Review: The Lost Castle by Kristy Cambron + Giveaway

Review: The Lost Castle by Kristy Cambron + GiveawayThe Lost Castle (The Lost Castle #1) by Kristy Cambron
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via Edelweiss, publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: paperback, large print, ebook, audiobook
Genres: historical fiction, timeslip fiction
Series: Lost Castle #1
Pages: 384
Published by Thomas Nelson on February 6th 2018
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

Launching a brand-new series, Kristy Cambron explores the collision of past and present as she discovers the ruins of a French castle, long lost to history.

A thirteenth century castle, Chateau de Doux Reves, has been forgotten for generations, left to ruin in a storybook forest nestled deep in France's picturesque Loire Valley. It survived a sacking in the French Revolution, was brought back to life and fashioned into a storybook chateau in the Gilded Age, and was eventually felled and deserted after a disastrous fire in the 1930s.

As Ellie Carver sits by her grandmother's bedside, she hears stories of a castle . . . of lost love and a hidden chapel that played host to a secret fight in the World War II French resistance. But her grandmother is quickly slipping into the locked-down world of Alzheimer's, and Ellie must act fast if she wants to uncover the truth of her family's history.

Sparked by the discovery of a long forgotten family heirloom, Ellie embarks on a journey to French wine country to uncover the mystery surrounding The Sleeping Beauty--the castle so named for Charles Perrault's beloved fairy tale--and unearth its secrets before they're finally silenced by time.

Set in three different time periods--the French Revolution, World War II, and present day--The Lost Castle is a story of loves won and lost, of battles waged, and an enchanted castle that inspired the epic fairy tales time left behind.

My Review:

Instead of a mystery wrapped in an enigma (not that the reference to Enigma doesn’t turn out to be appropriate) this is a fairy tale wrapped in a war story tied up in a romance. Also not that there isn’t romance throughout – just different romances.

Because this lovely story is a “timeslip” tale that is spread over three very different time periods; the French Revolution, World War II, and the present day. And if the reference to the French Revolution wasn’t enough of a clue, most of the story takes place in France during those periods, specifically in the Loire Valley wine region.

And there’s plenty of wine involved and not just by drinking it. The fates of three very different women are tied together by the wines, the vines, and the castle that hides in the middle of it all.

Timeslip stories, as the sub-genre is now termed, are stories that “slip” between multiple time periods. Sometimes by having one of the characters themselves slip between those periods, but sometimes by having the narrative simply move between the periods for reasons that become clear at some point in the story.

The Lost Castle is one of the latter types. We follow three women in the same place but at three different time periods. We begin by meeting Ellie Carver, whose beloved grandmother has slipped into the fog of Alzheimer’s, and is now also slipping away physically. Lady Vi raised Ellie after her parents died, and Ellie feels like her grandmother is all that she has in the world. She is heartbroken and scrambling. Also emotionally scrambled.

Lady Vi’s fog lifts just enough to send Ellie scrabbling through her grandmother’s books to discover a WWII vintage photo of her grandmother, showing her that in the midst of the life that Ellie knew of her grandmother, there is at least one chapter that she was never told. Lady Vi seems to be looking for closure for this part of her life, and in a mad quest to do something, anything, Ellie hares off to the site of the picture, the “Sleeping Beauty” castle tucked away in the Loire Valley in France.

As the story continues we follow Ellie in the Loire, as she discovers the site of the photo, and unearths the history of when it was taken. We also follow Lady Vi’s history as a semi-trained British Intelligence operative who finds herself on the run from the Nazis in the Loire Valley in 1944. When Lady Vi is rescued by the local Resistance, she finds relative safety, purpose, and love.

We also see glimpses of an earlier history of the area, during the French Revolution, through the eyes of Aveline, a French aristocrat for whom the most famous wine of the region comes to be named.

All three women become integral to the past, and the future, of this storied place. And as Ellie uncovers the truth, we learn why. And it is bittersweet, but as delicious as the wine.

Escape Rating A-: Before I say anything else, let me say again that this is a truly lovely book. If you enjoy timeslip stories, I think you’ll really love this one.

As I read The Lost Castle, I did wonder how Aveline was connected to Vi and Ellie. It’s obvious from the beginning that it isn’t a matter of ancestors and descendants – there’s definitely no relation. And it’s not that Aveline’s story isn’t either interesting or important, it’s just that we don’t discover why and how until the very end.

I haven’t read a lot of timeslip stories, at least not under that label, so I’m not sure whether this is a bug or a feature, but neither Aveline’s nor Vi’s stories are told in chronological order. The chapter headings do say where and when each bit takes place, but the slipping forward and backwards within each of their times always took a paragraph or two to adjust to. This was particularly true with Aveline’s story, as we start in the middle and then work both backwards and forwards from that point, sometimes almost at random. The same thing happens with Vi’s story, but she doesn’t flash backwards nearly as much, and proceeds in a straight line from that middle, except for the flashbacks.

All three women are in the midst of great change, and that’s what makes each of their stories so fascinating. Aveline is an aristocrat during the Revolution, but she is a woman who is already uncomfortable with the life that she is supposed to lead. The Revolution provides her with an opportunity to forge a new path for herself, and she takes it.

Vi’s story takes place during World War II. We only get glimpses of her wartime exploits before she reaches the Loire, but they are enough to chill the bones. We do get a fairly complete portrait of her life in the French Resistance, and that comes at a critical time – it is 1944 and the Allied invasion is rumored and imminent, while the Nazis are desperate to hold onto France at all costs, with Vi, her new found friends and the Loire Valley itself caught in the terrible crossfire.

These are also all romances, and the romances are tied together not through the women, but through the place and the family that occupies it, through the men. The Vivay family owns and operates the winery that makes the region famous. Their signature wine, developed by Robert Vivay in Aveline’s time, is named for her. During Vi’s time, it is Julien Vivay who protects the land and is master of the vineyard, using that same signature product to keep the Nazis at bay. And it is Titus Vivay who lived to remember it all, and his grandson who leads Ellie to the answers that she is seeking.

Although the blurbs for this book talk about a “legacy of faith” and as this book is published by Thomas Nelson, a publisher who specializes in Christian faith-based works, one might think that the “faith” being mentioned in those blurbs is religious faith and of a specific type. But it isn’t, or at least it doesn’t seem to be to a reader who is not looking for such. Instead, the faith at the heart of this story seems more like faith in the land and faith in its people. In all three time periods, its the way that the people pull together to defend their lives, but more importantly the lives of those they love, and to defend the land and the work that sustains them, than it is about any belief in a diety.

Your mileage on this subject may definitely vary, but as someone who does not read books that are marketed as “inspirational” fiction this book does not read like part of that tradition.

It reads like excellent historical fiction, because that’s what it is.

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

There is a giveaway for a copy of The Lost Castle and a signed tote bag over at @tnzfiction  on Instagram.

