Review: The Light at Wyndcliff by Sarah E. Ladd + Giveaway

Review: The Light at Wyndcliff by Sarah E. Ladd + GiveawayThe Light at Wyndcliff (Cornwall, #3) by Sarah E. Ladd
Format: eARC
Source: supplied by publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: historical fiction, historical romance, romantic suspense
Series: Cornwall #3
Pages: 320
Published by Thomas Nelson on October 13, 2020
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

In the third book of this sweet Regency Cornwall series, one young man must search for truth among the debris of multiple shipwrecks on his newly inherited property.
When Liam Twethewey inherits the ancient Wyndcliff Hall in Pevlyn, Cornwall, he sets a goal of fulfilling his late great-uncle’s dream of opening a china clay pit on the estate’s moorland. When he arrives, however, a mysterious shipwreck on his property—along with even more mysterious survivors—puts his plans on hold.
Evelyn Bray has lived in Pevlyn her entire life. After her grandfather’s fall from fortune, he humbled himself and accepted the position of steward at Wyndcliff Hall. Evelyn’s mother, embarrassed by the reduction of wealth and status, left Pevlyn in search of a better life for them both, but in spite of her promise, never returns. Evelyn is left to navigate an uncertain path with an even more uncertain future.
When the mysteries surrounding the shipwreck survivors intensify, Liam and Evelyn are thrown together as they attempt to untangle a web of deceit and secrets. But as they separate the truths from the lies, they quickly learn that their surroundings—and the people in it—are not as they seem. Liam and Evelyn are each tested, and as a romance buds between them, they must decide if their love is strong enough to overcome their growing differences.

My Review:

The Light at Wyndcliff is lovely and slightly bittersweet, best categorized as historical fiction with romantic elements. A romance does happen, but it’s not the central point of the story.

The plot wraps around the sometimes exciting, sometimes dangerous and always criminal smuggling operations that the rougher bits of the Cornish coast are notorious for But this is not a story that romanticizes smuggling. Rather, it paints an all-too-clear portrait of the rot that burrows into the whole town when smuggling – and the protection of it – become the whole town’s economic mainstay.

But at its heart, it feels like this is a story about figuring out not just who you are, but who you want to be, and taking the steps to achieve that goal – no matter how difficult the road or how many people and institutions stand in your way.

For Liam Twethewey it seems as if that goal should be easy to achieve. He’s 22, he’s male, and he’s just come into his inheritance, Wyndcliff Hall on the Cornish Coast. His dream is to make the property profitable, and to make the area that surrounds it self-sustaining for the benefit of the people who live there.

He wants to provide good jobs at good pay. He wants to be someone who administers his land for the good of everyone, and not just his own profit. He wants to be a good man and a good steward of his property, just as his uncle and mentor has taught him to be.

Ironically, the person standing squarely in Liam’s way is his own steward. Once upon a time Rupert Bray was the owner of his own wealthy property, but either unwise investments or an addiction to gambling or some combination of both cost him his estate. Now he’s the steward of Wyndcliff, and has become the unofficial leader of the nearby town in the long interregnum between the death of the previous owner and Liam’s ascension.

It’s a power Bray doesn’t want to give up. Not over the estate, not over the town, and especially not over his grown-up granddaughter, Evelyn. Partially, that’s because Bray is, quite frankly, a petty tyrant. Much of it is because Bray has secrets that he fears that an active master at Wyndcliff will uncover.

And a whole lot of it is because Evelyn is female, and women didn’t have nearly as much as agency as men, a situation that was even more true in the 1820s setting of this story.

So an important but sometimes frustrating part of this story is Evelyn’s hesitant search for who she wants to be now that she is grown up. A quest that is under siege, caught between her grandfather’s desire to keep her safe, his secret plans for her, her absent mother’s ambitious plans for her future marriage to a man of her mother’s choosing – and the written and unwritten expectations of behavior that society holds over her head.

The more time that Liam and Evelyn spend together, no matter how publicly or how innocently, the more the townspeople judge her for her behavior. In their eyes, she is reaching above herself and consorting with an enemy – even though neither Liam nor Evelyn are aware that the villagers consider him such.

When the crisis finally comes to a head, everyone has fixed their places in the drama – except Evelyn. Everyone makes demands of her. Her grandfather – and the townspeople – expect her to lie for them. Liam, and the agents of the Crown, expect her to tell the truth. And her mother expects her to abandon all of them for the glittering future that she has always promised her daughter.

