Review: Tiffany Blues by M.J. Rose + Giveaway

Review: Tiffany Blues by M.J. Rose + GiveawayTiffany Blues by M.J. Rose
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: hardcover, ebook, audiobook
Genres: historical fiction
Pages: 336
Published by Atria Books on August 7, 2018
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

New York, 1924. Twenty‑four‑year‑old Jenny Bell is one of a dozen burgeoning artists invited to Louis Comfort Tiffany’s prestigious artists’ colony. Gifted and determined, Jenny vows to avoid distractions and romantic entanglements and take full advantage of the many wonders to be found at Laurelton Hall.

But Jenny’s past has followed her to Long Island. Images of her beloved mother, her hard-hearted stepfather, waterfalls, and murder, and the dank hallways of Canada’s notorious Andrew Mercer Reformatory for Women overwhelm Jenny’s thoughts, even as she is inextricably drawn to Oliver, Tiffany’s charismatic grandson.

As the summer shimmers on, and the competition between the artists grows fierce as they vie for a spot at Tiffany’s New York gallery, a series of suspicious and disturbing occurrences suggest someone knows enough about Jenny’s childhood trauma to expose her.

Supported by her closest friend Minx Deering, a seemingly carefree socialite yet dedicated sculptor, and Oliver, Jenny pushes her demons aside. Between stolen kisses and stolen jewels, the champagne flows and the jazz plays on until one moonless night when Jenny’s past and present are thrown together in a desperate moment, that will threaten her promising future, her love, her friendships, and her very life.

My Review:

This is a story about finding beauty in what is broken. It is also a story about creeping menace among the beauty. And it’s a love story. Not just about romantic love, but also the love of family, the love of making beauty – and love gone very, very wrong.

As the story begins, Jenny Bell is standing in the charred ruins of Laurelton Hall, looking back at her past. Or at least one particular summer of her past, the summer of 1924, how she got there, why she left, and finally, what brought her to come back, and look back, on the events that transformed her life – both the dark side and the light.

Laurelton Hall circa 1924

Laurelton Hall was the real-life home of a school for artists run by the famous artist and designer Louis Comfort Tiffany. Yes, that Tiffany, of the gorgeous stained glass windows and the little signature blue boxes. (At least, the only Tiffany boxes I’ve ever received have been very, very small.)

Tiffany’s Foundation sponsored summer artists’ retreat for several years. (This is real, not fictional.) Jenny Bell and most of the events of the summer of 1924, however, are mostly fictional – with the possible exception of the visit by Thomas A. Edison.

Jenny is an artist, a painter, who is exploring the creation and perception of light through her paintings. But she has washed all the colors out of her work after a terrible tragedy, accompanied by an equally terrible miscarriage of justice. And even though Jenny was not to blame for the events that have cast a shadow over her life – she is the only one left who knows the truth of the day that her stepfather died. Not just why and how his death occurred, but why the events that came afterwards seemed necessary at the time.

But Jenny put that horrible day, and the years that followed it, behind her. Or so she thinks. At least until her past follows her to Laurelton, and takes away her brightest future.

Unless it is not too late to pick up the threads she left behind.

Escape Rating A-: There are so many marvelous things to unpack about this story. All of them fascinating and all of them guaranteed to both keep the reader on the edge of their seat and draw them deeply into the world of Laurelton and the Jazz Age.

Jenny is a great character to follow. She is both very, very strong and completely broken all at the same time. As are the people who become closest to her, her best friend Minx Deering and her lover Oliver Tiffany. But then, all of the artists who come to Laurelton are broken in one way or another. World War I feels just barely over, and even those who did not serve lived in its terrible shadow.

And the frenetic gaiety that followed has caused its own damage.

Jenny tries to be an enigma to those around her, but inside her own head she is all too aware of what happened and what she did. But also what she didn’t. And she’s paid a very high price for protecting her mother and her unborn brother – a price that in its aftermath may not have been worth it after all.

Even though she has tried to bury her past, there is someone at Laurelton who seems to know at least the public version of events, and either wants to reveal her secrets, punish her more directly, or just break her all over again – for reasons that Jenny does not know.

All she knows is that something is very, very wrong, and both she and her friend Minx are in terrible, but terribly different, kinds of danger. The portrait of a woman who knows that there is something wrong, who fears that she knows at least part of what that is, but is too afraid to ask for help and for a long time too willing to disbelieve her own fears is both compelling and all too familiar.

The air of creeping menace is palpable, and permeates the whole story. It casts a shadow over the beauty of the place, much in the way that the contrast between shadow and light creates both beauty and perspective in art.

In the end, the resolution is both cathartic and bitter. Jenny pays a great price, yet again, for a crime that she did not commit. But then there is the sweet, and the ending shows that there is beauty in the breakdown, and even in the shards of our lives.

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

I’m giving away a copy of Tiffany Blues to one very lucky US or Canadian commenter!

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Review: The Locksmith’s Daughter by Karen Brooks

Review: The Locksmith’s Daughter by Karen BrooksThe Locksmith's Daughter by Karen Brooks
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: historical fiction
Pages: 576
Published by William Morrow Paperbacks on July 31, 2018
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

From acclaimed author Karen Brooks comes this intriguing novel rich in historical detail and drama as it tells the unforgettable story of Queen Elizabeth's daring, ruthless spymaster and his female protégée.

In Queen Elizabeth's England, where no one can be trusted and secrets are currency, one woman stands without fear.

Mallory Bright is the only daughter of London's most ingenious locksmith. She has apprenticed with her father since childhood, and there is no lock too elaborate for her to crack. After scandal destroys her reputation, Mallory has returned to her father's home and lives almost as a recluse, ignoring the whispers and gossip of their neighbors. But Sir Francis Walsingham, Queen Elizabeth's spymaster and a frequent client of Mallory's father, draws her into his world of danger and deception. For the locksmith's daughter is not only good at cracking locks, she also has a talent for codes, spycraft, and intrigue. With Mallory by Sir Francis’s side, no scheme in England or abroad is safe from discovery.

