Thursday, September 12, 2019

Review & Giveaway: The Spirit of Grace (Sarah Bennett Mysteries #1) by Terry Lynn Thomas

Sarah Bennett doesn’t remember the night her mother tumbled down the stairs at Bennett House, despite allegedly witnessing the fatal fall.

There was talk of foul play, dark whispers, and sidelong glances, all aimed at Sarah, prompting her family to send her to The Laurels, an exclusive asylum in San Francisco, under a cloud of suspicion.

 Now, on the one-year anniversary of her mother’s murder, Sarah has been summoned home. Convinced of her innocence, she returns to Bennett House, hoping to put the broken pieces of her life back together.

But when another murder occurs shortly after her arrival, Sarah once again finds herself a suspect, as she is drawn into a web of suspicion and lies.

 In order to clear her name, Sarah must remember what happened the fateful night her mother died.

But as she works to regain her memory, the real murderer watches, ready to kill again to protect a dark family secret.

 Kindle Edition, 274 pages
 Published November 26th 2017
*** 1/2

The first book in the Sarah Bennett Mysteries Series is also my first experience with Terry Lynn Thomas.

The Spirit of Grace takes place during WW2 and while I didn’t exactly get that feeling it was an enjoyable read, which I still place as a historical mystery. It’s a book full of both flawed and mysterious characters, sprinkled with ghosty sightings and a touch of romance.

Was it predictable? Not to me, there was enough going on that kept me guessing. It’s a fast-paced book which for some reason just makes me read all the faster (also I needed to know what was going on) and concluded with a satisfactory ending.

This book is part of my 2019 reading off my shelf.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

TERRY LYNN THOMAS grew up in the San Francisco Bay Area, which explains her love of foggy beaches and Gothic mysteries. When her husband promised to buy Terry a horse and the time to write if she moved to Mississippi with him, she jumped at the chance. Although she had written several novels and screenplays prior to 2006, after she relocated to the South she set out to write in earnest and has never looked back.

 Terry Lynn writes the Sarah Bennett Mysteries, set on the California coast during the 1940s, which feature a misunderstood medium in love with a spy. The Drowned Woman is a recipient of the IndieBRAG Medallion. She also writes the Cat Carlisle Mysteries, set in Britain during World War II. The first book in this series, The Silent Woman, came out in April 2018 and has since become a USA TODAY bestseller. The Family Secret is slated for release in March 2019.

When she’s not writing, you can find Terry Lynn riding her horse, walking in the woods with her dogs, or visiting old cemeteries in search of story ideas.

Website | Facebook | Twitter | Goodreads


Giveaway
During the Blog Tour, we are giving away one eBook of each title in the Sarah Bennett Mysteries series!

To enter, please use the Gleam form below.
 Giveaway ends at 11:59 pm EST on October 7th. You must be 18 or older to enter.
 Giveaway is open to the US only.
 Only one entry per household.
The winner has 48 hours to claim prize or a new winner is chosen.


Sarah Bennett

Sunday, September 8, 2019

Review: The Turn of the Key by Ruth Ware

When she stumbles across the ad, she’s looking for something else completely. But it seems like too good an opportunity to miss—a live-in nannying post, with a staggeringly generous salary. And when Rowan Caine arrives at Heatherbrae House, she is smitten—by the luxurious “smart” home fitted out with all modern conveniences, by the beautiful Scottish Highlands, and by this picture-perfect family.

What she doesn’t know is that she’s stepping into a nightmare—one that will end with a child dead and herself in prison awaiting trial for murder.

 Writing to her lawyer from prison, she struggles to explain the unraveling events that led to her incarceration. It wasn’t just the constant surveillance from the cameras installed around the house, or the malfunctioning technology that woke the household with booming music, or turned the lights off at the worst possible time. It wasn’t just the girls, who turned out to be a far cry from the immaculately behaved model children she met at her interview. It wasn’t even the way she was left alone for weeks at a time, with no adults around apart from the enigmatic handyman, Jack Grant.

 It was everything.

 She knows she’s made mistakes. She admits that she lied to obtain the post, and that her behavior toward the children wasn’t always ideal. She’s not innocent, by any means. But, she maintains, she’s not guilty—at least not of murder. Which means someone else is.

Kindle,  384 pages
Published August 6th 2019
by Simon & Schuster
***

I will freely admit to getting caught up in the hype for this book. Simon & Schuster graciously provided me with an ARC and I jumped in. I've never read anything by Ruth Ware before.

