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!

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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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Review: One Little Lie by Colleen Coble

Review: One Little Lie by Colleen CobleOne Little Lie (The Pelican Harbor #1) by Colleen Coble
Format: eARC
Source: supplied by publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: hardcover, large print, paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: mystery, suspense
Series: Pelican Harbor #1
Pages: 352
Published by Thomas Nelson on March 3, 2020
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

It started with one little lie. But Jane Hardy will do everything in her power to uncover the truth. 

Book one in a gripping new series from USA TODAY bestselling romantic suspense author Colleen Coble.

When Jane Hardy is appointed interim sheriff in Pelican Harbor, Alabama, after her father retires, there's no time for an adjustment period. He is arrested for theft and then implicated in a recent murder, and Jane quickly realizes she's facing someone out to destroy her father.

They escaped from a cult fifteen years ago, and Jane has searched relentlessly for her mother—who refused to leave—ever since. Could someone from that horrible past have found them?

Reid Bechtol is a well-known journalist who makes documentaries, and his sights are currently set on covering Jane's career. Jane has little interest in the attention, but the committee who appointed her loves the idea of the publicity.

Jane finds herself depending on Reid's calm manner as he follows her around taping his documentary, and they begin working together to clear her father. But Reid has his own secrets from the past, and the gulf between them may be impossible to cross.

It started with one little lie. But Jane Hardy will do everything in her power to uncover the truth. 

My Review:

There’s more than one lie at the heart of this mystery – and none of those lies are exactly little ones.

This is also a story about revenge being a dish best served cold – but it never gets all that cold in the Gulf Shores. And the revenge story, while fascinating, turns out to be a smokescreen for the bigger reveal. But no less deadly for all that.

When this story begins, it’s not where we think it’s going to be. It’s also not when we think it’s going to be. But that beginning sets up the wider story in a way that doesn’t become clear until much later in the book, after we’ve gotten to know these characters and have learned why at least some of them relate back to Button, 15 years old and 15 years ago, fleeing a religious cult with her father as bullets fly around them.

Fast-forward those 15 years and the focus turns to Jane Hardy, the newly minted police chief of tiny Pelican Harbor, following in her father’s law enforcement footsteps, occupying the office that was his not long ago.

There’s a crime spree in town. Someone claiming to be a vigilante has been punishing, let’s call it moral turpitude, all over town. The exposure of the wrongdoers has generally been embarrassing, but not deadly. At least not until now.

Jane suddenly has not one but two murders to investigate. One looks like the vigilante just went too far, or simply didn’t know that his victim was allergic to feathers. The intention was to leave the adulterer tarred, feathered and locked in the stocks, but instead her allergy killed her.

As strange as that may have been, it makes more sense than the body that one of the local shrimpboats hauls up in its nets. Or rather, the headless, armless and legless corpse that the old shrimper finds in a cooler that he hauls up in his nets.

So Jane has two murders to solve and a documentary filmmaker in tow. The Mayor wants to reap the good publicity of having a female Police Chief in an era where they are fairly thin on the ground.

But that publicity may not be all that the city fathers and mothers hoped it would be. One of Jane’s officers is a suspect in the tar-and-feather murder. He’s certainly the married man the victim was having an affair with. Jane’s father, the former chief himself, is arrested by the FBI for a whole laundry list of crimes.

And the documentary filmmaker has an agenda that Jane will hate and love in equal measure. If they live long enough to learn the truth about that one, long ago, little lie.

Escape Rating B+: I have to start off by saying that I am absolutely one with Jane Hardy’s taste in reading. The two books she is mentioned as reading are Colleen McCullough’s Masters of Rome series and C.S. Lewis’ The Screwtape Letters. Both are old favorites. And there’s an audiobook of John Cleese reading Screwtape that is marvelous if you can find it – and still have a cassette player around.

But seriously, that peek into Jane’s reading habits made it easy to get inside her head and really feel for her as a character. Readers identify with other readers.