But Mallory's loyalty wavers when she witnesses the brutal and bloody public execution of three Jesuit priests and realizes the human cost of her espionage. And later, when she discovers the identity of a Catholic spy and a conspiracy that threatens the kingdom, she is forced to choose between her country and her heart.

Once Sir Francis's greatest asset, Mallory is fast becoming his worst threat—and there is only one way the Queen’s master spy deals with his enemies…

 

My Review:

If you like utterly absorbing, densely plotted historical fiction, then The Locksmith’s Daughter is going to open a key into your reading heart.

This story is set at a time of intense political and religious ferment. It’s also a time we think we know, the Elizabethan period of English history. In fact, a particular piece of that period, the 1580s, the time when religious persecution of Catholics was at its height, right alongside, and considerably as a result of, Catholic plots to overthrow Elizabeth and bestow the crown on some supposedly worthier Catholic monarch. (I’m not making a religious comment here, but I am doubtful that any ruler of any religious stripe could have done a better job for their country in that particular place and time than Elizabeth did for England.)

That decade includes the execution of Elizabeth’s most prominent Catholic rival, Mary, Queen of Scots, as well as the debacle of the Spanish Armada in 1588. Well, it was certainly a debacle from the Spanish perspective. The English perspective, the one we tend to adopt here in the U.S., was that it was a resounding success for England.

History is always written by the victors.

But Elizabeth’s reign in general, and this period in particular, was also a period of political and social upheaval. And whenever there are societal changes, there are plenty of people on both sides of every issue working as hard as they can to ensure that their side is the one that comes out on top.

In other words, politics. Lots and lots of politics. And wherever there are politics, there are plenty of people manipulating events behind the scenes, both by fair means and foul.

Espionage may not be the oldest profession, but it is certainly one of the oldest. One of its foremost practitioners was either a hero or villain of this period. Sir Francis Walsingham, Queen Elizabeth’s spymaster.

Our peek into the skullduggery and machinations at the heart of Elizabeth’s reign is Mallory Bright, the titular locksmith’s daughter. This story of underhanded dealings at the centers of power – or on its shadowy fringes, is told from Mallory’s first person perspective.

For her time and place, Mallory is singular. She’s not merely the daughter of a respected locksmith, but also his unofficial apprentice, better at picking locks than even the master himself. She is also an educated woman at a time when that was not the norm. And as the story opens, she has returned to her parents’ household after her own disgraceful actions ruined her reputation and her prospects.

Mallory needs a future. Her father’s surprising friendship with Walsingham provides her with a means to make her own. With her education in languages and mathematics as well as her skill in lock-picking, Mallory is the perfect candidate to learn the art of spycraft.

At first, it is a game at which she excels. She enjoys the learning of it, and she relishes the challenge. But when the ciphers and secrets turn deadly, she discovers that her challenges come at too high a price. A price that is initially paid by others, but could all too easily be wrenched from her own heart, soul and body.

Escape Rating A: The Locksmith’s Daughter is a LOT of book. An absolutely absorbing lot, but definitely one to tackle when you either have plenty of time on your hands or are willing to forego a certain amount of sleep. Or both.

That being said, Mallory’s first-person perspective sucks the reader right in. Even though we initially know little about her circumstances, we see it all through her eyes and hear her thoughts and feel right there with her. There are two things that make Mallory an excellent first-person narrator. She’s intelligent, so she’s very thoughtful about everything that passes through her head. And she’s lonely. She has very few people to talk to, and no one to confide in. She both keeps her thoughts to herself and works them over in her own mind on a regular basis. Some first-person narrators are either not introspective or are so censorious of their own self-talk that even the view from inside their heads is limiting. Mallory is not that way. She thinks, she ponders, she considers – and we get to see it all.

It’s not just that Mallory is an easy character to empathize with, but also that what she experiences is absolutely fascinating. There are lots of stories where a big part of the story is the training of the character from apprenticeship to master. This is one where that process is done well. It’s doubly interesting to see her master the tradecraft of espionage in a way that shows just how little has changed from the 16th century to the 21st, as well as how much.

If you want to be transported back in time to Elizabethan England, The Locksmith’s Daughter is a fabulous time machine.

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Review: The Art of Inheriting Secrets by Barbara O’Neal

Review: The Art of Inheriting Secrets by Barbara O’NealThe Art of Inheriting Secrets by Barbara O'Neal
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: women's fiction
Pages: 364
Published by Lake Union Publishing on July 17, 2018
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleBook Depository
Goodreads

When Olivia Shaw’s mother dies, the sophisticated food editor is astonished to learn she’s inherited a centuries-old English estate—and a title to go with it. Raw with grief and reeling from the knowledge that her reserved mother hid something so momentous, Olivia leaves San Francisco and crosses the pond to unravel the mystery of a lifetime.

One glance at the breathtaking Rosemere Priory and Olivia understands why the manor, magnificent even in disrepair, was the subject of her mother’s exquisite paintings. What she doesn’t understand is why her mother never mentioned it to her. As Olivia begins digging into her mother’s past, she discovers that the peeling wallpaper, debris-laden halls, and ceiling-high Elizabethan windows covered in lush green vines hide unimaginable secrets.

Although personal problems and her life back home beckon, Olivia finds herself falling for the charming English village and its residents. But before she can decide what Rosemere’s and her own future hold, Olivia must first untangle the secrets of her past.

My Review:

The story opens with American Olivia Shaw discovering that she is the long-lost heir to a title and an estate in England. Sounds like a dream come true, doesn’t it?

But just as every cloud is supposed to have a silver lining, every silver lining definitely has its own cloud. Olivia has just made this momentous discovery because she found paperwork regarding the estate among her late mother’s things. Her mother has only been gone a few weeks, and Olivia is still devastated by her death as well as completely overwhelmed by the whole horde of secrets which have suddenly come to light.

Or at least come to less dark. Olivia had no idea that her mother was the Countess of Rosemere, or that the title came with an estate. A profitable estate that includes gardens and farmland and a crumbling (and possibly haunted!) Elizabethan country house. And secrets. Mountains and molehills and acres of secrets.

