Review: The Ancestor by Lee Matthew Goldberg + Giveaway

Review: The Ancestor by Lee Matthew Goldberg + GiveawayThe Ancestor by Lee Matthew Goldberg
Format: eARC
Source: supplied by publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: paperback, ebook
Genres: historical fiction, mystery, thriller
Pages: 348
Published by All Due Respect on August 21, 2020
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

A man wakes up in present-day Alaskan wilderness with no idea who he is, nothing on him save an empty journal with the date 1898 and a mirror. He sees another man hunting nearby, astounded that they look exactly alike. After following this other man home, he witnesses a wife and child that brings forth a rush of memories of his own wife and child, except he's certain they do not exist in modern times-but from his life in the late 1800s. After recalling his name is Wyatt, he worms his way into his doppelganger Travis Barlow's life. Memories become unearthed the more time he spends, making him believe that he'd been frozen after coming to Alaska during the Gold Rush and that Travis is his great-great grandson. Wyatt is certain gold still exists in the area and finding it with Travis will ingratiate himself to the family, especially with Travis's wife Callie, once Wyatt falls in love. This turns into a dangerous obsession affecting the Barlows and everyone in their small town, since Wyatt can't be tamed until he also discovers the meaning of why he was able to be preserved on ice for over a century.
A meditation on love lost and unfulfilled dreams, The Ancestor is a thrilling page-turner in present day Alaska and a historical adventure about the perilous Gold Rush expeditions where prospectors left behind their lives for the promise of hope and a better future. The question remains whether it was all worth the sacrifice….

My Review:

After living in Alaska for several years, I can never resist an Alaska story when it catches my reading eye. The Ancestor is definitely a fever dream of an Alaska story. Ironic when you think about it, as Alaska is not exactly a place that brings fever dreams to mind. More like the opposite; frozen dreams.

But this is that too, one man’s frozen dream of a past that only he remembers, and his fever dream in the present to recapture the life he once had – not by going back to the past, but by recreating a new version of his old life in the present, no matter how many sins he has to commit along the way.

The Ancestor is kind of a Rip Van Winkle story, if ol’ Rip, instead of being meek, mild, easygoing and henpecked, was instead an amoral sociopath of a serial killer.

Not quite, but closer than any other description I can come up with, considering that old saw about the past being another country where they do things differently.

Because that’s where Wyatt Barlow is from. The past. He went into the ice not terribly far from Nome, Alaska, in 1898, and woke up in 2020. The world has changed – even in Alaska. (Although it’s not mentioned specifically, he probably defrosted because the permafrost in Alaska is melting due to climate change. I digress. I have a feeling I’m going to do that a lot in this review.)

When Wyatt wanders into town, looking pretty much like death warmed over – as that’s none too far from the truth – he discovers that his descendants are still in the area, living in the tiny town of Laner. That he has a doppelganger descendant he hears called “Trav” who turns out to have a beautiful wife and a baby boy who resemble Wyatt’s own lost wife and baby boy.

A baby boy who turns out to be Trav – actually Travis’ – great grandfather. Making Wyatt his great-great-grandfather. Not that either of them have the relationship figured out exactly at the time.

But Wyatt Barlow is a man used to getting what he wants, no matter who or what might stand in his way. So he hatches a plot to involve himself in his great-great-grandson’s life, with an eye to taking over that life.

After all, that uncanny resemblance between them must be good for something. There must be a purpose to it. A purpose that Wyatt can exploit, just as he has exploited so many other things and people in his life, in order to achieve what he wants. Just like he found the gold that brought him to Alaska in the first place. Just like he killed his partner to get that gold.

And now he’s found a way to get back what he lost. A wife and a son. Who won’t even know that he’s taken Travis’ place. All he has to do is become Travis – and put him under that ice. After all, in the here and now, there can be only one Travis Barlow. And Wyatt intends to be that Travis, no matter what it takes.

Escape Rating B: I’ll admit to being all over the place on this one. It certainly kept me turning pages. It’s also not exactly what the blurb says it is, either. I’d certainly debate whether Wyatt falls in love with Travis’ wife. What he’s feeling, and what he’s planning, aren’t nearly so romantic. Or anything even close to that.

There are two stories here. One is the obvious, about Wayne and Travis and the way that Wayne inveigles himself into Travis’ life, his family and eventually his place in the world. But the story that follows Travis’ life and that of his family reminds me a lot of the stories about life in the tiny towns sprinkled through the state. That Nome is the nearest “big” place to Laner, and that Nome only has a population of 4,000 people, gives a hint of the size and remoteness of the place. Callie’s part of this story, Travis’ California-born wife, also feels familiar. Anchorage, with a population of nearly 300,000, feels remote and small relative to anything in the Lower 48, or as it’s called in Alaska, “Outside”. So Callie’s feelings of near-claustrophobia, complete isolation and frequent boredom are all too real. She loves Travis, she loves Laner, but it is a damn hard life and it seriously gets to her.

The other story is Wayne’s story about life during the Klondike Gold Rush. Not that plenty of stories about the Gold Rush haven’t been told before. And perhaps that’s where some of the issues lie.

Wayne has a difficult time remembering everything that happened to him in the past. Saying his brain is a bit frozen isn’t exactly a stretch. That he survived in the ice is a bit of handwavium, as all time travel stories generally are. That’s the part the reader has to take on faith, and it works that way.

But the way he gets back his memory is to take heroin. Again, not that there isn’t plenty of it available, along with meth and booze, in those tiny remote villages. It’s the same as everywhere else, perhaps even more so considering the long, dark, cold winters. Any escape is chased, even if its just an escape inside one’s own head.

I think where my willing suspension of disbelief went a bit haywire was not just in the way that Wyatt recovered his memories, but what he remembered. And that the consequences of what is clearly already an addiction aren’t dealt with at all.

Smith at bar in Skagway, Alaska, 1898

On the one hand, Wayne’s heroin coma lets him relive his experiences in their seeming entirety. And they are unflinching when it comes to his abandonment of his family back in Washington state, the murder he committed on his way to Sitka, and the murders he commits along his way from Juneau to Dawson City to “The Unknown”, which turns out to be Anvil Creek near Laner. But one of those killings is of a bunch of conmen led by one of Alaska’s more colorful legends, “Soapy” Smith. The problem is that the events in Wyatt’s story occur after Smith was gunned down, extremely publicly, in Skagway. His body was even autopsied. There is no doubt that Smith was dead before he met Wyatt. Which threw off my perception of the accuracy of Wyatt’s memories.

Except those memories really did lead him to the gold. So the question of just how much Wyatt dreamed vs. how much he actually remembered is still bothering me. A lot.

And that I’m thinking about this so much after I closed the book is just an example of what made this book so compelling – even as it drove me crazy.

There is a lot of darkness in this book. While this story begins as winter sort of turns to spring, the fact is that daylight hours in Nome in winter average around 4 hours per day in December and January. It’s a dark place in the winter, and a cold place most of the year. The temps are only in the 30s in April when this story begins and don’t get to 60 even in July. The cold and the dark are part of the “ambiance”.