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Review: Modern Loss by Rebecca Soffer and Gabrielle Birkner

Review: Modern Loss by Rebecca Soffer and Gabrielle BirknerModern Loss: Candid Conversation About Grief. Beginners Welcome. by Rebecca Soffer, Gabrielle Birkner
Format: ebook
Source: purchased from Amazon
Formats available: hardcover, ebook, audioboook
Genres: essays, grief, nonfiction
Pages: 384
Published by Harper Wave on January 23rd 2018
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

Inspired by the website that the New York Times hailed as "redefining mourning," this book is a fresh and irreverent examination into navigating grief and resilience in the age of social media, offering comfort and community for coping with the mess of loss through candid original essays from a variety of voices, accompanied by gorgeous two-color illustrations and wry infographics.

At a time when we mourn public figures and national tragedies with hashtags, where intimate posts about loss go viral and we receive automated birthday reminders for dead friends, it’s clear we are navigating new terrain without a road map.

Let’s face it: most of us have always had a difficult time talking about death and sharing our grief. We’re awkward and uncertain; we avoid, ignore, or even deny feelings of sadness; we offer platitudes; we send sympathy bouquets whittled out of fruit.

Enter Rebecca Soffer and Gabrielle Birkner, who can help us do better. Each having lost parents as young adults, they co-founded Modern Loss, responding to a need to change the dialogue around the messy experience of grief. Now, in this wise and often funny book, they offer the insights of the Modern Loss community to help us cry, laugh, grieve, identify, and—above all—empathize.

Soffer and Birkner, along with forty guest contributors including Lucy Kalanithi, singer Amanda Palmer, and CNN’s Brian Stelter, reveal their own stories on a wide range of topics including triggers, sex, secrets, and inheritance. Accompanied by beautiful hand-drawn illustrations and witty "how to" cartoons, each contribution provides a unique perspective on loss as well as a remarkable life-affirming message.

Brutally honest and inspiring, Modern Loss invites us to talk intimately and humorously about grief, helping us confront the humanity (and mortality) we all share. Beginners welcome.

My Review:

I picked this book for a very specific reason. My mother died on December 25, 2017 and this is a book about dealing with grief and loss. Since I’m not quite sure how well I’m dealing with everything, it felt like a good time to see how other people do. Or don’t, as the case may be.

The authors met each other, founded their website, and wrote this book after both of them lost one or both of their parents at a relatively young age. Not necessarily the parents’ age, although that too. But their own. They both were “orphaned” in their 20s, at a time when most people’s parents are not just still living, but still thriving and still working.

Their personal stories resonated with me, but not so much in the present tense. My dad passed away at 63, when I was 34.We were both too young for that particular trauma, and in some ways I never got over it. I still dream that he’s alive and we’re talking about something or doing something together. It’s always a shock to wake up and remember that he’s gone, and that he died long before I met my husband. I think they’d have liked each other. I’m certain that they would have had some epic chess games.

And every time I have one of those dreams I wake up with a migraine. My dad died suddenly and unexpectedly. I think we still have unfinished business, business that will never be finished. I keep trying to dream it better, and can’t.

The book is a collection of stories and essays by people who have experienced the death of someone close to them. Not just parents, but also spouses, children, parental figures, and anyone else whose loss brought them profound grief. Or anger. Or all the stages of grief at once.

For someone grieving a loss, or who has ever grieved a loss, reading the book is cathartic. I was looking for answers because my reaction to my mother’s death has been so very different from my reaction to my dad’s, and I was looking for a kind of validation. I wanted to see if my reaction was, if not normal, at least somewhere within the normal range.

And now I know I’m not alone. My mom was 89 when she died. We did not always get along, but we did keep in touch. Her passing was not unexpected, and there was time to, if not finish all the business, at least resolve in my own head and heart that all the business was finished that was ever going to get finished. We were who we were, and there were topics that were just never going to get discussed and arguments that were never going to be resolved.

It is what it is. Or as my mom so often said, “what will be will be”. And so it is.

Reality Rating B: I found this book helpful, but difficult to review. In the end, what I’ve written above is personal, and in a way is similar to some of the personal narratives told in the book.

The individual essays are a very mixed bag. Some spoke to me, whether their situation resembled my own or not. Others did not. This is definitely a case where one’s mileage varies. And I’ll also say that I can’t imagine reading this book unless one had experienced this type of loss and was looking for something, whether that be validation, shared experience or just catharsis. Or even just to feel all the feels.

Everyone’s experience of loss is different, and as my own issues show, every loss, even experienced by the same person, is different. We change, and so do our relationships.

If you or someone you know is grieving and is the type of person who looks for answers in books, reading this one may prove cathartic, or at least affirming. There is no one true answer. Just a true answer for each of us alone.

I still have dreams about my dad, but not, at least so far, my mom. And that is what it is, too.

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Review: The Atomic City Girls by Janet Beard

Review: The Atomic City Girls by Janet BeardThe Atomic City Girls by Janet Beard
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: historical fiction, World War II
Pages: 384
Published by William Morrow Paperbacks on February 6th 2018
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

In the bestselling tradition of Hidden Figures and The Wives of Los Alamos, comes a riveting novel of the everyday women who worked on the Manhattan Project during World War II

“What you see here, what you hear here, what you do here, let it stay here.”

In November 1944, eighteen-year-old June Walker boards an unmarked bus, destined for a city that doesn’t officially exist. Oak Ridge, Tennessee has sprung up in a matter of months—a town of trailers and segregated houses, 24-hour cafeterias, and constant security checks. There, June joins hundreds of other young girls operating massive machines whose purpose is never explained. They know they are helping to win the war, but must ask no questions and reveal nothing to outsiders.

The girls spend their evenings socializing and flirting with soldiers, scientists, and workmen at dances and movies, bowling alleys and canteens. June longs to know more about their top-secret assignment and begins an affair with Sam Cantor, the young Jewish physicist from New York who oversees the lab where she works and understands the end goal only too well, while her beautiful roommate Cici is on her own mission: to find a wealthy husband and escape her sharecropper roots. Across town, African-American construction worker Joe Brewer knows nothing of the government’s plans, only that his new job pays enough to make it worth leaving his family behind, at least for now. But a breach in security will intertwine his fate with June’s search for answers.

When the bombing of Hiroshima brings the truth about Oak Ridge into devastating focus, June must confront her ideals about loyalty, patriotism, and war itself.

My Review:

The Atomic City Girls straddles the line between pure historical fiction and a genre perhaps best described as “fictionalized history”. Historical fiction takes known historical events or periods and slides fictional characters into them. World War II is a popular time period, but far from the only one.

Fictionalized history, on the other hand, is sometimes referred to “history with conversation”, where all the characters are real historical figures and the author weaves a story either around parts of their lives and history that were less well illuminated but still fit within what is known, or adds gloss to private moments that were naturally not recorded – going into what they might have felt behind what it is known they did.

The Atomic City Girls sits rather uncomfortable on top of that dividing line, as straddles often do.

The author follows the story of three separate individuals at Oak Ridge Tennessee during its years as the secret manufacturing city for the Manhattan Project in World War II. While the individuals featured did not exist, they are intended as composites of many people who were part of Oak Ridge during those years.

One is a young local woman, barely 18, whose grandfather owned some of the land that was purchased by the U.S. to build Oak Ridge. June Walker comes to Oak Ridge as one of many young women who become factory workers, watching the dials on machines whose purpose she is not intended to know and which it  is not expected she would understand if she did know. And for anyone to tell her what those machines do is a violation of the extremely strict security that surrounds the place.