No matter what she decides, Evelyn is going to make someone she cares about absolutely furious with her. She has to find her own way in a life where she has been discouraged from doing just that at every turn.

Escape Rating A-: A romance between Liam and Evelyn does happen in this story, but it doesn’t feel like the romance is the point of the story. More like it’s the reward for doing the right thing. Figuring out what that right thing is, that feels like it’s the central point of the story. And that’s the story that swept me away.

The suspense and tension in this story come from Liam’s efforts to become the true master of Wyndcliff, in spite of Bray’s opposition. The more Liam digs into what’s really going on, the more obvious it is that Bray and the villagers are hiding a whole lot of skullduggery that no one – except Liam – wants to see brought to light.

This story’s treatment of smuggling, showing it as a criminal enterprise that leads to even more – and darker – criminal behavior reminded me of last year’s The Woman in the Lake by Nicola Cornick. So if the exposure of the smuggling ring and its corruption of the town is something that intrigued you, you might want to check that story out as well.

But Bray’s corruption and the town’s participation in it felt fairly obvious from the very beginning. The reader may not know at the outset exactly what he’s hiding but it’s exceedingly clear that he’s two-faced at best.

Liam’s perspective was interesting but not particularly new. I liked him as a character, and it was clear that he was trying to do his best – and that his best was going to turn out to be fairly good. But the story of a young man taking up his inheritance, feeling some uncertainty while facing some challenges is a story that’s been told many times and will be again.

The fascinating and frustrating part was Evelyn’s story. She was caught betwixt and between in so many ways, and was aware of it and often confused and flummoxed about it all. She knew what she was supposed to feel – and she knew that she didn’t feel it – while also being aware that she was hemmed in by so many conflicting expectations. It felt very much as if The Light at Wyndcliff is more Evelyn’s story than anyone else’s. She’s the character who is stuck in a role that everyone expects to be passive – and yet isn’t.

But speaking of expectations, this series is focused on Liam’s family, the Twetheweys. And his story is central to the book, even if it doesn’t feel as much his journey as it does Evelyn’s. He becomes the person he’s always been expected to be, while Evelyn’s journey has all the twists and turns.

That being said, Liam has moved away from his family, the protagonists of the first two books of this series, The Governess of Penwyth Hall and The Thief of Landwyn Manor, to take up the inheritance that kicks off this book. This distance from his family means that it isn’t necessary to have read the first two books to get immediately drawn into this one. He’s moved away and the story has moved away too.

So if you’re looking for a story that brings a small town to life, contains a bit of true-to-life historical suspense and features characters who manage to do the right thing, catch the bad guys, pay the emotional price AND get rewarded by a happy ever after, The Light at Wyndcliff is guaranteed to sweep you away to the Cornish Coast!

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

I’m giving away a copy of The Light at Wyndcliff to one very lucky US commenter on this tour!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

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Review: Millicent Glenn’s Last Wish by Tori Whitaker + Giveaway

Review: Millicent Glenn’s Last Wish by Tori Whitaker + GiveawayMillicent Glenn's Last Wish by Tori Whitaker
Format: eARC
Source: supplied by publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: Chick Lit, historical fiction, women's fiction
Pages: 352
Published by Lake Union Publishing on October 1, 2020
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleBook Depository
Goodreads

Three generations of women—and the love, loss, sacrifice, and secrets that can bind them forever or tear them apart.
Millicent Glenn is self-sufficient and contentedly alone in the Cincinnati suburbs. As she nears her ninety-first birthday, her daughter Jane, with whom she’s weathered a shaky relationship, suddenly moves back home. Then Millie’s granddaughter shares the thrilling surprise that she’s pregnant. But for Millie, the news stirs heartbreaking memories of a past she’s kept hidden for too long. Maybe it’s time she shared something, too. Millie’s last wish? For Jane to forgive her.
Sixty years ago Millie was living a dream. She had a husband she adored, a job of her own, a precious baby girl, and another child on the way. They were the perfect family. All it took was one irreversible moment to shatter everything, reshaping Millie’s life and the lives of generations to come.
As Millie’s old wounds are exposed, so are the secrets she’s kept for so long. Finally revealing them to her daughter might be the greatest risk a mother could take in the name of love.

