved up from the insides of a spacefaring beast. Her clan has just now culled their latest ship and the workers are busy stripping down the bonework for building materials, rerouting the circulatory system for mass transit, and preparing the cavernous creature for the onslaught of the general populous still in stasis. It’s all a part of the cycle her clan had instituted centuries ago—excavate the new beast, expand into its barely-living carcass, extinguish its resources over the course of a decade, then escape in a highly coordinated exodus back into stasis until they cull the next beast from the diminishing herd.

And of course there wouldn’t be much of a story if things didn’t go terribly, terribly wrong.

Escaping Exodus is scheduled to be in readers’ orbit Summer 2019.

My Review:

I don’t know what I was expecting when I picked up Escaping Exodus. Space opera, certainly. And I definitely got that – just not in the usual way.

But this particular space opera has a kind of a biopunk feel, and, speaking of feels, it felt like a story about the differences between parasitism and symbiosis. It also gives a tiny glimpse into all the myriad possibilities of ways that humanity can take a good idea and send it down many, many virtual rabbit holes of disasters and bad decisions. Epically bad decisions.

Oh, and there’s a bit, just a tiny bit, of actually relevant tentacle sex. Now that WAS a surprise.

The story is told from two perspectives that begin close together – diverge widely and wildly – and then come back together at the end. Terribly scarred and terribly scared, but still determined to find their own way forward.

At the beginning, Seske and Adalla are girls on the cusp of womanhood. They have been children, but as the story opens they are forced to take their first steps into adulthood – and away from each other.

Seske is the daughter of the Matris, the leader, ruler and queen of their generation ship. Adalla is the child of one of the worker castes. And there are definitely castes and classes aboard this ship, as well as a permanent underclass and even the equivalent of untouchables. All workers, even the most skilled, are interchangeable and disposable, at least according to the ruling Contour class.

The class system reminds me of the “worms” in Medusa Uploaded. And their treatment does lead to similar results.

Burgeoning adulthood means that Seske has to take her place at her mother’s side, and Adalla must make a place for herself among the workers. They are expected to leave the friendship that has blossomed into love behind and take up their adult responsibilities.

That’s where this story veers into fascinating directions. Because their generation ship isn’t flying through space to a potential “new Earth” even though that WAS the plan when all the ships set out generations ago.

Instead, they have become space parasites, latching their ship onto giant space-faring beasts and cannibalizing all of the beast’s energy, organs and organisms until it is a dry husk, then moving on to the next.

And they’re dying. The beasts are individually dying quickly, but their species is dying out. And they’ll take their human parasites with them.

Unless Seske and Adalla, separately and together, find another way.

Escape Rating B: This is a story that is filled with metaphors for current conditions on Earth and also weaves a fascinating tale of journeys to the stars and all the ways that they can go wrong. Or that humans can do wrong. Or perhaps a bit of both.

At the same time, it feels like this would have been a stronger book if it had had a bit more space in which to develop its world. What we see is amazing and weird and different, but we’re kept at a bit of a remove – at least from the atrocities committed by the privileged classes.

That may be the result of the choice of narrators. Seske, the heir to the “throne” has been an indulged child until the book begins. She’s been protected from all of the terrible secrets and lies, murders and machinations, that her mother has used to maintain her position. That protection gives her a fresh perspective, and allows her to see the rot that supports her mother’s rule.

But she’s been very insulated, and we get a lot more about her rivalry with her sister than we do about how things work, and don’t, and ought to. The way her sister is treated and how that situation came about is brutal and messy and we don’t get nearly enough explanation.

The society is female-dominated, reproduction-restricted, and polygamous. Group marriage is the norm, and families consist of nine adults raising a single child. But I never did quite understand how the relationship between the adults in the group marriage actually worked. Or didn’t.

That the extremely limited resources meant that each marriage could only have one child made sense, but one child per nine adults will result in a diminishing population over time – even without the extremely hazardous conditions that the workers labor under. The female domination of this society is interesting and used to comment on all sorts of things but it’s never explained how they got that way. And we do eventually discover that there are other ships and some are male dominated – and we don’t know how they got that way either. Not that they didn’t make plenty, but different, mistakes along their way.

The history of this diaspora is only hinted at. The hints are fascinating and I wish we learned more.

Adalla’s story feels better developed than Seske’s, because Adalla has the longer and harder journey. It’s through Adalla that we get to see how the workers really live – and die. Adalla herself rises high within the worker castes, and then falls to the lowest of the low.

In the end, both Seske’s exposure of the corruption and Adalla’s rebellion against it lead them to the same place – trying to free themselves and the beasts from an endless cycle of destruction that is killing them all.

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Review: The Lying Room by Nicci French

Review: The Lying Room by Nicci FrenchThe Lying Room by Nicci French
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: hardcover, paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: mystery, thriller
Pages: 432
Published by William Morrow Paperbacks on October 1, 2019
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
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One little secret between a married woman, her lover, and a killer.

It should have been just a mid-life fling. A guilty indiscretion that Neve Connolly could have weathered. An escape from twenty years of routine marriage to her overworked husband, and from her increasingly distant children. But when Neve pays a morning-after visit to her lover, Saul, and finds him brutally murdered, their pied-à-terre still heady with her perfume, all the lies she has so painstakingly stitched together threaten to unravel.

