Monday, April 16, 2018

Short and Satisfying, Jennifer Moore's Newest Another An Enjoyable Read (With a Giveaway!)

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With her father and brothers away at war, it's up to Abigail Tidwell to tend to the family's isolated homestead.  Although she's more than capable of doing that and using the skills she's learned under her father's tutelage to help with doctoring needs in her small Ontario town, that doesn't mean she can't grumble about it.  Those cursed Americans.  If it weren't for them, peace would reign and life in Canada would return to blessed normality. 

As if conjured by her curses, Abigail discovers a U.S. soldier unconscious in her barn.  With an arrow stuck in his side, the bloodied man surely won't last the night.  As angry as she feels toward the Americans, Abigail knows she can't let him die.  She's a healer first.  If she manages to save the enemy soldier, then she'll do her civic duty and turn him in at nearby Fort Malden.

When Captain Emmett Prescott wakes up in a stranger's barn, he's shocked to find himself in the care of a beautiful woman doctor.  As much as he's drawn to her, however, he needs to escape and track down his men.  When he's informed that the youngest of his men is gravely ill and on the run, Emmett will do whatever it takes to save all of their lives—including forcing an enemy doctor to help.  

On opposite sides of a senseless, brutal war, both Abigail and Emmett will have to rely on the enemy if they have any hope of surviving.  

I always like Jennifer Moore's quick, entertaining historical romances and her newest, My Dearest Enemy, is no exception.  Since I've never read a book set during the War of 1812, the unique setting immediately drew me into the story.  The characters are less original, but they're sympathetic and likable, which made me root for their success and happiness.  Plot wise, the tale moves along at a clip with very little wasted action, ensuring the reader will want to keep turning pages.  At just under 200 pages, My Dearest Enemy is a fast, easy read that's clean, entertaining, and satisfying.  It's not terribly memorable or amazing, but I enjoyed it nonetheless.  

(Readalikes:  Reminds me of other books by Jennifer Moore.  Also of historical romances by Sarah Eden and Josi Kilpack.)

Grade:


If this were a movie, it would be rated:


for violence, blood/gore, and scenes of peril

To the FTC, with love:  I received a finished copy of My Dearest Enemy from the generous folks at Covenant.  Thank you!
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Friday, April 13, 2018

Despite Appealing Vibe, LDS Rom-Com Fizzles

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Svetlana "Lana" Huish can't wait to spend the summer on Nantucket Island painting under the indulgent eyes of two of the most influential art patrons in the world.  Being selected to participate in their exclusive mentoring program is a great honor and an unparalleled opportunity to make a name for herself as an artist.  More than one successful career has been launched because of the program—the 22-year-old Yale grad wants hers to be one of them.  

Upon arrival in Nantucket, Lana's shocked to discover she won't be studying on the East Coast at all.  Instead, she finds herself in the tiny backwoods town of Bluegill, Idaho, where she'll spend six weeks being tutored by an elderly cowboy who specializes in Western art.  Although Lana is immediately attracted to Walt, LeVan Hitchpost's handsome grandson, she's a little worried about the artist himself.  It's clear LeVan is in the early stages of Alzheimer's.  If her mentor can barely remember his own name, how is he supposed to teach her all he knows about art?  
Despite her initial misgivings, Lana soon becomes charmed by LeVan, a mischievous old man whose mind is a lot sharper than he lets on.  She's also completely smitten with Walt.  Although the two appear to have little in common, Lana's drawn to the compassionate, hard-working farmer.  He might not return her feelings, but she can't seem to control hers.  As Lana tries to attract Walt's attention and works feverishly to help an ailing LeVan finish the masterpiece he's frantically trying to complete before Alzheimer's steals the rest of his mind, tension boils over in out-of-the-way Bluegill, Idaho.  The tranquil summer Lana had envisioned has suddenly become anything but ...

