Review: Summer by the Tides by Denise Hunter

Review: Summer by the Tides by Denise HunterSummer by the Tides by Denise Hunter
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: contemporary romance, women's fiction
Pages: 302
Published by Thomas Nelson on May 21, 2019
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

From the bestselling author of The Convenient Groom (now a beloved Hallmark Original movie) comes a heartfelt story of family secrets, forgiveness, and unexpected romance.

Following a painful betrayal, Maddy Monroe's love life is a wreck, and her restaurant career is in shambles. When her grandmother goes missing, she and her estranged sisters converge at the family beach house in Sea Haven, North Carolina. Being with uptight Nora and free-spirited Emma at the place where their family broke apart is a struggle, and undercurrents of jealousy and resentment threaten to pull the sisters under. In the midst of the storm, sparks begin to fly between Maddy and Gram's maddening neighbor, Connor Murphy.

As the sisters pack up the family belongings, memories of idyllic, slow-paced summers are resurrected. But long-buried secrets also come to light as Maddy discovers that all was not as it appeared that last summer in Sea Haven--nor today in the seemingly perfect lives of her sisters.

As family tensions rise and Connor causes tumult in Maddy's heart, the sisters must find a way to accept each other for the women they've become before the bitterness of the past destroys their hope for a future.

My Review:

The Monroe family turns out to be a living embodiment of the Anna Karenina principle. You know the one, it’s that quote that goes, “Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.”

The Monroe sisters are all unhappy, and all of their unhappy leads back, in one way or another, to one summer 20 years ago when their lives were torn apart by betrayal. Actually, that should be betrayals, plural, because there were plenty to go around – including one that the sisters never knew about.

Secrets cast long shadows, and they hide lots and lots of baggage. Although, as one of the characters puts it very well, adult humans all have baggage. As we do.

Nora, Emma and Maddy are drawn back to the place where they spent that last fateful summer, the last time their family was all together, by their grandmother. Or rather, by their grandmother’s absence.

The feisty old lady isn’t dead – she’s just missing – and she’s still sharp as a tack so whatever has happened to her it isn’t Alzheimer’s. But she seems to have left her cottage on an extended outing of some kind without either cancelling her newspaper, taking her car or telling anyone that she planned to take a trip.

Her worried neighbor (and occasional volunteer handyman) calls the sisters when Gran doesn’t turn up after a few days. He’s not her caretaker – she doesn’t need one – but whatever happened is out of character enough to worry him – and in turn, all three of her granddaughters.

Maddy, at loose ends after discovering that her boyfriend was cheating on her with their boss in order to cheat her out of a promotion, leaves Charleston for the four-hour drive to the North Carolina coast as soon as she comes out of her much-deserved funk. She has nothing to do in Charleston, no idea where she’s going to turn next and welcomes the distraction of her grandmother’s disappearance although certainly not the cause of it.

She arrives at her grandmother’s cottage to discover that both her sisters are on their way – and that neither knows the other is coming. Maddy is stuck in the peacemaker role between her two much older sisters. Sisters who have been at war with each other for 20 years with no letup.

By the time they learn that their Gran is alive and well and set them all up in her cottage for yet one more attempt at family reconciliation, they have all settled into the job of fixing up the cottage and clearing out the attics. And none of them seem to be in any hurry to leave. Maddy knows she has nothing to go back to in Charleston, but has no clue why either of her sisters, both happily married with busy lives and/or careers (at least as far as Maddy knows) seem to be not merely willing but downright eager to stay in Gran’s cottage and fix it up – albeit not with each other – for an infinite amount of time. And neither seems to be calling home.

Very much on Maddy’s other hand, she hasn’t exactly said anything about her sudden lack of either a job or a love life – so who knows what secrets her sisters are hiding?

When all the secrets that all of the Monroe women have been hiding – including Gran! – they pull together to save themselves – and to save each other – as a hurricane rips through Gran’s coastal community – and finally stitches their hearts back together.

Escape Rating B: Fair warning, this is going to be a mixed feelings review. There were a lot of things about this story to love – and one that still makes my blood boil more than a bit.

While the circumstances are different, Summer by the Tides is the kind of story that works well in women’s fiction – and this is more women’s fiction than it is romance although there certainly is more than a touch of romance. There have been several recent books by Susan Mallery that have explored parts or all of this themes, the warring sisters who finally make peace and come together in a crisis, and the family healing that comes after. There’s also been a recent book (whose title I can’t remember and it’s driving me crazy) where three women in a family gather together because all of their love lives and/or careers have gone to hell in a handcart at the same time.

In spite of not having siblings of my own – or perhaps because of it – I generally enjoy these stories. It’s fun to see them putting what’s gone wrong in their relationships with each other behind them, and watching them move forward into a brighter future. Any new romantic relationships they form in the course of the story are icing on the cake and not the actual cake. That’s true in Summer by the Tides as well. Not all of the happy ever afters are romantic, but all finish the book in happier and more fulfilling places than they began it.

I love a good romance as much as the next reader, but particularly for books that feature women in the 21st century I like the story much better when the women find their own fulfillment, whatever it might be, so that any romance they find is an enhancement to that fulfillment rather than the fulfillment itself. People can’t find happiness together unless they have it within themselves.

My 2 cents and I’ll step away from my soapbox for a minute. I’ll be getting back up on it later.

So I liked the story, I enjoyed the relationships between the sisters, and even though I guessed some of what had gone wrong in the past, the revelation was still heartbreaking and there were certainly aspects revealed that I had not previously figured out. The events were devastating, that they left all three sisters with serious trust issues made so much sense. That Maddy first distrusts Gran’s neighbor Connor, and takes hesitant steps towards a relationship fits well into the way the story and characters worked.

Okay, soapbox time, because this seriously affected my enjoyment of the story. Although it doesn’t become blatantly obviously until somewhere close to the halfway point, the characters in this story are explicitly Christian, which shouldn’t have been a surprise to me as the book is published by Thomas Nelson, a noted Christian publisher. That being said, I’ve recently read several books published by Nelson, and those have not been overtly or even covertly religious, so I was lulled and didn’t expect it here.

That some characters are religious is not the issue. People – and characters – do and don’t have belief systems, and those beliefs or lack thereof do affect their lives. What disturbed me greatly occurred in reference to Maddy’s ex, who is an absolute douchecanoe. That’s not a spoiler, it’s his douchecanoe nature that kicks off Maddy’s part of the story. But, and for me it was a huge but, when Maddy talks about her breakup, she says that she should have known he was a douche because he wasn’t a Christian. There’s an implication there that I find disturbing and unnerving, that only Christians can be trusted and that non-Christians by default have no moral or ethical code and should not be trusted.

And now I really will get down off my soapbox.

To sum it up, as I said at the top, there were plenty of things about this story that I liked, elements that I’ve read before and enjoyed, so I was happy to see them again. And there was one element that disturbed the hell out of me and reminded me to be more careful about books from this publisher.