At the same time, Travis’ family is going through some rough times. The economy is down, the big employers have all closed, his grandfather is dying, his brother was murdered and Travis is generally depressed. Wyatt’s sudden advent into Laner may not be a good thing, but it is a different thing in a place that craves novelty.

Wyatt’s own story is itself dark. It’s brutal in regards to his abandonment of his own family, and equally so about the obsession that consumes his own thoughts. He wants what he wants and no one is allowed to stand in his way. I ended the story feeling sorry for Callie because she’s now married to a monster who will do anything to have her and to keep her, whether she wants to be kept or not.

So there are no happy endings here. Instead, The Ancestor is dark and chilling every step of its enthralling way. A terrific chilling read for this long, hot summer.

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

I’m giving away a copy of The Ancestor to one lucky U.S. commenter on this tour!

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Review: The Brothers of Auschwitz by Malka Adler

Review: The Brothers of Auschwitz by Malka AdlerThe Brothers of Auschwitz by Malka Adler, Noel Canin
Format: eARC
Source: supplied by publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: paperback, ebook
Genres: biography, historical fiction, Holocaust, World War II
Pages: 464
Published by One More Chapter on September 1, 2020
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

An extraordinary novel of hope and heartbreak, this is a story about a family separated by the Holocaust and their harrowing journey back to each other.
My brother’s tears left a delicate, clean line on his face. I stroked his cheek, whispered, it’s really you…
Dov and Yitzhak live in a small village in the mountains of Hungary, isolated both from the world and from the horrors of the war. But one day in 1944, everything changes. The Nazis storm the homes of the Jewish villagers and inform them they have one hour. One hour before the train will take them to Auschwitz.
Six decades later, from the safety of their living rooms at home in Israel, the brothers finally break their silence to a friend who will never let their stories be forgotten.
Told in a poetic style reminiscent of Atwood and Salinger, Malka Adler has penned a visceral yet essential read for those who have found strength, solace and above all, hope, in books like The Choice, The Librarian of Auschwitz and The Tattooist of Auschwitz.
This paperback includes an exclusive 14-page P.S. section with an author Q, an Author’s Note and a reading group guide.
Praise for The Brothers of Auschwitz
I sat down and read this within a few hours, my wife is now reading it and it is bringing tears to her eyes’ Amazon reviewer
‘The story is so incredible and the author writes so beautifully that it is impossible to stay indifferent. I gave the book to my mom and she called me after she finished crying and telling me how much she loved it’ Amazon reviewer
‘It is a book we all must read, read in order to know … It is harsh, enthralling, earth-shattering, rattling – but we must. And nothing less’ Aliza Ziegler, Editor-in-Chief at Proza Books, Yedioth Ahronoth Publishing House
Great courage is needed to write as Adler does – without softening, without beautifying, without leaving any room to imagination’ Yehudith Rotem, Haaretz newspaper
‘This is a book we are not allowed not to read’ Leah Roditi, At Magazine

My Review:

Fiction is the lie that tells the truth, as it does in this biographical novel about two brothers’ harrowing experiences as prisoners in Auschwitz in 1944-45 and their long journey to find each other again. And what happened after.

The story is searing in its intensity, all the more so because so much of it is based on interviews that the author conducted with its protagonists. Even though this is labeled as a “biographical novel”, it feels true in all of its horror.

Although there is a framing story of the author going to visit Dov and Yitzhak to interview them, the power in this narrative comes from the two men telling what feels like the unvarnished and unwhitewashed truth about not just what happened to them during the war, but also what they did to keep themselves alive. And how both shaped the men they became and lingered for the rest of their lives.

It’s a compelling story in its harsh treatment of its subjects, or perhaps it’s better to describe it as harsh in the way that its subjects treat themselves. Death would have been easy to find. Survival was hard and brutal, a desperate struggle every single day for one mouthful of food and precious few hours of sleep. The conditions they existed under were designed to eliminate as many Jews as possible, and succeeded all too well. Even after the Germans knew that the war was lost, they were still doing their utmost to march as many as possible until they died.

But this set of multiple first-person accounts of what barely constituted life under the thumb of the Nazi SS – seemingly even more deadly when not in an actual concentration camp – spares no one in its telling, not the Nazis, not the Christians who were so willing to see the Jews carted away so they could claim their homes and possessions, and not the survivors who saw and felt themselves as barely human when the Nazis were finally gone.

I’m not saying liberated, because that doesn’t seem to be the right word. Long after the war, but particularly in its immediate aftermath, the brothers make it clear that they carried their oppressors and their experiences with them into rehabilitation camps and forever after.

This is a book that compels the reader to stay with it, even as you want to turn your eyes away. Or perhaps especially because of that. It’s worse than war in all its horror, it’s bigger than man’s inhumanity to man, and it needs to be read because this is a story that needs to be remembered.

Escape Rating A: This book felt personal to me in ways even beyond my expectations. The area that Dov and Yitzhak are taken from is the area my own grandmother came from. The man they meet briefly in their first camp, the one who is a landowner, could have been my great-grandfather, who was the same, although as far as is known, he didn’t even make it to one of the concentration camps.

So this story feels true for me because it matches what little history I have from my own family. Most of my relatives were already in the U.S. when the Nazis came, and only one who was not survived the camps. He didn’t talk about it and neither did his wife, my great aunt, who was also a survivor. So that Yitzhak and Dov don’t want to talk about it also rang true.

This is obviously a book that got me in the feels. It reads as raw, and brutal, and honest about not just the hardship they faced – and that’s not nearly a strong enough word – but also the desperate acts they committed themselves in order to just live one more day. Nothing is left to the imagination and it’s a story of horror after horror.

And yet, they survived. They left Europe, went to Israel and became part of the foundation of a country whose odds were desperately stacked against it, but survived anyway. And there’s hope in that. The hope that we can make the cry of “Never Again” stick. If we commit ourselves to remember. Read this book, remember, and weep.

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Review: The London Restoration by Rachel McMillan + Giveaway

Review: The London Restoration by Rachel McMillan + GiveawayThe London Restoration by Rachel McMillan
Format: eARC
Source: supplied by publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: historical fiction, historical romance, World War II
Pages: 336
Published by Thomas Nelson on August 18, 2020
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

In post-World War II London, determined to save their marriage and the city they love, two people divided by World War II's secrets rebuild their lives, their love, and their world.
London, Fall 1945. Architectural historian Diana Somerville's experience as a codebreaker at Bletchley Park and her knowledge of London's churches intersect in MI6's pursuit of a Russian agent named Eternity. Diana wants nothing more than to begin again with her husband Brent after their separation during the war, but her signing of the Official Secrets Act keeps him at a distance.
Brent Somerville, professor of theology at King's College, hopes aiding his wife with her church consultations will help him better understand why she disappeared when he needed her most. But he must find a way to reconcile his traumatic experiences as a stretcher bearer on the European front with her obvious lies about her wartime activities and whereabouts.

My Review:

I picked this one for two reasons. One was the time period. It’s starting to look like the early Cold War era is the new big thing in historical fiction, and so far the books have been excellent – and this one was no exception. Reason number two was that I enjoyed the first two books in this author’s Van Buren and DeLuca series (Murder at the Flamingo and Murder in the City of Liberty) and hoped that this book would be as good if not better.