After scrubbing clean every trace of her existence from Saul’s life—and death—Neve believes she can return to normal, shaken but intact. But she can’t get out of her head the one tormenting question: what was she forgetting?

An investigation into the slaying could provide the answer. It’s brought Detective Chief Inspector Alastair Hitching, and Neve’s worst fears, to her door. But with every new lie, every new misdirection to save herself, Neve descends further into the darkness of her betrayal—and into more danger than she ever imagined. Because Hitching isn’t the only one watching Neve. So is a determined killer who’s about to make the next terrifying move in a deadly affair….

My Review:

“Oh what a tangled web we weave, when first we practice to deceive.” Sir Walter Scott said that back in 1806 in his poem Marmion, but the phrase has become a cliche because it is just so demonstrably true so very often. Mark Twain put it another way, “If you tell the truth, you don’t have to remember anything.” And he was equally right.

Neve Connolly should have taken both of those phrases to heart long before she decided to clean up her lover’s apartment. She tried her level best to erase herself from the man’s life – before someone else finds his murdered body. Along with the truth about their affair.

Neve begins the story as discontentedly married and disappointingly approaching middle age. Her lover, who was also married and also, in an entirely different cliche, her boss, is dead. She goes to his flat (the story takes place in contemporary London which does turn out to be important later), thinking they’re about to have a tryst, only to discover him dead on the floor with his head bashed in.

She didn’t do it, but someone certainly did.

And this is the point where Neve’s life goes completely pear-shaped – but not in the way that it should have.

She thinks she can erase herself from her lover’s apartment by cleaning the place within an inch of it’s – or actually her – life. While the corpse is lying on the floor of the living room. That she is probably erasing evidence of the murderer doesn’t seem to enter either her conscience or her consciousness. Her only motivation is protecting herself from the way that her life would implode if the affair was discovered.

But no one in a panic is thinking as clearly as someone would need to be to get themselves out from under a scenario with this much potential for self-destruction. The situation should backfire on Neve.

And it sort of does – but not in any way that she ever could have expected.

Escape Rating C+: I picked up The Lying Room because I really enjoyed the author’s Frieda Klein series and hoped that this standalone would have the same kind of taut excellence. (If you are interested, start with Blue Monday and proceed through the rest of the days of the week!)

But one of the things that I liked about Frieda Klein’s series was the character of Frieda Klein herself. Because Frieda Klein is an intelligent protagonist – and also because while she may sometimes be misled and she’s certainly someone to whom terrible things happen through no fault of her own – she’s never stupid and she never gets herself into stupid situations.

When she does defy the police – and she sometimes does – it’s both for a good reason and we expect her to succeed long enough to accomplish her goals.

As the protagonist, Neve drove me crazy. I just didn’t like her and didn’t want to be in her head. On the other hand, I passionately dislike her, so the author definitely got me involved.

But seriously, she’s unhappy at home – for reasons that are easy to empathize with – and takes the easy way out of having an affair to spice up her life rather than rock the boat at home. And as a reader I could see why she made those choices.

I fell off the “understand” wagon when she didn’t put on her big girl panties and deal with the results of her actions, as horrible as those results were. There are lots of cliches about people who have affairs secretly wanting to get caught in order to bring whatever the crisis in their home life is out into the open. How true that cliche is, well, who knows?

But I found the results of her actions contradictory. She just didn’t act smart enough to fool the police – but she managed to do so anyway. And that in spite of something that the UK readers of this book have pointed out repeatedly. Contemporary London is one of the cities most saturated with CCTV in the world. This story takes place in Central London but none of the police ever attempt to consult CCTV to discover the killer. They suspect Neve but never look at the CCTV to see if she was at the victim’s apartment or not. It’s not that there was a catastrophic and coincidental failure of the CCTV in one way or another – it’s that they never try.

Instead, it seems like the police inspector in charge of the case turns into Neve’s stalker. Or should I say Neve’s second stalker? Because it seemed obvious to this reader from the earliest parts of the book, even before Neve discovers that corpse, that someone is stalking her.

Who the stalker is – and their motivations for following her, assaulting her and trying to put her in the frame for the murder – did turn out to be surprises. But that someone was there was not. It was just a matter of waiting for the other shoe to drop.

In the end, I found this one disappointing, especially in comparison to the Frieda Klein series. But it’s staying in my head a fairly long time in that disappointment, so perhaps infuriating is closer to the mark. As always, your reading mileage may vary. Considerably.

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Review: Ribbons of Scarlet by Kate Quinn

Review: Ribbons of Scarlet by Kate QuinnRibbons of Scarlet: A Novel of the French Revolution's Women by Kate Quinn, Stephanie Dray, Laura Kamoie, E. Knight, Sophie Perinot, Heather Webb, Allison Pataki
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: hardcover, paperback, large print, ebook, audiobook
Genres: historical fiction, women's history
Pages: 560
Published by William Morrow Paperbacks on October 1, 2019
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

Six bestselling and award-winning authors bring to life a breathtaking epic novel illuminating the hopes, desires, and destinies of princesses and peasants, harlots and wives, fanatics and philosophers—six unforgettable women whose paths cross during one of the most tumultuous and transformative events in history: the French Revolution.