Your reading mileage, of course, may vary.

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Review: The Summer of Sunshine and Margot by Susan Mallery

Review: The Summer of Sunshine and Margot by Susan MalleryThe Summer of Sunshine and Margot by Susan Mallery
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via Edelweiss, publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: hardcover, large print, paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: contemporary romance, women's fiction
Pages: 368
Published by Hqn on June 11, 2019
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

The Baxter sisters come from a long line of women with disastrous luck in love. But this summer, Sunshine and Margot will turn disasters into destiny...As an etiquette coach, Margot teaches her clients to fit in. But she's never faced a client like Bianca, an aging movie star who gained fame--and notoriety--through a campaign of shock and awe. Schooling Bianca on the fine art of behaving like a proper diplomat's wife requires intensive lessons, forcing Margot to move into the monastery turned mansion owned by the actress's intensely private son. Like his incredible home, Alec's stony exterior hides secret depths Margot would love to explore. But will he trust her enough to let her in?Sunshine has always been the good-time sister, abandoning jobs to chase after guys who used her, then threw her away. No more. She refuses to be "that girl" again. This time, she'll finish college, dedicate herself to her job as a nanny, and she 100 percent will not screw up her life again by falling for the wrong guy. Especially not the tempting single dad who also happens to be her boss.Master storyteller Susan Mallery weaves threads of family drama, humor, romance and a wish-you-were-there setting into one of the most satisfying books of the year!

My Review:

As part of the tour for this book, last week I posted an excerpt from The Summer of Sunshine and Margot. Now we’re back for the rest of the story!

Like so many of this author’s standalone titles, The Summer of Sunshine and Margot revolves around two sisters, Sunshine and Margot. While they are fraternal twins, they don’t seem to be much alike. Margot is tall, willowy and just a bit of an ice queen. Sunshine is short, curvy and more than a bit of a good time girl.

This is all about the summer where both of them plan to make changes in their lives. Those changes have a lot to do with their family’s legendary bad luck with men. Sunshine has picked the wrong men, pretty much over and over, instead of making something of her own life. Now she’s 31 and starting over again.

Margot keeps getting back together with the same wrong man over and over, and it’s past time for her to be done. It would help a lot if her friends would support that decision instead of sabotaging her by giving the jackass her address and phone number each time she cuts him off and changes her contact info.

Summer works as a nanny, but she never sticks – because some guy comes along, sweeps her off her feet, and she leaves. This time she’s fallen in love with her charge, little Connor, and wants to be around for him and his ant farm. She’s started college and make something of herself and stay away from men. Except for little Connor of course. And his lonely and extremely yummy dad.

On the surface – actually on several surfaces – Margot’s job is the more interesting of the two. Her job is to help people fit into new and unfamiliar surroundings. Usually those surroundings involve changes in status or business in foreign countries. Her current client is a free-spirited actress who plans to marry the love of her life, a foreign diplomat. In order to tone down some of Bianca’s wilder tendencies, Margot will live with her and her adult son, a man who makes both Margot’s intellectual side as well as her hidden passionate side sit up and take notice.

Nothing about either of their situations runs smoothly. The only thing that does is the rock solid love and support the sisters give to each other. And that’s enough to see them through.

Escape Rating A-: This was just a sweet and delightful read. From a certain perspective, not a lot happens – or at least not in a big way. At the same time, it just reads so well. I started it at dinner and finished later that evening because I couldn’t put it down.

Not so much because I needed to see what happened next as because I just enjoyed spending time with Sunshine and Margot. Their lives were very, very different, but they managed to maintain a close and loving relationship – something that isn’t always easy between sisters.

Often when I read family relationship stories, I find myself grateful to be an only child. But not with this author. Many of her stories wrap around sisterhood, and her portraits of sisters who manage to pull together or stay together and be there for each other makes me a bit envious.

The romantic relationships that Sunshine and Margot find in this story, and unsuccessfully resist, are as different as they are. But are both equally romantic and equally interesting to follow. And they both earn their happily ever afters, but in completely different ways.

The wild card character in this one is the wild child actress Bianca. It’s so obvious from early in the story that Bianca has both a story of her own, and an agenda that she keeps carefully under wraps. The revelation of what made her the person that she is is heartbreaking, and the reason she finally lets the secret go is reaffirming, both of love and of the ability to set yourself free of the past – at any age.

And it ties in to both Sunshine’s and Margot’s journeys, as they all are in the process of becoming their best selves. Journeys that are marvelous to follow every halting step of the way.

For a good reading time, pick up anything by Susan Mallery. You’ll be glad you did!

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Review: Murder in the City of Liberty by Rachel McMillan

Review: Murder in the City of Liberty by Rachel McMillanMurder in the City of Liberty (A Van Buren and DeLuca Mystery #2) by Rachel McMillan
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: paperback, large print, ebook, audiobook
Genres: historical fiction, historical mystery
Series: Van Buren and DeLuca #2
Pages: 336
Published by Thomas Nelson on May 28, 2019
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

Hamish DeLuca and Regina "Reggie" Van Buren have a new case--and this one brings the war in Europe dangerously close to home.

Determined to make a life for herself, Regina "Reggie" Van Buren bid goodbye to fine china and the man her parents expected her to marry and escaped to Boston. What she never expected to discover was that an unknown talent for sleuthing would develop into a business partnership with the handsome, yet shy, Hamish DeLuca.

Their latest case arrives when Errol Parker, the leading base stealer in the Boston farm leagues, hires Hamish and Reggie to investigate what the Boston police shove off as a series of harmless pranks. Errol believes these are hate crimes linked to the outbreak of war in Europe, and he's afraid for his life. Hamish and Reggie quickly find themselves in the midst of an escalating series of crimes that seem to link Boston to Hamish's hometown of Toronto.

When an act of violence hits too close to home, Hamish is driven to a decision that may sever him from Reggie forever . . . even more than her engagement to wealthy architect Vaughan Vanderlaan.

My Review:

Luca Valari is still the man of mystery behind the shady goings on in this second book in the Van Buren and DeLuca series. But Reggie Van Buren and Hamish DeLuca are definitely front and center in this atmospheric story of pre-WW2 Boston.

Although, just as in Murder at the Flamingo, it’s almost halfway through the book before the dead body turns up, there’s already plenty of shady goings on.

Nate Reis, Hamish’ roommate and the unofficial Jewish prince of the city’s immigrant North End, is hiding something – not that the increasing amount of Antisemitism and anti-immigrant fury is hiding anything from him.

Hamish and Reggie find themselves in multiple kinds of trouble when they investigate what looks like a potential housing development that plans to create substandard housing on land that is certain to be not merely unsuitable but actually unstable – and not with the consent of the current owner.

The situation gets even dicier when a figure from their past with Luca Valari and his Flamingo Club appears in the shadows – and someone pushes Reggie into the freezing waters of Boston Harbor.