The book pretty well starts on a high with some letter writing, but it seems to go on and on, I honestly was afraid that would be the format for the whole book. Not that I have anything against this format, when done correctly it can be great.  But here it didn't exactly work for me and  I know I am going against the consensus with my thoughts.

I have a habit of not reading the blurb or forgetting some of the details when I get around to reading something, in this case it might have backfired. The death of a child is a touchy subject for me and I might have shied away from this one. But I persevered and after 10% I couldn’t get into the writing style. I like first-person POV’s but feel sometimes that lends itself perfectly in audiobook format. So that’s what I did, I bailed and grabbed the audio from Scribd.

I’m glad I went that route just for the simple fact that once I was invested I needed to know what was going on.  The audio was perfect in that I could finish it off faster and know what happened to put myself out of my misery, so to speak.  So kudos to the author for evoking that feeling in me. I had to suspend my belief too many times and that might have left a bad taste.  I found this book to be rather creepy and actually disturbing.  There is so much build-up and the ending was, disappointing. Oh, I get cliff hangers and all that but I didn't get the closure I craved and honestly needed. It almost felt like the author either had a deadline or word count to adhere to and wham it's done!

 All in all, it was an ok read, I'll probably try another Ware book sometime in the future.

My thanks to Simon & Schuster (via Netgalley) for an ARC.

Saturday, September 7, 2019

Audio Review: Mrs. Everything by Jennifer Weiner

From Jennifer Weiner, the #1 New York Times bestselling author of Who Do You Love and In Her Shoes comes a smart, thoughtful, and timely exploration of two sisters’ lives from the 1950s to the present as they struggle to find their places—and be true to themselves—in a rapidly evolving world.

 Do we change or does the world change us?

 Jo and Bethie Kaufman were born into a world full of promise.

 Growing up in 1950s Detroit, they live in a perfect “Dick and Jane” house, where their roles in the family are clearly defined. Jo is the tomboy, the bookish rebel with a passion to make the world more fair; Bethie is the pretty, feminine good girl, a would-be star who enjoys the power her beauty confers and dreams of a traditional life.

 But the truth ends up looking different from what the girls imagined. Jo and Bethie survive traumas and tragedies. As their lives unfold against the background of free love and Vietnam, Woodstock and women’s lib, Bethie becomes an adventure-loving wild child who dives headlong into the counterculture and is up for anything (except settling down). Meanwhile, Jo becomes a proper young mother in Connecticut, a witness to the changing world instead of a participant. Neither woman inhabits the world she dreams of, nor has a life that feels authentic or brings her joy. Is it too late for the women to finally stake a claim on happily ever after?

 In her most ambitious novel yet, Jennifer Weiner tells a story of two sisters who, with their different dreams and different paths, offer answers to the question: How should a woman be in the world?

 Audiobook Published
16 hours, 45 minutes
June 11th, 2019
 by Simon Schuster Audio
*** 1/2


This is my first time reading anything by Jennifer Weiner, it’s another book where all the hype had me intrigued and honestly there is nothing like discovering new authors.

This was an audio read for me and I’m glad I went that route. The reader was Ari Graynor and Beth Malone, both of which did a great job.

I will admit to struggling at times with this book. I found parts slow with scenes I didn't feel added to the story but that being said the author placed me right in the ‘50 and ’60s, from the music, prejudices and women’s roles I’ll say she nailed it. I grew up, well sorta, in the ’60s and remember the music, tv shows and hippie clothing. It was great revisiting that, but to me it could have been shortened, my opinion only as I seem to be in the minority here.

“When your mom and I were your age, there weren't a lot of options for girls. Like, you know how your mother's always telling you that you can be anything you want to be when you grow up? That wasn't what we heard. Men could be doctors or lawyers. We were just supposed to marry them.” 

What I loved about this book was the message it reflected and how it spoke to me (and hopefully lots of other women).

“She loved [her daughters]. More than that, she admired them. They would be better than she was: stronger and smarter, more capable and less afraid, and if the world displeased them, they would change it, cracking it open, reshaping it, instead of bending themselves to its demands.”


Thursday, September 5, 2019

Review: The Secret Hours (Deverill Chronicles #4) by Santa Montefiore

‘Let the wind take me and the soft rain settle me into the Irish soil from where I came. And may my sins be forgiven.’

 Arethusa Clayton has always been formidable, used to getting her own way. On her death, she leaves unexpected instructions.

 Instead of being buried in America, on the wealthy East Coast where she and her late husband raised their two children, Arethusa has decreed that her ashes be scattered in a remote corner of Ireland, on the hills overlooking the sea.