Sam Cantor, actually Dr. Sam Cantor, is one of the nuclear physicists who is responsible for the development of the process used to extract Uranium 235 from ordinary uranium. He knows exactly what Oak Ridge is all about, both in the scientific sense and in the sense of the war. Sam’s family emigrated to the U.S. from Germany in the 1920s. They are Jews, and have lost touch with any family left behind, fearing, rightfully so, that anyone left in Germany has died in the concentration camps.

Sam is also fully aware of Oak Ridge’s scientific implications in another sense. While he wants to be sure that the U.S. wins the war, and that they develop a nuclear bomb before Hitler, once Germany surrenders he is increasing weighed down by the moral and ethical implications of dropping an atomic bomb on a civilian population – any civilian population – as many of the scientists were. The nuclear genie is one that once let out of its bottle, will have untold consequences for everyone, and they know it.

Last, is Joe Brewer, an African-American construction worker who is treated like a second-class citizen at every turn. But Joe is in his early-40s, and his treatment is the life that he has always known. He also knows it’s wrong, but he is certain that he can’t change it. And that he is earning the best money he has ever made in his life. All he wants is for things to get just better enough that his wife can get a job at Oak Ridge too, and that they can bring their family back together. Part of that second-class treatment means that while white workers are permitted to bring their wives and families to Oak Ridge, black workers are not until very late in the war.

So, although the title is The Atomic City Girls, the story is only partly about June and her part of the work. Instead, we watch as young June and disaffected and often drunk Sam drift into a relationship that at first improves life for both of them, but is, in the end, unsustainable.

Sam never recovers from his experiences at Oak Ridge, while June builds on her chance to escape her restricted upbringing for a better life outside of rural Tennessee and a stellar career as a teacher.

Joe, after the tragedy of seeing the younger black workers suffer for their attempts to create better working conditions for their people, survives and flourishes in Oak Ridge as the post-war years go by. His dreams are for his children, and they come true.

Escape Rating B: Each of the stories was individually interesting, but there were just too many of them. The author is attempting to show life and work in Oak Ridge through the eyes of characters of very different perspectives, but the action switches between them too often and we don’t get to invest as much in any of the stories as we would have if she had followed one (or two in the case of June and Sam) exclusively.

I enjoyed reading the individual stories, but they just didn’t gel into a whole, at least not for me. Joe’s story may be the most fascinating, and it feels like the least known, but it’s also the one we follow the least. The primary focus is on June and Sam, and Joe only intersects with them tangentially, which is not surprising in this context. (Whether or not things should have been different, the historical fact is that they were not).

One of the contrasts that was pivotal was between June and her roommate Cici. In the end, both June and Cici were able to use their experiences in Oak Ridge to leave behind the life they would otherwise have had. Both were from rural Tennessee, from similar tiny towns with similarly proscribed lives to look dubiously forward to. But Cici came to Oak Ridge pretending to be an upper class Nashville belle. She lived a lie, and used that lie to snag a rich husband. In the end, she had the life she dreamed of but was not happy. June, on the other hand, never pretended to be anything she wasn’t, so she was able to build on her experience in a positive way.

Because the story ended up focusing on June’s fateful relationship with Sam, we really don’t get the slice-of-Oak-Ridge life that I was initially expecting. In the end, while I ended up interested enough in each of the individuals to want to know more about their story, The Atomic City Girls didn’t build up to quite what I was hoping for.

For a completely non-fictional but quite readable take on this same period, check out The Girls of Atomic City by Denise Kiernan.

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Review: Deborah Rising by Avraham Azrieli

Review: Deborah Rising by Avraham AzrieliDeborah Rising by Avraham Azrieli
Format: ebook
Source: publisher
Formats available: paperback, ebook
Genres: historical fiction
Pages: 224
Published by HarperLegend on November 29th 2016
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKobo
Goodreads

In the tradition of The Red Tent, The Fifth Mountain, and The Mists of Avalon comes this absorbing historical novel that reimagines the life of one of the Bible's most revered women, the prophetess Deborah, and her epic journey to fulfill her destiny.

Deborah's father dreamed that his daughter would one day become a prophet of the God of the Israelites. But the social and religious mores of her time dictated that a woman must marry—even against her will—and obey her husband. When Deborah is forced into an engagement with the violent son of her local judge, the young Hebrew woman rebels, determined to forge a new path.

Captivated by the notion of transforming herself into a man to escape the arranged marriage and fulfill her father's dream, Deborah embarks upon an epic journey across the desert to find a mysterious elixirist rumored to be blessed with the gift of turning women into men. It is a journey that proves increasingly perilous—filled with wild beasts, lustful men, unscrupulous priests, and warring tribesmen. Yet Deborah discovers that she is not alone; an unlikely coterie of lepers, slaves, Moabite traders, and even a dead tiger come to her aid and defense along the way.

Part traditional biblical fiction, part adventure, Deborah Rising is a captivating tale about the early life of one of the most famous figures from the Old Testament—a woman of courage and spirit whose battle to overcome discrimination, sexism, and paternalism speaks to women's lives today.

My Review:

The story in Deborah Rising is the very (possibly very, very) fictionalized account of the early life of the Biblical Prophet Deborah. Deborah was the only female judge mentioned in the Bible, and one of very few female prophets.

Based on this story, one also gets the feeling that Deborah lives up to a saying from The Notebooks of Lazarus Long, the one that goes, “A fake fortune teller can be tolerated. But an authentic soothsayer should be shot on sight. Cassandra did not get half the kicking around she deserved.” In this story of her early life, Deborah certainly suffers from all the kicking around that Long would have wished – and she hasn’t even started to prophesy yet.

Then again, when the story ends she’s only 14. She has time yet. And another whole book (Deborah Calling) in which to start speaking truth to power. And speaking with the power of truth.

But for the course of this book, she is also an unfortunate example of “when bad things happen to good people” and just how those good people react. Not that Deborah’s life wasn’t good for most of her childhood, because it was. But a year before the opening of the story, disaster struck.

Her parents were murdered, supposedly by raiders from another tribe. She and her sister were taken in by the local Judge (read ruler) of their town. Not out of the goodness of his heart, because I don’t think he has any. Rather, because the land their parents owned included a cistern – not merely a well but an underground protected water source. Water is worth more than gold in the dry land of Canaan.

Deborah and Tamar have no brothers. They each inherit a half share in the land, but can’t really inherit it. Their half-shares pass to their husbands when they marry. The Judge has a 20 year old son, and the Judge expects that he will obtain the land by marrying first one sister, then the other – whether they want to marry him or not.

The Judge’s son, Seesya, will let absolutely nothing stand in his way. Not poor Tamar, not Deborah, not the law and not the commandments. He takes what he wants, when he wants and how he wants, with as much cruelty as he desires. And he seems to desire endless amounts of it.

All Deborah wants is to escape. She will do anything to escape. Even, if she can, become a man.

Escape Rating B: In the end, this turned out to be a wow! I felt compelled to keep reading, and could not stop until the end.

But as much as I was riveted to the pages, there were some things that bothered me, often quite a lot.