The client they do manage to retain is the Black minor league baseball player Errol Parker, better known as Robin Hood for his base-stealing prowess. Parker has been the victim of an escalating series of so-called pranks, and he wants Van Buren and DeLuca to get to the bottom of it before someone roughs up his 16-year-old nephew. Again.

When the boy turns up dead in the locker room wearing his uncle’s jersey, they are left to investigate whether his murder was due to the color of their client’s skin, the shady people the boy was doing errands for, the rise of racial tension in general – or something else all together.

Something that might lead back to Luca Valari.

Escape Rating B: There’s something about this entry in the series that feels much darker than the previous book. Not that there isn’t plenty of mystery in both, but it feels like there were more lighthearted moments in Murder at the Flamingo – at least before said murder – than there are in Murder in the City of Liberty. Or it may be that Reggie Van Buren and Hamish DeLuca were just a lot more naive in the first book than they are, three long years later, in the second.

Some of that is the time period. While Flamingo takes place during the Depression, which was no picnic, this book is set in 1940. By this point in history, World War II had already begun in Europe, Hamish’ home country of Canada was already involved, and people in the U.S. were dealing with the sense that they would be caught up in the war, whether they wanted to be or not, sooner or later. Most likely sooner.

Which doesn’t mean that there weren’t plenty of isolationists doing their level best – or should that be absolute worst – to keep the U.S. out of the war as long as possible. And a lot of their reasoning revolved around their disgusting propaganda campaigns to keep America white and Christian and to denigrate, persecute and even murder anyone who was not. A propaganda campaign – with its associated violence – that has both Hamish and Reggie’s client Errol Parker and their friend Nate Reis squarely in its sights.

The threats hanging over Parker and Nate are part of the darkness that permeates the story, as is shadowy presence of Hamish’ cousin Luca – who is up to his neck in something shady yet again. Someone is following Hamish, but whether it’s Luca’s agents attempting to keep Hamish safe, or Luca’s enemies trying to get at Luca through Hamish is all part of the puzzle. A puzzle that keeps Hamish – and the reader – guessing until the very end.

Speaking of that end, at the end of Murder in the City of Liberty Hamish is brought face to face with his parents’ past – a past that has been hidden from him all of his life. However, that past is not hidden from the reader – or at least not the readers of the author’s Herringford and Watts historical mystery series, which features Hamish’s mother and her bestie – and eventually leads to the events which led to the “falling out” between Hamish’ parents and Luca Valari’s.

It seems like everything in Hamish’ life comes back to Luca, one way or another. But the Herringford and Watts series looks scrumptious! So it looks like the first book, The Bachelor Girl’s Guide to Murder, will be going on my TBR pile as something to tide me over until the next installment in the Van Buren and DeLuca mysteries!

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Review: The Summer Country by Lauren Willig

Review: The Summer Country by Lauren WilligThe Summer Country by Lauren Willig
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: hardcover, large print, ebook, audiobook
Genres: historical fiction
Pages: 480
Published by William Morrow on June 4, 2019
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

The New York Times bestselling historical novelist delivers her biggest, boldest, and most ambitious novel yet—a sweeping, dramatic Victorian epic of lost love, lies, jealousy, and rebellion set in colonial Barbados.

1854. From Bristol to Barbados. . . .

Emily Dawson has always been the poor cousin in a prosperous merchant clan—merely a vicar’s daughter, and a reform-minded vicar’s daughter, at that. Everyone knows that the family’s lucrative shipping business will go to her cousin, Adam, one day. But when her grandfather dies, Emily receives an unexpected inheiritance: Peverills, a sugar plantation in Barbados—a plantation her grandfather never told anyone he owned.

When Emily accompanies her cousin and his new wife to Barbados, she finds Peverills a burnt-out shell, reduced to ruins in 1816, when a rising of enslaved people sent the island up in flames. Rumors swirl around the derelict plantation; people whisper of ghosts.

Why would her practical-minded grandfather leave her a property in ruins? Why are the neighboring plantation owners, the Davenants, so eager to acquire Peverills—so eager that they invite Emily and her cousins to stay with them indefinitely? Emily finds herself bewitched by the beauty of the island even as she’s drawn into the personalities and politics of forty years before: a tangled history of clandestine love, heartbreaking betrayal, and a bold bid for freedom.

When family secrets begin to unravel and the harsh truth of history becomes more and more plain, Emily must challenge everything she thought she knew about her family, their legacy . . . and herself.

My Review:

The first book by Lauren Willig that I read was The Secret History of the Pink Carnation, probably 15 years ago. It got me hooked on her lush historical books, and I dip into one whenever I have a bit of time.

And so we come to The Summer Country, another lush and sumptuous historical by Lauren Willig. Unlike her well-known Pink Carnation series, this story takes place not in late 18th century France, but in mid-19th century Barbados.

However, they are both time slip stories. But the time that is slipped in The Summer Country encompasses considerably fewer centuries. The Pink Carnation series tells its historical story through a 21st century frame. But The Summer Country interweaves the past of Barbados at two periods only a couple of generations apart. Its “past” is in the early 1810s, and its “present” in the mid 1850s.

In other words, more than close enough together that the events of the past directly shape events in the story’s present – whether the protagonists are aware of that shaping or not. Mostly not. The time periods are also more than close enough together that it is within living memory for many people who still have secrets they desperately feel the need to keep.

At any cost. At all the times.

Escape Rating A-: The Summer Country is an example of the kind of epic family saga that they don’t publish much anymore. Because it’s a marvelous example of that kind of sweeping story, it does make the reader wonder why not. It’s lovely and captivating and pulls the reader into its world, much as its Barbados setting pulls in the characters who find themselves navigating the exotic and unfamiliar colony in the wake of their grandfather’s death.

A death that sets the whole story in motion.

This is a story about secrets, the cost of keeping them, and the fear of letting them go. It’s also a story that unspools as lazily as a day in the colonial heat – complete with an overarching sense of menace that coats the skin like sweat – and bites like the local mosquitoes.

It’s not a book to rush through. It begins with Emily Dawson, doing her level best to make her own way in this new world, trying to unravel the mystery that her grandfather has left her with his bequest of the ruined Peverill plantation. We see Emily buck the tide of ALL the men in her life and her orbit who are just certain that a woman couldn’t possibly know her own mind.

And we see the past, when her grandfather was a young man at Peverills, not as the owner, but as the poor bookkeeper. And we see all the people who stood in both their ways – some of whom still do.

It’s enthralling, it’s delicious, it’s decadent and at times it’s downright chilling. This is a book to wallow in – and you’ll be glad you did.

