Wednesday, November 20, 2019

Kate Morton-ish Castle Novel the Engaging Finale to a Promising Trilogy

(Image from Barnes & Noble)

(Note:  The Painted Castle is the third installment in a trilogy of interrelated books.  While they are not sequels exactly, characters from the first and second books have cameos in the third.  The books can be read as standalones, but if you want to avoid even minor spoilers, I recommend reading them in order.)

Art historian Keira Foley is still reeling from a job and a resulting relationship that turned sour, leading to both professional and personal disgrace in New York City.  She's back in her native Ireland licking her wounds.  When a cocky American bloke struts into her family's pub, taking a keen interest in Keira, her protective brother threatens to have him forcibly removed.  Keira's not interested in the bloke until he dangles a mysterious job offer in a crumbling English castle called Parham Hill in front of her nose ...

Amelia Woods had been married to Arthur—the viscount of Huxley and owner of Parham Hill—barely a year when he was killed in a mission while serving as an RAF pilot.  Four years later, the English countryside is still under threat of attack, especially since an airfield lies just over the hill from the estate.  Amelia is protective of her husband's ancestral home with its precious memories and priceless art, but it's the children boarding inside whose safety is her first priority.  When a group of American military officers becomes her unwitting roommates, Amelia must protect all of Parham Hill's hidden treasures.  Especially her heart.

When Elizabeth Meade was just a child, she witnessed her father's callous murder on the streets of London.  A glimpse of a cloaked man with unusual eyes gave her an idea of the killer's identity—and the germ of a revenge plot.  Now engaged to the very man—the viscount of Huxley—Elizabeth is playing a dangerous long game to avenge her beloved parent.  She soon comes to realize that secrets abound at Parham Hill and its owner may not be what he seems ...

If you're a rabid Kate Morton fan like I am, you'll definitely want to check out the Lost Castle series by Kristy Cambron.  I haven't read the first two books in the trilogy since I thought The Painted Castle was a standalone, but I've already put both on reserve at my library.  That should give you a clue as to how much I enjoyed the final installment!  It's a triple timeline novel featuring three women in different eras.  All of the leading ladies are strong, intelligent, independent sorts who find themselves, in some way, through their association with Parham Hill.  They solve mysteries, endure hardship and loss, find love, and make important discoveries about the castle and themselves, all of which makes for an engrossing novel.  Add in vivid prose, excellent pacing, and a few twists to keep things interesting, and you've got yourself an engaging read.  Even better, Cambron keeps things squeaky clean so that this book (and the whole series, presumably) can be handed to any reader, from tween to senior citizen.  Although Cambron writes Christian fiction, The Painted Castle makes only occasional reference to God and never in a way that is preachy or disruptive.  For all these reasons and more, I found myself completely immersed in this engaging, Morton-ish delight.  As I have said, I enjoyed it immensely and am excited to read the rest of the series as well as anything else Cambron has written.  It's always fun to find a new author who writes clean, compelling books.  I know I'm going to relish getting to know Cambron and her work better.

(Readalikes:  Reminds me of books by Kate Morton and Susan Meissner)


If this were a movie, it would be rated:

for violence and scenes of peril

To the FTC, with love:  I received an ARC of The Painted Castle from the generous folks at Thomas Nelson via those at TLC Book Tours in exchange for an honest review.  Thank you!


Want more opinions on The Painted Castle?  Follow along on the book's blog tour by clicking on the links below:

Instagram tour:

Monday, October 14th: @nurse_bookie
Monday, October 14th: @novelgossip
Tuesday, October 15th: @one_more_paige
Wednesday, October 16th: @crystals_library
Thursday, October 17th: @giuliland
Friday, October 18th: @babygotbooks13
Friday, October 18th: @thebooksellersdaughter
Saturday, October 19th: @bluntscissorsreviews
Sunday, October 20th: @sarahs_reads 

Review tour:

Monday, October 21st: Blunt Scissors Book Reviews
Tuesday, October 22nd: Reading Reality
Tuesday, October 22nd: Lori’s Reading Corner – guest post
Wednesday, October 23rd: Bewitched Bookworms
Thursday, October 24th: Openly Bookish
Friday, October 25th: Literary Quicksand
Monday, October 28th: Living My Best Book Life and @livingmybestbooklife
Tuesday, October 29th: Kritter’s Ramblings
Wednesday, October 30th: Cheryl’s Book Nook
Monday, November 4th: @amanda.the.bookish
Tuesday, November 5th: Read Eat Repeat
Wednesday, November 6th: Christian Chick’s Thoughts
Thursday, November 7th: @beritaudiokilledthebookmark
Friday, November 8th: The Lit Bitch
Monday, November 11th: Nurse Bookie
Monday, November 11th: What is That Book About
Wednesday, November 13th: Just One More Chapter
Friday, November 15th: Sincerely Karen Jo
Friday, November 15th: Jathan & Heather
Monday, November 18th: Broken Teepee
Tuesday, November 19th: Let Them Read Books
Wednesday, November 20th: Bloggin’ ‘Bout Books         

Tuesday, November 19, 2019

Beloved Author's Final Novel Not Up to Par

(Image from Barnes & Noble)

Over the last fifteen years, four women have made it an annual tradition to gather at the beach for a week of R&R.  Dubbing themselves "The Girls of August," they have bonded over everything—from the woes of being doctors' wives to the trials of motherhood (and infertility) to the pains of aging.  When one of the women dies tragically, the group starts to drift apart, halting their cherished girls' weekends for years.  Then, the dead woman's widower remarries and his young bride insists on resurrecting the tradition in an attempt to become a "Girl" herself.  Reluctantly, the group gathers at a remote South Carolina island for a week's vacation.  Along with their beach umbrellas and bathing suits, the women have brought secrets, desperation, grief, and anger—ingredients that will make for a dramatic and unforgettable Girls of August reunion.

I've read and enjoyed a fair number of Anne Rivers Siddons books over the years and it makes me a little sad that the author will never write another (she died in 2019 at 83 years old).  So, when I saw Siddons' most recent book, The Girls of August (2014), in the bargain bin at Barnes & Noble, I snatched it up.  Written when she was in her 70s, the tale is definitely not on par with those she penned in her earlier years.  Still, the novel bears evidence of Siddons' trademark warmth and wit.  The "Girls" are a likable lot, even if they're not fleshed out enough to feel like real people.  As far as plot goes, there's not much here, which makes the book a little dull.  In the past, I've found Siddons' novels sumptuous and immersive—this one isn't that way, although it worked for an easy, breezy summer read.  Although there's nothing memorable or outstanding about it, The Girls of August is an okay novel.  Far from Siddon's best, it is, sadly, her last.  

(Readalikes:  Reminds me of novels by Karen White, Dorothea Benton Frank, and Patti Callahan Henry)


If this were a movie, it would be rated:

for language and violence

To the FTC, with love:  I bought a copy of The Girls of August from Barnes & Noble with a portion of the millions I make from my lucrative career as a book blogger.  Ha ha.

Monday, November 18, 2019

Deliciously Spooky Murder Mystery Enthralls and Entertains

(Image from Barnes & Noble)

For the last five years, 45-year-old Clare Cassidy has been teaching English at a West Sussex high school.  One of the perks of the job is access to the historical home of R.M. Holland, a Victorian writer best known for a chilling story called "The Stranger."  An expert on the author, Clare is working on a biography of Holland in between teaching teenagers as well as an adult creative writing class.  