Her mother was a well-known artist and illustrator of children’s books. Olivia always assumed that the enchanted forest that appeared in so much of her mother’s work was a creation of her imagination. But in truth her mother painted Rosemere over and over and over for her entire life.

One of the questions is why? Another is why did her mother leave the place to rot? And an even bigger question, why did her mother never tell her anything about Rosemere, her inheritance, her legacy, her background or her past?

Olivia’s mother loved treasure hunts. And she has left her daughter one final doozy of a hunt – to discover the secrets and the truths that lie hidden at Rosemere. So those secrets can finally be brought to light, and so that Olivia can finally find her own way.

Escape Rating B+: There is a lot to love in this book, and just a couple of things that didn’t quite work, or at least didn’t work for me.

The story is a gem, combining Olivia’s hunt for her mother’s last secrets with Olivia’s own romance with both novelist-turned-thatcher Samir Malakar and with Rosemere itself. Herself.

Olivia arrives at Rosemere at a personal crossroads. Not just that her beloved mother is dead and left this gigantic mystery, but also that Olivia is still recovering from a terrible automobile accident that left her with a still-healing injury and caused the death of her beloved dog. The injury caused her to take a six weeks and counting leave of absence from her job as editor of a prestigious food and gourmet magazine. To top all of that off, her relationship with the man she’s been living with for the past eight years is falling apart. Or has already fallen.

Olivia comes to Rosemere to pull herself together in the present as much as she does to unearth the mysteries of the past.

In the process, Olivia falls in love with both a person and a place. The more she looks into the secrets of Rosemere, and the more that she explores the tumbledown wreck of the house, the more questions she has. It’s obvious that something truly terrible happened all those years ago to force her mother to leave it all behind and completely reinvent herself.

It’s also equally obvious that she discovers that she feels tied, not so much to the land as to the people that inhabit and surround it. She becomes involved with village life, even as many elements of that society either reject her or her choices. It’s clear that there are multiple agendas revolving around the old estate.

That society also looks down on her choices for friendship and companionship. Her first and closest friends in the village are the Anglo-Indian Malakar family. Olivia’s grandmother came home to England from India with Samir and Pavi’s grandmother Nandini, and the two families have been close ever since. Olivia’s burgeoning relationship with Samir echoes that closeness much more nearly than they believe. But they do not fool themselves that the local squirearchy will not and does not approve of the new Countess’ relationship with someone who is not ‘one of them’, let alone someone of Samir’s heritage.

Olivia’s journey, her search, is absolutely fascinating. She’s our point of view into the story, and she is easy to empathize with and interesting to follow. She’s got a lot on her plate at the beginning, not just her own recovery from both injury and grief, but the gigantic number of decisions she has to face at a time when she is at a very low ebb.

It’s easy to see how Rosemere winds its way into her heart. And her fresh perspective on whatever secrets are hidden there give her both the imperative to discover the truths and just enough distance not to fear whatever may be revealed.

There were a couple of things that niggled me about this story, just enough to keep me from raising it into the A’s. Olivia has plenty of problems to tackle between her mother’s secrets, Rosemere’s secrets, her attempt to rehabilitate the crumbling house and her relationship with Samir. That’s more than enough drama for one life and one book without tacking on either the swindling caretakers or the douchecanoe ex-lover. Throwing both into the soup brings the book a bit too close to melodrama, and definitely went over-the-top in the number of drama llamas.

As much as I loved the way that the relationship developed between Olivia and Samir, a part of it didn’t quite ring true. Again, they had plenty to contend with, as no one seems to have approved for all kinds of reasons. But Olivia made a gigantic deal out of being 7 years older than Samir. She’s 39 and he’s 32, which makes both of them well into adulthood – certainly more than far enough into adulthood for a seven year gap not to be all that big of a deal, and absolutely more than adult enough for Samir to be aware of his own mind and heart. I am 20 years older than my husband, and while I certainly did a fair amount of soul-searching at the beginning of our relationship, I didn’t agonize nearly this much over a gap that is considerably greater. Because of my own experience, some of Olivia’s reactions in this regard didn’t quite ring true for me.

But quibbles and niggles aside, I enjoyed The Art of Inheriting Secrets a great deal. This was the book I was reading as the movers packed up all of our stuff and moved it out of the old house and into the new house. Reading Olivia’s trials and tribulations with beautiful old Rosemere certainly put my moving into perspective!

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Review: Day of the Dead by Nicci French

Review: Day of the Dead by Nicci FrenchDay of the Dead (Frieda Klein #8) by Nicci French
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: hardcover, paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: mystery, thriller
Series: Frieda Klein #8
Pages: 416
Published by William Morrow Paperbacks on July 24, 2018
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

Now the final book in this extraordinary series is here. And it's an ending you'll never forget.

A decade ago, psychologist Frieda Klein was sucked into the orbit of Dean Reeve -- a killer able to impersonate almost anyone, a man who can disappear without a trace, a psychopath obsessed with Frieda herself.

In the years since, Frieda has worked with -- and sometimes against -- the London police in solving their most baffling cases. But now she's in hiding, driven to isolation by Reeve. When a series of murders announces his return, Frieda must emerge from the shadows to confront her nemesis. And it's a showdown she might not survive.

This gripping cat-and-mouse thriller pits one of the most fascinating characters in contemporary fiction against an enemy like none other. Smart, sophisticated, and spellbinding, it's a novel to leave you breathless.

My Review:

This is definitely going to be one of those mixed feelings kind of reviews, because I certainly have a whole river’s worth of mixed feelings about this book and the end of the Frieda Klein series.

When this series began back in Blue Monday, we met Frieda Klein as a psychotherapist who sometimes worked with the police, and seems to have sometimes worked against them over the course of her career. But in the background of all her cases has lurked Dean Reeve, a serial killer who has been fixated on Frieda for nearly a decade.

At times, Reeve has acted to smooth Frieda’s way, murdering people who were opposing her. At other times, he has killed people who he perceived as being too close to her, in the belief that those people were getting in the way of her focus on him, or his focus on her. Sometimes he has murdered people as surrogates for her, or simply to remind her that he is still around.

