Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Review: The Secret of Pembrooke Park by Julie Klassen

The Secret of Pembrooke Park
by Julie Klassen
Release Date: December 2, 2014
2014 Bethany House Publishers
Ebook Edition; 465 Pages
ISBN: 978-0764210716
ASIN: B00KDN89SE
Genre: Fiction / Historical / Romance
Source: Review copy from publisher

4 / 5 Stars

Summary
Abigail Foster fears she will end up a spinster, especially as she has little dowry to improve her charms and the one man she thought might marry her--a longtime friend--has fallen for her younger, prettier sister. 

When financial problems force her family to sell their London home, a strange solicitor arrives with an astounding offer: the use of a distant manor house abandoned for eighteen years. The Fosters journey to imposing Pembrooke Park and are startled to find it entombed as it was abruptly left: tea cups encrusted with dry tea, moth-eaten clothes in wardrobes, a doll's house left mid-play . . .

Hoping to improve her family's financial situation, Abigail surreptitiously searches for the hidden room, but the arrival of anonymous letters addressed to her, with clues about the room and the past, bring discoveries even more startling. As secrets come to light, will Abigail find the treasure and love she seeks...or very real danger?


My Thoughts
The Secret of Pembrooke Park was an enjoyable historical inspirational regency romance.  It is exactly what I would expect from a Julie Klassen novel: enjoyable characters, some romance, secrets from the past, and definitely some twists and turns intriguing enough to develop a mystery.  But for me, the true charm of a Klassen novel is always the relationships between the characters.

Abigail Foster, eldest Foster daughter, got herself into a bit of financial trouble after one of her investment suggestions to her father got the whole family into financial difficulties.  Forced to sell their family London home, the family is startled when a strange man offers them a manor house for their use for one year, at a low fee.  This is exactly the kind of thing I adore reading about as the house had been abandoned for eighteen years, and no one knew what happened to the family who abandoned it.  Intrigue.  Mystery.  Love it!!  Abigail walked in on this situation, and with so many secrets around her, her curiosity grew and she wanted to find out what happened in her home.  And as she came out of her shell to discover what had happened, she definitely developed and grew as a personality and I really grew to like her very much, where at first I thought she was kind of mousy.  I liked her spunk and her vivaciousness, and I liked her nosiness, particularly as I wanted to know the answers to her questions myself.  And suddenly, she had lots of friends and activities, and being courted by two men didn't hurt either.  Being always outdone by her beautiful younger sister though, she was constantly worried by her sister's return from her London Season, feeling that once these men see her sister again, they would no longer pay attention to her, especially as one of them had already tried to court her sister.  

And this is where I find Ms. Klassen's writing to be intriguing as I found Abigail's viewpoint often clouded by her feelings for her sister and thinking of herself as a wallflower.  And her perceptions of events and people's reactions were clouded because of how she thought about herself, often reading others' reactions incorrectly because of her own beliefs or insecurities.  It made me think how often we, as humans, tend to do this, and how much grief we could avoid if we didn't put our own judgements and insecurities into what we see, if we could always look at things objectively.  To give you an example from the novel, when William, the curator, sees Abigail's sister for the first time, his mouth drops open and Abigail's heart drops knowing that she has lost him forever for she thinks he is astounded by her beauty.  However, what we discover is that he had actually met her previously and this meeting was not a productive one.  It definitely makes you think and re-evaluate your own reactions and that of others, does it not?

The only thing I had a problem with, and it wasn't a really big problem, just a bit of an annoying one, was Abigail's behaviour.  The Fosters were apparently gentry and Abigail's dad acted as if he was lord of this or lord of that and their house in London was in a very respectable area, yet Abigail definitely did some things that were quite out of character for a young lady who has definitely experienced a Season or two.  While Abigail's behaviours make sense to us modern women, they don't make sense to a woman of the wealthy class two hundred years ago so I was a bit confused. 

I definitely love the whole setting of the manor house and how it was presented to the readers.  There are many secrets within its walls and these are revealed bit by bit without overwhelming the reader or taking over the development of the characters or the romance that is found here.  I thought it all balanced rather nicely, while keeping that element of mystery and suspense that was necessary.  