Climbing down off my librarian soapbox, I should probably talk about the two mysteries in this story, because there are definitely two – and surprisingly for a police procedural type mystery they are not related to each other.

Come to think of it, there are really three mysteries.

The most sensational is the vigilante turned killer, not that vigilantes don’t usually turn out to be killers. Pelican Harbor is a small town, which means that everybody knows everybody else’s business whether they want to or not. That someone would take their frustrations with other people’s immorality out in some kind of public shaming doesn’t seem all that far-fetched. But when it turns into murder it feels like a strange kind of escalation – only because it is.

The arrest of Jane’s father doesn’t seem to fit in anywhere with what’s happening, until it does. When that plot thread wriggled up out of the blue I’ll admit that I thought they had to be connected even if neither the how nor the why was obvious. And they were, just not in anything like any of the ways I was expecting.

But the heart of both of those mysteries leads to the third. While they aren’t all part of the same thing, they all have one big thing in common. Both of these mysteries involve the betrayal of someone close to Jane. Someone that she has misjudged all along. Which leads back to that first lie.

While she worries that her father has lied to her about who and what he really is, that he might be guilty of the crimes he’s been accused of, that’s not the real betrayal. His real betrayal occurred 15 years ago on that night they fled the cult compound, the scene that opens the book.

Jane had a child. Had literally just had the child. Her father told her that her perfect little boy was dead. He lied. And that’s the lie that comes back to haunt them all.

What made this story so fascinating was that it was so easy to empathize with so many of the characters. There were two who were just a bit out there, notably the vigilante killer who had a much bigger plan than anyone realized and was just a bit cray cray. And the documentary filmmaker’s ex who just felt tacked onto the story without really being integral to a plot that already had plenty of meat to it.

But at the heart the story revolved around Jane, her father, that documentary filmmaker, and his son. All of them felt like real people and what they did and the reasons that they did it all made sense. Even, in the end, the lie at the start of it all.

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Review: Children of the Stars by Mario Escobar

Review: Children of the Stars by Mario EscobarChildren of the Stars by Mario Escobar
Format: ebook
Source: supplied by publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: hardcover, paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: historical fiction, Holocaust, World War II
Pages: 368
Published by Thomas Nelson on February 25, 2020
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

From international bestseller Mario Escobar comes a story of escape, sacrifice, and hope amid the perils of the second World War.

Jacob and Moses Stein live with their aunt in Paris until the great raid against foreign Jews is unleashed in August 1942. Their parents, well-known German playwrights, have been hiding in France, but before their aunt manages to send them south, the gendarmes stop the boys and take them to the Velodromo de Invierno, where more than 4,000 children, 5,000 women, and 3,000 men had to subsist without food or water. Jacob and Moses manage to flee, but the road will not be safe or easy. This novel by internationally bestselling author Mario Escobar follows two brave young Jewish boys as they seek refuge in the French town of Le-Chambon-sur-Lignon and eventually Argentina.

My Review:

The English title of this book, Children of the Stars, sounds bright and hopeful. And most of the time when that title has been used, it is just that. This book certainly does have its bright and shiny bits as well, although there’s plenty of parts that are not remotely so.

Yellow badge made mandatory by the Nazis in France

The thing is that the title is also a kind of a pun. At least in the gallows humor sense. Because the stars that Jacob and Moses Stein are the children of are the yellow Stars of David that the Nazis and their French collaborators, forced all Jews to sew on their clothing.

The title of this book in the original Spanish is Los Niños de la Estrella AmarillaThe Children of the Yellow Star, and so they were.

Children of the Stars takes place during the Nazi occupation of France, and Jacob and Moses begin the story wearing those yellow badges – and being rounded up and sent to horrific conditions in the Velodromo de Invierno outside Paris. A place where those same Nazis expected as many Jews as possible to die, before rounding the survivors up and sending them to concentration camps inside the Reich, where they were expected to die or be killed in the gas chambers.