He also murdered his twin brother, to confuse the police and make them believe he was dead, and that Frieda’s seeming obsession with him with delusional.

But at the end of the previous book in the series, Sunday Silence, Frieda finally decides that she has had enough of Reeve’s obsession with her, and the constant danger he poses to any person even tangentially in her orbit.

She disappears, in the hope of taking Reeve’s focus away from her friends and colleagues. But when she is found by a young and extremely naive criminal psychology student, she discovers that Reeve has been trying to get her attention all along.

And that when he can’t find her, he’ll happily find other people to kill to keep himself amused – just so that he can get her attention.

Once he has it, their long history moves to the endgame. And just as in the chess games that Frieda loves to play, only one side can win.

Escape Rating B: While Frieda Klein has been a fascinating character throughout the entire series, she’s also kind of a Sherlock Holmes. Not in the sense that she’s an eccentric genius, although that may not be far off the mark, but in the sense that she seems to be operating on instinct and intuition. Left to her own devices, she doesn’t expose much of her inner thoughts or emotions.

As readers, we need to see what she’s thinking. In the previous books in the series, she has been surrounded by a circle of friends and colleagues, and it is in her discussions with them, or sometimes her probing by them, that we are able to peek inside her head.

In this book she has deliberately taken herself away from her circle, in the hopes of keeping all of them safe. But in order for us to understand and empathize with her, she still needs a ‘Watson’, someone to explain things to so that we can hear. And that’s where this story gave me all of those mixed feelings.

The character who becomes the audience surrogate is young Lola Hayes, that naive criminal psychology student. Lola is a pawn throughout the story. At first, she is a pawn of her thesis advisor and one of her other professors, who set her on a collision course with Frieda Klein in the hopes of scoring points against someone they see as a kind of academic rival.

Neither of them cares what happens to Lola, or seems to give a damn about the tragic body count that has always followed in Frieda’s wake – and whether they’ve just thrown Lola’s body onto that pile.

Lola herself frequently comes off as TSTL (too stupid to live). She’s lazy, she wants everyone else to do her work for her, she’s thoughtless and she’s clueless. She takes the easy way out every time, and as a consequence she gets used at every turn. But most of all she’s just plain annoying.

Lola is there to be used, and she is used by everyone in the story, including, by the end, Frieda. She’s a frustrating inclusion in a series that usually features smart, or at least interesting, characters.

A big part of this story is that of Frieda tying up all the loose ends. She circles back through everything that has happened in the series and every case that Dean Reeve has touched on. While I think there is enough explained that readers don’t need to have read the entire series to be invested in this volume, there’s certainly more resonance if you’ve read at least some of the previous entries, particularly the first, Blue Monday, and the most recent, Sunday Silence.

The cat and mouse game between Dean Reeve and Frieda Klein does come to a satisfying, albeit surprisingly low-key, conclusion. In all of their previous encounters, Reeve has always seen himself as the predatory cat, while he has cast Frieda as his mouse-prey.

Reeve forgets that just as every dog has his day, every once in a while, the mouse roars.

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Review: Shattered Silence by Marta Perry + Giveaway

Review: Shattered Silence by Marta Perry + GiveawayShattered Silence by Marta Perry
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: paperback, ebook
Genres: romantic suspense
Series: Echo Falls #3
Pages: 384
Published by HQN Books on July 31, 2018
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

A woman on the run seeks sanctuary in a peaceful Pennsylvania Dutch community--and finds a protector in the most unlikely of men...One moment Rachel Hartline is secure in her career and community. The next, she's in the wrong place at the wrong time--watching her ex-husband commit a crime that puts her in unfathomable danger. Fear and hurt send her home to an Amish farm and the family she's always trusted. But a private investigator is close behind--and he may be a threat to her in more ways than one...Cold, calculating Clint Mordan isn't convinced Rachel is as innocent in her ex-husband's schemes as she claims, but when her ex's enemies target Rachel, Clint is driven to keep her safe. Maybe the terror in her beautiful eyes and the target on her back aren't an act. But as his feelings toward her deepen, Clint realizes he's the only one who can keep Rachel alive in a game where only the killer knows the stakes.

My Review:

This story opens with Rachel Hartline trying to get her ex-husband to sign off on the documents to put the house they still jointly own on the market. He’s promised to sign off, but he’s made plenty of promises throughout their marriage, and seems to have kept very few of them.

But then, as Rachel tells herself frequently throughout the story, addicts lie. And her husband is addicted to gambling. He’s also always expected her to believe him and cover for him, so when she finds him in his boss’ office copying files from his boss’ computer, he expects her to believe him and cover for him one more time.

And he still doesn’t sign the damn papers. But he does leave her holding the bag, so to speak, when his theft is discovered and everyone wants to retrieve the documents he copied – especially his ex-friend and extremely antisocial boss.

That’s where Clint Mordan comes in. Said boss has hired his private investigations firm to discover the stolen documents – and Rachel is the first and best suspect. If not for the theft itself, then certainly for helping out her ex. She seems strangely protective of the man – more than seems logical to the initially skeptical private investigator. Most ex-wives wouldn’t piss on their ex-husbands if the men were on fire, so Rachel’s reluctance to cooperate seems suspicious.

At least until her house is broken into and she’s attacked. Whatever is going on, someone seems determined to get something out of Rachel that she doesn’t have – and not just Clint.

But in the process of following Rachel from Philadelphia to her grandparents’ home in the tiny Amish community of Echo Falls, Clint figures out that whatever loyalty Rachel might still feel, it doesn’t including lying or covering up for her ex-husband.

And while Clint may indeed be paranoid, there is certainly someone out to get Rachel. And it isn’t her ex.

The longer the case goes on, the more that Clint and his partner realize that their client is keeping them in the dark. And the more protective of Rachel Clint becomes. And the more she trusts him, in spite of her fairly awful track record with trusting men.

But can either of them trust the feelings that have arisen in the midst of so much terror?

Escape Rating B+: I seem fated to read the final book in one of Marta Perry’s trilogies without having read the first books first. And to those books turning out to be the right book at the right time each time.