Verdict
The Secret of Pembrooke Park was a fun and intriguing story that I enjoyed.  I liked the characters and enjoyed watching them develop and grow, and develop meaningful relationships.  Having read every singly one of Julie Klassen's novels, it is easy to sense a bit of a pattern and to discover the 'mystery', but that didn't take away from the enjoyment of reading this one.  I am always attracted to the words 'secret' and 'manor' in the same sentence.  I developed a bit of a liking for one of the characters I don't think I was supposed to and was a bit sad at the end as I hoped to read more about him in the future, but that will not happen now.  I am looking forward to reading Lady Maybe when it is released in July.
Monday, December 22, 2014

Review: The Tudor Vendetta by C.W. Gortner

The Tudor Vendetta (The Spymaster Chronicles, Book #3)
by C.W. Gortner
Release Date: October 21, 2014
2014 St. Martin's Griffin
Ebook Edition; 304 Pages
ISBN: 978-0312658588
ASIN: B00IQOJC9M
Genre: Fiction / Historical
Source: Review copy from publisher

4 / 5 Stars

Summary
London, 1558. Queen Mary is dead, and 25-year old Elizabeth ascends the throne. Summoned to court from exile abroad, Elizabeth’s intimate spy, Brendan Prescott, is reunited with the young queen, as well as his beloved Kate, scheming William Cecil, and arch-rival, Robert Dudley. A poison attempt on Elizabeth soon overshadows her coronation, but before Brendan can investigate, Elizabeth summons him in private to dispatch him on a far more confidential mission: to find her favored lady in waiting, Lady Parry, who has disappeared during a visit to her family manor in Yorkshire.

Upon his arrival at the desolate sea-side manor where Lady Parry was last seen, he encounters a strange, impoverished family beset by grief, as well as mounting evidence that they hide a secret from him. The mystery surrounding Lady Parry deepens as Brendan begins to realize there is far more going on at the manor than meets the eye, but the closer he gets to the heart of the mystery in Vaughn Hall, the more he learns that in his zeal to uncover the truth, he could be precipitating Elizabeth’s destruction.


My Thoughts
The Tudor Vendetta is the third novel in the Spymaster Chronicles and the is the one I thought was the most interesting.  Finally summoned from exile, Brendan returns to court, but this time it is the court of Queen Elizabeth I and her coronation.  Nearly upon his arrival, there is a poison attempt on Elizabeth and soon he is sent off on an urgent errand to discover what has happened to a lady in waiting, Lady Parry in Yorkshire.  Needless to say, Brendan is confused by what is happening around him, and would like to stay and investigate the poison attempt on Elizabeth personally and doesn't understand the urgency of the events occurring in Yorkshire.  On top of that, he has had to deal with Lord Dudley, a figure from his own past, as well as personal issues with the woman he loves, Kate.

Even though this novel was a bit slow at the beginning, I've read enough of this author to know that events would soon pick up and leave you wondering what is going on, and what in the world you could have possibly missed in early pages that would have given you a clue as to what is currently happening.  And that is exactly what happened.  Once Brendan hit court, everything happened at once, and you really had to pay attention to the nuances or you could miss some important points of the story. And I was thrilled to finally reach the point where we are at the court of Elizabeth I as I couldn't wait for that storyline began.  I did feel at times that Brendan still had some growth to do in the development of his character, as he made some mistakes that I don't feel that someone trained by Walsingham would make.  However, he is young, and perhaps allowances could be made for that.  Overall though, the development in all of the characters from the beginning of the series until now has been wonderful and I like seeing how they all mature and learn from their actions. 

I thought the detail and research that went into this book was quite good; I was able to picture the scenes rather vividly, the clothing, the foods, everything, and it definitely made the reading experience quite enjoyable.  You definitely get a feel for how people lived during this time period, and a good understanding of how it was for those who didn't have the luxuries or the money to live comfortably.  

Verdict
The Tudor Vendetta was an intriguing mystery with some romance thrown into it for good measure.  I think it is very difficult to write about Elizabethan times because so much has been written beforehand, but Gortner manages to create an intriguing premise that will make readers wonder 'what-if'.  I am curious as to what Gortner will do with the storyline in later books, or if he will just let it lie, but I know speculation has abounded before on this topic.  I'm not sure when the next book in this series will be released, but I am looking forward to Mademoiselle Chanel which will release in the new year.
Sunday, December 14, 2014

Review: Blood on the Water by Anne Perry

Blood on the Water (William Monk, Book #20)
by Anne Perry
Release Date: September 9th, 2014
2014 Ballantine Books
Hardcover Edition; 320 Pages
ISBN: 978-0345548436
ASIN: B00J1IOAXU
Genre: Fiction / Historical / Mystery
Source: Review copy from publisher

3 / 5 Stars

Summary
One summer afternoon, Monk witnesses the horrifying explosion of the pleasure boat Princess Mary, which takes nearly two hundred of the merrymakers on board to their deaths.