Everything is going along swimmingly until Clare's colleagues start dying in brutal ways that seem to echo "The Stranger."  It becomes clear that the victims were killed by someone who knew them and someone with a passion for R.M. Holland.  Desperate to figure out what is going on before she finds herself in prison for crimes she didn't commit, Clare decides to make notes about the murders in the diary she writes in regularly ... which is when she notices a message in her journal in penmanship that is decidedly not hers.  "Hello Clare," the note begins.  "You don't know me."  Spooked beyond measure, she now knows what she had only suspected before—"The Stranger" is happening right here, right now.  If Clare can't get to the bottom of the situation, hers may be the next corpse to show up in R.M. Holland's possibly (probably) haunted house ...

I enjoy Elly Griffiths' Ruth Galloway series, so I was excited to pick up the author's newest book, The Stranger Diaries.  Although the novel has been billed as a standalone, it appears it's actually the first in a new series featuring DS Harbinder Kauer.  Sections of The Stranger Diaries are indeed narrated by Kauer, who's investigating the murders, while alternating chapters are captained by Clare and her 15-year-old daughter, Georgia.  The women are all complex and interesting, the plot is compelling, and the vibe is deliciously spooky.  Griffiths throws in twists that kept me guessing throughout, leaving me surprised by the killer's identity.  That doesn't always happen when you read as many mystery/thrillers as I do, so I'm inordinately pleased when it does!  All in all, then, I greatly enjoyed The Stranger Diaries, which kept me totally enthralled.  You better believe I'm looking forward to the next book, The Postscript Murders, which comes out next year.

(Readalikes:  Reminds me a little of The Widow of Pale Harbor by Hester Fox)


If this were a movie, it would be rated:

for language (1 F-bomb, plus milder expletives), violence, innuendo, and mild sexual content

To the FTC, with love:  Another library fine find

Sunday, November 17, 2019

Christian Romantic Suspense "Perfect Storm" Just Not For Me

(Image from Barnes & Noble)

Fourteen years ago, the secret relationship between a preacher's daughter and the son of the town drunk was discovered, setting off a conflict that ended with one father killing the other.  Although Roy Beckett insisted he was innocent, he was sent to prison for the murder of "Brother" Strickland.  A decade and a half later, Roy is pardoned and set free, to the horror of the victim's family.  

Brenna Strickland Hertzog is having a hard enough time dealing with a nasty custody battle between her and her powerful ex-husband.  The last thing she needs right now is to deal with the shocking release of her father's killer.  Brenna's drinking too much as it is—how is she going to cope with this new development in her already stressful life?  Then Roy's son, Nate Beckett, shows up on her doorstep for the first time in 14 years, rekindling all the feelings she had for him when they were kids.  Their innocent, but clandestine teenage romance led to her father's death; renewing it now could be even more dangerous ...

Forced to take a break from his job as a smokejumper after he sustains second degree burns over 20% of his body, Nate returns home to recover and see his father.  Nate has always believed in Roy's guilt, but when his father begs him to find Brother Strickland's true killer, he feels obligated to dig into the murder.  A major complication comes in the form of beautiful, broken Brenna who needs him now more than ever.  What will Nate's sleuthing uncover?  Can Brenna ever forgive, let alone love, the son of her father's alleged murderer?

I have to say upfront that romantic suspense is really not my genre.  Add in Christian elements and it often leads to a perfect storm of cheesy, far-fetched, overwritten drama.  No, thanks.  Still, something about the premise of Smoke Screen by Terri Blackstock made me agree to read and review it.  Did it change my mind about this genre?  Um, no.  While I appreciate that the novel's clean and faith-affirming, its flat characters, dull prose, and melodramatic plotline made me a little crazy.  While Brenna's a sympathetic character, she's not a super likable one.  I couldn't understand Nate's interest.  Their resulting romance, therefore, seems forced and sparkless.  As far as the suspense portion, there's not a lot as the plot focuses mainly on Brenna's personal problems.  The lackluster mystery at the heart of the story is thin and implausible, especially since the "twists" are obvious from miles away.  Overall Smoke Screen is definitely not the worst Christian romantic suspense novel I've ever read, but for me, it was a so-so read at best.  To be fair, this is how I feel about most books in this genre.  Still, I would have liked for Smoke Screen to change my mind; unfortunately, that just didn't happen.  Bummer.