Even though its premise is more than a little far-fetched, Brush With Love by Lisa McKendrick is a fun, captivating New Adult romance.  Not only did I enjoy its rustic setting, but I liked the novel's upbeat voice and style.  Yes, the story feels more YA than NA, but its bubbly, buoyant rom-com vibe definitely appeals.  The characters are similarly likable, although LeVan's duplicitous actions seem cruel and inconsistent with his general nature.  Plot is not this novel's strength as the story line meanders here, there, and everywhere, trying to cover too much territory, and getting more improbable as it chugs along.  Chapter 23, in particular, threw me completely.  It's so abrupt and unemotional and cheesy that I read it over a few times thinking it had to be a dream sequence!  It isn't.  Honestly, I couldn't feel any chemistry between Lana and Walt, so their romance seems insta-lovey and melodramatic.  To top it all off, my copy of Brush With Love (which might possibly be an advanced reader version?) is chock-full of typos and other copy editing errors.  In the end, then, I came away from this novel disappointed.  The book has tons of potential; it just feels to me like this a draft of a novel, not the polished, complete story it should be.

(Readalikes:  The style reminds me of LDS rom-com novels by Melanie Jacobson, Jenny Proctor, and Julie Wright)

Grade:


If this were a movie, it would be rated:


for (non-graphic) references to sex and mild innuendo

To the FTC, with love:  I received an e-copy of Brush With Love from the generous folks at Bonneville Books via those on The Whitney Awards Committee.  Thank you!

Thursday, April 12, 2018

Worth A Quick, Empowering Read (With a Giveaway!)

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For every little (or not so little) girl who's ever dreamed of being a princess, rest assured—you already are one.  You're the daughter of a heavenly king—the most supreme being of all—and have been since before you were even born.  No matter what your earthly station, no matter what your difficulties or challenges may be, no matter what others might tell you, you are of divine and royal birth.  Nothing will ever change that.  If that's not enough to convince you how much you matter, consider this:  the Savior of the world died on the cross for you because you are worth it.  Don't ever forget that glorious and empowering truth!

In a world where we're bombarded every day with images of airbrushed beauty and Instagram-staged perfection, it's easy for women to feel degraded, depressed, and discouraged.  In an effort to buoy them up, Wendy Ellison penned her first book, Worth.  As the subtitle suggests, the volume discusses individual worth with a special focus on how remembering our divine beginnings can help us find contentment, fulfillment, and purpose, which will lead us to the promised happy endings.  Using scriptural examples, quotes from LDS leaders, and personal anecdotes, Ellison expounds on these topics and recommends ways to remind ourselves daily of our personal worth.

Although the book is specifically directed at adult LDS women, it teaches powerful lessons that apply to everyone—male or female, teen or adult, Mormon or non.  If you're a member of the Church, you won't find anything new or earth-shattering here, but Worth is still an inspiring read that will boost the morale of any woman.  At just over 100 pages, it's a quick, uplifting book perfect for Sabbath (or any time) reading. I enjoyed it.

(Readalikes:  I don't read a lot of inspirational/religious non-fiction, so I'm not sure.  Suggestions?)

Grade:


If this were a movie, it would be rated:


To the FTC, with love:  I received a finished copy of Worth from the generous folks at Covenant.  Thank you!

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Tuesday, April 10, 2018

Cute Contemporary Romance Too Meh For Me

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As a raving Jane Austen fan with a major crush on Mr. Darcy, 26-year-old Emma Pierce can't wait to fall into the kind of swoony romance she finds between the covers of her favorite novels.  Handsome and wealthy, her current beau certainly seems like a straight-out-of Austen hero—until he betrays her with a pretty co-worker.  Realizing that real-life love simply can't compare to the fictional kind, Emma swears off romance altogether.  Clearly, Jane Austen (who never married, by the by) hasn't the faintest idea what she's talking about. 

Already a workaholic, Emma throws herself even more passionately into her job as the CMO of an up-and-coming gym company.  When a consultant is brought on to help with scouting new locations, Emma's shocked to find herself partnered with Lucas Hampton, her ex-boyfriend's younger brother.  Assuming Lucas to be as slimy as his sibling, she vows to keep her distance.  It's not long, however, before she realizes one brother is not like the other—in fact, Lucas just happens to possess every fine quality a leading Austen man should.  Hints of a troubled past aside, he might be the key to the Happily Ever After for which Emma's been searching.  But if he's the man of her dreams, why is he trying so hard to help Emma and his brother get back together?  As any Jane Austen groupie knows, love is never straightforward ...