I was interested in Shattered Silence because of its ties to the Pennsylvania Dutch community without being fully set in that world. My husband grew up English in and around Lancaster Pennsylvania, so the Amish background always piques my interest. This story felt like it did a particularly good job of opening a window into that world without pretending to tell a story that is part of it. The times that I’ve read Amish-set books out loud to him he usually finds the descriptions pretty laughable, but that wasn’t the case here.

Just as I read and enjoyed How Secrets Die without having read the first two books in the House of Secrets trilogy, I read and enjoyed Shattered Silence without having read the first two books in the Echo Falls trilogy. In this case, the series seems rather loosely connected, sharing Echo Falls as a location without sharing other elements of the stories.

Shattered Silence turned out to be great romantic suspense. The danger reaches out and grabs the reader from the very beginning, with an exasperated Rachel discovering her ex in the middle of something highly questionable, and moving on from there as Rachel is forced to jump out of the frying pan into the fire.

I also liked the way that while she ended up in trouble over and over, she did not come off as too stupid to live as is so often in the case in “heroine in jeopardy” type romantic suspense. The mess is not her doing, and the mistakes she makes seem realistic. She lets her guard down repeatedly, but only when she thinks she’s in a safe place or that the danger seems over.

The interlude at grandparents’ farm provided a marvelous break in the tension while showing more interesting facets of all the characters. That she and Clint turn to each other in the midst of all of the drama, but also feel reluctant to trust and worried that the heightened tension of the situation is causing them to act out of characters felt right.

The resolution to the mystery felt right, as did their earning of their HEA. And while Rachel bore part of the responsibility for ending up in that final confrontation, she was equally responsible for helping to rescue herself. And that’s the kind of HEA I always love!

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

I am giving away a paperback copy of Shattered Silence to one lucky US/Canadian commenter on this tour!

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Review: Murder at the Flamingo by Rachel McMillan

Review: Murder at the Flamingo by Rachel McMillanMurder at the Flamingo (A Van Buren and DeLuca Mystery #1) by Rachel McMillan
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: paperback, large print, ebook, audiobook
Genres: historical fiction, historical mystery
Series: Van Buren and DeLuca #1
Pages: 352
Published by Thomas Nelson on July 10, 2018
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

“Maybe it was time to land straight in the middle of the adventure…”

Hamish DeLuca has spent most of his life trying to hide the anxiety that appears at the most inopportune times -- including during his first real court case as a new lawyer. Determined to rise above his father’s expectations, Hamish runs away to Boston where his cousin, Luca Valari, is opening a fashionable nightclub in Scollay Square. When he meets his cousin's “right hand man” Reggie, Hamish wonders if his dreams for a more normal life might be at hand.

Regina “Reggie” Van Buren, heir to a New Haven fortune, has fled fine china, small talk, and the man her parents expect her to marry. Determined to make a life as the self-sufficient city girl she’s seen in her favorite Jean Arthur and Katharine Hepburn pictures, Reggie runs away to Boston, where she finds an easy secretarial job with the suave Luca Valari. But as she and Hamish work together in Luca’s glittering world, they discover a darker side to the smashing Flamingo night club.

When a corpse is discovered at the Flamingo, Reggie and Hamish quickly learn there is a vast chasm between the haves and the have-nots in 1937 Boston—and that there’s an underworld that feeds on them both. As Hamish is forced to choose between his conscience and loyalty to his beloved cousin, the unlikely sleuthing duo work to expose a murder before the darkness destroys everything they’ve worked to build.

My Review:

This historical mystery begins when two 20-somethings run away from home. Separate homes.

Hamish DeLuca runs away from his home in Toronto, Regina Van Buren runs away from her home in New Haven Connecticut. They both end up in Boston in the midst of the Depression, and they both end up working for, or with, Luca Valari as he performs all the wheeling and dealing necessary to open his high-class nightclub, The Flamingo.

Hamish intended to end up with Luca. Luca is his cousin, his favorite cousin. And the only person who ever seems to have treated Hamish as normal and not as “poor Hamish” afflicted with a nervous disorder. Hamish has severe panic and anxiety attacks. His most recent, or most embarrassing, occured in the middle of a courtroom as he attempted to defend his first client. In the aftermath, he discovered that even the job he thought he’d earned had been given to him as a favor to his father.

Hamish ran off to Luca.

Reggie ran away from her upper crust family and her upper crust boyfriend when said boyfriend decided to announce, in the middle of a huge family party, that he and Reggie were engaged. They weren’t. He hadn’t even asked. The force of the slap she administered could be heard echoing all the way to Boston. Or so it seemed.

She packed a bag and ran away, intending to make a life for herself away from her family’s privilege, money and restrictions. Luca hired her to answer his phone and stave off his creditors, not necessarily in that order, and to provide a touch of class to his new establishment.

Reggie and Hamish find themselves, and each other, working with Luca. But the trail of slimy double-dealings has followed Luca from Chicago to Boston – and it catches up with them all.

Escape Rating B: This is the first book in an intended series. Book 2, Murder in the City of Liberty, scheduled for publication next spring. As such, it has to carry the weight of all the worldbuilding for the series, and it’s a lot of weight.

The characters of both Hamish and Reggie are interesting, and Reggie in her exploration of Boston’s working class precincts is a lot of fun, but they cut themselves off from their backgrounds, leaving a lot about where they respectively began more than a bit murky.

But not nearly as murky as the character of Luca Valari, around whom so much of the story resolves. Luca seems to be absolutely dripping in charisma, and Hamish certainly hero-worships him. Reggie is grateful for a job opportunity that does not involve being groped and ogled, and is caught up in his spell to some extent, but not in a romantic sense. Still, she’s aware that Luca has something that makes people want to please him.

However, while it is obvious fairly early on that Luca is up to his eyeballs in something at least slightly dirty, neither Hamish nor Reggie are savvy enough to figure out exactly what, or how much, until it is far too late. Unfortunately for the reader, Luca is so good at keeping his secrets that even after all is supposedly revealed, it still feels like some things remain lost in that murk.