(Readalikes:  Reminds me of other Christian romantic suspense novels, but no specific titles are coming to mind.  You?)


If this were a movie, it would be rated:

for violence

To the FTC, with love:  I received an e-ARC of Smoke Screen from the generous folks at Thomas Nelson via those at Celebrate Lit in exchange for an honest review.  Thank you!


Would you like more opinions on Smoke Screen?  Follow along on the book's blog tour by clicking on the links below:

As He Leads is Joy, November 9
Sara Jane Jacobs, November 9
CarpeDiem, November 9
Fiction Aficionado, November 10
KarenSueHadley, November 10
Quiet quilter, November 10
Among the Reads, November 11
Genesis 5020, November 11
A Reader’s Brain, November 11
Robin’s Nest, November 12
All-of-a-kind Mom, November 12
Bigreadersite , November 12
Blogging With Carol , November 12
Betti Mace, November 13
Spoken from the Heart, November 13
D’S QUILTS & BOOKS, November 13
Emily Yager, November 13
By The Book, November 14
For Him and My Family, November 14
Splashes of Joy , November 14
Andrea Christenson, November 15
Just the Write Escape, November 16
Mary Hake, November 16
Remembrancy, November 17
Simple Harvest Reads, November 17 (Guest Review from Mindy Houng)
EmpowerMoms, November 17
Blessed & Bookish, November 18
Older & Smarter, November 18
Inklings and notions, November 18
amandainpa , November 19
Pause for Tales, November 19
Hallie Reads, November 20
Cathe Swanson, November 21
All 4 and About Books, November 21
Batya’s Bits, November 22
Livin’ Lit, November 22
Texas Book-aholic, November 22
janicesbookreviews, November 22

Thursday, November 14, 2019

Hard-to-Find Australian Doomsday Novel Tense, Gritty

(Image from Book Depository)

"I don't know who I am now the world is different" (261).

In the last three years, Rick Palmer has gone from a relatively normal father to a paranoid doomsday prepper.  After his wife took off, he poured his energy into educating himself and his three teenage daughters on how to survive the apocalypse he claims is imminent.  He drilled his kids on how to find water in the desert, how to conserve resources, how to set bones and perform emergency first aid, and most of all, how to slip out of their house and into their well-stocked bunker without giving away the secret of its existence.  Despite these frantic exercises, life in the Palmers' tiny Australian town is perfectly peaceful, even boring.  Prudence Palmer and her sisters are convinced their father is mad as the proverbial hatter.  They long for a normal, on-the-grid life full of the luxuries the other teens in town take for granted—smartphones, dates, regular school, parents who aren't off their rockers ...

Then, the lights go out in the Palmers' small village.  Communication with the outside world is cut off.  Confusion and chaos quickly replace order and reason.  With Rick missing—he hasn't returned from the distant mine where he works—it's up to Pru to decide the best way to keep herself and her sisters safe.  She knows she should retreat to the bunker immediately, but a chance meet-up with a handsome boy visiting from America, whose parent is also missing, gives her pause.  As fear and desperation settle over their once-peaceful town, Pru must ask herself some important questions.  Does she do what her father taught her and hoard her resources or defy his wishes and aid her helpless neighbors?  What kind of person is she really, when push comes to shove? 

I don't read as many dystopian/post-apocalyptic novels as I once did, but I still enjoy them when I do.  After the Lights Go Out by Lili Wilkinson was mentioned on some best-of-the-genre list, so I knew I wanted to read it.  It's not an easy book to get a hold of, though; luckily, Book Depository came through for me.  While there's nothing really original about After the Lights Go Out, it's still a tense, engrossing novel.  It's atmospheric, gritty, and compelling.  The plot moves quickly, the characters are intriguing, and the decisions Pru has to make throughout the story makes it a thought-provoking tale.  Like all books of this kind, it made me ask myself, "What would I do in this situation?"  It's an interesting thought.  All in all, then, I enjoyed this one, even if it's nothing I hadn't seen before.