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Review: Summer on Mirror Lake by JoAnn Ross + Giveaway

Review: Summer on Mirror Lake by JoAnn Ross + GiveawaySummer on Mirror Lake by JoAnn Ross
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: hardcover, large print, paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: contemporary romance, small town romance
Series: Honeymoon Harbor #3
Pages: 336
Published by Hqn on June 11, 2019
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

Summertime is the best time to lose yourself in the romance of Honeymoon Harbor…

When he lands in the emergency room after collapsing at the funeral of a colleague and friend, Wall Street hotshot Gabriel Mannion initially rejects the diagnosis of an anxiety attack. But when warned that if he doesn’t change his adrenaline-fueled, workaholic lifestyle he could end up like his friend, Gabe reluctantly returns to his hometown of Honeymoon Harbor to regroup.

As he adjusts to the sight of mountains instead of skyscrapers, Gabe discovers advantages to this small Pacific Northwest town he once couldn’t wait to escape. But it’s irresistible librarian Chelsea Prescott who, along with the two foster children she’s taken under her wing, makes slowing down seem like the best prescription ever.

Over the course of their summer romance, Gabe gets a taste of the life he might have had if he’d taken a different path. But with his return to New York City looming on the horizon, he’ll have to choose between the success he’s worked tirelessly for and a ready-made family who offers a very different, richly rewarding future…if he’ll only take the risk.

My Review:

When is a fling not a fling? Possibly when it comes with two children and a boat. But definitely when it begins with thinking you’re having a heart attack. While serving as a pallbearer at the funeral of someone you looked upon as a mentor.

For Gabe Mannion, wanting to be just like his mentor Carter Kensington has taken on a whole new meaning. The man is dead at 46, his heart a victim of the adrenaline rush that is high-level high-stakes trading on Wall Street.

Gabe’s panic-attack-that-feels-like-a-heart-attack is a giant wake up call. As one of his brothers later informs him, if your job gives you panic attacks, you’re doing it wrong. The problem for Gabe is that he doesn’t know how to stop doing it.

So he goes home. In that sense that home is the place that when you go there, they have to take you in. Gabe needs to take the summer off and get away from his high-stakes, high-stress, all work and no life life-style, so he takes himself back home to Honeymoon Harbor, the tiny little beach town in the Pacific Northwest that he left for the fast track more than a decade ago.

He’s achieved the wealth that he dreamed of, not because he was greedy, but because money is a way of keeping score. He’s just never figured out when enough is enough, and adrenaline is just as addictive as any other drug.

He thinks he’ll be home for the summer, find a bit of zen, whatever that might mean, or at least ease off on the stress, and then return to the high-pressure world of dollars and cents – and more and more dollars.

Instead, librarian Chelsea Prescott rows over to the beach log mansion (it really is) he’s staying in for the summer, and invades his life, his house, the boat he’s building, and even, just possibly, his heart.

But their summer fling is supposed to have a limited shelf life. Her life, her home, and her life’s work is in Honeymoon Harbor, and he’s going back to New York after Labor Day. Or is he?

Escape Rating B+: This is a sweet little feel-good story about two people who have seen a few too many of life’s bumps and hard knocks, but have come out all the stronger for it.

I’m not actually talking about Chelsea and Gabe. I’m talking about Chelsea and Hannah, the young girl that Chelsea first takes an interest in when she notices that Hannah and her little sister Hailey are spending every afternoon in Chelsea’s library. Once upon a time, Chelsea spent her after school afternoons in that very same library, when her family and her home life was falling completely apart.

Chelsea sees herself in Hannah, using the library as a refuge and taking the very best care she can of her little sister. In Chelsea’s time, the librarian took her under her wing, giving her a refuge, a mentor, and eventually a career that she loves. Now it’s Chelsea’s turn to pay that gift forward.

But the package gets bigger when Hannah and Hailey’s foster mother goes AWOL and the girls need a place to stay. Chelsea steps up, and Gabe, steps up with her. Their fling has just barely begun, and suddenly they are all in together, making a home for two girls who need more than a temporary safe landing. They need a forever home, and Chelsea plans to give it to them.

With or without Gabe. But better with. If he can get his head out of his ass to figure where his heart is. Because Chelsea has already found hers.

Chelsea and Gabe’s relationship is fun to watch, but it’s Chelsea’s burgeoning relationship with the girls that really drives the book. There’s something very right about the family that they build together, a family that they all want Gabe to be a part of if he is willing to take a good hard look at the life he had in New York, the life he has in Honeymoon Harbor, and who the heck he wants to be when he finally grows up. Because when the story begins, he surely hasn’t.

Chelsea, on the other hand, begins the story grown up but closed off. Her childhood trauma has left her with the same need to guard her heart that she sees in Hannah. The way that the woman and the girl grow towards each other, and open their hearts in the process, is lovely to watch.

They are going to get the family they deserve, together, whether Gabe sticks around or not. That he does finally figure it out makes for delicious icing on a very yummy story.

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

I’m giving away a copy of Summer on Mirror Lake to one lucky US or Canadian commenter on this tour!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

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Spotlight + Excerpt: The Summer of Sunshine and Margot by Susan Mallery

Spotlight + Excerpt: The Summer of Sunshine and Margot by Susan MalleryThe Summer of Sunshine and Margot by Susan Mallery
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via Edelweiss, publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: hardcover, large print, paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: contemporary romance, women's fiction
Pages: 368
Published by Hqn on June 11, 2019
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

The Baxter sisters come from a long line of women with disastrous luck in love. But this summer, Sunshine and Margot will turn disasters into destiny…

As an etiquette coach, Margot teaches her clients to fit in. But she’s never faced a client like Bianca, an aging movie star who gained fame—and notoriety—through a campaign of shock and awe. Schooling Bianca on the fine art of behaving like a proper diplomat’s wife requires intensive lessons, forcing Margot to move into the monastery turned mansion owned by the actress’s intensely private son. Like his incredible home, Alec’s stony exterior hides secret depths Margot would love to explore. But will he trust her enough to let her in?

Sunshine has always been the good-time sister, abandoning jobs to chase after guys who used her, then threw her away. No more. She refuses to be “that girl” again. This time, she’ll finish college, dedicate herself to her job as a nanny, and she 100 percent will not screw up her life again by falling for the wrong guy. Especially not the tempting single dad who also happens to be her boss.

Master storyteller Susan Mallery weaves threads of family drama, humor, romance and a wish-you-were-there setting into one of the most satisfying books of the year!

Welcome to the Excerpt part of The Summer of Sunshine and Margot tour! Whenever Susan Mallery has a new standalone title, like California Girls earlier this year (and When We Found Home last year), there’s a book tour with the opportunity for both excerpts in anticipation of the book’s release as a teaser and then, of course, the review tour to tell readers just how awesome the book is. Because they always are. So here I am again, with an excerpt from her upcoming (very, very soon!) book, The Summer of Sunshine and Margot. I’ll be back with a review next week. In the meantime, enjoy!

Excerpt from The Summer of Sunshine and Margot by Susan Mallery

Declan Dubois hadn’t had sex in a year. Until a few weeks ago he, honest to God, hadn’t cared, but recently he’d started to notice and now he cared a lot and it was becoming a problem.