That hope was definitely realized.

The story begins late in 1945, and the shooting war is over. Diana and Brent Somerville, like so many who married during the war, have to figure out whether the love that sustained their spirits during the war’s separation and all its horrors, can survive in its aftermath. They both carry secrets from those long years, and those secrets form a barrier between them that both are afraid to bridge.

Brent wants to protect Diana from the horrors of his war and the extent of his wounds, both physical and emotional.

Diana needs to protect both Brent and herself from the consequences of her work at Bletchley Park as one of the codebreakers. She signed the Official Secrets Act. She literally CANNOT tell him about her wartime service under threat of imprisonment. That she is still continuing that wartime “secret” service unofficially, as a favor to a friend, adds to the weight of the secrets that fester between them.

Unless she can bring him into the world of shadows that she now inhabits. Before the new “Cold War” claims their marriage as one of its early victims. Or takes both of their lives.

Escape Rating A-: The deeper I got into this story, the more that the multiple interpretations of the title ensnared me.

There’s the obvious one, that this story takes place during the restoration of London after the war is over. But it’s also about the restoration of their marriage, which takes place in London. That would be enough to be going on with. But there’s that third interpretation, the way that Diana’s love of the architecture of the Christopher Wren churches of London loops back to history, to the restoration of London after the Great Fire of 1666.

It was also fascinating to read a romance that is very different from any of the standard tropes, at least in the story’s “present”. The original romance between Diana and Brent is a classic. Lovers meet, discover their other half, fall instantly and completely, have a quirky but romantic wedding and live happily ever after. And maybe they will, but they certainly don’t in the immediate term, because the Blitz rains down on their wedding night, then both of them are off to war.

What makes the romance part of this story so marvelously different from the usual is that it’s a romance between two people who are already married, and yet they are strangers to each other after four years of war. In order for their wartime marriage to survive where so many did not they have to get to know the people they are now and fall in love with each other all over again.

And it’s lovely.

One of the things that this story also does well is the way that it portrays the consequences of the abrupt change to both their lives, but particularly Diana’s, after the war is over and life is supposed to go back to “normal”. The problem is that the aftermath of any catastrophic change is never easy, and that whatever normal is will not be and cannot be the exact same as it was before the catastrophe.

(This is just as true in our own now as ever. The world post-pandemic will be different from the pre-pandemic world, we just don’t know exactly how yet.)

Diana is supposed to become a housewife, taking care of her husband and any children they have. But Diana is one of the most rubbish housewives ever to grace a page. And she’s not going to change. Because she has already changed. Her service at Bletchley Park opened a world for her that she wants to continue to inhabit, just with her husband at her side. For four years she lived a life of purpose and challenge, and she just isn’t willing to give that up. She’s not made to give that up.

Finding a way to bridge the minefield between herself and her husband so that she can continue to serve her country and especially continue to feed her brilliant mind is what really sets her on her course to unofficially help her friend, fellow codebreaker and MI-6 agent uncover the first agents of that Cold War – and nearly gets both her and Brent killed in the process.

Summing up, the history is fascinating, the hunt for the spies is thrilling and the romance is lovely. Come to this book for whichever appeals to you the most. But definitely do come! The London Restoration is a marvelous story from its lonely beginning to its friendship and love-filled end.

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

I am giving away a copy of The London Restoration to one very lucky US commenter on this tour!

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Spotlight + Excerpt: The Friendship List by Susan Mallery

Spotlight + Excerpt: The Friendship List by Susan MalleryThe Friendship List by Susan Mallery
Formats available: hardcover, large print, paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: Chick Lit, contemporary romance, women's fiction
Pages: 384
Published by HQN Books on August 4, 2020
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

[ ] Dance till dawn

[ ] Go skydiving

[ ] Wear a bikini in public

[ ] Start living


Two best friends jump-start their lives in a summer that will change them forever…
Single mom Ellen Fox couldn’t be more content—until she overhears her son saying he can’t go to his dream college because she needs him too much. If she wants him to live his best life, she has to convince him she’s living hers.
So Unity Leandre, her best friend since forever, creates a list of challenges to push Ellen out of her comfort zone. Unity will complete the list, too, but not because she needs to change. What’s wrong with a thirtysomething widow still sleeping in her late husband’s childhood bed?
The Friendship List begins as a way to make others believe they’re just fine. But somewhere between “wear three-inch heels” and “have sex with a gorgeous guy,” Ellen and Unity discover that life is meant to be lived with joy and abandon, in a story filled with humor, heartache and regrettable tattoos.

Welcome to the Excerpt tour for The Friendship List by Susan Mallery. Susan always manages to write stories that sweep me up and take me away, and I’m sure that The Friendship List will be no exception. I’m so sure, in fact, that I’ll be reviewing this book next week! I’m definitely looking forward to reading this, and I hope you will be too!

Excerpt from The Friendship List by Susan Mallery (continued from yesterday’s Excerpt at Moonlight Rendezvous)

When Unity had driven away, Ellen returned to the kitchen where she quickly loaded the dishwasher, then packed her lunch. Cooper had left before six. He was doing some end-of-school-year fitness challenge. Something about running and Ellen wasn’t sure what. To be honest, when he went on about his workouts, it was really hard not to tune him out. Especially when she had things like tuition to worry about.

“Not anymore today,” she said out loud. She would worry again in the morning. Unity was right—Cooper was going to keep changing his mind. Their road trip to look at colleges was only a few weeks away. After that they would narrow the list and he would start to apply. Only then would she know the final number and have to figure out how to pay for it.

Until then she had plenty to keep her busy. She was giving pop quizzes in both fourth and sixth periods and she wanted to update her year-end tests for her two algebra classes. She needed to buy groceries and put gas in the car and go by the library to get all her summer reading on the reserve list.

As she finished her morning routine and drove to the high school where she taught, Ellen thought about Cooper and the college issue. While she was afraid she couldn’t afford the tuition, she had to admit it was a great problem to have. Seventeen years ago, she’d been a terrified teenager, about to be a single mom, with nothing between her and living on the streets except incredibly disappointed and angry parents who had been determined to make her see the error of her ways.

Through hard work and determination, she’d managed to pull herself together—raise Cooper, go to college, get a good job, buy a duplex and save money for her kid’s education. Yay her.

But it sure would have been a lot easier if she’d simply married someone with money.

*

“How is it possible to get a C- in Spanish?” Coach Keith Kinne asked, not bothering to keep his voice down. “Half the population in town speaks Spanish. Hell, your sister’s husband is Hispanic.” He glared at the strapping football player standing in front of him. “Luka, you’re an idiot.”

Luka hung his head. “Yes, Coach.”

“Don’t ‘yes, Coach’ me. You knew this was happening—you’ve known for weeks. And did you ask for help? Did you tell me?”

“No, Coach.”

Keith thought about strangling the kid but he wasn’t sure he could physically wrap his hands around the teen’s thick neck. He swore silently, knowing they were where they were and now he had to fix things—like he always did with his students.

“You know the rules,” he pointed out. “To play on any varsity team you have to get a C+ or better in every class. Did you think the rules didn’t apply to you?”