The comparison is being made between Deborah Rising and The Red Tent. I read The Red Tent many years ago, and enjoyed it, but I do not remember it being quite this grim. Every circumstance is against Deborah all the time. The circumstance that she is female means that she has no power of any kind, and is only supposed to endure every terrible thing that happens to her. While that may have been true, we see nothing but terrible things happen to her. At times it makes for hard reading.

The story of Deborah the Judge may end in triumph, but we do not see any of that here, only one catastrophe after another. For every step forward she makes, she seems to take three steps back, and all of those steps over a bed of nails.

Part of what motivates Deborah in her quest is the Judge’s son Seesya. He makes perversely good motivation, because he seems to be evil for evil’s sake. To survive, Deborah must evade him at every turn, because if he catches up to her she will die.

That Seesya and his father want the land makes sense. That cistern represents untold wealth in the right hands – hands like the Judge’s, that will exploit the precious resource in every possible way.

But Seesya’s pursuit of Deborah isn’t just about the land. It’s personal. He hated her sister, he hates her, and he wants to kill every single person with whom she has contact. As a character, he is so sick and twisted that we can only see the twistedness – we don’t understand why. He’d be scarier if we knew what was motivating him.

One of the interesting twists in the story is Deborah’s quest to become a man. It is not about gender identity as we understand it today. Instead, it is a response to her circumstances. If she had been born male, she could have inherited the land from her parents and protected her sister from marriage to Seesya. She could learn to read and write. She could become the prophet that her parents hoped that she would become. Life as a man, in her time and place, would give her at least power over her own body and her own life. She could testify in court, and she has plenty to say. She could fight back.

Her desire to become male makes sense under her circumstances. However, it feels as if every single person involved in her quest is lying to her in some way, quite possibly for what they believe is her own good, but lying nonetheless. And she is too naive to realize it, or at least to realize it yet.

The story in Deborah Rising does not feel complete – only because it isn’t. As this book ends, Deborah’s quest has just barely begun, and there is no certainty within the story that she will succeed. Also, it doesn’t really feel like it ended at a natural point in the story, which continues in Deborah Calling.

I’m looking forward to seeing the rest of how the author fleshed out this Biblical story. And I want to see Seesya get his just desserts. Or even just see him dead in the desert.

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Review: Sisters Like Us by Susan Mallery

Review: Sisters Like Us by Susan MallerySisters Like Us (Mischief Bay, #4) by Susan Mallery
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: hardcover, paperback, large print, ebook, audiobook
Genres: contemporary romance, women's fiction
Series: Mischief Bay #4
Pages: 432
Published by Mira Books on January 23rd 2018
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

The grass is always greener on your sister’s side of the fence…

Divorce left Harper Szymanski with a name no one can spell, a house she can’t afford and a teenage daughter who’s pulling away. With her fledgeling virtual-assistant business, she’s scrambling to maintain her overbearing mother’s ridiculous Susie Homemaker standards and still pay the bills, thanks to clients like Lucas, the annoying playboy cop who claims he hangs around for Harper’s fresh-baked cookies.

Spending half her life in school hasn’t prepared Dr. Stacey Bloom for her most daunting challenge—motherhood. She didn’t inherit the nurturing gene like Harper and is in deep denial that a baby is coming. Worse, her mother will be horrified to learn that Stacey’s husband plans to be a stay-at-home dad…assuming Stacey can first find the courage to tell Mom she’s already six months pregnant.

Separately they may be a mess, but together Harper and Stacey can survive anything—their indomitable mother, overwhelming maternity stores and ex’s weddings. Sisters Like Us is a delightful look at sisters, mothers and daughters in today’s fast-paced world, told with Susan Mallery’s trademark warmth and humor.

My Review:

This story is quintessentially women’s fiction. The story revolves around the women of the Bloom family; sisters Harper and Stacey, Harper’s daughter Becca, Stacey’s soon-to-be-born daughter Joule, and their mother Bunny. Definitely their mother Bunny. OMG Bunny.

The men in this story revolve around the women. One of the men definitely believes that he’s a planetary body in his own right, and that some of the Bloom women are his satellites, but he is so, so wrong.

This one is all about the relationships between the women, especially the relationship between the sisters in the title, Harper and Stacey.

Harper and Stacey are in their late-30s, and they are certainly opposites. But then, they always have been. Harper became the perfect Ms. Susie Homemaker, just as their mother Bunny wanted. But Harper can’t please her hypercritical mother, no matter how much she overdoes.

And it’s overdoing that she no longer has time for. Harper’s marriage failed, leaving her to raise her daughter Becca mostly alone. With no training for any regular job, Harper has turned her super-organized, super-crafty, super-creative energies into her own Virtual Assistant company – but it isn’t quite working. She needs a not-so-virtual assistant of her own to manage her over-scheduled time and keep her from undercutting her own worth.

She already has her mother for that.

Stacey, on the other hand, is happily married, six months pregnant, and scared to death to tell her mother. If Bunny has been hypercritical of Harper’s perfect Ms. Susie Homemaker personality, she has been even more censorious of Stacey’s success as a molecular biologist. As far as Bunny is concerned, there is something wrong with Stacey and her laser-focus on her career. Actually, as far as Bunny is concerned, Stacey is just not normal and she’s not shy about letting Stacey know that at every opportunity.

But Stacey and Harper have always supported each other, possibly as a result of being united against the common enemy – their mother.

As this story unfolds, they both need all the help they can get. Stacey, faces her impending motherhood absolutely certain that she will be unable to bond with her child. Harper faces Becca’s junior year in high school feeling that she’s lost touch with her daughter, and feeling that she is a failure in her business, her life, and her relationship with her daughter.

Standing together, just like they always have, helps them both find a way forward. With just a little help from their friends.

Escape Rating B: I absolutely adored Stacey. I completely understood her focus on her career, her fascination with her work, and her extreme social awkwardness. She was a character I could really relate to.

At the same time, while Harper’s Ms. Susie Homemaker shtick would drive me crazy, her courage at starting her own business and the way that the desire to please that had been ingrained in her (by her mother) kept holding her back, also felt very familiar.

And I totally envied Stacey her close relationship with her grandfather the astronaut, and how that relationship didn’t just change but absolutely made her life. (I have a thing about the space program)

Even Becca’s trials and tribulations felt real and familiar, even though it has been a very long time since I was a teenager.

This is, of course, leading up to a great big BUT. I hated Bunny. She set up both of her daughters for failure, and continued to reinforce those feelings of failure at every turn. Whenever she appeared in the story I wanted to cringe. The terrible mother seems to be a stock character in women’s fiction, and it’s not a stock character I ever enjoy seeing.

(Yes, Bunny reminds me of my own mother, and right now I have enough unresolved feelings in that direction to fill my own book. Seeing those feelings reflected in fiction was a bit cathartic, but also quite annoying the longer it went on. Your reading mileage may vary.)

Harper and Stacey’s stories, while complicated by Bunny, also do a marvelous job of showing a range of women’s choices and how they can go both right and wrong. But mostly right. Stacey’s husband Kit in particular is a real gem of a husband and a great character. As is Harper’s business partner Dean.