As you can tell from its adorable cover and bubbly premise, Lies Jane Austen Told Me by Julie Wright is a cute contemporary romance.  Not only is the novel clean, but it's also upbeat and lighthearted (although it does touch on some heavy topics).  With its predictably happy ending, it's the kind of diversionary love story romance readers will probably dig.  So, why didn't it work all that well for me?  The characters aren't my favorite.  Both brothers seem cliché and personality-less, while Emma's just victim-y and annoying.  Although she has admirable qualities, they seem tacked-on, like the author is trying too hard to make her seem likable.  The story also gets tedious and saggy in the middle, with tell-y prose and contrived plot devices.  Overall, then, I didn't love Lies Jane Austen Told Me.  I really wanted to, but for the most part I'm pretty meh about this one.

(Readalikes:  Reminds me of My Ridiculous, Romantic Obsessions by Becca Wilhite)

Grade:


If this were a movie, it would be rated:


for disturbing subject matter and mild innuendo

To the FTC, with love:  I received an e-copy of Lies Jane Austen Told Me for judging purposes from the generous folks at Shadow Mountain Publishing via those at The Whitney Awards.  Thank you! 

Friday, April 06, 2018

Twisty Psychological Thriller Asks What is Real?

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As a war reporter with a finely-honed sense of danger, Kate Rafter knows something sinister is going on in the house next door.  Having just arrived back in England after a harrowing stint in Iraq, the 39-year-old is in Herne Bay to settle the estate of her recently deceased mother.  The last thing she expects is to find herself entangled in someone else's domestic drama, but when she meets the woman next door—an Iraqi refugee, who's obviously terrified of something—Kate's Spidey senses start to tingle.  Although Fida Rahmani insists she's not being abused by her husband, Kate doesn't believe her.  When she hears a child crying in the night and sees a young boy lurking in her mother's garden, she becomes even more convinced that Fida—who claims to have no children—is lying.  Kate has spent her life fighting injustice all over the world; why won't her neighbor accept her help?

No matter how much Kate tries to convince people Fida is in danger, no one will believe her.  They insist the little boy is a figment of Kate's imagination, a hallucination brought on by a horrific tragedy she witnessed in Syria.  Despite the medication she's taking to keep them at bay, the effects of her PTSD have become overwhelming and debilitating.  Still, Kate knows what she's seen is real.  It has to be.  Doesn't it?  Because if she's making it all up, then she's done.  Her career will be over and what will she have left?  An empty life of loneliness and pain, with an alcoholic sister who hates her and tainted memories of the mother she thought to be a saint.  If that's all that remains then Kate really will go crazy.  To prove she's not insane, the intrepid reporter will have to dig for the truth, a truth which may only exist inside her war-ravaged mind ...

Ever since I heard about My Sister's Bones, a debut novel by Nuala Ellwood, I've been dying to read it.  I dig stories that keep me off-balance, constantly wondering what is real and what is not.  This twisty psychological thriller fits the bill for sure.  Eerie and engrossing, it's one of those books that you just can't stop reading.  Not only is the plot taut and tense, but Ellwood's depiction of a war reporter suffering from PTSD (which is inspired by her father's experiences) remains both fascinating and heartbreaking.  The twist at the novel's end blindsided me completely, taking an unexpected turn which left me feeling even more shook.  Although My Sister's Bones gets dark and disturbing, I found it to be can't-look-away compelling.  I didn't absolutely love it, but I liked it enough to be eager for more from Ellwood.  I'll definitely be interested to see what this intriguing new author does next.

(Readalikes:  Reminds me of The Woman in the Window by A.J. Finn and The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins)

Grade:


If this were a movie, it would be rated:


for strong language, violence, blood/gore, sexual content, and disturbing subject matter

To the FTC, with love:  I bought a copy of My Sister's Bones from Target with a portion of the millions I make from my lucrative career as a book blogger.  Ha ha.

Thursday, April 05, 2018

Atmospheric Cozy Entertains Without Making You Blush or Giving You Nightmares

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With a decade of professional pastry-making experience and a shattered heart under her belt (apron?), Juliet "Jules" Capshaw is coming home to regroup.  Not sure where to go from here, she returns to the one place that has always nurtured her soul—her family's bakery.  Run by her mother, Torte is a warm, cozy shop where folks in Ashland, Oregon, can always find a welcoming smile, a listening ear, and delectable, homemade treats that fill more than just their empty stomachs.  Being inside its walls, baking alongside her mother, is already helping to heal Jules' hurts.

