Sunday, November 16, 2014

Review and Giveaway: Hilltop Sunset by Joyce T. Strand

Hilltop Sunset (A Brynn Bancroft Mystery, Book #1)
by Joyce T. Strand
Release Date: November 11, 2014
2014 McCloughan and Schmeltz Publishing
Softcover Edition; 296 Pages
ISBN: 978-0-9839262-9-0
Genre: Fiction / Suspense
Source: Review copy from publisher and Book Marketing Services

3.5 / 5 Stars

Brynn Bancroft learns that a former employee who beat her nearly to death has returned to stalk her and her friend, Jillian Hillcrest, also a former victim. Recently divorced, Brynn turns to a new love interest only to encounter additional unwelcome issues. Meanwhile, short-timer Brynn, who has resigned from her Silicon Valley company, becomes bored fulfilling her remaining responsibilities there. She begins to prefer supporting the launch of her ex-husband's new hilltop winery while waiting to move to her next position. Between her stalker an dher new love interest, Brynn faces a series of life-changing events.

My Thoughts
Hilltop Sunset is one of those novels that I wasn't too sure about when I started reading it, but one that I was glad I stuck with because I definitely enjoyed it more as I persevered through it, to the point where I actually really enjoyed the story at the end and liked the characters too.  

I didn't realize at first that this novel was a spin-off from the Jillian Hillcrest mystery stories, and because I had not read them, I did feel at a disadvantage.  The story begins right away with the sighting of the villain from the other story, and sets the tone for Hilltop Sunset, and because I was not familiar with the previous storyline, I had difficulty connecting with the fear and desperation the characters felt quite early on, and the impact definitely wasn't very strong.  And to be quite honest, I wasn't a big fan of Brynn at the beginning; I thought she could use a lesson in empathy and sympathy towards others.  Her singlemindedness might make her a great CEO, but it didn't endear her to colleagues or others who weren't always impressed with her ruthlessness and lack of sympathy to their plights. However, I do have to admit, she did grow on me considerably, and I enjoyed her introspection throughout the novel, and enjoyed her character development and her potential to be a really great character.  And this is what kept me going in this novel, especially when the teenager Josh, and her brother joined the scene, and she was forced to contemplate aspects of her life that were not always so pleasant.  I had to admire her grit and her ability to face her issues and problems.

The book was an easy read, and I did come to find it rather enjoyable once I got past the first third of the book.  The plot was rather predictable and I don't really feel like there was a great mystery to it, but I did find many of the characters endearing and I developed a soft spot for Wayne, the man who runs the winery. And I did get caught up in the romance between Brynn and her ex-husband, and the third in the triangle, Todd.  It's not my favourite kind of thing, but you could already see where things might be heading at this point anyways, so I just went with it and enjoyed the scenario.  

Hilltop Sunset was an interesting start to a new mystery series.  I wouldn't actually call the mystery intense as it was fairly mundane and predictable, but I thought the author did a good job setting things up for future novels and lots of fun.  I am looking forward to seeing the characters develop, but I would also like to see a bit more of a mystery set in wine country now that Brynn has come to a decision, as the potential for some really good stuff is there.  Brynn is one of those characters who does grow on you, and I am looking forward to seeing how she and her friends handle future adversity as I'm sure more adventures are in their future.

About the Author
Joyce T. Strand is the author of who-done-it mysteries set in the San Francisco Silicon Valley and Napa-Sonoma wine regions of California.

Her most recent novel, HILLTOP SUNSET, is the first of a new series featuring protagonist Brynn Bancroft, a financial guru in transition to winemaker from corporate executive. Brynn Bancroft is a minor character in Strand’s novels ON MESSAGE, OPEN MEETINGS, and FAIR DISCLOSURE—three mysteries solved by Jillian Hillcrest, a publicist whose boss was Chief Financial Officer Brynn Bancroft.

Much like her protagonist Jillian Hillcrest, Strand headed corporate communications at several biotech and high-tech companies in California’s Silicon Valley for more than 25 years. Unlike Jillian, however, she did not encounter murder in her career. She focused on writing by-lined articles, press releases, white papers, and brochures to publicize her companies and their products.

Strand lives with her two cats and collection of cow statuary in Southern California, and seeks out and attends as many Broadway musicals and other stage plays as possible.

She received her Ph.D. from the George Washington University, Washington, D.C. and her B.A. from Dickinson College, Carlisle, PA.