Luka, nearly six-five and two hundred and fifty pounds, slumped even more. “I thought I was doing okay.”

“Really? So you’d been getting better grades on your tests?”

“Not exactly.” He raised his head, his expression miserable. “I thought I could pull up my grade at the last minute.”

“How did that plan work out?”

No bueno.”

Keith glared at him. “You think this is funny?”

“No, Coach.”

Keith shook his head. “You know there’s not a Spanish summer school class. That means we’re going to have to find an alternative.”

Despite his dark skin, Luka went pale. “Coach, don’t send me away.”

“No one gets sent away.” Sometimes athletes went to other districts that had a different summer curriculum. They stayed with families and focused on their studies.

“I need to stay with my family. My mom understands me.”

“It would be better for all of us if she understood Spanish.” Keith glared at the kid. “I’ll arrange for an online class. You’ll get a tutor. You will report to me twice a week, bringing me updates until you pass the class.” He sharpened his gaze. “With an A.”

Luka took a step back. “Coach, no! An A? I can’t.”

“Not with that attitude.”

“But, Coach.”

“You knew the rules and you broke them. You could have come to me for help early on. You know I’m always here for any of my students, but did you think about that or did you decide you were fine on your own?”

“I decided I was fine on my own,” Luka mumbled.

“Exactly. And deciding on your own is not how teams work. You go it alone and you fail.”

Tears filled Luka’s eyes. “Yes, Coach.”

Author Info:

#1 NYT bestselling author Susan Mallery writes heartwarming, humorous novels about the relationships that define our lives-family, friendship, romance. She’s known for putting nuanced characters in emotional situations that surprise readers to laughter. Beloved by millions, her books have been translated into 28 languages.Susan lives in Washington with her husband, two cats, and a small poodle with delusions of grandeur. Visit her at SusanMallery.com.

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Review: The Woman in the Green Dress by Tea Cooper

Review: The Woman in the Green Dress by Tea CooperThe Woman in the Green Dress by Tea Cooper
Format: eARC
Source: supplied by publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: historical fiction, timeslip fiction
Pages: 352
Published by Thomas Nelson on June 16, 2020
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

A cursed opal, a gnarled family tree, and a sinister woman in a green dress emerge in the aftermath of World War I.
After a whirlwind romance, London teashop waitress Fleur Richards can’t wait for her new husband, Hugh, to return from the Great War. But when word of his death arrives on Armistice Day, Fleur learns he has left her a sizable family fortune. Refusing to accept the inheritance, she heads to his beloved home country of Australia in search of the relatives who deserve it more.
In spite of her reluctance, she soon finds herself the sole owner of a remote farm and a dilapidated curio shop full of long-forgotten artifacts, remarkable preserved creatures, and a mystery that began more than sixty-five years ago. With the help of Kip, a repatriated soldier dealing with the sobering aftereffects of war, Fleur finds herself unable to resist pulling on the threads of the past. What she finds is a shocking story surrounding an opal and a woman in a green dress. . . a story that, nevertheless, offers hope and healing for the future.
This romantic mystery from award-winning Australian novelist Tea Cooper will keep readers guessing until the astonishing conclusion.
“Readers of Kate Morton and Beatriz Williams will be dazzled. The Woman in the Green Dress spins readers into an evocative world of mystery and romance in this deeply researched book by Tea Cooper. There is a Dickensian flair to Cooper’s carefully constructed world of lost inheritances and found treasures as two indomitable women stretched across centuries work to reconcile their pasts while reclaiming love, identity and belonging against two richly moving historical settings. As soon as you turn the last page you want to start again just to see how every last thread is sewn in anticipation of its thrilling conclusion. One of the most intelligent, visceral and vibrant historical reads I have had the privilege of visiting in an age.” —Rachel McMillan, author of The London Restoration 
“Refreshing and unique, The Woman in the Green Dress sweeps you across the wild lands of Australia in a thrilling whirl of mystery, romance, and danger. This magical tale weaves together two storylines with a heart-pounding finish that is drop-dead gorgeous.” —J’nell Ciesielski, author of The Socialite
Full-length historical story with both romance and mysteryStand-alone novelIncludes Discussion Questions for Book Clubs

My Review:

Particularly large and/or valuable gems often have legends attached to them. Or curses. Or both. Generally both. Based on its history, the Hope Diamond is probably safest in the Smithsonian, rather than around the neck of someone who might be the victim of its curse. Although its owner during the 1920s seems to have made a habit of letting her Great Dane wear it!

The gem at the heart of this intricate work of timeslip fiction would have been a magnet for myths, curses and thieves had it ever existed; a great, big, beautiful opal, the first of its kind to be discovered in Australia, at a time when Queen Victoria had made the wearing of opals all the rage. In spite of their previous reputation as unlucky.

Or cursed.

But the opal, cursed or otherwise, kind of acts like a brooch that pins this story together. A story that takes place in two separate time periods, 1853 and 1919. This is, after all, a timeslip story, so it’s the past that is unveiled in the 1853 timeline that needs to be resolved in the 1919 “present”.

And it’s a doozy.

Australia in 1853 is not too distant from its penal colony roots. Just distant enough that the emancipationists – the deported convicts, while still looked down upon, do have a chance of making a new life for themselves. Equally, they have a chance of getting up to their old tricks. Or perhaps a bit of both.

Australia is also a vast country much like the American West, where the white “settlers” were doing their level best – or should that be absolute worst – to push the continent’s original owners out of their ancestral lands – and even to the brink of extinction if it can be managed. But at the same time, it’s a big place and there are still, at least in 1853, places where the whites have not encroached much – at least not yet – and where the unique native flora and fauna still thrive. Although all are under threat.

And that’s where the earlier portions of this story begin. With a young woman who does her best to protect the native people she views as friends and fellow stewards of the lands around her. A woman whose job, whose art, is to preserve the native fauna at least through expert taxidermy, as her father did before her.

At least until her home and her life are invaded by a young man from Austria, on a journey to visit the sites that his mentor visited 20 years before. Together they find themselves caught up in a search for that fabulous missing opal, only to dig up way more than they bargained for in family secrets – and murder.

In 1919, Fleur Richards learns that her husband of just a few months has been killed in action in the closing days of the Great War, and that he has left his grief-stricken wife an inheritance she never knew he had. She thought that the dashing Australian soldier, Hugh Richards, was a young man with an eye to the future, but no more or greater financial prospects than her orphaned and impoverished self.

But the inheritance she does not want spurs her to travel halfway around the world to discover just who her husband really was, in the hopes of finding someone more deserving of his fortune than she believes herself to be.

She finds more than she bargained for. A cursed gem, a locked and abandoned shop of curios and wonders, the solution to a long-ago mystery. And a home.

Escape Rating A-: I have to say that The Woman in the Green Dress gets off to a bit of a slow start, hence the A- rating. Somewhere past the first third of the book the story takes off and develops all sorts of lovely twisty-turny plot threads that keep the story zipping along from there to the end.