The dry spell had started when he and Iris had been having trouble—if that was what it could be called. Not knowing if their marriage was going to survive or not, he’d taken to sleeping on the sofa in his study. Later, she’d been sick and sex had been the last thing on either of their minds. After her death, he’d been in shock and dealing with the reality of having the woman he’d assumed he would spend the rest of his life with gone. There’d been Connor and helping him handle the loss of his mother. Sex hadn’t been important.

But it sure as hell was now, although he had no idea what he was supposed to do about it. Dating seemed impossible and a few minutes in the shower only got a guy so far. At some point he wanted a woman in his bed, and not just a one-night stand, either. He’d never been that guy. He didn’t need love to get it up but some kind of emotional interest was preferred. He hadn’t been on a first date in ten years—how was he supposed to start now? Where would he meet women? Not through work—that never went well. Online?

He walked the short distance from Connor’s room to his study and told himself he would deal with the problem later. Now that his son was asleep, his more pressing issue was to get to know the woman he’d hired to take care of his kid. Somehow three weeks had sped by. If he wasn’t careful, he would turn around and Connor would be graduating from high school and he still wouldn’t know anything about Sunshine.

He sat at his desk and opened the file the agency had given him when he’d first interviewed her. She’d been the fifth nanny he’d hired and he’d been desperate to find someone his son would like. Iris’s death had been a shock. It had been less than a month from the time he’d found out about the cancer until she’d passed away. There’d been no time to prepare, to be braced, and he was an adult. Connor had a lot less skill to handle the im- possibly heartbreaking situation. If Declan’s parents hadn’t come and stayed with them after the funeral, he wasn’t sure either of them would have survived.

He scanned the file. Sunshine was thirty-one. She’d been a nanny on and off from the age of twenty. She had no formal training, no education past high school and a history of walking away from jobs before her contract was finished. He hadn’t wanted to hire her, but he’d been desperate and the agency had insisted he at least talk to her. After blowing through four of their best nannies, he’d realized he couldn’t refuse, so he’d reluctantly met her.

He didn’t remember anything they’d discussed except to insist she and Connor spend a trial afternoon together, supervised by someone from the agency. Connor had come home and announced he liked her and Declan had hired her that evening.

The past three weeks had been a whirlwind of work and travel. He’d wanted to spend more time at home, getting to know her, watching her with Connor, but fate had conspired against him. Still, his son seemed happier than he had in a long time and he sure liked Sunshine.

A knock on his open door brought him back to the present. Sunshine stood in the doorway, her smile tentative.

“Is this a good time?”

He nodded and motioned to the chair on the other side of his desk. Sunshine sat down, then tucked her bare feet under her.

She was nothing like Iris. The thought was unexpected but once formed he couldn’t ignore it. His late wife had been tall and willowy. Delicate, with small bones and long fingers. She’d been pale, with dark hair and dark eyes.

Sunshine was several inches shorter and a whole lot more curvy. Blonde with pale blue eyes. She had full cheeks, large breasts and an ass that… He silently told himself not to go there. Not only wasn’t it appropriate, she wasn’t his type. And again, not appropriate.

Iris favored tailored clothing in black or taupe. From the lit- tle he’d seen of Sunshine, she was a jeans and T-shirt kind of woman. She ate cereal out of the box, had no problem lying on the floor to play checkers with Connor and hadn’t protested an ant farm in the house. Again—not Iris.

Not that he wanted anyone to be Iris. His wife had been his first real love and with her gone, he would never be the same. He wasn’t thinking he couldn’t care about someone again, he had no idea about that, he just knew he didn’t want an Iris replacement.

“You and Connor get along well,” he said.

She smiled. Two simple words that in no way captured the transformation from reasonably pretty to stunning. Declan hoped he didn’t look as stupefied as he felt. After all, he’d seen her smile before. He should be used to it, and yet, he was not.

“He’s adorable. How could you not totally fall for him? He’s a serious kid, but also funny and kind. I know he misses his mom, but he’s dealing. We talk about her whenever he wants to. I know he’s going to therapy and I’m hoping it helps. Obviously the therapist doesn’t say anything to me, but I would say he’s coping well.”

Her appreciation of his kid relaxed him. “Connor’s special,” he said, then looked at the open folder on the desk and decided to be blunt. “I wasn’t sure if I should hire you.”

Instead of getting defensive, she laughed. “I could say the same thing about you. I was hoping to go to work for a high-powered single mom, but the director at the agency talked me into meeting Connor and then I was a goner.”

She pointed to the folder. “Is that about me?”

He nodded.

Her full mouth twisted. “Let me guess. The report says I’m terrific with kids. I like them and they like me. I show up on time, I cook, I help with homework, I’m a safe driver. When there’s an emergency, I’m nearly always available. But…” She looked at him. “There’s a very good chance one day I’ll simply disappear with almost no warning. I’m gone and you’re stuck.” She shrugged. “Does that about sum it up?”

Her honesty surprised him. Was it a tactic or genuine? He had no idea.

She sighed. “It’s true. All of it. I’ve walked away from at least a half dozen jobs. I would meet a guy and fall for him and he’d want me to go with him and I would. Just like that.”

“Go with him?”

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: Queen Bee by Dorothea Benton Frank

Review: Queen Bee by Dorothea Benton FrankQueen Bee by Dorothea Benton Frank
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: hardcover, paperback, large print, ebook, audiobook
Genres: Chick Lit, women's fiction
Series: Lowcountry Tales #12
Pages: 432
Published by William Morrow on May 28, 2019
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

New York Times-bestselling author Dorothea Benton Frank returns to the American South in this latest novel about friendship and love that is full of heart, humor, and rich description.

A woman wounded by her past comes to Sullivan's Island, South Carolina to find new meaning in life and to find herself. As she takes up a new hobby of beekeeping, she begins to come into her own and rebuild her life. When a new friend comes in and she finally allows for something more than just "friendship", everyone will realize that life could use a little taste of sweetness.

In what is sure to be another classic, Dorothea Benton Frank weaves a fun tale of self-discovery, love, and friendship with her signature charming wit, indelible poignancy, and hallmark themes.

My Review:

This book is a fun read and a hot mess at the same time. I would have thought those two things would be mutually exclusive, but after reading Queen Bee, they definitely are not.

Let me explain…

But first, I’d like to perform a bit of public service. The blurb for this book bears virtually no resemblance to the actual book. The book the blurb represents might be a very good book, but it certainly isn’t this book. At all.

To begin with, Holly Jensen doesn’t come to Sullivan’s Island, she already lives there. In fact, she grew up there and hasn’t left except for college. Nor does just just “take up” beekeeping. She IS a beekeeper and she has been one for several years. In fact, she’s an established beekeeper who has well-maintained hives full of happy bees who give her plenty of honey to sell – as well as giving her a sympathetic ear – or a thousand ears – when life starts closing in..