Harper’s ex-husband is more than a bit of a tool, not surprising. But so is Lucas, the man she finally falls for. The difference is that Lucas gets better – even if he doesn’t grovel nearly enough. Still I liked the way that their romance does not become the focus of the story, and that Lucas forges a friendship with Becca separate from whatever relationship he does or does not have with Harper.

In the end, a good time was had by all, and I liked both Harper and Stacey and really enjoyed seeing them both figure out their lives.

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Review: Sunday Silence by Nicci French

Review: Sunday Silence by Nicci FrenchSunday Silence (Frieda Klein, #7) by Nicci French
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: hardcover, paperback, large print, ebook, audiobook
Genres: mystery, suspense, thriller
Series: Frieda Klein #7
Pages: 416
Published by William Morrow Paperbacks on January 9th 2018
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

It started with
Monday
. But it doesn't end with
Sunday
.

Read
Sunday Silence
, the new novel in the series that LOUISE PENNY calls "fabulous, unsettling, and riveting" and brace yourself for the breathtaking series finale in summer 2018.

Lover of London, gifted psychologist, frequent police consultant Frieda Klein is many things. And now she's a person of interest in a murder case. A body has been discovered in the most unlikely and horrifying of places: beneath the floorboards of Frieda's house.

The corpse is only months old, but the chief suspect appears to have died more than seven years ago. Except as Frieda knows all too well, he's alive and well and living in secret. And it seems he's inspired a copycat...

As the days pass and the body count rises, Frieda finds herself caught in a fatal tug-of-war between two killers: one who won't let her go, and another who can't let her live. 

Crackling with suspense, packed with emotion, Sunday Silence is a psychological thriller perfect for fans of Elizabeth George and Paula Hawkins.

My Review:

I’ve been doing a lot of comfort reading recently, but Sunday Silence is not a comfortable book. It’s very definitely a good book, but the Frieda Klein series has never made for comfortable reading. Compelling, absorbing, taut, and frequently chilling, but never comfortable.

The story in Sunday Silence picks up where Dark Saturday left off. Frieda has just discovered a dead body under the floorboards of her house. The late Bruce Sterling was left under her floorboards as a message from the dead-but-not-dead serial killer Dean Reeve. Frieda had sent Sterling to investigate Reeve’s current whereabouts, because Frieda is the only person who has never believed that Reeve was dead.

Sterling’s corpse was clearly a message to Frieda to not send anyone else after him, lest they share the same fate. It was also a rather pointed message to the police, that Frieda had been right all along, and that they had been rather spectacularly wrong.

The newly resurrected investigation into Dean Reeve will cause heads to roll at Scotland Yard, but Frieda is much too preoccupied to say “I told you so”. Because someone is targeting her friends and family-of-choice, and it isn’t Dean Reeve. Not that he’s not capable of the violence, but that these particular instances are not his style.

And he sends Frieda a rather pointed message to that effect. It seems that both Dean Reeve and Frieda Klein now share a sick admirer. Or someone is copying Dean’s methods to get Frieda’s attention. Or someone is circling around Frieda to get Dean’s attention. Or both.

But the police are baffled as one after another of the people in Frieda’s close orbit suffer. Her niece is kidnapped and drugged. Two of her friends are severely beaten. One of her psychotherapy patients is murdered. One friend’s child is kidnapped. And another friend is missing.

Once Dean Reeve is conclusively eliminated, or as conclusively as he can be for such a shadowy figure, both the police and Frieda are left wondering who done it? And more importantly why?
As the attacks escalate, Frieda and her friends draw together for protection and support, Frieda holds herself just a bit apart, as she usually does, trying to figure out which person on the fringes of her life has become a killer, hiding in plain sight.

Even if they are clever enough to fool the police, no one is smart enough to fool Frieda for very long once she zeroes in on the perpetrator. Whether she can either convince the police, or prove her suspicions, is a race to the finish. And very nearly Frieda’s.

Escape Rating A-: The Frieda Klein series are mysteries of the psychological thriller school, or at least that’s how they feel. There’s not a lot of derring-do, instead the story consists of ratcheting terror, dogged but often wrong-headed investigation by the police, and leaps of intuition from Frieda, a psychotherapist who has been forced to turn amateur detective by the circumstances that have taken over her life.

Dean Reeve has been both pursuing Frieda and watching over her for a number of years. She’s always known that he faked his own death, but has been unable to prove it to the satisfaction of the police. Reeve has become a perverse bodyguard in that he doesn’t let anyone threaten Frieda except himself. A fact that his copycat manages to forget.

As long a shadow as Reeve has cast over Frieda’s life, this particular entry in the series is not about him, except very, very indirectly. The threat here is from the copycat, and it is as severe a threat as Reeve has ever mounted, but much more impulsive and much less organized.

The killer does an excellent job of hiding in plain sight for a very long time, keeping Frieda baffled, the police confused, and the reader totally in the dark for more than half of the story. Once his identity is revealed, the tug-of-war between the killer and Frieda becomes the focus of the rest of the book.

While it is edge-of-the-seat tense from beginning to end, an element of the chill was lost with the reveal of the copycat. He’s much more impressive when we are only able to see his actions and their consequences and not hear his internal gloating about his own cleverness. Especially as once we know who it is, we are also able to see that he has been more lucky than clever.
And still extremely dangerous.

Frieda is a difficult character to get a handle on. Her entire career revolves around being the dispassionate observer, and her nature doesn’t change even when the disaster she is observing is that of her own life. She cares, and she’s scared, but she still feels a bit distant.

The emotional investment in the story comes from the people who surround her. It’s them that we feel for, because we see so much more of their emotions than we do hers. As a result, I’m not sure how a reader would be coming into the series at this point. While the suspenseful element would still be present, without having read at least some of the previous books, the emotional connection to the characters would feel as distant as Frieda’s, and I think it would lose something.

This series is not quite over. It looks like the final volume, and Frieda’s final confrontation with Dean Reeve, is coming later this year in what I expect is the entirely appropriately titled The Day of the Dead. And I can’t wait to read it – with the lights on.

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Spotlight + Excerpt: Sisters Like Us by Susan Mallery

Spotlight + Excerpt: Sisters Like Us by Susan MallerySisters Like Us (Mischief Bay, #4) by Susan Mallery
Formats available: paperback, large print, ebook, audiobook
Genres: contemporary romance
Series: Mischief Bay #4
Pages: 432
Published by Mira Books on January 23rd 2018
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

Sisters Like Us by Susan Mallery will be available Feb 20, 2018. Preorder your copy today!

The grass is always greener on your sister’s side of the fence…

Divorce left Harper Szymanski with a name no one can spell, a house she can’t afford and a teenage daughter who’s pulling away. With her fledgeling virtual-assistant business, she’s scrambling to maintain her overbearing mother’s ridiculous Susie Homemaker standards and still pay the bills, thanks to clients like Lucas, the annoying playboy cop who claims he hangs around for Harper’s fresh-baked cookies.

Spending half her life in school hasn’t prepared Dr. Stacey Bloom for her most daunting challenge—motherhood. She didn’t inherit the nurturing gene like Harper and is in deep denial that a baby is coming. Worse, her mother will be horrified to learn that Stacey’s husband plans to be a stay-at-home dad…assuming Stacey can first find the courage to tell Mom she’s already six months pregnant.

