Monday, October 29, 2018

"Locked Room" Family Saga Sharp, But Dull

(Image from Barnes & Noble)

For the first time in recent memory, the four members of the Birch Family will be together for Christmas.  Since Olivia—a medical doctor who's been fighting the virulent Haag virus in Liberia— must be quarantined for seven days to avoid contaminating the public, the family will be closeted together for a week at their home in the Norfolk countryside.  No one will be allowed to leave the property, and no one will be allowed to enter.  It will be only the Birches, 24/7.  

To make things even more difficult, each of the Birches is hiding a secret from the others.  No one wants to ruin the upcoming holiday with troubling revelations, so the quartet will be walking on eggshells to avoid any unwanted disclosures.  Nerves are already starting to fray when Andrew Birch's secret comes knocking on the door.  As tension nears fever pitch for the housebound residents of Weyfield Hall, an implosion becomes inevitable.  What will happen when everyone's secrets are finally out in the open?  Will the Birch Family survive their catastrophic holiday intact? 

I'm always up for a sweeping family saga that promises the outing of juicy secrets that will test the bonds that tie people together.  Add in a "locked room" situation and I'm a goner.  Naturally, then, I was excited to give Seven Days of Us, a debut novel by journalist Francesca Hornak, a go.  I went in expecting a sharp, funny story and the novel delivered.  Kind of.  Through her authentic, very flawed cast, Hornak makes some fascinating observations about family dynamics.  I recognized parts of myself in the ways each of the characters interacted with each other.  While I enjoyed that aspect of the book, I did grow bored with the plot, which seems to wander all over the place without really going anywhere.  The ending didn't help, as it left me thinking, "What was the point of that?"  Overall, then, Seven Days of Us turned out to be just an okay read for me. 

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

Grade:  


If this were a movie, it would be rated:


for strong language, sexual content, violence, and references to illegal drug use

To the FTC, with love:  I received a finished copy of Seven Days of Us from the generous folks at Penguin Random House in exchange for an honest review.  Thank you!

Newest Kate Morton Saga Not Quite Up to Snuff

(Image from Barnes & Noble)

"It occurs to me that this house is like that, too.  It remembers, just as I do.  It remembers everything."

When London archivist Elodie Winslow discovers an old leather satchel at work, she thinks little of it.  Until she finds two remarkable items within.  She's intrigued by the old photo of an arresting woman wearing Victorian-era clothes, but she's completely mesmerized by an artist's sketch of a riverside country manor that appears to be straight out of a storybook.  Although Elodie's never actually seen such a place, she's intimately familiar with the twin-gabled home nestled in a bend of the river.  Somehow, the artist has drawn the exact place where Elodie's mother set all the fanciful bedtime stories with which she enchanted her young daughter.   

As Elodie peers into the past in search of answers, she discovers that Birchwood Manor is, indeed, a real place.  Built in the 1500s, it's been an artists' retreat, a boarding school for girls, even a refuge for children fleeing London during World War II.  Its residents have experienced every emotion—grief, joy, fear, comfort, triumph, and tragedy.  The estate houses ghosts and the key to solving at least one mystery.  When Elodie learns of the mysterious events of 1862, when one woman was shot to death and another went missing from a summer artists' getaway, she knows she won't be able to rest until she finds out what really happened.  She hopes her search for the truth will reveal the answer to the most unsettling question of all—What does Elodie's mother have to do with the many sorrows of Birchwood Manor? 

It's no secret that I'm a raving Kate Morton fan.  I adore her eloquent, atmospheric dual-timeline novels featuring crumbling mansions, mysterious heirlooms, and juicy family secrets.  I've read—and loved—all of her books.  Since they only come out every 2-3 years, I wait with bated breath for new sagas from this talented Australian author.  So, to say I was excited for the emergence of The Clockmaker's Daughter would be a vast understatement.  Did Morton's newest live up to my (admittedly very high) expectations?  No, actually.  While I liked it overall, it's my least favorite of the author's books.  Why?  The story had a little different format from Morton's others, which left it feeling overly long, unfocused, and dull in places.  I loved learning about Birchwood Manor's long history, but with so many characters over so much time, I got a tad lost.  So, while I found the mystery at the novel's center compelling, the plot felt a bit loosey-goosey and a little confusing.  On the whole, I still enjoyed The Clockmaker's Daughter—just not nearly as much as I've loved all Morton's others.  


Grade:  


If this were a movie, it would be rated:


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

To the FTC, with love:  I received an e-ARC of The Clockmaker's Daughter from the generous folks at Simon & Schuster via those at NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.  Thank you!

Saturday, October 27, 2018

Fun Premise Makes for Enjoyable Regency Reading



What happens when a crowd of eligible young lords and ladies converges in the Yorkshire countryside for a two-week long house party?  Plenty of merriment, mischief, and matchmaking, that's what!  