 All Arethusa ever told Faye was that she grew up in a poor farming family and left Ireland, alone, to start a new life in America as did so many in those times of hardship and famine. But who were her family in Ireland and where are they now? What was the real reason that she turned away from them? And who is the mysterious benefactor of a significant share of Arethusa’s estate?

 Arethusa is gone. There is no one left to tell her story. Faye feels bereft as if her mother’s whole family has died with her. Leaving her own husband and children behind, she travels to the picturesque village of Ballinakelly, determined to fulfil her mother’s last wish and to find out the reason for Arethusa’s insistence on being laid to rest in this faraway land.

Hardcover, 487 pages 
Published July 11th, 2019 
by Simon and Schuster UK Fiction
*** 1/2

Ever since reading (or audiobooking) the Deverill Chronicles Santa Montefiore has been a go-to author for me.  Imagine my surprise when I starting reading this and old friends showed up - I didn't read the blurb but just dove in.  

Coming in at 487 pages it's a fair size (as are the previous 3 books)  I'll confess to struggling with the first 100 pages or so.  The book started great, some mystery and intrigue right away but it seemed flat and it was hard to stay invested. Some parts I found unnecessary but over time it picked up as the past was slowly revealed.  

Since its been a few years when I finished off book 3 I think a little family tree would have been a great addition, though the author did refresh past plotlines for me.  Faye was an interesting character whose life in the 1960s is summed up here reflecting the time.

"I wish I had had her capacity for pleasure.  But I've always been too concerned with making everyone else happy that I've missed out on my own fun.  I've never put myself first.  But it's not too late.  Here I am, alone in Ireland, with only myself to think about.  I'm going to be selfish for the first time in my life.  I'm going to do as I please.  I'm going to be more like Mom."

You don't have to read the previous books, The Secret Hours works well as a standalone, but I recommend going back it's a great series.

This book is part of my 2019 reading off my shelf challenge.




Sunday, September 1, 2019

Review: Hour Glass: A Novel of Calamity Jane by Michelle Rene

Set in the lawless town of Deadwood, South Dakota, Hour Glass shares an intimate look at the woman behind the legend of Calamity Jane told through the eyes of twelve-year-old Jimmy Glass.

 After their pa falls deathly ill with smallpox, Jimmy and his sister, Hour, travel into Deadwood to seek help. While their pa is in quarantine, the two form unbreakable bonds with the surrogate family that emerges from the tragedy of loss.

 In a place where life is fragile and families are ripped apart by disease, death, and desperation, a surprising collection of Deadwood’s inhabitants surround Jimmy, Hour, and Jane. There, in the most unexpected of places, they find a family protecting them from the uncertainty and chaos that surrounds them all.

 Paperback, 302 pages
 Published February 20th, 2018
 by Amberjack Publishing
*** 1/2


A chapter of Calamity Jane’s life is showcased here and if anything it has piqued my desire to know more about her. Told from the POV of a 30-year-old Jimmy Glass as well as a 12-year-old. It was an interesting read, gritty at times but heartfelt. I could say this was a coming of age story but with the language, it wouldn't be appropriate for the middle age reader.

I would have loved some author notes just to know what was fictionalized, but I did receive an ARC, hopefully, the final copy contained them.

My thanks to the publisher (via Netgalley) for a e-arc in exchange for an honest review.

Saturday, August 31, 2019

Spotlight: Footnotes: A Journey Round Britain in the Company of Great Writers by Peter Fiennes


Hardcover
Expected publication: September 5th 2019
 by Oneworld Publications

In each walk, a scene. In each journey, a story. To tread any well-travelled path is to step upon layers of history and to add to them. What was seen by yesterday's rambler? Who were they? What was their Britain?

 Peter Fiennes follows in the footsteps of writers, spiritualists, economists, farmers, churchmen and artists, from the eleventh century to the twentieth. Traversing past and present, he searches for signs of what his absent guides once saw and, through their words, opens up a new way of seeing what is there today. Footnotes is full of wonders and wanders, old stories and fresh connections, worn roads and wild places. It is a mesmerising quest to picture these isles anew.

Sunday, August 25, 2019

Review: Once Upon a River by Diane Setterfield

On a dark midwinter’s night in an ancient inn on the river Thames, an extraordinary event takes place. The regulars are telling stories to while away the dark hours, when the door bursts open on a grievously wounded stranger. In his arms is the lifeless body of a small child. Hours later, the girl stirs, takes a breath and returns to life. Is it a miracle? Is it magic? Or can science provide an explanation? These questions have many answers, some of them quite dark indeed.