Twitter:                @joycetstrand


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Saturday, November 1, 2014

Review and Kindle Giveaway: A Lady at Willowgrove Hall by Sarah E. Ladd

Award-winning author Sarah E. Ladd examines how to escape the clutches of a tainted past in the final installment of her Whispers on the Moor series. A Regency-era novel, A Lady at Willowgrove Hall cleverly shows that even though our pasts may be shameful or painful, God can take the darkest personal histories and turn them into the brightest futures.

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by Sarah E. Ladd
Release Date:October 7, 2013
2014 Thomas Nelson
Softcover Edition: 343 Pages
ISBN: 978-1-4016-8837-0
Genre: Fiction / Historical Regency
Source: Review copy from Liftuse

4 / 5 Stars

Cecily Faire has a secret—and she intends to keep it. But when she arrives at Willowgrove Hall to serve as a lady’s companion, she comes face-to-face with the only person who knows the truth about her past.

As the steward of Willowgrove Hall, Nathaniel Stanton is dedicated to serving those around him. Nothing escapes his notice—including the beautiful new lady’s companion. He is certain the lovely Miss Faire is hiding something, and he determines to uncover it. But Nathaniel has a secret of his own: he is the illegitimate son of Willowgrove’s former master. Falling in love was not part of his plans . . . until he meets Cecily Faire.

When Willowgrove’s mistress dies, everything changes. Fear of exposure forces Cecily to leave under the cover of darkness, embarking on a journey to finally find her long-lost sister. When the will is read, Nathaniel’s inheritance makes him question his future plans. Cecily and Nathaniel are forced to make decisions that will change the course of their lives. Is their love strong enough to survive?
My Thoughts
A Lady at Willowgrove Hall is the third, and last, book in the Whispers of the Moors trilogy.  I really enjoyed the characters as well as the story, and found myself engrossed in their daily interactions and problems.  I'm not sure if this was my favourite of the three or not, but it was certainly a worthy finale to a trilogy I've definitely enjoyed.
One of the things I've always enjoyed about Ms. Ladd's stories is the attention to detail.  I find her historical references to be rather interesting and I like how she shares little tidbits of information about the time period without making it seem obvious or tedious.  Life can be rather difficult for those struggling to make ends meet and while I think sometimes she romanticizes the time period a bit too much, I do like it when the reality of people's situations is shown as being harsh and unforgiving, as that is exactly what it was like for a lot of the people.  Cecily is one of those girls, despite having some difficult years in her earlier life, grew up rather sheltered and is somewhat naive, with a streak of independence and stubbornness that could get her into trouble.  While I did find this endearing at times, at other times I thought her naivety was going to create a lot of problems for her if she didn't quite think through her situations. For an author who puts quite a lot of emphases on impropriety and how a lady must behave, I am surprised at some of the allowances her female characters were allowed.  It's hard sometimes, I think, for the modern not to slip in no matter how much we try.
I thought Cecily was rather sweet and there was definitely something very likable about her that made me want to root for her no matter what the situation.  I also felt quite an affinity for Nathaniel, and hoped that he could resolve his secret problem in a way that would be satisfying.  The secrets and lies are some of the things I enjoyed about this book, not the secrets themselves, but the way the characters confronted them and took responsibility for them and confronted them.  There was no huge drama and for this I was thankful; just a good, clean story that was fun to read and while it showed some conflicts between the characters, things were resolved rather maturely, and I liked that.  Sometimes the big dramatics can get on your nerves.
A Lady at Willowgrove Hall was an enjoyable read, full of tension, but one that allowed the characters to deal with their problems in a way that was interesting and realistic.  While there were some situations that were uncomfortable for the characters, that is life, and I was glad to see that not everything was perfect for our young lovers. The attention to historical detail was great, and I could definitely picture myself there at Willowgrove Hall.  There were some events, ones that I would point out as being major ones, that felt glossed over or rushed, and I did have some concern over this (something I noticed in her previous books, too) and I felt like one significant event towards the end was thrown in or the author didn't really know how to deal with the situation, and I felt kind of miffed at it.  I can't say more than this or I will give it away, but when you read the book, you will understand.  I am hoping to see these characters again in another story, and would love to know what happens to Cecily twin\s sister.   