That new friend isn’t new, either. They went to school together. They just seem to have lost touch with each other over the years. As happens, even in small towns.

It happens especially easily in this case because Holly has found herself shackled to Sullivan’s Island, taking care of her cantankerous mother, the actual Queen Bee of the title. That “friend” of hers is in the nearby town, a member of the local police.

The person who does come back to town, because she’s been wounded by her present, not her past, is Holly’s sister Leslie. Leslie married Charlie, a man Holly refers to as “the wallet”, and blithely moved to Charleston. It seemed like Leslie’s marriage was perfect – at least self-absorbed Leslie made it seem that way.

Then again, everything Leslie does is perfect, at least in the eyes of the Queen Bee. Holly resents her sister’s freedom, resents being stuck on Sullivan’s Island taking care of their mother, and resents her mother’s resentment that Holly isn’t “perfect” Leslie. Because it seems to Holly that Leslie can do no wrong and she, Holly, can do no right.

When Leslie comes home, the three lives of the three women get forcibly kicked out of the ruts they’ve all been stagnating in – in more ways than one.

Leslie’s back because her husband, Charlie the wallet, wants to make a new identity for himself as a female impersonator, and is off to a contest in Atlantic City to see if he has a chance. He expects Leslie to be enthusiastically supportive of his decision, even as Charlie begins changing their entire lives to live as Charlene rather than Charlie.

(And that’s the last time I’ll refer to Charlie as either Charlie or as “him”, because from this point forward a gender-neutral pronoun is required.)

Leslie is more than a bit confused by the changes, and both she and the Queen Bee are at the “not just no but hell no” stage of, let’s call it, non-acceptance.

Then things change. A lot. Charlene wins a prize in the contest, and decides to stretch their wings by moving to Las Vegas to participate in even more contests. Charlene want to make a career out of this, and really, seriously want to become a star.

Leslie, hesitatingly, reluctantly, moves from “hell no” to being more open-minded, and ultimately more supportive. Holly, completely open-minded about Charlene, is just plain grateful that Charlene’s need for a support team and especially a costume designer gets the Queen Bee out of the depressive, self-destructive funk she’s been living in for years and temporarily moves her from Sullivan’s Island to Vegas to help Charlene take the first steps into this new world.

Meanwhile, back home, Holly is on her own and feeling relieved and miserable at the same time. On the one hand, she has the freedom to do what she wants when she wants without her mother’s constant negativity and harping.

On that other hand, what Holly wants is to finally get close to the widower next door. She’s been helping him out with his two young sons ever since his wife died, and she’s hoping there might be something more there. She fancies herself in love with him.

He fancies himself using her as an unpaid babysitting service while he marries a woman who makes the Wicked Witch of the West seem like a saint. That the original Wicked Witch is killed by a house falling on her head makes this resemblance surprisingly more relevant.

The bees fix everything for their queen. It’s up to Holly to take it from there.

Escape Rating B+: I have mixed feelings about this one. Lots of them. All of them.

First things first, this is a terrifically fast and fun read. It goes really quick, at least in part because there’s so much happening – and because so much of it is unexpectedly off the wall. And not in a bad way, either.

I will say that Holly is a doormat for way too long. She doesn’t grow a spine until 2/3rds of the way through the book, and listening to her internal dialog about Arch-next-door gets really old, really fast.

Admittedly, from the way that Holly’s mother treats her at the beginning, Holly’s spine has been pretty much surgically removed every single day of her life. It’s a bit of a miracle that she manages to grow one at all. But doormats do not compelling protagonists make – at least not for moi.

However, this is really a three-pronged story. Holly has a third, Leslie has a third and the Queen Bee has a third. And that’s where things get interesting. And also completely off the script of that blurb.

Leslie’s story moves from negativity to acceptance and resolution. It’s a reasonable progression and also a positive one. In the end, Leslie supports Char and the changes in their life while coming to the conclusion that as much as she loves the person, she is no longer sexually attracted to them as a spouse.

The resolution of Leslie and Char’s story takes as much “book time” as Holly’s, and is more interesting to follow.

Then there’s the Queen Bee’s story. The QB gets a new lease on life by going to Vegas. She also finds love with the genderqueer Suzanne Velour, an older female impersonator who has taken Char under their rather capacious wing.

That romance is sweet and surprising for all concerned, including the QB and Suz themselves. Unfortunately for the story, that romance feels a bit “shot out of a cannon” and proceeds too quickly. What we see of it is terrific, but it just happens too damn fast.

There’s a bit of “woo-woo” type magic between Holly and her bees – not enough to tip this into paranormal, but enough to make it feel like things happen on Sullivan’s Island, and in the Lowcountry, that just don’t happen anywhere else.

In the end, I liked the book, and had a good time reading it. I’ll admit to some serious questions about why two thirds of the story, featuring two genderqueer characters, were completely erased from the blurb. Anyone picking this book up based on the blurb is going to be surprised. Hopefully as pleasantly as I was, but surprised nonetheless.

Holly is the one who sums up this story, and all the relationships, best, when she says that “love comes in every color, shape, and size”, and that every life needs a little bit of sweetness. And she’s right.

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Review: The Overdue Life of Amy Byler by Kelly Harms

Review: The Overdue Life of Amy Byler by Kelly HarmsThe Overdue Life of Amy Byler by Kelly Harms
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: hardcover, paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: women's fiction
Pages: 332
Published by Lake Union Publishing on May 1, 2019
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleBook Depository
Goodreads

Overworked and underappreciated, single mom Amy Byler needs a break. So when the guilt-ridden husband who abandoned her shows up and offers to take care of their kids for the summer, she accepts his offer and escapes rural Pennsylvania for New York City.

Usually grounded and mild mannered, Amy finally lets her hair down in the city that never sleeps. She discovers a life filled with culture, sophistication, and—with a little encouragement from her friends—a few blind dates. When one man in particular makes quick work of Amy’s heart, she risks losing herself completely in the unexpected escape, and as the summer comes to an end, Amy realizes too late that she must make an impossible decision: stay in this exciting new chapter of her life, or return to the life she left behind.

But before she can choose, a crisis forces the two worlds together, and Amy must stare down a future where she could lose both sides of herself, and every dream she’s ever nurtured, in the beat of a heart.

My Review:

Even those of us who don’t need an actual #momspringa (because we’re not actual moms) can relate to Amy Byler’s need to take a vacation from her own life to see what’s working, what’s not, what might have been and what might be.

Not that Amy WANTS that vacation from the real, but she certainly does need it. Watching her embrace it makes for a fun and fascinating book, a story about friendship and sisterhood and learning that while having it all may be a myth, having all you really need is definitely possible.

And that “all” is different for each of us – as it is for Amy and her two best friends, Lena and Talia.