Although Jules is trying to keep her personal drama on the down low, Ashland's filled to the brim with theater types preparing for the annual Oregon Shakespeare Festival.  Needless to say, smoke from a nearby wildfire isn't the only thing tainting the air.  When Nancy Hudson—a wealthy snob who's made enemies all over town—is killed after a late-night meeting at Torte, the Capshaws are shocked and concerned, especially when it appears her murderer might be lurking a little too close to home.  While police interview suspects, Jules launches her own clandestine investigation.  In the midst of trying to catch a killer, she's also attempting to sort out the tangled feelings clogging up her heart and to convince her mother to spill the troubling secret she's obviously hiding.  If she was hoping to chillax, Jules has another think coming ...

After enjoying Death on Tap, the first installment in Ellie Alexander's newest cozy mystery series, I wanted to read more by the author.  Her Bakeshop Mysteries looked fun, so I grabbed Meet Your Baker from the library.  As with Death on Tap, my favorite part of this novel is its atmospheric setting.  Although I grew up in the PNW, I've never been to Ashland, which Alexander skillfully brings to life in Meet Your Baker.  I also loved Torte—I could feel the warmth of the place as well as that between Jules and her mother.  As far as the characters and the mystery at the book's center ... they're engaging enough, but nothing super special.  Still, I liked this cozy more than most, so I definitely plan to continue with the series (in fact, I have the next two books on hold at the library).  If you're looking for a light, entertaining mystery that won't make you blush or give you nightmares, be sure to give this one a go.   

(Readalikes:  Reminds me of Death on Tap by Ellie Alexander as well as other books in her Bakeshop Mystery series, including A Batter of Life and Death; On Thin Icing; Caught Bread Handed; Fudge and Jury; A Crime of Passion Fruit; Another One Bites the Crust; and Till Death Do Us Tart)

Grade:


If this were a movie, it would be rated:


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

To the FTC, with love:  Another library fine find

Wednesday, April 04, 2018

Intriguing Setting/Premise Just Not Enough in Caribbean Tale

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Tourists flock to Furnace Island, a small slice of Caribbean paradise, to soak in the sun and surf.  While they appreciate a little local color on their beach vacations, visitors prefer the dark faces of those waiting on them to be rarely seen, their voices never heard.  As a maid at the island's sparkling resort, Myrna Burre depends on the foreigners for her livelihood but resents them all the same.  They have no clue that her home's real name is Cruffey Island and that it was named for a plantation owner who used slave labor to work his land.  Not only are all the island's current residents descendants of those slaves, but the fancy resort where many of them now work is built atop the remains of the plantation that broke their ancestors' backs.  

Obsessed with the island's haunted past, Myrna spends her spare time secretly excavating the plantation ruins.  If she's found trespassing on private resort property, she could lose her much needed job.  She persists nevertheless.  When a wealthy African-American guest offers new information about Cruffey Island's past, Myrna becomes even more fixated on the plantation.  Fueled by mounting tensions between the resort's management and its local workers, she finds herself at the center of a conflict which will boil over with surprising consequences.
Fingerprints of Previous Owners, a debut novel by Rebecca Entel, offers a story about duality, racism, worth, and identity, enhanced by strong imagery.  While I appreciate the author's careful exploration of her themes, I had a difficult time engaging with the tale itself.  The characters are bland, the prose is uneven (choppy, fragmented sentences but long, dense paragraphs/chapters), and the plot meanders here, there, and everywhere.  In short, the book's boring.  Although the action picks up toward the end, not much happens throughout the rest of the story.  The only reason I ventured beyond the first couple pages of Fingerprints of Previous Owners is because I had promised to review it.  Otherwise, I wouldn't have bothered.  I still find the idea/symbolism of a hoity toity American resort built on top of a ruined slave plantation intriguing; I just wish this novel's execution had been better handled.  Oh well.

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

Grade:


If this were a movie, it would be rated:


for language (a couple F-bombs, plus milder expletives), violence, sexual innuendo, and disturbing subject matter

To the FTC, with love:  I received a finished copy of Fingerprints of Previous Owners from the generous folks at Unnamed Press via those at TLC Book Tours.  Thank you!