Monday, October 20, 2014

Review: Sentimental Journey by Barbara Bretton

Home Front
Book One
Barbara Bretton

Genre: World War 2 Romance
Publisher: Free Spirit Press
Date of Publication: October 15, 2014
ISBN: 9781940665078
Number of pages: 347
Word Count: approx. 70000
Cover Artist: Tammy Seidick

4 / 5 Stars

Book Description:

Before they became The Greatest Generation, they were young men and women in love . . .

It's June 1943. From New York to California, families gather to send their sons and husbands, friends and lovers off to war. The attack on Pearl Harbor seems a long time ago as America begins to understand that their boys won't be home any time soon.

In Forest Hills, New York City, twenty-year-old Catherine Wilson knows all about waiting. She's been in love with boy-next-door Doug Weaver since childhood, and if the war hadn't started when it did, she would be married and maybe starting a family, not sitting at the window of her girlhood bedroom, waiting for her life to begin.

But then a telegram from the War Department arrives, shattering her dreams of a life like the one her mother treasures.

Weeks drift into months as she struggles to find her way. An exchange of letters with Johnny Danza, a young soldier in her father's platoon, starts off as a patriotic gesture, but soon becomes a long-distance friendship that grows more important to her with every day that passes.

The last thing Catherine expects is to open her front door on Christmas Eve to find Johnny lying unconscious on the Wilsons' welcome mat with a heart filled with new dreams that are hers for the taking.

"This generation of Americans has a rendezvous with destiny."

--Franklin Delano Roosevelt

My Thoughts
Sentimental Journey is a book that I thoroughly enjoyed, if for different reasons than I originally thought when I first started reading it.  At the beginning of the novel I thought it was going to be more about the budding romance between Johnny and Catherine, despite the fact she was engaged to Douglas (and you already knew where that was heading), but I was pleasantly surprised as the novel delved far more into a family of women surviving without their menfolk, and the repercussions of dealing with the after-effects of women who have discovered a newfound freedom in working and feeling more independent in their daily lives.

At first I wasn't all that interested in Catherine as a character as I thought she was a bit selfish and a bit spoiled, more concerned with her own desires than with the suffering of men going to war.  When the war personally touched her, and she is forced to take over her father's company, we see a far different Catherine, one who is more independent and self-reliant.  I think as a modern woman, even as a history teacher, I still put my own values on women living during different time periods, and I have to work really hard not to do that. That thinking definitely comes through Catherine and Johnny's relationship when she is floored after her father returns from the war and some decisions are made regarding her welfare that she does not agree with, and with which her husband supports.  The whole concept of a woman staying at home, having children, and keeping a home, is definitely not part of our daily world, one where a woman is EXPECTED to do these things.  And I sympathized wholeheartedly with Catherine's dilemma as well as Johnny's.  I definitely enjoyed watching Catherine grow up, mature, and develop skills she thought she would never achieve.  I just can't imagine what life would have been like for women during this time period, thrust into positions for which they had no training, but finding they liked doing them, only to have them taken away after the war.

I also liked the many descriptions of life during the war.  It was the small things that really made this novel work; women painting their legs to make it look like they were wearing stockings, the ban on ruffles, the victory gardens, the ration coupons, etc...  Ms. Bretton was meticulous in her research and it shows in this novel.  

Sentimental Journey was an enjoyable novel about a family thrust into a responsibility for which they were not prepared when the father goes to war.  Told from multiple POVs as well as using letters back and forth, we get a look into the many different perspectives each family member held during this time period.  I thought it was well-written, and I pretty much finished it in one day.  I am looking forward to reading the sequel to this novel, Stranger in Paradise.



Available at Amazon  iTunes  Kobo  BN  Smashwords

About the Author:

A full-fledged Baby Boomer, Barbara Bretton grew up in New York City during the
Post-World War II 1950s with the music of the Big Bands as the soundtrack to her childhood. Her father and grandfather served in the navy during the war. Her uncles served in the army. None of them shared their stories.

But her mother, who had enjoyed a brief stint as Rosie the Riveter, brought the era to life with tales of the Home Front that were better than any fairy tale. It wasn’t until much later that Barbara learned the rest of the story about the fiancĂ© who had been lost in the war, sending her mother down a different path that ultimately led to a second chance at love . . . and to the daughter who would one day tell a little part of that story.

There is always one book that’s very special to an author, one book or series that lives deep inside her heart.  SENTIMENTAL JOURNEY and STRANGER IN PARADISE, books 1 and 2 of the Home Front series, are Barbara’s. She hopes they’ll find a place in your heart too.