(Readalikes:  Reminds me of the Tomorrow, When the War Began series by John Marsden and lots of other dystopian/post-apocalyptic novels)


If this were a movie, it would be rated:

for language, violence, and sexual content

To the FTC, with love:  I bought a copy of After the Lights Go Out from Book Depository with a portion of the millions I make from my lucrative career as a book blogger.  Ha ha.

Tuesday, November 12, 2019

Charming WWII Novel a Joy to Read

(Image from Barnes & Noble)

Bossy Mrs. Braithwaite is used to being in charge—of her marriage, her family, the Women's Volunteer Service, and the small town of Ashcombe Village.  When news of her divorce from her philandering husband comes out, the scandal rocks her nice, orderly world.  All of a sudden, the anchor of her ship-shape life has been yanked out from under her, leaving her adrift.  With the threat of a family secret being exposed if she doesn't step aside gracefully, Mrs. Braithwaite flees to London.  There's one last person over which she can assert control—her daughter, Betty.  Anxious to help with the war effort, the 20-year-old has been living in the city for two years now.

When Mrs. Braithwaite arrives on her daughter's doorstep, however, the landlord informs her that he hasn't seen Betty in days.  With the recent bomb droppings, the shocked mother can't help imagining the worst for her only child.  Refusing to accept defeat, she ropes Betty's landlord, the timid Mr. Norris, into helping her scour the city for any sign of her daughter.  What they find is more than either one of them bargained for.  Before they know it, the unlikely duo is embroiled in a dangerous game that will put their lives in peril.  In the midst of all their derring-do, the formidable Mrs. Braithwaite and the reluctant Mr. Norris will both be forced to reevaluate everything they thought they knew about life—and each other.

WWII novels are a dime a dozen and while I love stories from this time period, sometimes it seems they're all the same.  Not so with Jennifer Ryan's sophomore effort, The Spies of Shilling Lane.  With a heroine like Mrs. Braithwaite, you can only expect a funny, delightful read.  Which this book absolutely is.  It's filled with fun characters, exciting adventures, and amusing, upbeat prose.  Because of what our leading lady learns about herself, however, it's also a thought-provoking tale.  True, the plot gets a bit redundant, but all in all, The Spies of Shilling Lane is a pure joy to read.  I adored it.

(Readalikes:  Reminds me a little of Dear Mrs. Bird by A.J. Pearce)


If this were a movie, it would be rated:

for brief, mild language (no F-bombs), violence, and mild sexual innuendo

To the FTC, with love:  I bought a copy of The Spies of Shilling Lane from Amazon with a portion of the millions I make from my lucrative career as a book blogger.  Ha ha.

Monday, November 11, 2019

So-So Family Drama Clunky, But Ultimately Compelling

(Image from Barnes & Noble)

Trying to write my own plot summary for If Only I Could Tell You by Hannah Beckerman is not going well, so here's the back cover version:

For fans of This Is Us comes a story of a family divided and the secret that can possibly unite them – a life-affirming novel with a twist will break your heart and an ending that will put it together again. 

 A secret between two sisters.
A lifetime of lies unraveling.
Can one broken family find their way back to each other?

Audrey’s dream as a mother had been for her daughters, Jess and Lily, to be as close as only sisters can be. But now, as adults, they no longer speak to each other, and Audrey’s two teenage granddaughters have never met. Audrey just can’t help feeling like she’s been dealt more than her fair share as she’s watched her family come undone over the years, and she has no idea how to fix her family as she wonders if they will ever be whole again.

If only Audrey had known three decades ago that a secret could have the power to split her family in two, and yet, also keep them linked. And when hostilities threaten to spiral out of control, a devastating choice that was made so many years ago is about to be revealed, testing this family once and for all.
Once the truth is revealed, will it be enough to put her family back together again or break them apart forever? 