My Review:

“Mirror, mirror on the wall: I am my mother after all.” There are whole Etsy shops devoted to pillows and wall hangings and samplers with this quote. It’s the title of a 2011 memoir by Susan Kane Ronning that revolves around a daughter’s resistance to repeating her mother’s mistakes.

It’s also the theme of Millicent Glenn’s Last Wish, a story of the three – soon to be four – generations of Glenn women; the titular Millicent, the tense relationship she has with her adult daughter Jane and the terrific relationship she has with her granddaughter Kelsey – a relationship in which she sometimes feels that Jane, Kelsey’s mother, is intruding.

And Kelsey’s soon-to-be child, gender still unknown, who will make her, at 91, a great-grandmother. A child that all three women are over the moon about, regardless of the stresses in the relationship between them.

Stresses that lie in the past, in the secrets that are hidden in that past. Secrets that Millicent has held close to her heart and grieved over for decades, but that finally need to come into the light. She is, after all, 91, and feels every single one of those years. She’s afraid that if she doesn’t talk soon, her chance will be gone.

And she’s right, but not in the way that she expected. Because secrets come to light on their own time – no matter how much their keepers wish otherwise.

Escape Rating A-: First, this is a timeslip story, or perhaps it might be better described as a memory story. It operates in two timelines; its 2015 present and Millicent’s past in the late 1940s and 1950s, as she replays in her head the history that she has not shared with her daughter and granddaughter – and that she needs to rather desperately.

Initially, Millicent is desperate because of her own circumstances. At 91, even though she is healthy and active for her age, she can’t help but be aware that her time is running out. When Jane admits that she has discovered a lump in her breast, Millicent is suddenly faced with a more immediate threat. Her daughter, like Millicent’s husband, could have cancer. That fear overlays this story like a sword of Damocles.

In the present, Jane wants no muss and no fuss, she wants to take care of herself, as she always has. She certainly doesn’t want her mother to fuss over her as she feels like she has always had to take care of herself.

Through Millie’s memories, we get glimpses of why that is, although not the full story. The full story we do get is the story of women’s lives in the 1950s, the stresses and strains that led to Betty Friedan’s watershed book, The Feminine Mystique, the book that showed that so many women’s lives, lives that seemed perfect on the surface, were restricted in a straitjacket of competitive domesticity, and filled with frustration, boredom, tragedy and all too often, pills and/or booze.

Millie holds the tragic secrets of her own experience close, perhaps a little too close, just as she did Jane when she was growing up. At least some of the time. The rest of the time, Millie left her daughter to her own devices as she worked her way through her grief, her despair, and the pills she took to cope with both.

When the secrets finally come out, the catharsis is both extended and delayed, as they still have to navigate through Jane’s health scare and Kelsey’s advancing pregnancy. In the end, there is healing – but it’s hard won and painful. The band aid over the past that Millie wanted to ease off gently gets pulled off with a hard jerk – and Jane thinks her mother was one.

And perhaps she was.

I ended up with a whole truckload of mixed feelings about this story for all sorts of personal reasons.

I think that people who don’t live somewhere storied or famous or both, like New York City, don’t expect to see their hometown portrayed in fiction. Millicent’s story takes place in Cincinnati, where I grew up. Millicent would have been part of my mother’s generation, and the Cincinnati she remembers from the 40s and 50s match stories my mother told me, or echo things that I remember being told were in the recent past when I was growing up in the 1960s.

If you are ever in Cincy, Union Terminal is every bit as magnificent as it is portrayed in the story, and well worth a visit for its museums and its gorgeous restoration. It was a building that needed to be preserved, but for most of my growing up years it was a white elephant that the city couldn’t find a purpose for. It was a relief when the museum complex moved in and turned out to be a fantastic use for the space.

Cincinnati Union Terminal Museum Center

But the Cincinnati described in the story is the place I remember. As much as I say that Cincinnati is a nice place to be FROM, I was happy to see the author do it proud. Although I still prefer Skyline Chili to Empress (or Gold Star),  Cincinnati chili really is ordered as described and they are all a taste of home, along with Graeter’s Ice Cream, which is still the best ice cream I’ve ever had.

Part of the poignancy of this story, at least for me, was how much the relationship between Jane and her mother Millie reminded me of the stresses and strains in my own relationship with my mother, although the causes were different. But that emotional distance, that chill that happens between two people who love each other but can’t quite reach each other was extremely real, and even cathartic that they managed to find a peace together that my mother and I never quite did.