Saturday, March 31, 2018

Heartfelt Southern Romance Authentically Messy and Satisfying

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Living with her mother has been a blessing for 21-year-old Shandi Pierce as she tries to finish college and raise her young son on her own.  As reluctant as she is to leave the only home she's ever known, Shandi knows it's time.  She needs to be closer to the GSU campus in Atlanta and her brilliant boy needs the kind of education that can't be had in the small town where they now live.  While she tries to stay out of her parents' bitter post-divorce battles, this time Shandi's father has made her an offer she can't refuse—a condo in the city.  It's far enough away to allow her and her 3-year-old some independence, but also close enough for little Nathan to visit both of his maternal grandparents often.  As much as she will miss her mother, Shandi knows making this move is the right thing to do.

She doesn't get very far away, however, before disaster strike.  A gas station robbery turns ugly, trapping Shandi, Nathan, and several others inside the mini-mart with a very agitated gunman.  It's a strange place for romance, but Shandi can't help but fall hard for the handsome stranger who bravely steps between Nathan and a loaded gun.  The alarming incident may be over, but Shandi's relationship with William Ashe is just beginning.  Although the 33-year-old geneticist is haunted by an aching loss and watched like a hawk by his disapproving bulldog of a best friend, Shandi's determined to make him hers.  She's willing to fight for her unexpected hero, even if it means embracing someone else's love story instead of her own.

I've enjoyed several of Joshilyn Jackson's heartfelt Southern novels and this one, Someone Else's Love Story, is no exception.  It's not my favorite of those I've read, but I still found the story authentic, touching, and realistically messy.  The characters are sympathetic, their challenges compelling.  While none of them get neat, perfect endings, the novel still feels satisfying.  Yes, I could have done with a less sexed-up, more PG-13 version, but all in all, I liked this one.  

(Readalikes:  Reminds me of other Joshilyn Jackson novels, especially The Almost Sisters)

Grade:


If this were a movie, it would be rated:


for strong language, violence, and sexual content

To the FTC, with love:  Another library fine find

Wednesday, March 28, 2018

Before I Let You Go Heartbreaking And Compelling

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Lexie Vidler will never forgive herself for leaving her younger sister behind the night she escaped from the Exclusive Brethren's enclave.  The cult had ensnared their mother, its leader becoming the girls' stepfather.  Tired of the strict, oppressive lifestyle that threatened to take away the educational opportunities she craved, Lexie fled at 16.  Unable to take 12-year-old Annie with her, Lexie abandoned her sister.  It was a monstrous crime, one Lexie has tried everything to make up for over the last two decades.  

At 34, Lexie works as a general practice physician.  Engaged to Sam—a kind, handsome surgeon— she's poised to finally achieve the safe, stable life she's been seeking since childhood.  Annie's life has gone in the opposite direction.  Despite constantly bailing her out, sheltering her, and paying for rehab, Lexie can't force Annie to ditch the drugs to which she's addicted and get her life together.  In order to save her own sanity, she's had to step back, keeping her distance from the train wreck that is her baby sister.

In spite of everything, when Lexie receives a frantic middle-of-the-night phone call from Annie, she and Sam rush to her side. Although she's skeletal and still jittery from her last hit, Annie's also pregnant and in danger of going into pre-term labor.  Knowing she could be arrested for chemical endangerment and that her baby will no doubt be taken from her, she begs Lexie and Sam not to hospitalize her.  With little choice in the matter, the two doctors set in motion a chain of events that will change all of their lives forever. 

Available April 3, 2018, Before I Let You Go by Kelly Rimmer is an intimate, heartbreaking novel about a family in crisis.  The characters at its center are complex, flawed, and very human.  I felt for all the Vidler women, each of whom is sympathetic in her own way.  Learning more about Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome (NAS) made me feel most keenly for the fictional baby in this story who represents all the real children born to drug-addicted mothers.  While Rimmer's portrayal of this crisis is realistic, it's also compassionate and hopeful.  Even still, Before I Let You Go is not a happy novel.  It's a tough, depressing read, one that will touch your heart as surely as it breaks it.  Overall, I found it to be absorbing and affecting, an important book that calls attention to a devastating problem that affects an alarming number of innocent children and their families. 