This novel has gotten really mixed reviews.  My reaction falls somewhere in the middle—I didn't love it, I didn't hate it.  The book's a sad, depressing read that tries to cover a lot of territory in a relatively short space.  The tackling of such heavy subject matter, combined with a slow-building plot and characters that are immature and not all that likable, results in a story that is clunky, but ultimately compelling.  Beckerman strings the reader along with promises of a juicy secret to be revealed.  And I totally took the bait.  Even though I saw the Big Reveal coming, I still wanted to know for sure, a curiosity that kept me reading.  Overall, though, I found If Only I Could Tell You to be just an okay read. 

(Readalikes:  Hm, I can't think of anything.  Can you?)


If this were a movie, it would be rated:

for language (no F-bombs) and disturbing subject matter

To the FTC, with love:  I received an ARC of If Only I Could Tell You from the generous folks at William Morrow (an imprint of HarperCollins) in exchange for an honest review.  Thank you!

Saturday, November 09, 2019

Younts' Newest Thought-Provoking, Faith-Affirming, and Hope-Filled

(Image from Barnes & Noble)

Brighton Friedrich has never lived in a real home and has no idea what "normal" family life looks like.  Born at Riverside Home for the Insane to a single, catatonic mother, she has lived in the facility ever since.  Cared for by a nurse who has educated and reared her on the sly, Brighton has grown up feeling loved, but the older she gets, the more trapped she begins to feel.  Along with her best friend—an albino who didn't have a name before she dubbed him "Angel"—Brighton longs to break free of the asylum and experience the world outside its gates.  When she learns that her beloved "Nursey" has been keeping secrets about both her and Angel, Brighton no longer feels as if she has a choice.  She and Angel have to leave Riverside.  No matter what.

Completely unprepared for life on the outside, Brighton and Angel must find their way in a strange and terrifying new world.  As they stumble along a perilous path from Pennsylvania to Michigan, they will find adventure, danger, and other heartbreaking obstacles that put their friendship to the ultimate test.  Can two misfits who have never known "normal" find the answers they seek in a hostile world that threatens to tear them apart at every turn?

Ever since I read The Solace of Water last year, I've been a big fan of Elizabeth Byler Younts.  Raised in an Amish community, which she remains close to even though her family left the faith when she was a child, Younts has written a handful of lovely, authentic, faith-promoting books featuring Amish characters.  The Bright Unknown is a bit of a departure (although an Amish family does have a small cameo in the novel), but it still showcases Younts' trademarks—lush prose, sympathetic characters, and a gentle tone that makes her stories shine with empathy, humanity, and heart.  As heartbreaking as this tale is, it's also thought-provoking, faith-promoting (without being heavy-handed or cheesy), and hope-filled.  I adored it.

(Readalikes:  Hm, I can't think of anything.  Can you?)


If this were a movie, it would be rated:

for violence and disturbing subject matter

To the FTC, with love:  I received an e-ARC of The Bright Unknown from the generous folks at Thomas Nelson via those at Celebrate Lit in exchange for an honest review.  Thank you!


Want other opinions on The Bright Unknown?  Follow along on the book's blog tour, hosted by Celebrate Lit, by clicking the links below:

The Power of Words, November 2
A Reader’s Brain, November 2
Inspired by fiction, November 3
Fiction Aficionado, November 4
Genesis 5020, November 4
janicesbookreviews, November 5
All-of-a-kind Mom, November 5
The Becca Files, November 7
Bigreadersite, November 7
Connect in Fiction, November 8
Moments, November 9
Simple Harvest Reads, November 10
Betti Mace, November 10
Pause for Tales, November 11
Inklings and notions, November 11
Mary Hake, November 11
Texas Book-aholic, November 12
Hallie Reads, November 12
For Him and My Family, November 13
Remembrancy, November 14
mpbooks, November 14
Godly Book Reviews, November 15
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