 Those who dwell on the river bank apply all their ingenuity to solving the puzzle of the girl who died and lived again, yet as the days pass the mystery only deepens. The child herself is mute and unable to answer the essential questions: Who is she? Where did she come from? And to whom does she belong? But answers proliferate nonetheless.

 Three families are keen to claim her. A wealthy young mother knows the girl is her kidnapped daughter, missing for two years. A farming family reeling from the discovery of their son’s secret liaison, stand ready to welcome their granddaughter. The parson’s housekeeper, humble and isolated, sees in the child the image of her younger sister. But the return of a lost child is not without complications and no matter how heartbreaking the past losses, no matter how precious the child herself, this girl cannot be everyone’s. Each family has mysteries of its own, and many secrets must be revealed before the girl’s identity can be known.

 Once Upon a River is a glorious tapestry of a book that combines folklore and science, magic and myth. Suspenseful, romantic, and richly atmospheric, the beginning of this novel will sweep you away on a powerful current of storytelling, transporting you through worlds both real and imagined, to the triumphant conclusion whose depths will continue to give up their treasures long after the last page is turned.

 Hardcover, 464 pages
Published December 4th, 2018
 by Atria/Emily Bestler Books
*****

I vaguely remember reading Diane Setterfield’s previous book Bellman & Black and will confess to not being overly impressed with the plot but I found her writing captivating. Once I started reading this book I was engrossed with her writing once again. Once Upon a River begins with a scene that dragged this reader right in and as the chapters flowed with different characters I was just drawn in all the more.

Once Upon a River has a folklore feel with exquisite writing that at times I had to stop and reread, it was magically - I didn’t want it to end. The author placed me by the river, in the Swan, walking the streets giving me a real sense of the place.

Who is this young girl? How did she survive that night? With twists and turns, unique characters and storylines that fit together perfectly, reminding me of a jigsaw puzzle - everything clicked perfectly. It came to a conclusion that I did not anticipate.

Basically, the last paragraph of the synopsis sums up exactly what I want to say.  If you haven't read this yet don't wait 6 months like I did.  Definitely made my best of 2019 list.

My copy from personal library and part of my ‘2019 reading off my shelf’ challenge.

Saturday, August 24, 2019

Review: Tidelands (The Fairmile #1) by Philippa Gregory

THE BRAND NEW SERIES FROM THE SUNDAY TIMES NUMBER ONE BESTSELLING AUTHOR

 England 1648. A dangerous time for a woman to be different . . .

 Midsummer’s Eve, 1648, and England is in the grip of civil war between renegade King and rebellious Parliament. The struggle reaches every corner of the kingdom, even to the remote Tidelands – the marshy landscape of the south coast.

 Alinor, a descendant of wise women, crushed by poverty and superstition, waits in the graveyard under the full moon for a ghost who will declare her free from her abusive husband. Instead, she meets James, a young man on the run, and shows him the secret ways across the treacherous marsh, not knowing that she is leading disaster into the heart of her life.

Suspected of possessing dark secrets in superstitious times, Alinor’s ambition and determination mark her out from her neighbors. This is the time of witch-mania, and Alinor, a woman without a husband, skilled with herbs, suddenly enriched, arouses envy in her rivals and fear among the villagers, who are ready to take lethal action into their own hands.

Paperback, 448 pages
 Published August 20th, 2019
 by Simon & Schuster
***

Philippa Gregory ‘s The Other Boleyn Girl is what made me fall in love with historical fiction. I continued reading parts of her Tudor Series and The White Queen series but over time her style changed and I missed the depth and writing style that kept me glued to the pages. With this new series coming I was a little nervous to start but seeing the 400 plus pages and in an era I am unfamiliar with I was ready to give her another go.

The first 30 pages of Tidelands gave me a vivid picture of the tidelands, the marsh, the paths, and tides. By the time I got through 120 pages, I seriously wondered what the point was, nothing was happening and I was ready to call it quits - I was bored, I couldn’t find the plot and honestly none of the characters spoke to me.

Simon & Schuster graciously provided me with an ARC and I wanted to review before publication date (which was 3 days ago). Given that it took me 2 weeks to plow through 120 pages I was in trouble. I had some driving to do and thought to grab the audiobook (via Scribd) and see if that would help. Whether it was a coincidence that the story actually picked up or the reader added that missing spark I finally was invested. With a day full of appointments I alternated between reading and listening and finished this book off lickety-split. It turned into an interesting story and being the first in series the ending was fitting, opening the door to the next chapter.