But it takes a while to get there, approximately the amount of story it takes for Fleur to get to Australia and get fed up with the runaround she’s getting in Sydney. And on the historic side, the amount of time for Della to meet Stefan and decide to take her life back in her own hands by returning to Sydney to discover what changes her Aunt Cordelia has made in the shop that Della owns.

And I’ve just realized the juxtaposition, that Della’s story takes off when she gets to Sydney, and Fleur’s gets its wings when she leaves it. Not that Fleur doesn’t return fairly quickly, but as the two heroines start moving – so does the story.

Both the past and the present stories are wrapped around secrets. Della has to uncover the secrets that her Aunt is keeping – before those secrets get her killed. Not that they haven’t already left a trail of bodies in their wake. Fleur needs to uncover the secret of who her husband really was, and to learn the truth about the legacy he left behind for her to unravel and resolve.

In the end, it’s a story about the truth setting them both free. And about a beautiful, captivating opal that was both lost and found.

But that woman in the green dress – she’s pure poison. Her story, however, is as delicious as her tonic is deadly.

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Review: The Summer House by Lauren K. Denton

Review: The Summer House by Lauren K. DentonThe Summer House by Lauren K. Denton
Format: eARC
Source: supplied by publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: hardcover, ebook, audiobook
Genres: relationship fiction, women's fiction
Pages: 352
Published by Thomas Nelson on June 2, 2020
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

Sometimes it takes losing everything to find yourself again.
Lily Bishop wakes up one morning to find a good-bye note and divorce papers from her husband on the kitchen counter. Having moved to Alabama for his job only weeks before, Lily is devastated, but a flyer at the grocery store for a hair stylist position in a local retirement community provides a refuge while she contemplates her next steps.
Rose Carrigan built the small retirement village of Safe Harbor years ago—just before her husband ran off with his assistant. Now she runs a tight ship, making sure the residents follow her strict rules. Rose keeps everyone at arm’s length, including her own family. But when Lily shows up asking for a job and a place to live, Rose’s cold exterior begins to thaw.
Lily and Rose form an unlikely friendship, and Lily’s salon soon becomes the place where residents share town gossip, as well as a few secrets. Lily soon finds herself drawn to Rose’s nephew, Rawlins—a single dad and shrimper who’s had some practice at starting over—and one of the residents may be carrying a torch for Rose as well.
Neither Lily nor Rose is where she expected to be, but the summer makes them both wonder if there’s more to life and love than what they’ve experienced so far. The Summer House weaves Lauren K. Denton’s inviting Southern charm around a woman’s journey to find herself.
“The perfect summer read! You’ll feel the sun, taste the salt, and linger with new friends—you won’t want to leave.” —Katherine Reay, bestselling author of The Printed Letter Bookshop and Dear Mr. Knightley

My Review:

I grabbed The Summer House by Lauren K. Denton because a couple of years ago I picked up The Hideaway basically on a whim, loved it, and then read Glory Road and pretty much loved that too. The only book by this author I haven’t read – YET – is Hurricane Season, but in this year where everyone seems to need all the comfort reads they can get I expect to pick it up in the not too distant future.

Like the author’s previous books, The Summer House is relationship fiction, which often gets labeled and more often than not denigrated, as “women’s fiction”, but the relationship fiction label is much nearer the mark. Because it’s always about the relationships between people, often but not always family or found family, and frequently including the relationships between people in a small town.

And if women are the only ones who care about all the different kinds of relationships that people can have, whether in families or groups or communities, doesn’t that explain a whole lot about what’s wrong with the world these days?

The relationships that are on display, or perhaps under the microscope, or a bit of both, in this particular story are centered around two people, Lily Bishop and Rose Carrigan. As the story opens, both are at crossroads in their lives, and the route they each take leads them directly into each other’s path.

A path that runs straight through the retirement village so aptly named Safe Harbor. The place where Rose has been pretty much standing still for the past 40 years or so. Rose is known around town as the “Ice Queen” because she freezes out anyone who tries to get close to her, except for her nephew Rawlins and his daughter Hazel. She’s certainly not looking to shelter anyone under her wing.

But, when Lily Bishop calls Rose asking for a job as the resident hairdresser of Safe Harbor, that’s exactly what she does. Not just because Lily desperately needs the harbor of Safe Harbor, but because Rose is finally starting to scrabble at the walls of her self-isolation. And because she sees in Lily’s lonely aloneness something of herself that she hasn’t let herself see in a long time.

In letting Safe Harbor shelter them both, Lily and Rose both find the space they need to stand up and live.

Escape Rating B+:The blurb makes it seem as if Lily and Rose form an instant, albeit unlikely, friendship, but that’s not exactly what happens. In fact, it seems like this one tries to build its relationships in all kinds of slightly unconventional ways, and that the book is the better for its off-beat notes.

Lily’s desperate straits have to do with the husband who moved her to a place where neither of them knew a soul and then woke up one morning and left her divorce papers on the kitchen table as he seemed to disappear off the face of the earth. But Lily’s not desperately lovesick trying to get him back. She doesn’t even want him back after that – and who can blame her? (Besides her overbearing mother-in-law, that is.) Rather, she’s left with a mess and is just digging her way out, with no support network, no job and about to be evicted from a rental house that came with his job – which he has also fled.

It’s unusual for this kind of story that he wasn’t abusive, she’s not pregnant and she’s not a suddenly single mother. She’s just temporarily adrift and very much alone. She knows she can get back on her feet, she just needs a bit of time and space in which to do that, which is what makes her call Rose about the job doing the one thing she’s always loved, using the gift she inherited from her late mother – cutting hair and providing a place for people to set down their burdens for a bit and come out feeling better. (I’m not saying that a story like this one can’t be excellent with some of those usual starting points, but it is terrific to see one that does it just a bit differently for a change!)

But in giving Lily a chance to recover, Rose also manages to give herself a chance to take a new look at the world around her, and set down some of the burdens that she’s been carrying entirely too long. Since she was Lily’s age. And the story of Rose’s re-awakening is every bit as lovely as that of Lily’s awakening.

That both of them manage to find happiness, community and love in the place where they have found themselves planted is the icing on a very heartwarming cake, and makes for an absolutely delightful story.

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Review: Masquerade at Middlecrest Abbey by Abigail Wilson

Review: Masquerade at Middlecrest Abbey by Abigail WilsonMasquerade at Middlecrest Abbey by Abigail Wilson
Format: eARC
Source: supplied by publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: large print, paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: historical fiction, historical romance, romantic suspense
Pages: 336
Published by Thomas Nelson on May 26, 2020
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

When the widowed Lord Torrington agreed to spy for the crown, he never planned to impersonate a highwayman, let alone rob the wrong carriage. Stranded on the road with an unconscious young woman, he is forced to propose marriage to protect his identity, as well as his dangerous mission.
Trapped by not only the duty to her country but her limited options, Miss Elizabeth Cantrell and her illegitimate son are whisked away to Middlecrest Abbey by none other than the elder brother of her son’s absent father. She is met by Torrington’s beautiful grown daughters, a vicious murderer, and an urgent hunt for the missing intelligence that could turn the war with France. Afraid of what Lord Torrington might do if he learns of her son’s true identity, Elizabeth must remain one step ahead of her fragile heart, her uncertain future, and the relentless mystery person bent on her new family’s ruin.