Separately they may be a mess, but together Harper and Stacey can survive anything—their indomitable mother, overwhelming maternity stores and ex’s weddings. Sisters Like Us is a delightful look at sisters, mothers and daughters in today’s fast-paced world, told with Susan Mallery’s trademark warmth and humor.

I don’t normally do spotlight posts, but I was happy to make an exception in this case because I love Susan Mallery’s books, and I’m also part of the review tour for Sisters Like Us later this month. So I will be reviewing this book in a couple of weeks, and I’m very much looking forward to it! So, while we all wait to sink our reading teeth into this story, here’s a bit of a teaser…

Excerpt from Sisters Like Us by Susan Mallery

She finished sprinkling on a layer of grated cheese, then glanced at the clock. It was nearly three. She figured she could risk leaving the lasagna out on the counter until she popped it in the oven at four-fifteen. She’d made the bread days ago and had defrosted a loaf already. The garlic spread was done and the salad was in the refrigerator. She only had to pour on dressing and that was good to go. There was still the table to set. She returned her attention to Lucas.

“Are you bringing someone?”

One corner of his mouth turned up. “Persimmon.”

Harper wiped her hands on a towel. “You have got to be kidding. That’s her real name?”

“It’s on her driver’s license.”

“Which you saw because you check their ID before you date them?”

“I like to be sure.”

“That they’re not underage or that they’re not too old?”

“Sometimes both.”

“I get the biology,” she said, studying him across the kitchen island. “The young, healthy female should produce the best offspring. But we’re not living in caves anymore. You drive a Mercedes. If you’ve evolved enough to handle freeway driving, why can’t you date someone remotely close to your own age? I’m not suggesting an old lady, but maybe a woman in her thirties.” She walked to the pantry and got the small box of cookies she’d set aside for him.

“Never mind,” she told him as she handed him the decorated box. “You don’t have an answer and I have no right to question your personal life. I just work for you.”

“And give me cookies.” He studied the ribbon and appliques. “It’s beautiful, but I would have been happy with plastic wrap.”

“That’s not how we do things around here.”

“Which is part of your problem.”

“I know that. Unfortunately, knowing and doing something about it are two different things. Go wash your hands, then you can help me set the table.”

“Yes, ma’am.”

He did as she requested, then met her in the formal dining room. Harper remembered when she and Terence had been looking for a house in the area. They’d passed on several because the dining room wasn’t big enough. When he’d pointed out their family wasn’t that large, she’d reminded him that she had a huge table, a giant hutch and massive buffet to find room for. He’d grumbled about her having too many dishes—every now and then she thought maybe he was right. After the divorce she’d sold two full sets and still had more stock than the average department store.

Her basic set of dishes were white, allowing her to use them as a base for any holiday or event. Now she studied her tablecloths and napkins, then thought about the bunny fest that would be tomorrow’s table.

“Becca likes pink,” Lucas offered. “Isn’t pink a spring color?”

“It is, and that would work. Thanks.”

She pulled out a pale rose tablecloth with matching napkins. She would use gold as the accent color, along with a little dark green. The dinner would be attended by Bunny, Becca, Lucas, fruit date, Kit and Stacey, and Harper, so seven.

She handed Lucas the tablecloth before digging out seven dark green place mats. The rest was easy: seven gold chargers, seven sets of gold flatware, her favorite crystal glasses, white plates. She had a collection of salad plates in different patterns, including eight that were edged in gold. She would make custom napkin rings by dressing up plain ones with clusters of silk flowers. She had three hurricane lamps with gold bases.

She left him to put the linens on the table, then hurried into her craft room to double-check supplies. Honestly, she should have planned her table a couple of days ago, in case she needed to go to the craft store. Now she was going to have to wing it.

She plugged in her glue gun, then dug through a large bag of silk flower pieces and found several tiny pink blossoms, along with some greens. She had glass beads, of course, and plenty of ribbon. Ten minutes later, she had secured the last of the flowers to the clear plastic napkin rings she bought in bulk. She picked up bags of colored glass beads and the ribbon, then turned and nearly ran into Lucas.

“What are you doing?” he asked, sounding more amused than concerned.

“Decorating the table. Can you get those hurricane lamps, please?”

“There’s something wrong with you,” he told her as he picked up the lamps and followed her back into the dining room. “Your crafts don’t make you a penny, yet you have that huge room for them. At the same time, you cram your office into that tiny bedroom in back.”

“Sometimes I have to use my craft room for work,” she said, trying not to sound defensive. “When I work for my party planner, I do.”

“Yeah, sell it somewhere else. Harper, no one’s going to take you seriously until you take yourself seriously.”

Author Info:

Susan Mallery is the #1 New York Times bestselling author of books about the relationships that define women’s lives—romance, friendship, family. With compassion and humor, Susan keenly observes how people think and feel, in stories that take readers on an emotional journey. Sometimes heartbreaking, often funny, and always uplifting, Susan’s books have spent more than 200 weeks on the USA Today bestsellers list, thanks to her ever growing legions of fans.

Critics, too, have heaped praise on “the new queen of romantic fiction.” (Walmart) Booklist says, “Romance novels don’t get much better than Mallery’s expert blend of emotional nuance, humor, and superb storytelling,” and RT Book Reviews puts her “in a class by herself!”

Although Susan majored in Accounting, she never worked as an accountant because she was published straight out of college with two books the same month, January of 1992. Sixteen prolific years and seventy-four books later, she hit the New York Times bestsellers list for the first time with Accidentally Yours in 2008. She made many appearances in the Top 10 before (finally) hitting #1 in 2015 with Thrill Me, the twentieth book in her most popular series, the Fool’s Gold romances, and the fourth of five books released that year.

Susan lives in Seattle with her husband, two ragdoll cats, and a tattletale toy poodle. Her heart for animals has led Susan to become an active supporter of the Seattle Humane Society. Animals play a big role in her books, as well, as she believes they’re an integral component to a happy life.

Website | Facebook | Twitter

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Review: The Lady Travelers Guide to Larceny with a Dashing Stranger by Victoria Alexander

Review: The Lady Travelers Guide to Larceny with a Dashing Stranger by Victoria AlexanderThe Lady Travelers Guide to Larceny with a Dashing Stranger (The Lady Travelers Society, #2) by Victoria Alexander
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: historical romance
Series: Lady Travelers Society #2
Pages: 544
Published by Hqn on November 28th 2017
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

Join the Lady Travelers Society in their latest romantic misadventure, from #1 New York Times bestselling author Victoria Alexander


She must secure her future

A lady should never be obliged to think of matters financial! But when Lady Wilhelmina Bascombe’s carefree, extravagant lifestyle vanishes with the demise of her husband, her only hope lies in retrieving a family treasure—a Renaissance masterpiece currently in the hands of a cunning art collector in Venice. Thankfully, the Lady Travelers Society has orchestrated a clever plan to get Willie to Europe, leading a tour of mothers and daughters…and one curiously attentive man.


He must reclaim his heritage

Dante Augustus Montague’s one passion has long been his family’s art collection. He’s finally tracked a long-lost painting to the enchanting Lady Bascombe. Convinced that the canvas had been stolen, he will use any means to reclaim his birthright—including deception. But how long before pretend infatuation gives way to genuine desire?