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

Grade:


If this were a movie, it would be rated:


for language, depictions of drug abuse, and disturbing subject matter

To the FTC, with love:  I received an ARC of Before I Let You Go from the generous folks at Graydon House via those at Little Bird Publicity.  Thank you!

Monday, March 26, 2018

Hawaiian Home Front Comes to Life in New WWII Novel

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A Minnesota farm girl raised by stern, emotionless parents, Violet Iverson never dreamed she would someday end up living on the lush, exotic island of Hawaii.  When a whirlwind romance leads to a one-way ticket to the Big Island and a marriage proposal, she takes a chance and goes.  A decade later, warm, gentle Hawaii feels more like home than cold, grim Minnesota ever did.  Violet's been happy in Honoka'a, where she teaches at the high school and lives on its campus among friends who feel like family.  Recently, however, war has brought unwelcome change to the small town, including rationing, air-raid drills, and the unexplained disappearance of Violet's husband, Herman.  Although it's been a year since he vanished, no one can say whether Honoka'a High's former principal is alive or dead.  Violet thinks her daughter, 10-year-old Ella, knows something about her father's disappearance, but the girl won't admit to it no matter how hard Violet prods.   

When Honoka'a suddenly becomes overrun with soldiers training for a special mission, Violet and her friends decide to earn some extra cash by opening a pie stand near the military base.  With suspicion swirling in the sultry island air, the women soon find themselves accused of spying for the enemy.  Their Japanese friends are also being targeted.  Desperate to clear all of their good names, Violet relies on a handsome Marine to help her find out what really happened to her husband.  Exposing secrets is dangerous business, as she soon discovers.  With danger all around, can Violet solve a mystery, save her friends, and keep her daughter safe?  

I haven't read many World War II novels set entirely on American soil, so I was immediately interested when I heard about Island of Sweet Pies and Soldiers by Sara Ackerman.  Inspired by the experiences of the author's grandparents—who lived in Honoka'a during World War II and hosted many soldiers in their home while the men were at Camp Tarawa before shipping out for Iwo Jima and Saipan—the novel offers a vivid setting and an intriguing story.  Ackerman's prose isn't quite as dynamic, as it's a bit stiff and more tell than show.  Her characters aren't all that memorable either, although they're likable enough.  Overall, though, I ended up liking Island of Sweet Pies and Soldiers.  I didn't love it like I wanted to, but I enjoyed the read overall.

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

Grade:


If this were a movie, it would be rated:


for language (a handful of F-bombs, plus milder expletives), violence, and sexual innuendo

To the FTC, with love:  I bought a copy of Island of Sweet Pies and Soldiers with a portion of the millions I make from my lucrative career as a book blogger.  Ha ha.

Saturday, March 24, 2018

Dual-Timeline Southern Ghost Story An Enjoyable, Moving Read

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Nothing could take a devoted desert conservationist away from her beloved Arizona—except for true love.  Marielle never intended to fall for someone who doesn't live locally, but that's what happened when she accidentally met Carson Bishop online.  Despite their quick courtship, she's thrilled to be marrying the 40-year-old widower and becoming stepmom to his two young children.  She's not quite as pumped about moving into Holly Oak, Carson's first wife's ancestral mansion in Fredericksburg, Virginia.  It's a beautiful, stately home steeped in history, and the only one the kids have ever known.  Hudson and Brette will inherit Holly Oak when its current owner dies.  Until then, the children will continue living there with Carson and his new wife.  Undaunted by the salacious Civil War ghost stories that surround the old estate, Marielle's a little more concerned about its living relic—Carson's 89-year-old grandmother-in-law, Adelaide McClane.  Marielle and her new family will be the intimidating old lady's house guests until she passes. 

With little else to occupy her mind while her husband works in D.C. and her stepchildren are at school, Marielle decides to investigate Holly Oak's (alleged) resident ghost.  Sullied by rumors that she worked as a spy for the North, Susannah Page was branded a traitor to her Southern roots.  Does the old apparition seek vengeance by cursing her female ancestors?  Considering the fates of all the women connected to Holly Oak, a place which seems "stuck in a strange limbo of regret" (24), it certainly seems so.  Good thing the mansion's newest resident doesn't believe in ghosts.  Or does she?