Instead, these boys, 13-year-old Jacob and 9-year-old Moses, escaped the Velodrome and began a trek across France that was hopeful and heartbreaking in equal turns, hunting for their missing parents. Parents they believe are somewhere south of Lyon, but are actually much, much further away.

Across the Atlantic Ocean. In Argentina.

It will be a challenge for two young boys, alone in the world, to hide from the Nazis, the gendarmes, and the collaborators, all while making their way across hostile territory to an unknown future.

They find help along the way, as well as betrayal, along with more than their share of both good and bad luck. There are enough setbacks to challenge anyone, let alone two children.

And at the end, there is triumph.

Escape Rating A-: There is more than one way to look at this story. On the one hand, it is a story about the triumph of not just the human spirit, but of humanity itself over, under and around the bootheel of oppression and tyranny. And that’s a hopeful story, celebrating those who stand up to be counted even at the cost of their own lives.

But it is also a story about those who, as one of the characters in the story says, surrendered their souls and looked the other way.” Those who gave into the lies. The ones who kept their heads down and hoped that the ax would fall on someone else.

As that same character continued, “The worst friend of the truth is silence. The worst lie in the world is that ordinary people are powerless against tyranny.” The Stein boys, and those who helped them along their perilous journey, are the ones who stood up. But it is also the story of a world gone, not mad, but silent, allowing the evil to happen – even participating in that evil out of either cowardice or complicity.

The Stein brothers are fictional. But they are also a composite of many children who undertook the same journey, or similar. Thousands of children who managed to escape and find shelter, sometimes temporarily, sometimes long enough to outlast the war, and sometimes to escape it outright, as they did. And just as many who failed.

While the details of this journey are the product of the author’s imagination, the historical events that underlie it happened in history; both the horrors of the Velodromo de Invierno and the heroism of the town of Le Chambon Sur Lignon.

In the end, Children of the Stars is both a triumph of the human spirit, and a condemnation of the conditions that required it. And it is a story guaranteed to haunt any reader who lets it into their heart.

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Review: Wild Wild Rake by Janna MacGregor + Giveaway

Review: Wild Wild Rake by Janna MacGregor + GiveawayWild, Wild Rake (The Cavensham Heiresses #6) by Janna MacGregor
Format: eARC
Source: supplied by publisher via Edelweiss, supplied by publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: historical romance
Series: Cavensham Heiresses #6
Pages: 368
Published by St. Martin's Paperbacks on February 25, 2020
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads


Her first marriage was an epic failure.

Lady Avalon Warwyck never did love her husband. Arrogant, selfish, and cruel, it’s a blessing when she’s widowed and left to raise her son all by herself. Finally, Avalon can live freely and do the work she loves: helping fallen women become businesswomen. She’s lived these past ten years with no desire to remarry―that is, until Mr. Devan Farris comes to town.


Can he convince her to take another chance at happily ever after?

Devan Farris―charming vicar, reputed rake, and the brother of Avalon’s son’s guardian―is reluctantly sent to town to keep tabs on Avalon and her son. Devan wishes he didn’t have to meddle in her affairs; he’s not one to trod on a woman’s independent nature and keen sense of convictions. But she’ll have nothing to do with vicar with a wild reputation―even though he’s never given his heart and body to another. If only he could find a way to show Avalon who he really is on the inside―a good, true soul looking for its other half. But how can prove that he wants to love and care for her. . .until death do they part?

My Review:

Avalon Warwick’s marriage showed just how much grit was hidden under the glitter of the Regency. Her parents sold her in marriage to a man who absolutely despised her, to the point where he put his mistress in her place and exiled her to his country estate with as little money as he could indecently get away with.

All the while spreading stories around town that painted her as a cold, waspish spendthrift who left him. He ruined her reputation among the ton in every possible way except sexual, as he claimed she was much too cold to want any man in her bed.