This is a beautiful, heartbreaking and ultimately heartwarming story about four generations of women, the secrets that kept them apart and the truths that finally brought them together.

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

I’m giving away a copy of Millicent Glenn’s Last Wish to one very lucky US commenter on this tour!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

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Review: Daughter of Black Lake by Cathy Marie Buchanan + Excerpt

Review: Daughter of Black Lake by Cathy Marie Buchanan + ExcerptDaughter of Black Lake by Cathy Marie Buchanan
Format: eARC
Source: supplied by publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: hardcover, ebook, audiobook
Genres: historical fiction
Pages: 320
Published by Riverhead Books on October 6, 2020
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

In a world of pagan traditions and deeply rooted love, a girl in jeopardy must save her family and community, in a transporting historical novel by nationally bestselling author Cathy Marie Buchanan.
It's the season of Fallow, in the era of iron. In a northern misty bog surrounded by woodlands and wheat fields, a settlement lies far beyond the reach of the Romans invading hundreds of miles to the southeast. Here, life is simple--or so it seems to the tightly knit community. Sow. Reap. Honor Mother Earth, who will provide at harvest time. A girl named Devout comes of age, sweetly flirting with the young man she's tilled alongside all her life, and envisions a future of love and abundance. Seventeen years later, though, the settlement is a changed place. Famine has brought struggle, and outsiders, with their foreign ways and military might, have arrived at the doorstep. For Devout's young daughter, life is more troubled than her mother ever anticipated. But this girl has an extraordinary gift. As worlds collide and peril threatens, it will be up to her to save her family and community.
Set in a time long forgotten, Daughter of Black Lake brings the ancient world to life and introduces us to an unforgettable family facing an unimaginable trial.

My Review:

This was marvelous. Not quite what I expected, but marvelous. And as the blurb says, transporting.

Daughter of Black Lake is a time slip story that itself is slipped in time to the first century A.D., to the Roman province of Britannia, in the relatively early years of the Roman occupation. At a time when the Druids still held sway over most of the tribes, and just before the last concerted – and ultimately failed – attempt to throw out the invaders.

But that’s not obvious at first.

The story takes place 17 years apart, among a village of bog people on the shores of Black Lake near modern-day Wroxeter in Shropshire. The village is remote, and life there hasn’t changed all that much since the Romans first attempt to conquer Britain, when they threw Julius Caesar back into the sea. Or so the Druids tell.

And yet, things do change, and events in the wider world impact life in the small village. As is exemplified by the events of the story’s present and what happened 17 years before.

The story revolves around one family, Smith, his mate Devout, and their daughter Hobble. Smith lost most of his family, and his family’s status, 17 years ago when his father and all of his brothers paid heed to the Druids who went to the tribes to drum up support to throw Claudius and his forces off their land.

They failed. They died. The Romans settled in for the long haul of “civilizing” this land of barbarians.

But history repeats. The Romans are expanding, and the influence of the Druids is contracting. They’re losing power and don’t want to give it up. And so they are fomenting a rebellion. Again.

The community at Black Lake is caught in the middle of the opposing forces – and betwixt and between the advances of the Romans and a desire to return to the “old ways”. Ways that included human sacrifice. Ways that would see Hobble sacrificed on an altar of blood to one ambitious Druid’s dreams of glory.

A glory that Hobble, apprentice medicine-woman and full-fledged seeress, knows is totally and utterly out of reach.

Escape Rating A-: The one thing that drove me to frequent, repeated dives into Wikipedia was my inability to fix this story in its historical time period until the very end. Thinking about it further, I realize that was part of the point, but it drove me crazy as I was reading. I needed to know and didn’t.

If the history grabs at you as much as it does me, the Book Club Guide at the author’s website is very informative. Particularly the drink recipes! But seriously, one of the terrific things about this book is that it is meticulously researched AND that the research magically disappears into the story as you read it. It gives the story depth and heft without weighing it down at all. Which is very hard to do.

The story here is about a community on the cusp of change, and that’s what gives the story its drive and dramatic tension. While the details are specific to this particular time and place, the concept is universal. The world of the people of Black Lake is changing, whether they want it to or not.

And, like people everywhere and everywhen, some of them want that change, some of them cling to the past, and there’s plenty of pain to go around as the village wrestles with a future that’s coming whether they want it or not. A tension and a wrestling that is happening right now all around us.

Everything old is new again.