Our story begins when Amy spots her “ex” husband at her local small-town pharmacy. John left 3 years ago for a business trip to Hong Kong – and never came back. Leaving her with their two school-age kids, their historic fixer-upper of a house, a library degree that she hadn’t dusted off in ten years and not much else.

She ranted, she raged, she cried but most of all, she coped. Now he’s back and she’s sure that he’s going to disrupt her fragile but workable apple-cart. An apple-cart that has meant that she has turned over her entire life to being the “best” mother possible to make up for the dad who ran away to find himself with a younger woman.

Now he’s back in an attempt to “fix” his relationship with his children. And Amy knows she has to let him try – even though she rightfully doesn’t trust him at all. The kids will be better off with him in their lives – if he sticks this time. He doesn’t need to stick in Bucks County, but he does need to stick to his relationship with them.

He has one chance. She’s letting him have the kids for one week. The kids, who are not fooled by any of this, decide to take him for all he’s worth while he’s around. Not in a bad or entitled way, but making his responsibilities crystal clear – especially since he hasn’t paid a dime in child support while he’s been living it up in Hong Kong.

But that week leaves Amy with a giant-sized hole in her life. For the past three years she hasn’t done anything for herself. She doesn’t know what to do with herself without being constantly needed by her kids, who are now in their teens.

In desperation, she decides to go to New York City, the city she loved when she was single in her 20s, a lifetime ago. She finds a library conference to use as an excuse, and plans to spend a week with a friend she hasn’t seen in years.

When the week turns into an entire summer, and when her friend’s dying magazine uses Amy’s vacation for one last hurrah before they go all digital or fold, a new hashtag is born – #momspringa.

Amy’s #momspringa is both the breaking and the making of her – all at the same time. It makes her question her life and her purpose. Because if she’s not a mother 100% of the time, then who is she? And if she doesn’t take some fulfillment for herself, is she anyone at all?

Escape Rating B+: In the end, I loved this book, but I’ll confess that it had a hard start. And a slightly sticky bit near the end. At the beginning, Amy is extremely invested, understandably so, in being both a mother and more than a bit of a martyr about it.

While the situation makes total sense under the circumstances, I had a difficult time identifying with her until she starts breaking out of the concrete-lined rut she is stuck in – even though that rut is far from being all her own making.

In other words, I had a hard time relating to her intense investment in being a mother and sacrificing herself to that, because it’s not merely not my experience but not an experience I ever wanted.

Her problems with and resentments of the douchebag ex I was completely on board with. Even those of us who have met the “handsome prince” have kissed (and sometimes married) more than a few frogs along the way. And there’s no question this guy was a frog of a husband. Whether he’s also a frog of a father is a big part of the story.

But after the first third of the story, it’s all about Amy’s empowerment, Amy’s steadfast female friendships, and Amy’s journey to find a way to have a fulfilling life that is not 150% wrapped around her kids. Not that those kids aren’t supremely important, but Amy having some life just for Amy is important for them too.

There are also a lot of fun conversations between Amy and her daughter, and between Amy and the colleagues she meets at the conference, about the joys of reading, and about the love of books in general and some books in particular. There’s also some lovely feels about just how marvelous it is to match the right book with the right reader that I really identified with – after all, that is part of the reason that I started this blog and have kept up with it for so many years.

In the end, or rather in the middle, this was a book where I absolutely had to skip to the end to find out whether, after everything, Amy went back to the douchebag ex. Because if she did I was going to die.

I lived. And so does Amy Byler.

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Review: The Song of the Jade Lily by Kirsty Manning

Review: The Song of the Jade Lily by Kirsty ManningThe Song of the Jade Lily by Kirsty Manning
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: hardcover, large print, paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: historical fiction, World War II
Pages: 480
Published by William Morrow Paperbacks on May 14, 2019
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

Kirsty Manning makes her US debut with this gripping historical novel that tells the little-known story of Jewish refugees who fled to Shanghai during WWII.


1939
: Two young girls meet in Shanghai, also known as the “Paris of the East”. Beautiful local Li and Jewish refugee Romy form a fierce friendship, but the deepening shadows of World War II fall over the women as they slip between the city's glamorous French Concession district and the teeming streets of the Shanghai Ghetto. Yet soon the realities of war prove to be too much for these close friends as they are torn apart.


2016:
Fleeing London with a broken heart, Alexandra returns to Australia to be with her grandparents, Romy and Wilhelm. Her grandfather is dying, and over the coming weeks Romy and Wilhelm begin to reveal the family mysteries they have kept secret for more than half a century. As fragments of her mother's history finally become clear, Alexandra struggles with what she learns while more is also revealed about her grandmother's own past in Shanghai.

After Wilhelm dies, Alexandra flies to Shanghai, determined to trace her grandparents' past. Peeling back the layers of their hidden lives, she is forced to question what she knows about her family—and herself. 

The Song of the Jade Lily is a lush, provocative, and beautiful story of friendship, motherhood, the price of love, and the power of hardship and courage that can shape us all.

My Review:

As this story opens, Alexandra Laird is lost. She is 36 years old, she has just broken up with the man she expected to marry, after eight years of a relationship and three years of living together. She is planning to take up a new post in Shanghai after years in England, first at Oxford University and then as a commodities trader in London.

But she is on her way to Melbourne, taking family leave between job postings to spend six weeks with her grandmother and grandfather. Her beloved grandfather is dying. She is going home to see him one last time, and to help her grandmother after the inevitable.

The circle of her family, once consisting of her mother and father, her Oma and Opa, and herself, is now reduced to just two. Her parents died when she was a child, and her grandparents raised her. Now that Opa is gone, it is just her and Romy, her Oma.

Or is it?

Alexandra’s mother, Sophia, was Chinese, adopted by her parents in Shanghai where they fled after Kristallnacht. Her grandparents were Jews, forced to flee their native Vienna after the Anschluss.

Sophia, so different from her neighbors and classmates, always wondered where she came from and why her birth parents gave her up. But her parents didn’t discuss the war, the subject was painful and taboo, as it was for Alexandra when she asked the same questions. Her parents and grandparents loved her, and it was supposed to be enough.

But now, grief-stricken and at loose ends in her personal life, Alexandra takes the opportunity of her job in Shanghai, the place where her parents fled and her mother came from, to discover the truths about her own origins.

They say that the truth will set you free. It just doesn’t happen until after it chews you up, spits you out and turns you into something new.

Escape Rating A+: This is an absolutely marvelous dual timeline story about family and love and war and survival. And the power of friendship. And it’s utterly beautiful every step of the way.

Alexandra’s story is the contemporary story, and it takes up most of the narrative. She’s lost and kind of alone and losing her anchors to her past while not sure of her present and her future. When the holes start opening in her heart she looks backward, not to her own past, but to the past of her much-loved grandparents, and to the war that shaped their lives.

And that’s the other timeline. Not as Alexandra discovers it, but as it happened. Just as we follow Alexandra in 2016, we see the life of her grandmother Romy. Romy’s story begins in 1938, the morning after Kristallnacht, the infamous Night of Broken Glass. Romy and her family lived in Vienna, and they need to get out. While they still can.