This is also a very slow building story. The titular murder does not occur until the mid-point of the story, and it is only then that things begin to move into a higher gear. While the introduction to the characters and their situation is interesting, it takes rather long to get to the meat of the story.

Murder at the Flamingo, as hinted at by its art deco inspired covers, takes place in the late 1930s, post-Prohibition, pre-World War II and in the depths of the Great Depression. This isn’t a period that has been seen a lot previously in historical mystery, so readers may not be as familiar with this setting as, for example, the “Roaring 20s” or the WWII time frame. More grounding in the setting might have been helpful.

If this time period interests you, another historical mystery series set in the 1930s, the Jake and Laura series by Michael Murphy, is worth taking a look at. The first book is The Yankee Club, and it comes at the period from a different perspective as both Jake and Laura, while doing well by the time the story begins, both had a much more hardscrabble upbringing than either Hamish or Reggie.

I liked Hamish and Reggie more than well enough to stick around for their next adventure. I want to see if Quasimodo manages to figure out that he really is Superman, and gets the girl after all.

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Review: When We Found Home by Susan Mallery + Giveaway

Review: When We Found Home by Susan Mallery + GiveawayWhen We Found Home by Susan Mallery
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: hardcover, large print, ebook, audiobook
Genres: contemporary romance, women's fiction
Pages: 432
Published by Hqn on July 10, 2018
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

Life is meant to be savored, but that's not easy with no family, limited prospects and a past you'd rather not talk about. Still, Callie Smith doesn't know how to feel when she discovers she has a brother and a sister--Malcolm, who grew up with affection, wealth and privilege, and Keira, a streetwise twelve-year-old.

Callie doesn't love being alone, but at least it's safe. Despite her trepidation, she moves into the grand family home with her siblings and grandfather on the shores of Lake Washington, hoping just maybe this will be the start of a whole new life.

But starting over can be messy. Callie and Keira fit in with each other, but not with their posh new lifestyle, leaving Malcolm feeling like the odd man out in his own home. He was clever enough to turn a sleepy Seattle mail-order food catalog into an online gourmet powerhouse, yet he can't figure out how to help his new sisters feel secure. Becoming a family will take patience, humor, a little bit of wine and a whole lot of love.

But love isn't Malcolm's strong suit... until a beautiful barista teaches him that an open heart, like the family table, can always make room for more.

In this emotional, funny and heartfelt story, Susan Mallery masterfully explores the definition of a modern family--blended by surprise, not by choice--and how those complicated relationships can add unexpected richness to life.

My Review:

When We Found Home is an absolutely lovely story. In the same way that this author’s Daughters of the Bride was also a very lovely story. The two are not connected, but if you liked the one you’ll like the other and vice-versa.

When We Found Home is a story about family. The family in this book is a bit unusual, as they discover that they are family rather late into each of their lives.

To put it bluntly, the late Jerry Carlesso was a man-whore. He clearly could not keep it in his pants under any circumstances whatsoever. The only saving grace to the man was that he never married, so at least he wasn’t cheating on a wife while he traveled the country and left children behind in his wake.

Three of them, to be precise. And Jerry’s father, Alberto is determined to find them all and make them family.

Malcolm’s mother found them Alberto first, back when Malcolm was 12. Now he’s 34 and the heir to Alberto’s successful high-end mail-order Italian food empire, Alberto’s Alfresco. Alberto’s private detective found little Kiera a couple of months before the story opens. She’s 12 and her own mother is dead. Kiera was discovered in foster care.

Kiera’s adjustment from being lost in the foster system to being very nearly a fairy tale princess is not going well. She’s the only child in a houseful of adults, her world has shifted completely off its axis, and her big brother is keeping her at arm’s length because he doesn’t know what to do with this sudden influx of 12-year-old sister. And he doesn’t believe he’s any good at relationships.

The story begins with the introduction of the last sibling, 26-year-old Callie. Callie made a terrible mistake as a teenager, and took the fall for a very skanky boyfriend who committed armed robbery. Callie spent 5 years incarcerated, but in the three years since her release she has done her best to start a new life. A life that is sorta/kinda working when Alberto’s lawyer finally tracks her down in Houston.

It’s a very rough journey for this family-lost-at-birth to become a family-of-choice. While Keira and Callie bond fairly quickly, it takes a bit of work for Malcolm to work out his issues with their shared parent, get the stick out of his ass, and upgrade his original status from “asshole brother” to “jerky brother” to just “big brother”.

And they all need a little help along the way. Help that they manage to get, and eventually accept, from the second best thing that ever happens to any of them.

Becoming a real family is the first best thing.

Escape Rating A-: Just like when I read Daughters of the Bride a couple of years ago, When We Found Home was absolutely the right book at the right time. While yesterday’s book was just about perfect, it did turn out to be a bit angstier (and meatier) than I was expecting. When We Found Home had just the right amount of fun and froth while having a bit of meat on its bonesand plenty of heart.

There are two romances in this story, but the romances are not the point of the story. Rather it’s the other way around. The healing that becoming a family brings to the lives of both Malcolm and Callie allows them to accept and cherish the romantic love that enters both of their lives.

All of the adults in this story have plenty of baggage that they need to work through before any of them are ready to become a family or reach anything close to an HEA.

Callie’s past seems the most difficult. She made a huge mistake – and she paid for it. But even though she has theoretically paid her debt to society, that same society makes her keep paying for that mistake over and over and over. As much as she needs the helping hand of her family and her grandfather, she’s afraid to trust it will last – because she doesn’t feel like she deserves it.

Kiera and Callie bond because they have some of the same fears. Not that 12-year-old Kiera is a convicted felon, but that she’s been abandoned before and is afraid that all this good fortune can’t possibly last.

Malcolm seems like he has it all, but he is still recovering from a heartbreaking betrayal by those he trusted. It’s difficult for him to reach out to anyone, and he nearly loses his sisters because of it.

It’s not so much that they all grow up, as that their hearts all grow three sizes in the course of the story. They do a lot of self-examination, they lift each other up, and they figure out that they are a family after all.

And that’s how they earn their happily ever after.

For a taste of When We Found Home, please check out this excerpt!