So there’s the details of the story, Hobble’s ability to see the future, and the Druid Fox’s desire to make her see only what he wants to be seen – along with his willingness to kill her if she won’t go along with him.

And in the past, the love triangle between her mother, her father, and Arc, the man her mother loved and lost. When those two things intersect, the tragedy of one lost love and the possible tragedy of losing a child, Devout’s world explodes and ALL the lies are revealed, both of the past and of the present.

Reading Daughter of Black Lake, one is swept along into the rhythms of both Hobble’s and Devout’s stories, although I found Hobble’s the more compelling. At first the movement is slow, as life in its broad outlines changes slowly in this remote place. But the story speeds up as it centers more fully on Hobble’s life, just as the pace of change has sped up with the entrenchment of the Roman invaders.

This is one of those stories where, as it goes on, you’re right THERE, only to be dumped back out into the “real” world with a gasp at its bittersweet end.

Excerpt #4 from Daughter of Black Lake (Excerpt #3 at The Lit Bitch, Excerpt #5 next Tuesday at 100 Pages a Day…Stephanie’s Book Reviews)

   Devout took in his tentative mouth, his uncertain eyes, thick lashed as a doe’s. She could not claim friendship. She was a hand, and the hands and the tradesmen clans held themselves apart at Black Lake. Young Smith seldom spoke to her more than a few words called from the low‑walled forge where he worked alongside his kin. Usually “fine day” or “the wheat looks promising,” though once she had wondered if he had said “the hearth is ablaze here, if you’re…”before his voice trailed away.She had given little thought to him as other than a blacksmith of burgeoning skill.He ranked far above her, beyond her reach—a circumstance that was perhaps un‑fair given her usefulness as apprentice healer at Black Lake. And there was her piety,too. She bit her lip as she sometimes did at those moments when she recognized herself as prideful. Mother Earth expected humility.
“I made something for you,” he said now. He held out his hand, and she saw a packet of folded leather about the size of a walnut.
A blacksmith, a tradesman such as he, was offering a gift to a hand on this particular day? She took the packet.
She unfolded the leather and into the bowl of her palm slipped a gleaming silver amulet strung through with a loop of gut. She drew a finger over the raised detail of the arms of the Mother Earth’s cross at the amulet’s center. She touched the outer ring. How had he accomplished the detail—swirled tendrils as delicate and intricate as a fern,a spider’s web,a damselfly’s gossamer wings? Not in nature, not in all the clearing, woodland, or bog had she seen the handiwork surpassed. Never had she conceived that other than Mother Earth was capable of such beauty. Though it was small, the amulet weighed mightily on her palm. “Young Smith,”she whispered and raised her lit face to his.“It’s magnificent.”
He held her gaze and heat rose through her.

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Review: Remember Me by Mario Escobar

Review: Remember Me by Mario EscobarRemember Me: A Spanish Civil War Novel by Mario Escobar
Format: eARC
Source: supplied by publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: hardcover, paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: historical fiction, World War II
Pages: 384
Published by Thomas Nelson on September 15, 2020
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

From international bestseller Mario Escobar comes a 20th-century historical novel of tragedy and resilience inspired by Spain’s famed Children of Morelia and the true events that shaped their lives.
Historians refer to the Spanish Civil War as one of the bloodiest wars of the twentieth century. In 1937, at Mexico’s request and offer, nearly 500 children from Spain—remembered as Los Niños de Morelia—were relocated via ship to Mexico to escape the war’s violence. These children traveled across the sea without their families and were expected to return at the war’s end. No one could have foreseen another world war was on the way—or that that Franco’s regime would prevent the children from coming home. These enduring conflicts trapped the children in a country far from their homeland, and many never made it back.
Remember Me is Mario Escobar’s novelization of these events, as told by a fictional survivor—one of the children of Morelia—who looks back upon his life after making the long and devastating journey across the Atlantic. This story explores the endurance of the human spirit as well as the quandary of a parent’s impossible decision, asking: At what cost do you protect your child in the face of uncertainty?

My Review:

I picked this book up because I was moved by Children of the Stars and was hoping for something similar. And it is that, a fictionalized account of real history, and real history of roughly the same period.

In other words, I was expecting a story where fiction is the lie that tells the truth – in this case the truth about the very real children of Morelia, the nearly 500 children who were sent out of the Spanish Civil War to Mexico in the hopes that they would be safe.