But the only time their marriage was consummated left her with his son and heir, so when he died she received enough to maintain them, raise her son, and start an extremely charitable foundation in the village he exiled her to.

So things stand until the story opens, when the young Marquis is rising 10 and his male guardian, her late, unlamented husband’s friend, decrees that the boy should go to Eton as soon as he’s ready. Which in Avalon’s mind will be never.

The man he sends to tutor Thane is his brother Devan, a vicar known for his libertine ways. Devan’s job is to become the parish priest, tutor the boy in anything he might be lacking, and discover just exactly where Avalon is getting the money to set up and maintain that charitable foundation.

He’s happy to do the tutoring, but refuses the spying. Not that Avalon isn’t perfectly aware of why he’s been sent. She just thinks she can make him a better offer financially, to either turn him to her side or drive him away.

But her son wants to go to Eton. And he wants a father. He’s willing to manipulate events to keep Devan around as both tutor and father so he can go to Eton and not leave his mother lonely.

Devan discovers that he is surprisingly onboard with that plan. At least until fate steps in and makes a hash of everything, including the tenuous but surprising romance between Devan and Avalon.

Escape Rating B: This was definitely a mixed-feelings read for me, and it’s going to be a mixed feelings review.

This was a very hard book to read after the two previous books this week. Why? Because both of those featured heroines with a LOT of agency in situations where they could, or were forced to, exercise that agency at every turn.

Avalon, on the other hand, is in a situation where she needs agency and wants it badly but is forced at pretty much every turn to confront how little she has truly managed to claw out of the hands of the men who are legally able to control her life.

Not that she hasn’t done a damn good job carving out a fiefdom as best as she can, and not that she is not administering said fiefdom extremely well when the story begins, but the tension that underpins the eventual romance is the fact that Devan’s brother can take Avalon’s son away from her whenever he wants, and that Devan was sent by his brother to provide a pretext for that taking.

He doesn’t actually need such a pretext, but he’s trying to be a “gentleman” about it. GRRRR.

So the situation in this story gave me a screaming fit. At the same time, I finished the book at 2 in the morning because I wanted to see how the author resolved the romantic dilemma. Which means that the book is plenty well written, just that I’m not the audience for it.

But for readers who can get past or ignore the harsh realities that underlie Avalon’s situation, there’s a lovely romance between a woman who has done her very best to stand firmly on her own two feet and help as many other women as possible to rise with her and a man who appears to be one thing and is actually something entirely different.

Both Avalon and Devan do a very successful job of putting up a strong front – one that hides their equally soft and gooey centers. They are, after all, made for each other. Watching them figure that out was definitely the fun part of the story.

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

I’m giving away a copy of Wild, Wild Rake to one lucky US commenter on this tour!

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Review: Last Day by Luanne Rice + Giveaway

Review: Last Day by Luanne Rice + GiveawayLast Day by Luanne Rice
Format: eARC
Source: supplied by publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: hardcover, paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: mystery, suspense
Pages: 412
Published by Thomas & Mercer on February 1, 2020
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleBook Depository
Goodreads

From celebrated New York Times bestselling author Luanne Rice comes a riveting story of a seaside community shaken by a violent crime and a tragic loss.

Years ago, Beth Lathrop and her sister Kate suffered what they thought would be the worst tragedy of their lives the night both the famous painting Moonlight and their mother were taken. The detective assigned to the case, Conor Reid, swore to protect the sisters from then on.

Beth moved on, throwing herself fully into the art world, running the family gallery, and raising a beautiful daughter with her husband Pete. Kate, instead, retreated into herself and took to the skies as a pilot, always on the run. When Beth is found strangled in her home, and Moonlight goes missing again, Detective Reid can’t help but feel a sense of déjà vu.