With the King Charles/Cromwell conflict England is changing.  Like i said before I don't know the history of this conflict and reading Tidelands has peaked my interest.  Being a woman on your own is hard enough but add suspicious neighbors, gossip run amok and a missing husband Alinor has her hands full. By the end i came to connect with Alinor and her kids, I’m anxious to read what happens next.

There were no author notes in my copy and I missed that. I would have loved to know if Sealsea is a real place as well as the characters.

Thank you to Simon & Schuster for an ARC in exchange for honest review

Tuesday, August 20, 2019

Review: The Pink Bonnet: True Colors: Historical Stories of American Crime (True Colors) by Liz Tolsma

A Desperate Mother Searches for Her Child.

Step into True Colors -- a new series of Historical Stories of Romance and American Crime

 Widowed in Memphis during 1932, Cecile Dowd is struggling to provide for her three-year-old daughter. Unwittingly trusting a neighbor puts little Millie Mae into the clutches of Georgia Tann, corrupt Memphis Tennessee Children’s Home Society director suspected of the disappearance of hundreds of children. With the help of a sympathetic lawyer, the search for Millie uncovers a deep level of corruption that threatens their very lives.

 How far will a mother go to find out what happened to her child?

Kindle, 256 pages
Published June 1st 2019
by Barbour Books 
***

This is the 2nd book in the Historical Stories of American Crime series, each book is a stand-alone. I liked the premise for both this series and this book. Georgia Tann was an unknown to me and what she deliberately did has left me somewhat speechless (author notes at the end were informative).

Liz Tolsa is not a new author for me, it was nice to get reacquainted with her writing again. This book is a little shorter than her usual fare and given the subject I think it was the right fit. Any longer would have dragged this story out and I don’t think my emotional side could have handled it. I’ll say this book is not for the faint of heart, there is a strong subject matter of abuse here and at times hard for me to read.

I struggled to connect with the players here, well except Millie - I loved her. I didn’t feel the emotions that this story warranted and seeing reviews it would appear the issue is me.

Though the ending was somewhat predictable I struggled with some unresolved plot points, without giving too much of the story I needed some closure and felt a little cheated - but based on history it couldn't really be changed.

The Pink Bonnet is a story of a mother’s determination, it’s a dark period in history that will stay with me for a long time.  Not one of my best reviews, but seriously I needed to get this written and move on to something cheerful and try to put this out of my mind.

Thank you to the publisher (via Netgalley) for an advanced copy in exchange for an honest review.

Monday, August 19, 2019

Cover Reveal: Dreamland by Nancy Bilyeau

Dreamland by Nancy Bilyeau

Publication Date: January 16, 2020
Endeavor Quill
Genre: Historical Fiction
 

 The year is 1911 when twenty-year-old heiress Peggy Batternberg is invited to spend the summer in America’s Playground. But the invitation to Coney Island is unwelcome. Despite hailing from one of America’s richest families, Peggy would much rather spend the summer at the Moonrise Bookstore where she works voluntarily, than keeping up appearances with Brooklyn socialites and her snobbish, controlling family. But soon it transpires that the hedonism of Coney Island affords Peggy more of the freedom she has been longing for. For one, she finds herself in love with a troubled pier-side artist of humble means, whom the Batternberg patriarchs would surely disapprove of. Disapprove they may, but hidden behind their pomposity lurks a web of deceit, betrayal and deadly secrets. And as bodies begin to mount up amidst the sweltering clamour of Coney Island, it seems the powerful Batternbergs can get away with anything…even murder.s It is up to Peggy to overcome the oppression of her family and clear the name of her vulnerable lover, before she or her beloved sister become the next victims of Dreamland. Extravagant, intoxicating and thumping with suspense, bestselling Nancy Bilyeau’s magnificent Dreamland is a story of corruption, class and dangerous obsession.

About the Author


"Dreamland" is Nancy Bilyeau's fifth novel of historical suspense. She is the author of the best-selling historical thriller “The Blue” and the Tudor mystery series “The Crown,” “The Chalice,” and “The Tapestry,” on sale in nine countries. Nancy is a magazine editor who has lived in the United States and Canada. She studied History and English Literature at the University of Michigan. After moving to New York City, she worked on the staffs of “InStyle,” “Good Housekeeping,” and “Rolling Stone.” She is currently the deputy editor of the Center on Media, Crime and Justice at the Research Foundation of CUNY and a regular contributing writer to “Town & Country" and "Mystery Scene Magazine." Nancy’s mind is always in past centuries but she currently lives with her husband and two children in Forest Hills in the borough of Queens. "Dreamland" is her first novel set in her adopted hometown of New York City.

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