There are all kinds of versions of safe, however. They were safe from the direct effects of the war – and its immediate aftermath. Many of the children were the sons and daughters of the left-leaning Popular Front government. Which was defeated by Franco and his right-leaning Nazi supported Nationalists. Who brutally suppressed the left after their victory. Which meant that their parents weren’t safe either during or after the war. The children weren’t exactly safe either – but neither were they being shelled.

The Spanish Civil War is often referred to as a dress rehearsal for World War II, as the countries who became the Allies supported the Republican government of the Popular Front, while the Axis supported the Nationalists.

And just as happened elsewhere before and even during that war, parents tried their best to keep their children safe – or at least as safe as possible. That meant that parents faced a terrible choice – to keep their children with them, to do their own best to keep them safe in a country that was the front for war, or to send them away in the hopes that they would be safer far from the battlefield.

The story in Remember Me is the story of those children sent to Mexico under the sponsorship of the Mexican government. And while the experiences of the children of Morelia were not as brutal as the Stein brothers endured in Children of the Stars as young Jewish orphans trekking across a Nazi-dominated Europe that hunted them in order to exterminate them, it was far indeed from the safety and security that their parents had hoped for.

Escape Rating B+: This is a hard book. It’s hard because what happens to the children of Morelia is both all too horrible and all too familiar. On the one hand, this was a history that I wasn’t familiar with in its particulars, although the outline of it is part of many stories that happened during the war, from the children of London shipped to the countryside to escape the Blitz to the Kindertransport that rescued 10,000 predominantly Jewish children from Nazi Germany and other countries in the months prior to World War II to the Danish resistance movement’s evacuation of over 90% of the country’s Jewish population to Sweden.

But the rescue itself is only part of this particular story, which is wrapped in the particular circumstances in Spain during and after the Civil War, and of the conditions that the children faced in Mexico.

And quite probably elsewhere, because the story of what the children went through reads like a combination of Lord of the Flies with all the old sayings about power corrupting. Much of what happened read like it could be attributed to people who had power over the children while they were in Mexico either being venal or neglectful or having their own axe to grind. Or multiple axes, as Spanish colonial oppression was not that far in Mexico’s past that there weren’t people who wanted to punish the children for the sins of their figurative grandparents. There was also conflict with the Catholic Church that just added to the issues. Many of the children were secular, having been raised in left-leaning revolutionary families. The Catholic Church in Mexico was very powerful, and there was a fair amount of pious skullduggery involved, with children who still had parents being assigned as orphans to the Church.

The money that was intended to support the children was siphoned into multiple pockets, the people put in charge of the children had no idea how to take care of them, and the facility ended up being run by the bullies. Parts of that story, awful as they are – and they are awful – felt both sad and predictable.

Human beings often suck. While wartime may make some rise to the occasion, it also makes the sucky even suckier.

This is reading like a downer, and that feels appropriate. While it ends on a hopeful note, that didn’t feel like the tone for much of the story. And I’ll admit that I am not in a hopeful mood this week, and this was probably not the right book at the right time, as compellingly readable as it is. And it certainly is.

In the end, the book this reminded me of more than any other was not the author’s Children of the Stars but rather The Brothers of Auschwitz. While a bit of that is the period setting, it is mostly due to the way that both stories are unflinching in their look at a terrible history, and in their emphasis on the ongoing cost of that history to its surviving victims.

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Review: The Ancestor by Lee Matthew Goldberg + Giveaway

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

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

My Review:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Smith at bar in Skagway, Alaska, 1898

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Review: The Brothers of Auschwitz by Malka Adler

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

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

My Review:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Review: The London Restoration by Rachel McMillan + Giveaway

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

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

My Review:

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

That hope was definitely realized.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And it’s lovely.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Spotlight + Excerpt: The Friendship List by Susan Mallery

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

[ ] Dance till dawn

[ ] Go skydiving

[ ] Wear a bikini in public

[ ] Start living


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

*

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

Luka hung his head. “Yes, Coach.”

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

“No, Coach.”

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

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

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

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

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

“How did that plan work out?”

No bueno.”

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

“No, Coach.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Not with that attitude.”

“But, Coach.”

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

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

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

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

Author Info:

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

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Review: The Woman in the Green Dress by Tea Cooper

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

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

My Review:

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

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

Or cursed.

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

And it’s a doozy.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Review: The Summer House by Lauren K. Denton

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

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

My Review:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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