My Review:

Historical romantic suspense really needs to become its own thing, because that’s what this book really is. It’s straddling a line between historical romance, mystery and something that I want to call “heroine in jeopardy” because it’s all of those things at the same time.

Even though “heroine in jeopardy” isn’t actually a genre – although it probably ought to be.

As this story opens, our heroine is very definitely in jeopardy, just not the jeopardy she thought she was in when a masked man appeared in front of her coach telling the coachman to “Stand and deliver!” The traditional “battle cry” of the highwayman.

Not that Elizabeth has anything to deliver, at least not in the usual sense. She’s an unwed mother, abandoned by both her own family and the father of her little boy, on her way to take up a post as companion and governess to a friend and her children, in the hopes of, if not salvaging her reputation, at least being labeled as respectable enough to make a living to support them both.

In other words, she’s flat broke and relying on the kindness of, not exactly strangers, but certainly on the kindness of others. She doesn’t have anything that a highway robber could possibly want – or so she believes.

But that highwayman is not a real highwayman. And her coach and its contents are not exactly as innocent as she believed.

What began as a journey to what she hoped would be a new life for herself and her son, turns out, in the end, to be exactly that. But in absolutely NONE of the ways that she originally thought.

She never expected to marry. She never expected to be accepted back into the ton. And she certainly never expected to help her new husband bring down a nest of spies and saboteurs.

Or that the father of her little boy would be found right in the middle of the entire mess.

Escape Rating B+: A part of me wants to say this was a surprising amount of fun, but calling it fun doesn’t convey the spirit of the story. Because while it’s going on Elizabeth really isn’t having a whole lot of fun a lot of the time. At the same time, calling it a lovely read isn’t quite right either, because there’s a whole lot going on and not all of it is good for the protagonists.

But I had a grand time reading it. Howsomever, calling it fun implies a level of fluff that isn’t here – nor should it be.

It does, however, remind me more than a bit of the Bastion Club series by Stephanie Laurens, in both its historical setting and in the clandestine occupation of the hero – and eventually the heroine.

The era of the Napoleonic Wars, 1803-1815 is ripe for all sorts of historical drama – and occasionally melodrama, as Britain was at war with France. There was plenty of opportunity for spying and general skullduggery, including smuggling illicit but expensive French goods. The period also overlapped with the Regency period (1811-1820) made literarily famous by Georgette Heyer. This particular story is right in the “sweet spot” where the Regency was still in full sway and Napoleon had not yet met his Waterloo.

Elizabeth and Torrington are caught very much on the horns of multiple dilemmas, not all of which either of them are aware of even at the beginning. Torrington is looking for a spy – and for secret correspondence from that spy that is supposed to be in a carriage that looks just like Elizabeth’s. When he waylays her carriage and discovers that it is hers and not the spy’s, circumstances conspire to bind them in a marriage of convenience, so that he can maintain his cover and she can maintain what’s left of her reputation.

It’s really just an excuse to drag them together, but it works for the purposes of opening the possibility of their romance of convenience turning real. It also works to provide an opportunity for the real spy to continue with their illegal activities and make Elizabeth’s life hell into the bargain. Which is where those “heroine in jeopardy” elements come very much into the picture.

And that’s where things get really interesting. On the one hand, her former lover, her son’s father, very much qualifies as the “EVILEX” who must appear before the story and the romance can be finally resolved. On the other hand, that evil ex-lover is also the hero’s brother. I’m still on the fence about whether the multiple parts said villain plays in this story are a fascinating twist or a bit too much of the long arm of coincidence.

On my third hand, the invisible one that isn’t normally seen, while one part of the mystery seemed obvious fairly early on, the other part took me completely by surprise – and that’s always a good thing in a story that relies on suspense and dramatic tension to sweep the reader into the story. Which this one certainly has – and does.

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Review: Dali Summer by T.J. Brown

Review: Dali Summer by T.J. BrownDali Summer by T. J. Brown
Format: eARC
Source: author
Formats available: paperback, ebook
Genres: historical fiction
Pages: 344
Published by TULE Publishing Group on May 5, 2020
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

Her wild and vivid visions inspire an icon...

Nothing is more important to prim, colorblind Dolors Posa than family and living down the shame of her illegitimate birth, but when the sudden onset of fantastical visions threaten her sterling reputation, she must search for answers before the inhabitants of the tiny village of Cadaqués brand her as demente-- crazy like her mother. In a quest to stop her hallucinations, she befriends a beautiful, intoxicating fortune teller and her handsome anarchist brother, as well as becoming a reluctant muse for thirteen-year-old Salvador Dali. In a summer that changes everything, Dolors must choose between her family's reputation and a life filled with adventure, friendship, rapturous color and the possibility of love.

Set against the political upheaval of 1917 Spain, Dali Summer captures the fierce spirit of Catalonia, the generosity and stubbornness of its people and the blossoming promise of a woman who thought life was bland and empty and had long ago had passed her by.

My Review:

So many stories are about characters that earn their names, their titles, their reputations, or a bit of each. Dali Summer, on the other hand, is the story of a woman who initially owns her name but loses that ownership, and who finally sheds her investment in a reputation that was never her own.

Dolor is Spanish for pain and ache, and for sorrow and grief. Initially, Dolors Posa is all of those things. She is lonely and filled with sorrow, grieving for her father, the mother she never knew, the life she might have had. The story opens with the pain of a sudden, intense, blinding headache that ironically lifts one of Dolors long standing aches while replacing it with a potentially greater one.

Dolors is completely colorblind. She sees the world only in shades of gray. But it was not always so. As a child, she saw colors like everyone else, but when her grandmother, in a fit of temper, struck her with a heavy crystal in the back of the head, Dolors’ color sight was taken away. Seemingly permanently.

But the vision she sees while in a fugue state brought on by that terrible, blinding headache is fantastical in the extreme – and in brilliant, living color. Even in technicolor, although that word hadn’t yet been invented in the summer of 1917.

The sudden re-emergence of color in Dolors’ life is just the beginning. The visions come to the attention of a very young Salvador Dali, just 13 and already on the road to becoming the eccentric artist that he will be remembered for. But in 1917, he is young, still learning, but fascinated with Dolors’ visions and willing to stretch his art to make them come to life.

Dolors’ need to discover the reason for her visions – or more precisely to determine whether or not she is going mad, bring her to the attention of Lidia and Xavi Sala, sister and brother, each revolutionary in their own ways.

Lidia’s revolution is a desire for sexual liberation, she wants to love everyone and doesn’t care who she hurts along the way. Her brother Xavi, however, wants to change the world. Xavi wants to free his country and turn it into a workers’ paradise.

Their flamboyant intersection with Dolors and her tiny little village of Cadaqués will change all of them – some for the better, some for the worse. But before Dolors can be shed of the griefs and sorrows that have weighed down her entire life, first she must drink the bitter cup to its dregs.

Escape Rating B+: There is a LOT going on in this story. At the same time, at its heart its a very simple story, the story of one woman moving out of the long shadow of her family’s expectations and finally making a life for herself.