The Regency House Party: Somerstone series is made up of five romance novels penned by popular and up-and-coming LDS writers.  Each revolves around a different set of Somerstone houseguests, all of whom are searching for love while at the estate.  Since the stories take place simultaneously, the books can be read in any order.  While the characters in the novels intermingle, their individual stories don't intertwine enough to contain spoilers.  It's a fun device for a series, don't you think?  You can read more about it at the Regency House Party website.  

(Image from Amazon)

Despite being a lowly stable master's daughter, 19-year-old Marjorie Fairchild has been invited to the hottest house party of the season thanks to her aunt's acquaintance with its hosts.  Although her days of scampering around barefoot, climbing trees, and spying on her betters are long gone, Marjorie's still not entirely comfortable mingling with London's elite.  Still, her silly childhood fantasies all revolved around another Somestone houseguest: dashing Reginald Beauchamp.  It doesn't matter how much she's developed, Marjorie knows there's no way she could hope to snag the son of an earl, but she can't help hoping that maybe, just maybe, she might be able to catch his eye.  Even a few moments of his attention would be enough to soothe her unrequited longings.

Lord Miles Beauchamp has little patience for frivolous social gatherings, even if his earldom is in need of a Lady to refine it.  His only goal at the house party is to keep an eagle eye on his flippant, irresponsible younger brother.  When Reginald sets his fickle sights on Marjorie Fairchild, the beautiful daughter of the family's stable master, Miles knows he must step in.  He can't allow his dandy of a brother to toy with the heart of his employee's daughter.  It's not right—for many reasons.  Setting himself in the role of her protector, Miles vows to save Marjorie from Reginald, only to find his own traitorous heart hopelessly lost to the enchanting redhead.  

Can Miles successfully woo Marjorie's affections away from his charming brother?  If he can, what then?  Can a romance between two people of such different social classes ever really work?  Despite the risks, Miles is determined to find out ...

The Stable Master's Daughter—a debut novel by Sara Cardon—tells a swoony story about a woman whose yearnings for the wrong man blind her to the charms of the right one.  It's a familiar setup which leads to an obvious, predictable ending.  The characters are nothing special either, although they're mostly a likable lot.  While I definitely wanted a twistier plot and more dynamic story people from it, The Stable Master's Daughter remains a fun, enjoyable novel that's short, sweet, and satisfying.  With it, Cardon proves herself a capable writer, making her an author on whom I will definitely keep my eye!  

(Readalikes:  Other novels in the Regency House Party: Somerstone series, as well as Regency romances by Josi S. Kilpack, Jennifer Moore, Julianne Donaldson, and Sarah M. Eden)

Grade: 


If this were a movie, it would be rated:


for mild violence

To the FTC, with love:  I received a finished copy of The Stable Master's Daughter from the generous Sara Cardon in exchange for an honest review.  Thank you!

Friday, October 26, 2018

Cozy Christmas Collection Provides Swoony, Light Hearted Holiday Entertainment (with a Giveaway!)

(Image from Amazon)

I haven't even put up my Halloween decorations yet, but I just finished a cozy Christmas read that put me right into the holiday spirit!  A Christmas Courting is a collection of four short Regency romances set at Yuletide.  Three popular LDS romance writers—Jennifer Moore, Chalon Linton, and Jen Geigle Johnson—are featured, as well as newcomer Heidi Kimball (her first novel, An Unlikely Courtship, came out in September).  

As you can imagine, the four short stories in this volume are warm, upbeat tales that offer the kind of swoony, light hearted entertainment you crave during the chaotic holiday season.  While I liked some of them better than others, all of the tales are clean, uplifting, and cheerful.  Some deal with more serious issues, but in the end, all the tales guarantee happy, satisfying endings:
Love and Joy Come to You by Jennifer Moore concerns a young gentleman whose peaceful holiday is interrupted by a family of rowdy houseguests his mother has invited for the holidays.  Although, at first, Lord Covington is annoyed by the orphaned children, he soon grows to love them, with an especial fondness for the beautiful, enchanting eldest.  

A Christmas Courting by Chalon Linton is about Keturah Hensley, a young lady who pines for her handsome childhood friend, Christopher.  When he asks her aid in helping him woo a wife, she worries this Christmas will be the worst she's ever experienced.  

Mistletoe Memories by Jen Geigle Johnson revolves around Lady Alice Tarrington, a young woman whose tarnished reputation has made her the center of London gossip.  When her childhood best friend, the man who swore he would return from India and marry her as soon as possible, finally comes to town, Alice fears it's too late for any kind of relationship between them. 