A Sound Among the Trees (2011) is one of Susan Meissner's older novels, but one whose premise especially appeals to me.  Give me a mysterious old home brimming with tragedy, ghosts and family secrets and I'm one happy reader!  While this one didn't turn out to be my favorite of this type of novel (Kate Morton is the queen of this genre, in my [not so] humble opinion), I still enjoyed it.  With a rich, atmospheric setting and a compelling plot, it was easy to get absorbed in the tale.  True, the characters are a little blah, but their problems still interested me.  Overall, A Sound Among the Trees tells a beautiful story about redemption, resilience, and making peace with the past.  It's a clean, moving read that I'd recommend to anyone who enjoys dual-timeline novels set in the American South.

(Readalikes:  The structure/style remind me of other dual-timeline novels by Susan Meissner as well as books by Kate Morton)

Grade:

      
If this were a movie, it would be rated:


for brief, mild language (no F-bombs), violence, blood/gore, and brief, non-graphic references to sex and rape

To the FTC, with love:  Another library fine find

Friday, March 23, 2018

Force of Nature A Riveting Follow-Up in An Increasingly Intriguing New Series

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Note:  While this review will not contain spoilers for Force of Nature, it may inadvertently reveal plot surprises from its predecessor, The Dry.  As always, I recommend reading books in a series in order.

No one at BaileyTennants is excited about spending the weekend team-building in the backwoods of the Giralang Ranges.  Too bad they don't have a choice.  If they want to keep their jobs, they'll have to suck it up and suffer through it without complaint.  

Separated from the men's team, five female co-workers enter the forest with little guidance as to how to rough it out in the wild.  With provisions spaced between camping spots that are miles apart and no cell phone service, the women soon realize they're way out of their depth.  Already simmering with pent-up tension, the group's emotions boil over when they find themselves hopelessly lost in the woods.  When they finally find their way back, only four remain.  What has happened to 45-year-old Alice Russell?  Did she stumble off a path somewhere in the wilderness?  Or has something much more sinister happened?

Aaron Falk, an agent with the Federal Police in Melbourne, presumes the latter.  Not because he's cynical but because he received a garbled S.O.S. message from Alice just before she disappeared.  He can't be sure exactly what he heard, only that it's sinister enough for Falk to join the investigation.  Along with his new partner, 38-year-old Carmen Cooper, he travels to the Giralang Ranges to help search for Alice and question the women with whom she was hiking.  What he uncovers is a chilling web of secrets that gives every one of Alice's co-workers a motive for killing her.  Did one of them ensure she would never make it out of the woods alive?  In a case that's growing more complicated by the second, Falk may never know ...

I really enjoyed The DryJane Harper's atmospheric debut—so naturally I was excited to read the next book in the series, Force of Nature.  Like its predecessor, the novel offers a rich setting, complex characters, and a twisty mystery.  Falk continues to be an understated hero who's likable because of his compassion and commitment to his job.  His partner is also an intriguing character, who will no doubt blossom in forthcoming books.  While I appreciated Force of Nature's tautly-constructed plot, I—like other readers—found it a little implausible that a group of inexperienced hikers/campers would be sent off into a forbidding forest without any kind of emergency equipment.  Other than that, though, I found myself completely convinced and absorbed by this compelling novel about the secrets we keep even from the people we see every day.

(Readalikes:  The Dry by Jane Harper)

Grade:


If this were a movie, it would be rated:


for language (no F-bombs), violence, mild sexual content, and disturbing subject matter

To the FTC, with love:  I received an e-galley of Force of Nature from the generous folks at Macmillan via those at NetGalley.  Thank you! 

Thursday, March 22, 2018

Eerie, Atmospheric Literary Thriller a Shivery Gothic Tale

(Image from Barnes & Noble)

"They were trapped here at Idlewild.  But Idlewild wasn't everything.  It wasn't the world" (168).

Idlewild Hall—"the boarding school of last resort ... where parents stashed their embarrassments, their failures, and their recalcitrant girls" (16)—is made for teens like Cece Frank, Roberta Greene, and Sonia Gallipeau.  Each hiding their own dark secret, the three become roommates in 1950 at the cold, isolated institution.  Although none of them are thrilled about being stuck in such a grim place, they find comfort in their newfound friendship.  Like hundreds of Idlewild girls before them, they swap shivery stories about Mary Hand, the veiled ghost whose unsettled spirit haunts the school garden where her baby is rumored to be buried.  None of them doubt her existence—they've all felt her dark, menacing presence.  When one of the roommates disappears without a trace, the others can't help but wonder if she's been a victim of an apparition hungry for revenge.