The complications of the story feel like they are all in the background and setup. The introduction of the very young Salvador Dali is fascinating, but at the same time feels like it’s more of a “hook” to get readers to pick up the book than it is an integral part of the story. He’s kind of a symbol of Dolors unstated desire for more color in her life, both literal color and figurative color, than she is willing to own up to at the beginning.

The political upheaval of the period is represented by Xavi’s revolutionary agitation, but again, it feels more symbolic than it does a real part of Dolors’ personal story – and this is at its heart her personal story and not the story of the wider world.

The political ferment does have its effects. Even in backwater Cadaqués, the world is changing. A change that inveigles itself into Dolors’ life with the return of color and the introduction of the Salas.

But the story is of Dolors’ quiet revolution. The way that she slowly, and initially very cautiously, moves herself out of her grandmother’s long and hateful shadow, and at first carefully and then recklessly starts to live her own life, always looking over her shoulder at the demons of the past.

While Dolors’ is trying to move forward in her life, her grandmother is doing her level best – and worst – to keep the entire family moored in the past and under her heavy thumb. It’s a situation that brews throughout the story until it comes to its inevitable head at the climax.

But the one to watch in this story is Dolors’ every step of the way. This is the story of the brilliantly colored butterfly emerging from its drab cocoon. A story that is slow to unfold but surprisingly lovely in its portrait of a woman on the cusp of change.

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Review: The Ingredients of You and Me by Nina Bocci + Giveaway

Review: The Ingredients of You and Me by Nina Bocci + GiveawayThe Ingredients of You and Me (Hopeless Romantics, #3) by Nina Bocci
Format: eARC
Source: supplied by publisher via Edelweiss, supplied by publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: contemporary romance, romantic comedy, women's fiction
Series: Hopeless Romantics #3
Pages: 320
Published by Gallery Books on April 28, 2020
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

From the USA TODAY bestselling author of the “heartwarming and refreshingly sweet” (Lauren Layne, New York Times bestselling author) On the Corner of Love and Hate comes a sizzling and sweet small-town love story that follows a bakery store owner who decides to take her chances on a truly hopeless romantic.

After selling her successful bakery back in New York, Parker Powell decides to visit her best friend Charlotte in Hope Lake, Pennsylvania to figure out her next steps. As she acquaints herself with the people in town, she begins to wonder why she ever loved city life in the first place. Between the Golden Girls (a.k.a. the senior citizen women who hold court), the response from the town to her sweet treats, and Nick Arthur, the ever-charming local owner of a landscaping business she spent time with during her last visit, Parker finds a community of cheerleaders who encourage her to get her baking mojo back.

At first, everything is great—she collaborates with the Golden Girls to put new twists on traditional confections, and thanks to Nick’s advice, she’s quickly learning the stark differences between big city and small-town business practices. Although Nick has quickly become her friend and confidant, Parker’s determined to keep things platonic—especially since his girlfriend isn’t a fan of their friendship. But just when things fall into place so they can finally be together, Parker’s dream bakery is threatened by a major corporation who wants to take her down using the very bit of advice that Nick gave her.

With a recipe for disaster looming, Parker must cook up a new scheme, figuring out how to keep the business—and man—she’s come to love before she loses it all.

Perfect for fans of Amy E. Reichert and Jenny Colgan, The Ingredients of You and Me is a scrumptious romantic comedy that lets you have your cake and eat it too.

My Review:

I picked this up at lunch and got completely sucked into it. I’d say it was like opening a bag of potato chips and not being able to eat just one, but it was much more like opening a box of Girl Scout Cookies, where the serving size is supposed to be 2 cookies, is really more like an entire sleeve, and is, just occasionally and for the right cookie, the entire box. (Samoas for me, but your cookie mileage probably varies)

The story in The Ingredients of You and Me is both a fairly direct followup to the previous book in the series, Meet Me on Love Lane, and a complete standalone at the same time. It’s a followup because the heroine ingredient of this book was the NYC best friend of the heroine in that second story. And Parker met Nick, the hero of this one, while visiting her bestie Charlotte in Hope Lake.

But the sparks that flew between Parker and Nick at that first meeting, and all their subsequent – and clandestine – meetings, were kept very much a secret from everyone who knew either of them. No one was cheating on anyone, this is not that kind of story. They just wanted to see what their relationship might be – if it was even going to be anything beyond a series of hot, long-distance booty-calls – without the pressure of all their mutual friends watching every move they made – or didn’t.

So when Nick ghosted Parker at Thanksgiving – just when she wanted to tell him that she had sold her successful NYC bakery and was hoping they could have more time together, she was left at very loose ends.

Not that she sold Delicious & Vicious for Nick, because she didn’t. She sold it for herself and did very well out of the deal. But she did hope that while she was deciding on the next phase of her life that Nick might be interested in being factored into those decisions.

Now that the bakery has sold, Parker is at loose ends. AND she’s lost her baking mojo. So she sets out for an extended – OMG winter – vacation at chilly but heartwarming Hope Lake PA, to spend time with Charlotte and see what she, meaning Parker, wants to do next in her life.

That’s where the fun begins – along with just a bit of melodrama. While Charlotte reconnected with Gigi, the grandmother that she left behind in Hope Lake, Parker finds herself “adopted” by the entire gaggle of Hope Lake “Golden Girls”. It’s through her relationship with the group that becomes famous – and sometimes infamous – as “The Baked Nanas” that Parker figures out who Parker Phase Two really is. And she gets her baking mojo back by helping the Nanas translate their old family recipes from imprecise old-fashioned measurements – like jelly jars and fists – to modern day equivalents that will allow them to pass those recipes on to their own families.

It’s in the process of Parker’s healing and reinvention that she learns where Nick went and why he ghosted her. Now Nick is torn between his unfinished but still smoldering feelings for Parker – and his new relationship with “Miss Suzy Perfect”. Who is, of course, anything but.

But this is Parker’s show every step of the way. She’s in Hope Lake to figure her life out for herself. Nick can be part of that, or not. But he can’t be half in or half out. It was fun sneaking around when there was no one to be hurt, but she won’t be his dirty little secret while he’s making a relationship with someone else.

Whether Nick will see the light and fix himself is anyone’s guess. But Parker is taking care of Parker, and doing a damn fine job of it with or without him. Thanks in no small part to those “Baked Nanas”.

Escape Rating A-: I loved this one even more than I did Meet Me on Love Lane, and I liked that one quite a lot. But this one had a compulsion to it that the earlier book, sweet as it was, didn’t quite.

And even though this story directly follows from that earlier book, this one still feels like it stands alone. Because the story here is really about Parker losing herself and finding herself, and it all happens in this story. The characters from the previous books (I haven’t read the first one, On the Corner of Love and Hate) are in the background here, but getting involved in Parker’s story doesn’t depend on any in depth knowledge of the first two. This one is all her and it’s all here.

Howsomever, like the previous book in the series, The Ingredients of You and Me mixes the ingredients of contemporary romance with women’s fiction, and it feels like the women’s fiction is the stronger part of the story.