The tragedy is no accident. As commander of the River Police, Monk should handle the case, but the investigation is turned over to the commissioner of the Metropolitan Police. An Egyptian man is swiftly caught, tried, and sentenced to die. But almost as quickly, Monk presents evidence that Habib Beshara, though a nasty piece of work, was elsewhere at the time of the blast. The investigation, now in complete disarray, is hastily turned over to Monk.

Is the crime connected with the soon-to-be-opened Suez Canal, which will enormously benefit wealthy British shipping companies? Or did all of those innocent people drown to ensure the murder of only one of them? How did the bomber board the ship, and how did he manage to escape? Is he an anarchist or a madman?


My Thoughts
Blood on the Water is the twentieth novel in the William Monk series, and while it is not my favourite one of the series, Perry still manages to give her readers quite a bit to think about and ponder throughout this somewhat intriguing mystery.   

First of all, I was thrilled to note that Oliver Rathbone returned in this novel.  I was quite devastated when I learned what happened to him, and I was afraid that perhaps he would not play a prominent role in future novels for quite a while; luckily, this was not the case.  What would be a court case without the knowledge and expertise of Rathbone?  I just had to get used to the different roles he had to undertake in this novel, but it wasn't as challenging as I expected; I was just so happy to have him back.  

What I always find fascinating about an Anne Perry novel is the convoluted politics and human emotions that are always front and central to the plot, and pretty much drives any plot she has written.  Humans are flawed and make mistakes, sometimes big ones, and Perry doesn't gloss any of that over with excuses; she just lays it on the line, and often her characters have a huge price to pay because of the mistakes they have made.  I really like that about these novels, and it always gives me something rather deep over which to ponder.  In this case, the questions asked revolved around the innocence and guilt of a man going to trial and how do we know for sure that eye-witness accounts are actually accurate?  I thought the whole set-up for this scenario was quite intriguing and interesting, and it did make me think quite a bit as to what we actually see compared to what we think we see, and how easily it is to manipulate that with the right manipulator.  And this is what this book was about:  Did the eyewitnesses actually see what they thought they did, or were they being led to see what certain people wanted them to believe they saw?  Complicated, yes?  And I thought Perry handled it very well.  Unfortunately, the plot itself was a bit loose and I think all of the convoluted manipulated to the eyewitnesses made the reader lose empathy for the killer which decreased the overall impact to the novel.  If you are not emotionally invested in who actually did it, and why, you've kind of lost the whole sense of the murder-mystery novel, and that edge of suspense that is needed for such a genre, and it definitely lost itself in this one.  And to be honest, I kind of wish Perry would leave the big conspiracies to Thomas and Charlotte and leave well enough alone with these novels.  Not every novel has to be about a big huge conspiracy, or give the appearance of being about a big conspiracy.  

Verdict
Blood on the Water is one of those novels where the writing is compelling enough to keep me reading, although I was a big disappointed over the actual plot line, and the over-focus on the characters and whether they were telling the truth or not became a bit too much.  I just felt like the real meat of the story was missing this time, the more compelling aspects of a usual Anne Perry novel.  While I didn't have a problem with the slower pace of the investigation as this gave Perry a chance to set up some characters and plot lines, I just felt like something was missing this time, although I can't really explain it.  Will I read another one of her novels?  Oh, yes, because I know how good they can be, and I would be afraid to miss that really good one.
Monday, December 1, 2014

2015 Challenges

Library Challenge (28+)
1. A Fine Summer's Day by Charles Todd
2. Prince Lestat by Anne Rice
3. The Book of Stolen Tales by D.J. McIntosh
4. The Sound of Glass by Karen White
5. Last One Home by Debbie Macomber
6. The Angel Court Affair by Anne Perry
7. Rock with Wings by Anne Hillerman
8. Half Bad by Sally Green
9. A Fright to the Death by Dawn Eastman
10. Some Like it Witchy by Heather Blake
11. Ripped from the Pages by Kate Carlisle
12. Grace Cries Uncle by Julie Hyzy
13. The Diva Steals a Chocolate Kiss by Krista Davis

DAC (12+)
1. When by Victoria Laurie
2. Grey by Christi J. Whitney
3. Red Queen by Victoria Aveyard
4. The Dead House by Dawn Kurtagich
5. Children Shouldn't Play with Dead Things by Martine McAtee
6.
7.
8.
9.
10.
11.
12.