Now they’re rivals for a prize that will change everything

Willie and Dante know they’re playing with fire in the magical moonlit city. Their common quest could compromise them both…or lead them to happily-ever-after.

My Review: 

This Lady Travelers Guide is a fitting successor to the first book in this delightful series, The Lady Travelers Guide to Scoundrels and Other Gentlemen, even though both the hero and the heroine are opposites from those in the first book.

Unlike India Prendergast, Lady Wilhelmina Bascombe is quite likeable, and more than a bit uncertain of herself. Which does not stop her from being absolutely determined to find a way to rescue her fortunes without resorting to marrying for money.

As a widow, Willie has a bit of latitude in her behavior. As the widow of a young man who seems to have had zero funds but was determined to have oodles of fun, Willie has few means at her disposal, particularly after she paid off her late husband’s many (many) debts.

She may have eloped with George in a cloud of scandal, but she’s discovered over the two years since his death that she doesn’t miss him very much. And she’s outgrown the constant thrill-seeking that used to be their existence. But she does miss all the friends she thought she had.

And where Derek Saunders certainly had lived up to being the “scoundrel” of the title in that first book, Dante Montague has become a bit too staid and respectable for his sister Rosalind’s comfort. Not that respectability isn’t a good thing, but it seems as if Dante has lost the spirit of fun that he used to have, between managing his investments and managing the down-at-heels art museum he inherited.

But Willie and Dante have something in common, something that is going to bring them together, and very nearly tear them apart.

Once upon a time, Dante’s grandfather owned a beautiful triptych of paintings by one of Titian’s students. And dear grandfather either gave the center painting in the set to Willie’s grandmother – or Willie’s grandmother stole it.

Willie’s late and less-and-less lamented husband pawned it to an Italian collector. She plans to go to Venice to pay back the loan and redeem her painting, so that she can sell it for enough to provide her with financial independence.

But Willie is pretty much flat broke, and the only way she can manage the trip to Venice is to take over as tour host for one of the tours arranged by her godmother’s little enterprise, the Lady Travelers Society.

Dante wants to take back what he believes is “his” painting, and the only way he can do that is to follow Willie to Venice. He contacts the brilliantly idiotic scheme to accompany his sister and her daughter on the Lady Travelers Society tour.

And that’s where everything goes terribly right and horribly wrong, all at the same time. Even before they are forced to flee Venice one step ahead of the polizia.

Escape Rating B+: As Dante discovers, it is impossible not to like Willie Bascombe. Her life was completely overthrown, but she is determined to make the best of the situation that she admits she stuck herself in. George was charming, but neither steady nor trustworthy. Sooner or later, they would have come to financial grief, with or without his death.

Willie is independent, whether she wants to be or not, and she is determined to make the most of it. Not by remarrying for money, but by finding a way to achieve independence on her own. She’s having a difficult time of it, and she’s finding out she has more inner strength and resources than she ever imagined. And that independence can be very, very hard.

One of the lovely bits of this story is the way that the women on Willie’s tour band together and develop a true and sincere friendship, in spite of their many differences. That they all end up first fostering Willie’s relationship with Dante and then uniting against the common enemy is a terrific testimonial to the power of real friendship.

Dante is used to being in control. His investments are successful because he does his research and controls his emotions. While he may have done his research on Willie, he is never, ever in charge of his emotions. Part of what makes the story so much fun is the way that Dante’s sister Rosalind manages to burst his bubble at every turn. She’s his older sister, he’s being a complete idiot, and she relishes calling him on it, while still making it clear that she loves him in his idiocy, even though she refuses to save him from the folly of his own actions.

This is my second book in a row to feature Paris as a setting. In this case, a big chunk of the tour is set in Paris during the time of the 1889 World’s Fair, when the Eiffel Tower was new and a marvel of the world. The descriptions of Paris in general and the Tower in particular are lyrical and moving. It’s astonishing to think that the icon of Paris was originally intended to be a temporary structure.

At the end, this story surprisingly reminded me of the famous short story, The Gift of the Magi by O. Henry. Each tries to give the other something that they once wanted desperately but no longer need. The little bit of mystery at the end is the icing on a very fine cake.

There’s one more book in this series at least so far. The Lady Travelers Guide to Deception with an Unlikely Earl will be published next May. And it looks like another treat!

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Review: The Paris Secret by Karen Swan

Review: The Paris Secret by Karen SwanThe Paris Secret by Karen Swan
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: contemporary romance, historical fiction, women's fiction, World War II
Pages: 416
Published by William Morrow Paperbacks on November 14th 2017
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

Somewhere along the cobbled streets of Paris, an apartment lies thick with dust and secrets: full of priceless artworks hidden away for decades.

High-flying Fine Art Agent Flora from London, more comfortable with the tension of a million-pound auction than a cosy candlelit dinner for two, is called in to asses these suddenly discovered treasures. As an expert in her field, she must trace the history of each painting and just who has concealed them for so long.

Thrown in amongst the glamorous Vermeil family as they move between Paris and Antibes, Flora begins to discover that things aren't all that they seem, while back at home her own family is recoiling from a seismic shock. The terse and brooding Xavier Vermeil seems intent on forcing Flora out of his family's affairs - but just what is he hiding?

My Review:

This is not the first book to fictionalize the history of the very real Parisian Time Capsule apartment, or even the first book using this apartment that I have read. That would be Paris Time Capsule by Ella Carey – and the fictionalization of its history hews a bit closer to the actual history than does The Paris Secret.

But in spite of the similarity of their origins, the stories are completely different. And also a bit the same, but not so much the same that The Paris Secret does not stand on its own – because it does.

The real Paris Time Capsule apartment

In this version, the “lost” apartment belongs to the wealthy and philanthropic Vermeil family, and they are as surprised as anyone else when their lawyer informs them that someone has broken into this apartment that they never knew they owned. It’s even more surprising that the apartment turns out to be a virtual treasure-trove of modernist art, including paintings and sketches by Renoir, Picasso and others. These art treasures have not seen the light of day since the apartment was closed up during the dark days of the Nazis occupation of Paris during WW2.

Our heroine, Flora Sykes, is the art history expert who is tasked with cataloging the vast collection and researching its provenance for the Vermeil family. But her involvement with the family gets off to a rocky start, and stays rocky throughout the book. Sometimes because of the family, but mostly because of what Flora discovers about them.

Their present is gossip-worthy enough on its own. The two adult children of the family, Xavier and Natascha. They are at the top of every gossip site – their exploits and tantrums are legendary. And something about Flora seems to rub both of them absolutely the wrong way, to the point where they both act out every time they are around her.

But it’s the past of the family that Flora uncovers, and that is where history comes in. In order to sell the treasure trove, or even to donate it to museums, Flora must determine its provenance, in other words just how all those paintings came to be in that apartment in the first place.

That search takes her back to the war, and unearths a terrible secret that everyone wishes had never come to light. But once it does, there is no going back. Only forwards. Because the whole truth has been buried under layer after layer of lies and deceits, and it is past time for everything to finally be revealed.