Parker is at a crossroads. She’s sold the bakery that she put her heart and soul into in NYC, and it was the right choice for her. She was overtired, overstressed and burned out. She had no life, only work and sleep. Her fling with Nick did bring that home to her, that she wanted more time for a real life and couldn’t have it if she kept on the bakery treadmill.

She has time and enough money to let herself be, to figure out who she wants to be and where and how to do it. She just doesn’t have a plan – and Parker is usually all about plans. Staying in Hope Lake lets her reconnect with friends, make new ones, take a breath, look around, and let inspiration come to her.

And it does in the larger-than-life-size personages of the Baked Nanas, especially the outrageous Mancini who adopts Parker instantly upon her arrival. It’s through the relationships among all of the women that Parker is able to let herself be herself and muddle through to where she wants to be.

Nick is more than a bit of ass through the whole thing. And Parker doesn’t try to fix him or change him – or herself. She takes care of herself and if that means putting distance between them, so be it. That she cares but never bends over backwards or begs or grovels is one of the things I liked a LOT about this story.

Parker doesn’t always take the high road, but she does take the honest road. That she gets her reward at the end is icing on a very lovely cake.

One final comment. The series title, Hopeless Romantics, has given me a terrible earworm that I have to pass along. It’s part of a line from the Eagles’ song New Kid in Town. And the line from the song certainly fits the series, “Hopeless romantics, here we go again.”

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

I am very happy to be giving away a copy of The Ingredients of You and Me to one lucky US commenter on this tour. It’s a terrific story, but the winner may need to exercise a little more patience than usual while waiting to receive their copy in these uncertain times. But I promise you that the book is worth the wait!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

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Review: The Moonglow Sisters by Lori Wilde

Review: The Moonglow Sisters by Lori WildeThe Moonglow Sisters by Lori Wilde
Format: eARC
Source: supplied by publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: contemporary romance, relationship fiction, women's fiction
Pages: 400
Published by William Morrow Paperbacks on March 3, 2020
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

It’s Jill Shalvis meets Susan Mallery in this gorgeous novel by New York Times bestselling author Lori Wilde about three sisters, one small town, a wedding, and the summer that changes everything.

Welcome to Moonglow Cove, Texas, a place where your neighbors know your name and the gentle waves of the Gulf of Mexico lap lazily against the sands. It’s a magical spot, especially in the summertime…

Once the town was the home of the Clark sisters—brought up by their grandmother at the Moonglow Inn. Nicknamed “The Moonglow Sisters”, as children they were inseparable.  Then, a wedding-day betrayal tore them apart and they scattered across the globe and away from each other.  But the sisters have at last come home…

There’s Maddie: smart, sensible, and stubborn. Shelley, who ran off to find her bliss. And Gia, a free-spirit determined to keep the peace. It’s her impending wedding that keeps them together…but Gia has a secret, and when her sisters find out all heck is going to break loose!

The Moonglow Sisters continues Lori Wilde’s trademark storytelling to create an unforgettable novel of family, betrayal, love, and second chances.

My Review:

This is a story that invokes ALL the feels. Seriously. All of them.

By that I mean that this story of sisterhood, family ties, family love, family secrets and especially long-held family grudges swings from grief to anger to joy and back around again as the Moonglow sisters come home, but not together, to take care of their beloved Grammy – but seem to have no intention of taking much care – or paying much attention to – each other.

Once upon a time the Moonglow sisters, take-charge Madison, peacemaker Gia and impetuous Shelley, were the darlings of not just their grandmother and her best friend Darynda but the entire town of Moonglow Texas.

At least until five years ago, when Madison caught Shelley kissing Madison’s fiance on Madison’s wedding day, and the sisters broke apart on the rocks of anger, jealousy and disappointment with each other’s lives and choices.

Madison left for New York City and is now a reality-TV star with her own hit cable TV show about making a beautiful home. Something that she herself lacks, as her controlling nature has pushed away not just her family but also the fiancee with whom she shared a terrible loss.

Shelley disappeared to Costa Rica and her sisters have not heard a thing from her in those same five years. Grammy knows where Shelley is, but there doesn’t seem to be much communication there, either.

Gia turned her passion for kite-making into an apprenticeship with a master kite-maker in Japan, and has returned to Moonglow to open her own business, making and selling artisan kites.

Gia, living in Moonglow, is the one who arrives at Grammy’s for their regular weekly brunch to discover that Grammy has left a note for her, asking Gia to get her sisters back together in Moonglow, to fix their fractured family and finish the “Wedding Ring” quilt that was supposed to have been a present for Madison for that dramatically cancelled wedding.

The note makes it clear that the message may very well embody Grammy’s last wishes. As Gia reads the devastating message, Grammy is in surgery. She has stage 4 brain cancer, and the surgery is intended to remove as much of the cancer as possible to slow down its growth. This won’t make her well, but it may give her more time. It may also kill her or leave her a vegetable for whatever time she has left.

Gia treats Grammy’s message as a mission, as Grammy intended. She gets Madison back to Moonglow, and reaches out to Shelley. Madison comes home looking like a million-dollar New York TV star. Shelley blows in worn-out and haunted, with a backpack containing all her possessions, no cell phone and a $200 taxi fare to pay.

It is not an auspicious start for any of the things that Gia thinks she has to accomplish. It’s not exactly an auspicious middle, either, as Grammy remains in a coma after surgery and Madison and Shelley both threaten to leave. It takes a whopper of a tall tale to get them to stay – at least until they discover they have an entirely different mission to carry out.

It’s going to take a village, the entire little town of Moonglow, to take care of Grammy, save her house, and put the Moonglow sisters back together. And it’s touch and go every step of the way.

Escape Rating B+: This one definitely invokes all the feels from beginning to end. It all starts with Grammy writing that message, knowing that she’s just placed a nearly – but not totally impossible burden on Gia. And not knowing that she’s leaving behind as big of a mess as she actually is.

The family dynamic is so fractured that at first it looks like there’s no fixing it. And all of those fractures were created by a whole bunch of family secrets. The sisters don’t know why their mother stopped speaking to their grandmother, and none of them seem to know exactly what was motivating the others during the wedding debacle.

And then there’s the current set of secrets, all brand new and all created post-family feud.

One of the interesting parts of their dynamic is the way that they don’t fit the usual birth order stereotypes. Oldest sister Madison is plenty take-charge and controlling, but middle sister Shelley is the wild child and youngest Gia is the peacemaker instead of the other way around.

But it’s the way that they pull together while falling apart that carries the story. Even though they don’t figure out the darkness that’s at the heart of their fracture until the very end, they still manage to take care of everything that needs to be taken care of, including each other, in spite of everything that’s wrong between them.

In the end, it was intensely cathartic to see Gia finally break. Because her breaking let all the secrets out, and the healing is stronger, a real fix and not just a temporary patch job over everything that had gone wrong.

I also perversely loved that the ending is bittersweet. The sisters can repair the damage to their relationship, they can finally learn and understand what went wrong between their mother and their grandmother, and that reveal allows Grammy to live her own truth for her remaining time. But that time is sadly, appropriately short. Time may heal many wounds, but it cannot heal brain cancer.

At the same time, she’s content with her ending, that she accomplished what she intended to, and got her girls back together before it was too late.

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