War Through the Generations (20+)
1. No Known Grave by Maureen Jennings
2. A Pattern of Lies by Charles Todd
3. Avelynn by Marissa Campbell
4.
5.
6.
7.
8.
9.
10.
11.
12.

 New Author Challenge (25)
1. Things Half in Shadow by Alan Finn
2. Seraphina by Rachel Hartman
3. Red Rising by Pierce Brown
4. Helen of Sparta by Amalia Carosella
5. Grey by Christi J. Whitney
6. Half Bad by Sally Green
7. Miss Emily by Nuala O'Connor
8. Bone Box by Jay Amberg
9. Emmy & Oliver by Robin Benway
10. Red Queen by Victoria Aveyard
11. The Dead House by Dawn Kurtagich
12. Avelynn by Marissa Campbell
13. The Search for the Stone of Excalibur by Fiona Ingram
14. The Magic Strings of Frankie Presto by Mitch Albom
15. 84 Ribbons by Paddy Eger
16. Dark Turns by Cate Holahan

European Reading Challenge (10+)
1. No Known Grave by Maureen Jennings
2. Dreaming Spies by Laurie R. King
3.The Sisters of Versailles by Sally Christie
4. Lone Star by Paullina Simons
5. Medicis Daughter by Sophie Perinot
6.
7.
8.
9.
10.

Cruising Thru the Cozies (15+)
1. A Killer Retreat by Tracy Weber
2. Death of a Liar by M.C. Beaton
3. A Fright to the Death by Dawn Eastman
4. Some Like it Witchy by Heather Blake
5. Grace Cries Uncle by Julie Hyzy
6. Ripped From the Pages by Kate Carlisle
7. The Diva Steals a Chocolate Kiss by Krista Davis
8. Thread and Gone by Lea Wait
9.
10.
11.
12.
13.
14.
15.

British History Reading Challenge (10+)
1. No Known Grave by Maureen Jennings
2. The Tapestry by Nancy Bilyeau
3. A Fine Summer's Day by Charles Todd
4. The Angel Court Affair by Anne Perry
5. Lamentation by C.J. Sansom
6. A Pattern of Lies by Charles Todd
7. Avelynn by Marissa Campbell
8.
9.
10.

Historical Fiction (50+)
1. Things Half in Shadow by Alan Finn
2. No Known Grave by Maureen Jennings
3. Dreaming Spies by Laurie R. King
4. The Tapestry by Nancy Bilyeau
5. A Fine Summer's Day by Charles Todd
6. Helen of Sparta by Amalia Carosella
7. The Angel Court Affair by Anne Perry
8. Miss Emily by Nuala O'Connor
9. Lamentation by C.J. Sansom
10. A Pattern of Lies by Charles Todd
11. Avelynn by Marissa Campbell
12. Sisters of Versailles by Sally Christie
13. The Magic Strings of Frankie Presto by Mitch Albom
14. 84 Ribbons by Paddy Eger
15. The Lake House by Kate Morton
16. Medicis Daughter by Sophie Perinot

Alphabet Soup Challenge (26)
A - Avelynn by Marissa Campbell
B - Bone Box by Jay Amberg
C - Cold Cold Heart by Tami Hoag
D - Dreaming Spies by Laurie R. King
E - Emmy & Oliver by Robin Benway
F -
G - Grey by Christi J. Whitney
H - Helen of Sparta by Amalia Carosella
I - It's Not About Perfect by Shannon Miller
J - Journey into the Flame by T.R. Williams
K -
L - Last One Home by Debbie Macomber
M - Murder 101 by Faye Kellerman
N - No Known Grave by Maureen Jennings
O - Overcoming Anxiety by David Berndt
P - Prince Lestat by Anne Rice
Q -
R - Red Rising by Pierce Brown
S - Seraphina by Rachel Hartman
T - Things Half in Shadow by Alan Finn
U -
V -
W - When by Victoria Laurie
X -
Y -
Z -

Flights of Fantasy (30)
1. Traitor's Blade by Sebastien de Castell
2. Seraphina by Rachel Hartman
3. Red Rising by Pierce Brown
4. Grey by Christi J. Whitney
5. Journey into the Flame by T.R. Williams
6. Push by Eve Silver
7. Red Queen by Victoria Aveyard
8. The Search for the Stone of Excalibur by Fiona Ingram
9.
10.
11.
12.