Not in black or white, but in terrible shades of gray.

Escape Rating B: It was fascinating to read a book that used the exact same premise as something I’d already read, and see where this author used the inspiration in an entirely different way.

Paris Time Capsule focused more on uncovering the history. The Paris Secret revolves around the art. History gets uncovered, but it uses the art as a focus in a way that made the two stories very different.

The Paris Secret also illuminates one of the murkier (and often nastier) facets of the Nazi occupation of Paris. The ownership of the paintings traces back to an art dealer who was reviled for his cooperation with the Nazis. He was instrumental in the forcing of many Jewish families to sell their precious collections at gunpoint for bargain-basement prices in the families’ belief that they were buying freedom for themselves – when all they received was betrayal while the dealer made a fortune.

The betrayal was even more heinous because the dealer himself was a Jew. If he hadn’t died in 1942, after the war he would certainly have been tried as a collaborateur and ultimately convicted.

But of course this is not the whole story, and the revelation of all the truths involved adds depth to the contemporary parts of the book. Not that there are not plenty of revelations there as well.

Because the more that Flora interacts with the family, the more she sees beneath the surface. The tragic events in Natascha’s own past have bearing both on her present and on the current real-life revelations of the sexual misconduct of prominent figures in the entertainment world today. That resonance is more profound than might even have been intended at the time this book was first published over a year ago in Britain.

Layered on top of the history and the present-day traumas there is a romance between Flora and the Vermeil’s adult son and all-around bad boy, Xavier Vermeil. For this reader, the romance fell just a bit flat, as did Flora’s own family drama. Your mileage, of course, may vary.

There is at least one other book that revolves around the discovery of the real-life apartment, appropriately titled A Paris Apartment by Michelle Gable. And it looks worth checking out too. The story of the lost apartment is just so fascinating that more interpretations seem irresistible!

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Review: Close Contact by Lori Foster + Giveaway

Review: Close Contact by Lori Foster + GiveawayClose Contact (Body Armor, #3) by Lori Foster
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: contemporary romance
Series: Body Armor #3
Published by Harlequin Books on November 28th 2017
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

There’s no resisting a desire like this…

MMA fighter Miles Dartman’s casual arrangement with personal shopper Maxi Nevar would be many men’s fantasy. She seeks him out, they have mindblowing sex, she leaves. Rinse, repeat. Yet lately, Miles wants more. And when Maxi requests his services via the Body Armor security agency, he’s ready to finally break through her defenses—and protect her day and night.

Receiving a large inheritance has brought chaos and uncertainty into Maxi’s life. Her ex has resurfaced, along with lots of former “friends,” and someone is making mysterious threats. Then there’s Miles, who doesn’t ask for anything…except her trust. Pleasure is easy. Now Maxi has to give her heart as well as her body…or risk losing a man who could be everything she needs.

My Review: 

The Body Armor Agency needs a new motto. Perhaps something on the order of “We’ll protect your body, and we’ll steal your heart.” Because this series, so far, is all wrapped in the trope of the bodyguard and his protectee falling for each other while dodging whatever is after her.

The start of Close Contact is a bit different from the other books, because MMA fighter turned bodyguard Miles Dartmann and personal shopper Maxi Nevar already know each other, in the Biblical sense, before the book begins.

That Maxi is the one who cut and run from their no-strings-attached fling still bothers Miles. A lot. And not just because he’s usually the one who leaves. It felt like they were really starting to get somewhere, and not just between the sheets, when Maxi disappeared without a trace.

But when she wakes up in the middle of the night, out in the middle of the field next to the house she inherited from her grandmother, with no recollection of how she got there, she remembers that Miles was about to start his new job as a bodyguard when they hooked up.

Because Maxi needs a bodyguard. She’s not sure who she needs guarding from, or even why, but someone keeps messing with her, her house, her stuff, and her life. At first, she chalked up the tiny incidents as misremembering or accidents, but waking up by the pond could only have happened the way it did if someone put her there.

The question is why. And for answers, she turns to Miles, his boss Sahara Silver, and Body Armor.

At first, only Sahara believes Maxi. Miles, still stinging a bit from Maxi’s rejection, is certain that there’s another jilted lover in there someplace who decided to get some payback. It’s not until he comes out to Maxi’s rather remote little farmhouse and witnesses things for himself that he finally gets on board.

And just as he does, the incidents ramp up. Whatever is happening is escalating, and Maxi still doesn’t know why.

It could have to do with her inheritance of the farmhouse and her grandmother’s surprisingly large assets. After all, her brother and sister both believe that they should have gotten a bigger share, and that Maxi should sell the property and just give it to them.

It could be her cheating ex-fiance, who suddenly seems to want her back now that she’s come into her inheritance, and won’t take no for an answer.

It could be the local law enforcement officer who seems to be waiting for Maxi to fall into his arms. A plan that is definitely thwarted by Miles’ presence in Maxi’s life – and eventually her bed.
But the longer that Miles spends with Maxi, the more of the potential suspects he is able to eliminate. And the closer that he gets to the woman who has staked out a place in his heart.

The hotter their romance gets, the more the suspense ratchets up. When the villain is finally revealed, it’s a surprise to everyone involved. Very nearly a deadly one.

Escape Rating A-: Close Contact is every bit as much fun as Hard Justice, the previous book in the series. And I absolutely loved that one.

One of the things I enjoyed about Close Contact was definitely Maxi. And not just because she feels not merely duty-bound, but actually enjoys taking care of all of her grandmother’s many, many (many) cats.

Don’t worry, she’s not a hoarder. The cats live outside, and mostly in the barn. But her grandmother loved them and Maxi cares for them – especially after one of them sticks by her the night she wakes up by the pond.

But what I really liked about Maxi was the way that she takes her life by the horns and learns to stand up for herself. She’s always felt like a bit of a failure, because she isn’t as ambitious and hard-driving as her siblings. But even though she’s used to jumping when they say jump, she still doesn’t give in or change what she believes is right, although she tries to keep the peace between them. It’s interesting watching that dynamic change over the course of the story.

Also, Maxi is right, at least about who isn’t her tormentor. Miles wants to suspect both her siblings and her ex, and they do all have reasons that foster that suspicion. But Maxi knows it isn’t them. I’m also glad it isn’t the ex, because that trope has been done to death.

And something else that was really well done was the forthright way that Miles dealt with the end of his MMA career and the reasons for that ending. I wish that the real-life NFL was half so honest about the risks of concussions and CTE.

The suspense part of this story ratchets up nicely. Or chillingly. It’s done well. The perpetrator is the person everyone least suspects, and the reasons for the whole mess are utterly tragic but at least began from a place that is easy to empathize with, even if the current results are well beyond the pale.

The romance in Close Contact is a bit fast, but it makes sense in context. They were already on their way to falling for each other when Maxi disappeared, so it makes sense that once they are forced into each other’s company, things eventually pick up where they left off. And it is right that they do.

If you like bodyguard romances, the Body Armor series is a winner. And you don’t have to read them all to get into them, but they’re fun, so why not?

We also get a chance to see hints of the next book in the series. It looks like Body Armor owner Sahara Silver may have finally met her match. And I can’t wait to read all about it in Fast Burn.

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