Second-Chance Christmas by Heidi Kimball centers around spirited Francie Lockhart, who fears her refusal of a marriage proposal from her best friend has destroyed their relationship forever.  When a beautiful guest shows up at Gerard's house for Christmas, a surprising jealousy rises up in Francie.  Has she been wrong about her true feelings for the man she's only ever considered a pal?  

While the first and last stories are my favorite, I enjoyed all four.  They're fun, playful tales set against magical, snowy backgrounds.  A Christmas Courting will appeal to any Regency romance lover and would make for an especially heartwarming read when enjoyed in front of a crackling fire, a steaming cup of cocoa in hand.  If you're not a fan but you've got one on your Christmas list, this volume would make an appealing gift.  

(Readalikes:  Reminds me of other Regency romances by the above authors as well as those by Josi S. Kilpack, Sarah M. Eden, and Julianne Donaldson)

Grade:


If this were a movie, it would be rated:


for vague references to violence and ruined reputations

To the FTC, with love:  I received a finished copy of A Christmas Courting from the generous folks at Covenant in exchange for an honest review.  Thank you!

-- 

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Tuesday, October 23, 2018

Touching MG Novel Asks Important Questions About Family, Foster Care, and Cultural Identity

(Image from Amazon)

When Chipeta Uncarow, an infant from the Ute tribe, is abandoned by her mother, the Twitchells gladly take her in.  A treasured member of the big Mormon family, Chipeta (known as Dori) fits in so seamlessly that the Twitchells long to adopt her.  Eleven-year-old Britta Twitchell is especially fond of her foster sister, now four years old, and can't imagine life without little Dori.  When Dori's mother reappears, now ready to parent her daughter, Britta's incredulous.  How can a woman who cared so little about her baby just waltz in and reclaim her?  Dori already has a family, a family who adores her and takes care of her.  The Twitchells can't really be expected to just hand over their beloved sister and daughter.  Can they?

Britta can't believe that soon Dori will be living on the Uintah-Ouray Indian Reservation with her birth mother.  It's so not fair!  The rest of her family might be going along with it, but Britta will stop at nothing to make sure Dori stays at home where she belongs.  However good her intentions are, however, Britta soon finds herself in real trouble.  Now, in order to save Dori's life, she'll have to think beyond—beyond the lush green of her small farming community, beyond what she wants, and beyond her limited view of what it means to be a family.

Beyond the Green by Sharlee Glenn is a touching, semi-autobiographical novel that asks some important questions about family, cultural identity, and the rights of people involved in foster care.  The tender, heartbreaking story is handled with both authenticity and sensitivity, telling an all-too-common tale with care.  Full of flawed but sympathetic characters; enough action and conflict to keep young readers engaged; and some strong, meaningful lessons; Beyond the Green is a solid read that I highly recommend to anyone who
enjoys realistic middle grade fiction.

(Readalikes:  Hm, nothing is coming to mind.  You?)

Grade:


If this were a movie, it would be rated:


for scenes of peril and some difficult subject matter (alcoholism, child abandonment, etc.)

To the FTC, with love:  I received an e-ARC of Beyond the Green from the generous folks at Charlesbridge via those at Netgalley.  Thank you!

Wednesday, October 03, 2018

Immigrant Tale Poignant, Thoughtful

(Image from Barnes & Noble)

"We're the unknown Americans, the ones no one even wants to know, because they've been told they're supposed to be scared of us and because maybe if they did take the time to get to know us, they might realize that we're not that bad, maybe even that we're a lot like them.  And who would they hate then?" (237)

After falling off a ladder in her native Mexico, 15-year-old Maribel Rivera is left with a traumatic brain injury that changes everything for her and her family.  Desperate to get their daughter the medical care she needs, the Riveras start driving across the border.  They end up in Delaware, where Arturo finds work at a nearby mushroom farm and Alma tries to make sense of a new language and culture.  When beautiful, vulnerable Maribel catches the eye of Mayor Toro—a bullied Panamanian-American high schooler who lives in their apartment building—the Riveras worry about their budding romance.  Mayor only wants to prove to their parents that his intentions toward Maribel are honorable, but when he unwittingly causes a panic in their neighborhood, Mayor sets in motion a chain of events that will have terrible, tragic consequences.

The Book of Unknown Americans, a slim but poignant novel by Cristina Henriquez, takes a sharp and affecting look at what it means to be an immigrant in The United States.  While it doesn't offer a lot in the way of plot, the story features strong prose, interesting characters, and enough conflict to keep the tale chugging along.  While the novel is definitely thought-provoking, it's also sad and depressing.  Overall, I didn't love The Book of Unknown Americans.  I didn't dislike it either.  In the end, I just feel ambivalent about what turned out to be only a so-so read.  

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

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

     
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