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

Susan is still giving away a Taste of Seattle Gift Bag. The bag includes:
An “I [Heart] Happy Books” tote bag, Starbucks Pike’s Place ground coffee, Seattle Chocolates gift set (3 truffle jars), Cucina Fresca marinara sauce, Sahale Snacks (6 packs), Maury Island Farms jam (2 jars)
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Review: Between You and Me by Susan Wiggs

Review: Between You and Me by Susan WiggsBetween You and Me by Susan Wiggs
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: hardcover, paperback, large print, ebook, audiobook
Genres: contemporary romance, women's fiction
Pages: 368
Published by William Morrow on June 26, 2018
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

Deep within the peaceful heart of Amish country, a life-or-death emergency shatters a quiet world to its core. Number-one New York Times bestselling author Susan Wiggs delivers a riveting story that challenges our deepest-held beliefs.

Caught between two worlds, Caleb Stoltz is bound by a deathbed promise to raise his orphaned niece and nephew in Middle Grove, where life revolves around family, farm, faith—and long-held suspicions about outsiders. When disaster strikes, Caleb is thrust into an urban environment of high-tech medicine and the relentless rush of modern life.

Dr. Reese Powell is poised to join the medical dynasty of her wealthy, successful parents. Bold, assertive, and quick-thinking, she lives for the addictive rush of saving lives. When a shocking accident brings Caleb Stoltz into her life, Reese is forced to deal with a situation that challenges everything she thinks she knows—and ultimately emboldens her to question her most powerful beliefs.

Then one impulsive act brings about a clash of cultures in a tug-of-war that plays out in a courtroom, challenging the very nature of justice and reverberating through generations, straining the fragile threads of faith and family.

Deeply moving and unforgettable, Between You and Me is an emotionally complex story of love and loss, family and friendship, and the arduous road to discovering the heart’s true path.

My Review:

Between You and Me is not quite what I was expecting. Much in the same way that neither Reese Powell’s nor Caleb Stoltz’ lives turn out quite the way that they – or anyone around them – expected.

The unexpected can turn out to be wonderful.

Reese Powell and Caleb Stoltz don’t seem to have much in common, at least not on the surface, and they certainly live lives that should never have intersected. But life is funny that way, and sometimes we meet the people we really need to when we really need them.

Even if, or especially because, they challenge us and everything we thought we believed. The best laid plans of mice, men and especially parents go oft astray.

Caleb’s nephew is injured in a tragic accident, and his tiny Amish farming community does not have the resources needed to keep the boy from bleeding out. His nearly severed arm is a lost cause, but the boy’s life isn’t – at least not yet. When the life flight helicopter comes to take Jonah Stoltz from Middle Grove to Philadelphia, Caleb rides along.

His first ride in a helicopter, something that he has always longed to do.

While Caleb may be Amish, his heart has always yearned for the wider world. When he went on his rumspringa, his version of going wild was to attend college. He had no plans to return to Middle Grove and his abusive father.

But when his older brother and sister-in-law were murdered, Caleb took up his duty and returned to care for his niece and nephew. Not just because he made a promise to his brother as he lay dying, but to prevent his father from abusing the two children who would otherwise be left in his care.

Jonah’s tragic accident gives Caleb a tiny, tempting chance to break away from his life for a brief moment, and in his care for the boy he lets himself take it.

Reese Powell is a fourth-year resident at the hospital where Jonah is taken. She’s part of the trauma team that preps the boy for surgery. And something in her heart reaches out to the boy whose life has just irrevocably changed, and to the lost, lonely man who is truly a stranger in a strange land in the urban setting.

Just as Caleb takes this brief opportunity to break free of the life he is expected to lead, in her friendship with him Reese discovers an opportunity to examine what she wants for herself, and to break free of the heavy weight of her parents’ expectation.

They expect her to become a pediatric surgeon so that she can become a partner in their high powered and highly successful OB/GYN IVF practice. A practice that produced Reese herself. But what they want for her is not what she wants for herself. Not that Reese does not want to be a doctor, but that she wants to be a different kind of doctor than her parents, or than her parents have planned for her to be.

And even though their attempts at any relationship beyond friendship seem doomed to failure, that they try gives both of them the courage to discover what they are truly searching for in life.

It might even lead them back to each other.

Escape Rating A+: Upon reflection, I don’t think that the blurb matches the book all that much, except for its final paragraph. Between You and Me is deeply moving and unforgettable, and it is an emotionally complex story of love, loss, family, friendship and just how difficult it can be to find your own true path and the people who you need to have walking that path beside you.

But this isn’t a story about faith, except possibly faith in oneself. It also is not a story about beliefs, at least not in the religious sense that feels implied in the blurb. Instead, it feels a story about the intersection of duty and commitment, about the weight of promises made and the guilt of promises broken. And how sometimes it’s necessary to break the literal meaning of a promise in order to keep the spirit of it.

Caleb is Amish, but he has never been baptised in the faith. In other words, he has always had plenty of doubts, and those doubts have kept him from becoming a full member of the community. He promised his brother that he would raise his children in Middle Grove, but he did not promise to make any religious commitments of his own to the community.

Caleb has always had a foot in both camps. He lives in Middle Grove, but he works for the English in nearby Grantham Park, as the lead horse trainer for the Budweiser Clydesdales as well as other big, beautiful horses. And he does accounting on the side.

Much of the clash of cultures in the story is about the clash within Caleb’s heart. He wants to leave. He’s always wanted to leave. A big part of this story comprises the circumstances that finally make him realize that he needs to leave, both for his niece and nephew’s sake and for his own.

It’s often a hard choice, and it’s one that we see Caleb struggle with every step of the way.

Reese’s problem often seem much easier, but that doesn’t mean that her difficulties aren’t real or that we don’t feel for her as well. Because we do.

There is a romance at the heart of Between You and Me, but this is not a romance in the genre sense. The story here revolves around Caleb’s and Reese’s separate journeys to find themselves and the truth of their own hearts – not in the romantic sense but in the finding true purpose sense.

The happy ending is their reward for taking the difficult path. And it’s the reader’s reward for following them on their journey.