In desperation, they travel to Shanghai, China, one of the few places that will let them in. Europe under the Nazi sway had become deadly for Jews. Most countries around the world shut their gates and restricted Jewish immigration to a tiny trickle. Palestine under the British Protectorate could neither take in nor support the tens of thousands who wanted to leave.

The door to Shanghai was open, and they took it. But that chapter of their lives seems to have been a closed book to their adopted daughter Sophia, and Sophia’s daughter Alexandra as well. As the Alexandra’s story moves to her new job in contemporary Shanghai Romy’s story moves from her initial explorations of her new city, her burgeoning friendship with her best friend Li Ho, and her budding romance with Li’s brother Jian.

Until tragedy strikes again, Japan takes over Shanghai, and the horrors of war find Romy yet again. The story becomes Romy’s story of survival – and Alexandra’s story of renewal.

This is a story that touches the heart every step of the way. And breaks it. And mends it again. Just as it does Alexandra’s.

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Review: Westside by W.M. Akers

Review: Westside by W.M. AkersWestside by W.M. Akers
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: hardcover, paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: fantasy, historical fantasy, historical fiction, historical mystery, horror, urban fantasy
Pages: 304
Published by Harper Voyager on May 7, 2019
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

A young detective who specializes in “tiny mysteries” finds herself at the center of a massive conspiracy in this beguiling historical fantasy set on Manhattan’s Westside—a peculiar and dangerous neighborhood home to strange magic and stranger residents—that blends the vivid atmosphere of Caleb Carr with the imaginative power of Neil Gaiman.

New York is dying, and the one woman who can save it has smaller things on her mind.

It’s 1921, and a thirteen-mile fence running the length of Broadway splits the island of Manhattan, separating the prosperous Eastside from the Westside—an overgrown wasteland whose hostility to modern technology gives it the flavor of old New York. Thousands have disappeared here, and the respectable have fled, leaving behind the killers, thieves, poets, painters, drunks, and those too poor or desperate to leave.

It is a hellish landscape, and Gilda Carr proudly calls it home.

Slightly built, but with a will of iron, Gilda follows in the footsteps of her late father, a police detective turned private eye. Unlike that larger-than-life man, Gilda solves tiny mysteries: the impossible puzzles that keep us awake at night; the small riddles that destroy us; the questions that spoil marriages, ruin friendships, and curdle joy. Those tiny cases distract her from her grief, and the one impossible question she knows she can’t answer: “How did my father die?”

Yet on Gilda’s Westside, tiny mysteries end in blood—even the case of a missing white leather glove. Mrs. Copeland, a well-to-do Eastside housewife, hires Gilda to find it before her irascible merchant husband learns it is gone. When Gilda witnesses Mr. Copeland’s murder at a Westside pier, she finds herself sinking into a mire of bootlegging, smuggling, corruption—and an evil too dark to face.

All she wants is to find one dainty ladies’ glove. She doesn’t want to know why this merchant was on the wrong side of town—or why he was murdered in cold blood. But as she begins to see the connection between his murder, her father’s death, and the darkness plaguing the Westside, she faces the hard truth: she must save her city or die with it.

Introducing a truly remarkable female detective, Westside is a mystery steeped in the supernatural and shot through with gunfights, rotgut whiskey, and sizzling Dixieland jazz. Full of dazzling color, delightful twists, and truly thrilling action, it announces the arrival of a remarkable talent.

My Review:

Westside is a fantasy that is so dark that it sidles up to the line between fantasy and horror, then powers straight across it just like the ships of the gunrunners and rumrunners navigating the murky straits between Westside and our historical New York City.

Gilda Carr investigates what she calls “tiny mysteries” as the big mysteries in her life are too huge to even contemplate.

Because wrapped inside the big mystery of exactly what happened to her father, the finest investigator ever to walk the Westside, there’s the mystery of the Westside itself. People disappear on the Westside. I don’t mean that in the usual sense, where some people walk away from their lives and are never found, and others are kidnapped or murdered and their bodies are never found.

I mean disappeared in the sense that the Westside just swallows them up. Or rather, something in the shadowed dark on the Westside swallows them up. The numbers of the disappeared were so obviously concentrated in the Westside and so scandalously high that the “city fathers” decided to wall off the Westside for the good of the rest of the city, leaving thousands of remaining inhabitants to rot, or die, or disappear, or kill each other off in the lawless ghetto that the Westside is sure to become. And does.

Attempting to solve the mystery of the Westside cost Gilda’s father his career and probably his life – one way or another. Gilda isn’t willing to put herself in that kind of danger, nor is she willing to open the Pandora’s Box of memories of her father and who he used to be.

But when Gilda receives a tiny case from a woman on the Eastside who needs Gilda to find her lost glove, the glove leads her circuitously around the Westside and back through the past that she’s tried so desperately to bury.

Along the way, she discovers that her parents were not quite the people her childhood memories made them out to be. And that the truth about the Westside is darker, stranger and more dangerous than she could have possibly imagined.

And that it’s up to her to save what she must and fix what she can – before it’s too late.

Escape Rating A: I was surprised by just how much I enjoyed this. Because it’s very dark. But Gilda is an extremely compelling character, the setup is amazing, and the quasi-history worldbuilding is just fantastic. Then it falls off the edge of its world and gets even deeper.

The story seems to sit on a very weird corner between urban fantasy, steampunk, horror and historical fiction, with elements of all but not completely in any.

At first it doesn’t seem as if it fits into historical fiction, although it eventually does, and with one hell of a twist. What it reminds me of most is the darker side of steampunk, particularly the Seattle of Cherie Priest’s Boneshaker, because that’s another alternate history where the supposed “outside” forces of cleanliness and order and good government have locked away a terrible secret along with all of the mostly innocent people who are affected by it.

The scarred and damaged heroine Gilda Carr calls to mind the equally, if not more so, scarred and damaged protagonist Cherry St. Croix of the St. Croix Chronicles by Karina Cooper. And even though Neil Gaiman’s Neverwhere is set in London (as are the St. Croix Chronicles) the way that his dark, dangerous and magical world exists alongside and underneath the city we know also feels much like Westside.

As much as the horror sends shivers down the spine, it’s the human aspects of this story that stick in the mind. Part of Gilda’s investigation forces her to learn something that is one of the sadder hallmarks of adulthood. She learns that her parents were not perfect, that they were human and flawed and fallible just as she is. And that neither they nor their marriage was anything like her idealized childhood memories of them.

She is also forced by her circumstances to discover exactly what lies at the dark heart of the Westside, and just how much her idolized and idealized father was responsible for. And that she is the person that the Westside has made her, with all its dark faults and all its dubious virtues.

And that she truly can’t go home again. All she can do is go forwards – in whatever she can manage to save of the Westside.

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