Ribbons of Scarlet is a timely story of the power of women to start a revolution—and change the world.

In late eighteenth-century France, women do not have a place in politics. But as the tide of revolution rises, women from gilded salons to the streets of Paris decide otherwise—upending a world order that has long oppressed them.

Blue-blooded Sophie de Grouchy believes in democracy, education, and equal rights for women, and marries the only man in Paris who agrees. Emboldened to fight the injustices of King Louis XVI, Sophie aims to prove that an educated populace can govern itself--but one of her students, fruit-seller Louise Audu, is hungrier for bread and vengeance than learning. When the Bastille falls and Louise leads a women’s march to Versailles, the monarchy is forced to bend, but not without a fight. The king’s pious sister Princess Elisabeth takes a stand to defend her brother, spirit her family to safety, and restore the old order, even at the risk of her head.

But when fanatics use the newspapers to twist the revolution’s ideals into a new tyranny, even the women who toppled the monarchy are threatened by the guillotine. Putting her faith in the pen, brilliant political wife Manon Roland tries to write a way out of France’s blood-soaked Reign of Terror while pike-bearing Pauline Leon and steely Charlotte Corday embrace violence as the only way to save the nation. With justice corrupted by revenge, all the women must make impossible choices to survive--unless unlikely heroine and courtesan’s daughter Emilie de Sainte-Amaranthe can sway the man who controls France’s fate: the fearsome Robespierre.

My Review:

Women have always fought. We have always lived in the castle. We have always defended the castle, and stormed the castle as well. We have always been there, on the front lines as well as behind the scenes, no matter how much we are written out of the supposedly official histories of “great men and great deeds” that try to pretend that we weren’t in the room where it happened – or on the ramparts defending that room.

The enduring images of the parts that women played in the French Revolution can (unfortunately) be reduced to three, not that there weren’t plenty of women involved, but history as written goes back to those “great men and great deeds” so that women’s contributions can be swept under the carpet – as sweeping was considered an appropriate activity for women.

When we think of women in relation to the French Revolution, the images that have stuck are poor, waifish Cosette from Les Misérables, the over-pampered and over-privileged Queen, Marie Antoinette crying, “Let them eat cake!” and the villainous Madame Defarge from A Tale of Two Cities, knitting and cackling as the guillotine falls.

I’m just realizing that those three women conveniently fall into the “maiden, mother, crone” triptych and wondering if that’s what has made those particular three so memorable. I digress.

Ribbons of Scarlet, fictional though it is, tries to go deeper into the roles that women played during the Revolution. I almost said “both sides” but that implies that the sides were MUCH more clearly defined than they actually were. The Revolution, as the saying went, ate its young.

Instead of straightforwardly proceeding through the story of the French Revolution, or even telling it as a braided novel like The Glass Ocean by “Team W”, Ribbons of Scarlet proceeds from the very beginnings of the Revolution to its exhausted ending at the ascension of Napoleon Bonaparte through narratives that focus on the part that each woman played in her point in history – then she hands the story off to the next woman until it comes full circle back to the original narrator.

Each woman’s story is written by a different author, telling the story of the French Revolution almost as a relay race rather than a single story. Grouchette passes the baton to Louise who in her turn passes it to Elisabeth to Manon to Charlotte to Emilie and, at last, back to Grouchette.

All of these women, including, surprisingly, the revolutionary Louise Audu, were historical figures. Manon and Sophie were prolific authors, and the words and views ascribed to them in the story are documentably their own.

We have always fought. Sometimes with words – and sometimes with pikes.

Escape(ish) Rating: B+: To say that the French Revolution, for all its noble aims, turned out to be a clusterfuck implies a level of organization that doesn’t seem to have actually been present. After reading Ribbons of Scarlet, it feels more like the French Revolution was a goat rope. (Now there’s a term I never thought I’d have a use for, but my word the whole thing was completely fucked.) Reading this book makes me wonder how France managed to get itself organized back into a country – ever. So many histories focus on “great men” and “progress” that the level of sheer savagery gets reduced to something bearable. It probably has to, or history classes would need trigger warnings for this section – not that that’s necessarily a bad thing.

However, just because all of the women were real doesn’t make them all equally interesting, or at least written equally sympathetically. In some ways, Ribbons of Scarlet feels like a short story collection on a single theme, and like all collections some stories work better than others. That being said, Grouchette’s section coming at the beginning was a great way to get into the story. I liked her and I found her perspectives surprisingly easy to identify with.

At the same time, Elizabeth’s extreme piety and unassailable belief in the divine right of kings, as well as Louise’ and Manon’s internal dialog about their own sexuality, while they feel right for their time,  make hard reading in ours.

But they ALL advance the story, it’s just that some heads are more interesting to be inside of than others – whether or not those heads eventually got cut off or not. Most of their fates were tragic in one way or another. That their voices have been lost to history – that’s the real tragedy.

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