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Review: Trial on Mount Koya by Susan Spann + Giveaway

Review: Trial on Mount Koya by Susan Spann + GiveawayTrial on Mount Koya (Shinobi Mystery #6) by Susan Spann
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: paperback, ebook
Genres: historical mystery
Series: Shinobi Mysteries #6
Pages: 256
Published by Seventh Street Books on July 3, 2018
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

Master ninja Hiro Hattori and Jesuit Father Mateo head up to Mount Koya, only to find themselves embroiled in yet another mystery, this time in a Shingon Buddhist temple atop one of Japan's most sacred peaks.

November, 1565: Master ninja Hiro Hattori and Portuguese Jesuit Father Mateo travel to a Buddhist temple at the summit of Mount Koya, carrying a secret message for an Iga spy posing as a priest on the sacred mountain. When a snowstorm strikes the peak, a killer begins murdering the temple's priests and posing them as Buddhist judges of the afterlife--the Kings of Hell. Hiro and Father Mateo must unravel the mystery before the remaining priests--including Father Mateo--become unwilling members of the killer's grisly council of the dead.

My Review:

One of the factors that makes historical mysteries so interesting is that the investigator, whoever they might be, is forced to rely on instinct and intelligence, as forensics as we know them today do not yet exist. At the same time, the investigator can’t let their instincts get too much in the way. To quote Will Rogers, who won’t be born for more than three centuries after Trial on Mount Koya takes place, “It isn’t what we don’t know that gives us trouble, it’s what we know that ain’t so.”

Shinobi (read ninja) Hiro Hattori is usually an excellent investigator. In his own society, mid-16th century Japan, he is an outsider on multiple levels. First he’s a master assassin. Second he’s the bodyguard and now friend of a Portuguese Jesuit priest. And third he is masquerading as a ronin, a masterless samurai. He’s normally on the outside looking in, even while appearing to be part of everything.

But in this particular case, while he is an outsider in this group of isolated people, he is unable to muster his usual clear-sighted lack of emotional involvement. He is still grieving the events of the the previous book, Betrayal at Iga, and his judgment is clouded because his friend is as threatened as everyone else in this remote killing ground.

And having just lost his lover in a murder that he believes he should have prevented, he is afraid of losing his closest friend as well. As a consequence he is jumping at shadows, unable to see or admit that his clouded judgment is causing him to miss vital clues and suspect people who he should have eliminated from suspicion – if he were operating as his usual, rational self.

Normally, between the Jesuit Father Mateo and the shinobi Hiro Hattori, Hiro is the level-headed one while Mateo rushes in where his religion’s angels would certainly fear to tread. And while Mateo still serves as our “Watson” in this outing, being the outsider to whom Hiro must explain the ins and outs of their purpose and location, in this particular story he is much more clear-sighted than his friend.

This story is also a variation on one of the classic mystery tropes. A relatively small group of people is isolated by a blizzard in a remote location. No one can get in, and no one can get out. There is a murderer amongst them who turns out to be a serial killer. And he must be one of them, because he can’t escape and no one could be hiding on the mountainside in the fierce and freezing storm.

It is up to Hiro, with the assistance of Mateo, to first get his head out of his own ass, and then to figure out whodunit. The setting is a remote monastery, where someone is methodically murdering the monks. As Hiro puts it, the usual methods for murder are love, money and power. They are in a monastery, a Buddhist monastery. It seems as if those motives could not possibly apply.

But of course one of them does. It is up to Hiro to figure out how and why before his best friend becomes the next victim.

Escape Rating B: This series is absolutely fascinating, both for its characters and for this recreation of a marvelous world that seems both incredibly exotic and extremely familiar. Exotic because I have little knowledge of the place and period it covers. Familiar because in the end, the characters are so very human, in all their muck and glory.

Human beings are, at heart, the same all over. While what constitutes money and power may vary from one society to another, the lengths that humans will go to in order to achieve or steal them are all too similar.

And, as always, that love is all there is is all we know of love. But what Hiro to his surprise grasps on the one hand, he loses track of on the other. Eros is not the only form of love. A strong enough version of any form of love could be a motive for murder.

Or the killer could simply be barking mad. Or both.

In its remote setting and isolated group of religious observers, Trial on Mount Koya reminds me just a bit of The Beautiful Mystery by Louise Penny. With one major difference. At the end of The Beautiful Mystery, while I certainly felt for the victims, I also understood why the particular events, the murders, happened. When completed, the story felt finished and I felt satisfied that all had been resolved, good had, if not triumphed in that particular case, at least lived to fight another day.

As much as I enjoyed Trial on Mount Koya, the deep dive back into Hiro and Mateo’s world, and the progress of the investigation, as well as learning more about 16th century Japan and its culture, the revelation of the killer and his reasons felt unsatisfactory. This is possibly because the killer was both utterly insane and completely organized at the same time. It may have been because his logic and his motives were so far outside my own perspectives that I just couldn’t understand them enough.

And it could be that there is more yet to discover, not about this killer in particular but about the outside events that set Hiro and Mateo on this particular journey in the first place. I’ve enjoyed every one of their adventures from the series’ beginning in Claws of the Cat, and if you love historical mysteries I highly recommend starting this series at the beginning.

I’ll be back to follow them on their journey. They are intending to take the road to Edo. I’m sure they’ll have more fascinating adventures along the way. And probably turn up a dead body, or two, or six.

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

I am very happy to be giving away a copy of Trial on Mount Koya to one lucky US or Canadian commenter.

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Review: The Lost Vintage by Ann Mah

Review: The Lost Vintage by Ann MahThe Lost Vintage by Ann Mah
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: hardcover, large print, ebook, audiobook
Genres: contemporary romance, family saga, historical fiction, World War II
Pages: 384
Published by William Morrow on June 19, 2018
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

Sweetbitter meets The Nightingale in this page-turning novel about a woman who returns to her family’s ancestral vineyard in Burgundy and unexpectedly uncovers a lost diary, an unknown relative, and a secret her family has been keeping since World War II

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

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

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

My Review:

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

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

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

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

And that’s where she’s stuck.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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