My Kind of Mystery (80)
1. Things Half in Shadow by Alan Finn
2. The Death Relic by Chris Kuzneski
3. Murder 101 by Faye Kellerman
4. No Known Grave by Maureen Jennings
5. When by Victoria Laurie
6. Cold Cold Heart by Tami Hoag
7. A Killer Retreat by Tracy Weber
8. Dreaming Spies by Laurie R. King
9. A Fine Summer's Day by Charles Todd
10. Death of a Liar by M.C. Beaton
11. The Dead Play On by Heather Graham
12. The Stranger by Harlan Coben
13. The Book of Stolen Tales by D.J. McIntosh
14. Razing the Dead by Sheila Connolly
15. The Angel Court Affair by Anne Perry
16. Rock with Wings by Anne Hillerman
17. The Forgotten Room by Lincoln Room
18. Disclaimer by Renee Knight
19. The Shadow Cartel by Layton Green
20. A Fright to the Death by Dawn Eastman
21. Some Like it Witchy by Heather Blake
22. The Ghost Fields by Elly Griffiths
23. Woman with a Secret by Sophie Hannah
24. A Dark and Twisted Tide by Sharon Bolton
25. In the Dark Places by Peter Robinson
26. Ripped From the Pages by Kate Carlisle
27. Grace Cries Uncle by Julie Hyzy
28. The Fixer by Joseph Finder
29. The Forgotten by Heather Graham
30. A Pattern of Lies by Charles Todd
31. Time of Death by Mark Billingham
32. The Girl in the Glass by James Hayman
33. The Diva Steals a Chocolate Kiss by Krista Davis
34. Blood Red by Wendy Corsi Staub
35. The Lake House by Kate Morton
36. Depraved Heart by Patricia Cornwell
37. Dark Turns by Cate Holahan
38. Thread and Gone by Lea Wait
39. Splinter the Silence by Val McDermid

Outdo Yourself (150+)
1. Things Half in Shadow by Alan Finn
2. The Death Relic by Chris Kuzneski
3. Murder 101 by Faye Kellerman
4. No Known Grave by Maureen Jennings
5. When by Victoria Laurie
6. Traitor's Blade by Sebastien de Castell
7. Cold Cold Heart by Tami Hoag
8. A Killer Retreat by Tracy Weber
9. The Brothers Keepers by NLB Horton
10. Dreaming Spies by Laurie R. King
11. The Tapestry by Nancy Bilyeau
12. A Fine Summer's Day by Charles Todd
13. Prince Lestat by Anne Rice
14. Seraphina by Rachel Hartman
15. Death of a Liar by M.C. Beaton
16. The Patriot Threat by Steve Berry
17. Helen of Sparta by Amalia Carosella
18. Dissonance by Erica O'Rourke
19. The Dead Play On by Heather Graham
20. Dancing Though It by Jenifer Ringer
21. The Stranger by Harlan Coben
22. The Book of Stolen Tales by D.J. McIntosh
23. The Sound of Glass by Karen White
24. Razing the Dead by Sheila Connolly
25. Last One Home by Debbie Macomber
26. The Angel Court Affair by Anne Perry
27. Grey by Christi J. Whitney
28. Rock with Wings by Anne Hillerman
29. It's Not About Perfect by Shannon Miller
30. The Forgotten Room by Lincoln Child
31. Disclaimer by Renee Knight
32. Journey into the Flame by T.R. Williams
33. Half Bad by Sally Green
34. The Shadow Cartel by Layton Green
35. Miss Emily by Nuala O'Connor
36. Bone Box by Jay Amberg
37. A Fright to the Death by Dawn Eastman
38. Some Like it Witchy by Heather Blake
39. Lamentation by C.J. Sansom
40. The Ghost Fields by Elly Griffiths
41. That Chesapeake Summer by Mariah Stewart
42. Emmy & Oliver by Robin Benway
43. Overcoming Anxiety by David Berndt
44. Push by Eve Silver
45. Woman with a Secret by Sophie Hannah
46. A Dark and Twisted Tide by Sharon Bolton
47. In the Dark Places by Peter Robinson
48. Ripped From the Pages by Kate Carlisle
49. Grace Cries Uncle by Julie Hyzy
50. Red Queen by Victoria Aveyard
51. The Fixer by Joseph Finder
52. The Forgotten by Heather Graham
53. A Pattern of Lies by Charles Todd
54. The Dead House by Dawn Kurtagich
55. Time of Death by Mark Billingham
56. The Girl in the Glass by James Hayman
57. Avelynn by Marissa Campbell
58. Pretty Girls by Karin Slaughter
59. The Diva Steals a Chocolate Kiss by Krista Davis
60. The Search for the Stone of Excalibur by Fiona Ingram
61. Sisters of Versailles by Sally Christie
62. Everything She Forgot by Lisa Ballantyne
63. The Magic Strings of Frankie Presto by Mitch Albom
64. Blood Red by Wendy Corsi Staub
65. 84 Ribbons by Paddy Eger
66. The Lake House by Kate Morton
67. Depraved Heart by Patricia Cornwell
68. Children Shouldn't Play with Dead Things by Martina McAtee
69. The Lost Codex by Alan Jacobson
70. Lone Star by Paullina Simons
71. Dark Turns by Cate Holahan
72. Medicis Daughter by Sophie Perinot
73. Thread and Gone by Lea Wait
74. Splinter the Silence by Val McDermid