Reid immediately suspects Beth’s husband, whose affair is a poorly kept secret. He has an airtight alibi—but he also has a motive, and the evidence seems to point to him. Kate and Reid, along with the sisters’ closest childhood friends, struggle to make sense of Beth’s death, but they only find more questions: Who else would have wanted Beth dead? What’s the significance of Moonlight?

Twenty years ago, Reid vowed to protect Beth and Kate—and he’s failed. Now solving the case is turning into an obsession . . .

My Review:

This is a story about lightning striking twice – and for the same reasons. It’s also a page-turner of a mystery combined with a story of friendship and sisterhood.

The story opens on Beth Lathrop’s last day. Or at least the last day when anyone who loved her woke up and believed that she was alive. But she isn’t.

Instead, Beth’s corpse is found in her bedroom, several days dead, by her sister and the local police. Those events would normally be the place where everyone’s nightmare begins, but it isn’t.

The nightmare began years ago, when thieves broke into their family’s art gallery and left Beth, her sister Kate, and their mother bound and gagged in the basement while they robbed the place. The girls spent 22 hours in that basement, tied to the body of their mother who choked to death on her gag.

Beth turned outward, her sister Kate turned inward, and the cop who rescued them still keeps tabs on them in the hopes of protecting them again.

But their first ordeal happened because their father betrayed them. It was his plan and his idea, and he’ll be paying the price for it for the rest of his life in prison.

Now tragedy has struck again. Beth is dead, Kate and the rest of her family and friends are lost in grief. But just as before, their peace has been shattered because someone in their inner circle betrayed Beth and betrayed them all.

The question is whether that same cop can figure out just who hides the evil behind a mask of grief.

Escape Rating B: Last Day was a compelling read. I think my feelings can be summed up by saying that it was good, and it was just on the edge of great – but didn’t quite get there, at least not for me. A couple of things made it fall just short of the mark.

The biggest thing that threw me off was that there are a few very brief chapters from Beth’s point of view, including the opening and closing chapters. She’s dead. Those chapters are weird, and they took me out of the story every time.

Beth’s contributions aside, the story itself is a page-turner. We see most of the action by following Kate, Beth’s older sister, and Conor Reid, the cop who found them all those years ago. Conor is now on the Major Case Team of the Connecticut Bureau of Investigation, and as soon as he learns of Beth’s death, he assigns himself to the case even though he knows he shouldn’t.

He also shouldn’t jump to conclusions, but he knows all of the principals of this case much better than any investigator should. And he wants the husband to be guilty of Beth’s murder.

Not that Pete Lathrop isn’t guilty of plenty of things, but murder may not be one of them. And Conor’s desire to punish Pete for all of the crap he put Beth through in life blinds him to the man’s lack of means, motives and opportunity to cause her death.

At the same time, Kate is left trying to make sense of it all, not just her sister’s death, but all of the secrets that made up her life that Kate knew nothing about. Somewhere among all the things that Beth hid from her sister but revealed to their best friends may lie the reason for her death. Or may just provide Kate with more reasons to grieve.

In the end, the truth is revealed not by dogged investigation, but by a little girl who is unable to let a lie stand, no matter who tries to gaslight her into believing the lie instead of the truth. The case is finally solved, and the perpetrator is revealed. And it is a betrayal, just as the truth of Beth’s and Kate’s mother was long ago.

But this time only Kate is left to pick up the pieces.

This was one where I didn’t figure out whodunnit at all. I wanted it to be the husband, but it felt too obvious so eventually I read the last chapter just to figure it out – and I was still plenty surprised. I think that, as much as I was riveted by the investigation and the unraveling of Beth’s life as well as the truth of her death, I found the ending a bit unsatisfactory. I’m glad that the murderer was uncovered, but I’m not sure I felt the catharsis I expected. The motives didn’t make complete sense.

Like the detective, I really wanted the husband to be guilty after all.

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

I’m giving away a copy of Last Day to one lucky US commenter on this tour!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

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