Forty-four years later, the body of 20-year-old Deb Sheridan is discovered on Idlewild's long-abandoned campus.  Her death by strangulation is clearly the work of human hands, most likely those of her boyfriend, who's convicted and imprisoned for the crime.  Despite getting closure, the tragedy breaks the Sheridan family.  Two decades later, Fiona still can't shake the feeling that something wasn't right about her sister's case.  When she learns that an anonymous benefactor is restoring Idlewild Hall, it stirs up her old feelings of unease.  Desperate to find out what really happened to Deb, Fiona launches her own investigation under the guise of writing a magazine article about the reopening of Idlewild Hall.  To find answers, she'll have to confront the school's many ghosts and battle the sinister forces that haunt not just Idlewild, but her own tortured past.

I have a long-standing rule about not reading creepy books while my husband is out of town.  So, even though I made the mistake of starting The Broken Girls by Simone St. James right before a planned trip, I promised myself I'd read something else until his return.  As much as I tried to distract myself with a lighter, less nightmare-inducing novel, though, I couldn't do it!  Scary dreams be darned, I could not look away from this gripping story about ghosts and girls and their ghoulish secrets.  Atmospheric and eerie, The Broken Girls is a tense, absorbing novel that will keep you guessing throughout.  Even though the ending felt a little rushed and anticlimactic to me, overall, I enjoyed this haunting—but ultimately hopeful—story about righting past wrongs.

(Readalikes:  Reminds me of books by Carol Goodman, especially The Ghost Orchid and Arcadia Falls)

Grade:


If this were a movie, it would be rated:


for strong language, violence, blood/gore, mild sexual content, and disturbing subject matter

To the FTC, with love:  I received a finished copy of The Broken Girls from the generous folks at Penguin Random House.  Thank you!

Historical Hollywood Novel Gripping and Glamorous

(Image from Barnes & Noble)

When Christine McAllister, owner of a chic vintage clothing shop in Hollywood, receives a donated movie prop, she's stunned.  How did Scarlet O'Hara's iconic hat end up in her hands instead of in a film museum?  There has to be a story there.  As Christine hunts for answers, she uncovers a tale as rich and intriguing as any she's seen on the big screen ...

It's 1938 and employees of Selznick International Pictures are scurrying to produce a film of epic proportions.  Sure to be a major hit, Gone With the Wind must be perfect, with every detail flawlessly executed.  Desperate to escape her debutante life in Alabama, 22-year-old Violet Mayfield accepts a secretarial position at the studio and is thrown right into the intoxicating whirlwind of Hollywood glitz and glam.  Her roommate, Audrey Duvall, is a promising but aging actress who, at 30, is desperate to land a significant part in a real movie.  In the meantime, the entrancing beauty appoints herself Violet's mentor, teaching the newcomer the ins and outs of life in Tinseltown.  

While Violet's aims are different from Audrey's ambitions, they're just as encompassing.  As the years pass and their dreams seem in danger of dying, both women will do things of which they're not proud in order to get what they want.  The consequences of those decisions will echo throughout their lives, changing their focus, their friendship, and their futures.  

I enjoy Susan Meissner's quiet, compelling novels and Stars Over Sunset Boulevard is no exception.  Since I always seem to prefer the past sections in a dual timeline story, this one especially appeals because only about 10% of it takes place in the present.  With its magical setting and complex characters, the 1938 tale is absorbing enough on its own.  Meissner's vivid storytelling brings the hustle and bustle of a Hollywood studio to life, with fascinating historical details to make it even more intriguing.  I found myself easily wrapped up in the setting, the characters, and the plot in this engrossing novel about the lengths to which we'll go to get what we want.

(Readalikes:  I haven't read many novels about Hollywood/the film industry, so I'm not sure what to compare Stars Over Sunset Boulevard to plot-wise.  Stylistically, of course, it's similar to Susan Meissner's other dual timeline novels.)

Grade:

      
If this were a movie, it would be rated:


for brief, mild language (no F-bombs)

To the FTC, with love:  Another library fine find
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