Netgalley and Edelweiss (50+)
1. Things Half in Shadow by Alan Finn
2. Murder 101 by Faye Kellerman
3. When by Victoria Laurie
4. Cold Cold Heart by Tami Hoag
5. Dreaming Spies by Laurie R. King
6. The Tapestry by Nancy Bilyeau
7. Red Rising by Pierce Brown
8. Death of a Liar by M.C. Beaton
9. The Patriot Threat by Steve Berry
10. Helen of Sparta by Amalia Carosella
11. The Dead Play On by Heather Graham
12. The Sound of Glass by Karen White
13. Grey by Christi J. Whitney
14. It's Not About Perfect by Shannon Miller
15. The Forgotten Room by Lincoln Child
16. Disclaimer by Renee Knight
17. Journey into the Flame by T.R. Williams
18. The Shadow Cartel by Layton Green
19. Miss Emily by Nuala O'Connor
20. Bone Box by Jay Amberg
21. Lamentation by C.J. Sansom
22. The Ghost Fields by Elly Griffiths
23. That Chesapeake Summer by Mariah Stewart
24. Emmy & Oliver by Robin Benway
25. Overcoming Anxiety by David Berndt
26. Push by Eve Silver
27. Woman with a Secret by Sophie Hannah
28. In the Dark Places by Peter Robinson
29. Red Queen by Victoria Aveyard
30. The Fixer by Joseph Finder
31. The Forgotten by Heather Graham
32. The Dead House by Dawn Kurtagich
33. Time of Death by Mark Billingham
34. The Girl in the Glass by James Hayman
35. Pretty Girls by Karin Slaughter
36. Sisters of Versailles by Sally Christie
37. Everything She Forgot by Lisa Ballantyne
38. Blood Red by Wendy Corsi Staub
39. The Lake House by Kate Morton
40. The Lost Codex by Alan Jacobson
41. Lone Star by Paullina Simons
42. Dark Turns by Cate Holahan
43. Thread and Gone by Lea Wait
44. Splinter the Silence by Val McDermid

Mount TBR (15+)
1. The Death Relic by Chris Kuzneski
2. Seraphina by Rachel Hartman
3. Push by Eve Silver
4. 84 Ribbons by Paddy Eger
5.
6.
7.
8.
9.
10.



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
ASIN: B00PA1FQ44
Genre: Fiction / Suspense
Source: Review copy from publisher and Book Marketing Services

3.5 / 5 Stars

Summary
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.  

Verdict
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.


Webpage:           http://joycestrand.com
Blog:                  http://strandssimplytips.blogspot.com
Facebook:           http://www.facebook.com/JoyceTStrandAuthor
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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Enter today by clicking the icon below. But hurry, the giveaway ends on November 2nd. Winner will be announced November 3rd here.

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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
ASIN: B00JQOTMSM
Genre: Fiction / Historical Regency
Source: Review copy from Liftuse

4 / 5 Stars

Summary
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.
 
Verdict
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
ASIN: B00MT9H93Q
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.  

Verdict
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.