Sunday, February 28, 2021

Review: Sons of Rome (Rise of Emperors #1) by Simon Turney, Gordon Doherty

Four Emperors. Two Friends. One Destiny.

As twilight descends on the 3rd century AD, the Roman Empire is but a shadow of its former self. Decades of usurping emperors, splinter kingdoms, and savage wars have left the people beleaguered, the armies weary and the future uncertain. And into this chaos Emperor Diocletian steps, reforming the succession to allow for not one emperor to rule the world, but four.

Meanwhile, two boys share a chance meeting in the great city of Treverorum as Diocletian's dream is announced to the imperial court. Throughout the years that follow, they share heartbreak and glory as that dream sours and the empire endures an era of tyranny and dread. Their lives are inextricably linked, their destinies ever-converging as they rise through Rome's savage stations, to the zenith of empire. For Constantine and Maxentius, the purple robes beckon. 

Hardcover, 528 pages
Expected publication: March 1st 2021
 by Head of Zeus
4.5/5 stars

It's been a while since I've spent time in the Roman Empire era, this book has reminded me how much I have enjoyed it and have been missing out.  It's the 3rd century AD when a chance meeting connects 2 boys who will grow to become good friends in an era of chaos, violence and heartache.

Sons of Rome is told alternately between these two friends, Constantine and Maxentius, spanning many years.  It's also penned by two authors which takes a special hand to keep the narrative smooth without the reader detecting the change of hands.  It's evident that Turney and Doherty have researched extensively and brought this story to life with its vivid descriptions of not just the locale and the players but the political climate and its history.  There is a large cast of characters but not overwhelmingly so, it enhances the story making it authentic.  Other then hearing the name Constantine I knew nothing of his claim to fame. As for Maxentius, that was a new one for me, which just made this read all the more enjoyable.

With four emperors ruling, the battle for power along with the brutality (sometimes a little on the heavy side) Sons of Rome is a well written story by two new to me authors.  It's a story of relationships, those between friends and parent and even rivals.  This is the first in a new series with Masters of Rome being book #2, which I am looking forward to reading.

My thanks to Head of Zeus for print copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

Friday, February 26, 2021

Review: Good Masters! Sweet Ladies!: Voices from a Medieval Village by Laura Amy Schlitz,

Step back to an English village in 1255, where life plays out in dramatic vignettes illuminating twenty-two unforgettable characters.

Maidens, monks, and millers’ sons — in these pages, readers will meet them all. 

There’s Hugo, the lord’s nephew, forced to prove his manhood by hunting a wild boar; sharp-tongued Nelly, who supports her family by selling live eels; and the peasant’s daughter, Mogg, who gets a clever lesson in how to save a cow from a greedy landlord. 

There’s also mud-slinging Barbary (and her noble victim); Jack, the compassionate half-wit; Alice, the singing shepherdess; and many more. 

With a deep appreciation for the period and a grand affection for both characters and audience, Laura Amy Schlitz creates twenty-two riveting portraits and linguistic gems equally suited to silent reading or performance.

 Illustrated with pen-and-ink drawings by Robert Byrd — inspired by the Munich-Nuremberg manuscript, an illuminated poem from thirteenth-century Germany — this witty, historically accurate, and utterly human collection forms an exquisite bridge to the people and places of medieval England.

Hardcover, 96 pages
Published July 24th 2007
by Candlewick
3/5 stars

Good Masters! Sweet Ladies! is the 2008 John Newbery Medal Winner.  I am not totally sure what the criteria is to win this honour but Good Masters is a different format to other medal winners that I have read. 

Told is a series of plays/skits geared for a younger audience its pretty much a history lesson with different members of society from different classes.  It's educational, told in verse mostly and illustrated nicely. It was a fun read, I even learned a few things about medieval England. It was well researched and would make a nice addition to class rooms.

My copy was from my bookshelf and not just part of my 2021 Reading Off My Shelf Challenge
 but also reading the John Newbery Medal Winners.

Thursday, February 25, 2021

Spotlight: Cold Case Story by Stephanie Kane



Cold Hard Press — March 1, 2021

Cold Case Story is about a family fractured along the fault lines of a murder. It’s about kids made to choose sides and aunts who never forgot. It’s about fiction and reality colliding, how one shapes the other and how fiction has real consequences. It’s also a very personal story of what it’s like to ping-pong between participant and observer, novelist and catalyst and witness to your own uneasy set of facts.

The past is never dead. It’s not even past.
— William Faulkner, Requiem for a Nun

All are punish’d.
— Shakespeare, Romeo and Juliet

Cold Case Story is based on the brutal murder of a housewife in the Denver suburbs in 1973. A college student back then, Stephanie Kane was more than a witness to this terrible crime. For nearly thirty years, she remained silent. Then, in 2001, she tried to exorcise it by fictionalizing it in a mystery novel called Quiet Time. But instead of laying the murder to rest, Quiet Time brought it roaring back to life.

Cold Case Story is about a family that fractured along the fault lines of a murder. It’s about fiction colliding with a cold hard crime, and the very personal story of how it feels to ping-pong between participant and observer, novelist and witness to one’s own uneasy set of facts. In the end, all are punished—even the guilty.

 Cold Hard Press, March 1, 2021  
Paperback: Kindle 
ISBN: 978-7336715-6-9

Stephanie Kane is a lawyer and award-winning author of four crime novels. Born in Brooklyn, she came to Colorado as a freshman at CU. She owned and ran a karate studio in Boulder and is a second-degree black belt. After graduating from law school, she was a corporate partner at a top Denver law firm before becoming a criminal defense attorney. She has lectured on money laundering and white collar crime in Eastern Europe, and given workshops throughout the country on writing technique. She lives in Denver with her husband and two black cats.

Extreme Indifference and Seeds of Doubt won a Colorado Book Award for Mystery and two Colorado Authors League Awards for Genre Fiction. She belongs to Mystery Writers of America, Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers and the Colorado Authors League.



FACEBOOK: /AuthorStephanieKane

Wednesday, February 24, 2021

Review: The Lost Apothecary by Sarah Penner

In this addictive and spectacularly imagined debut, a female apothecary secretly dispenses poisons to liberate women from the men who have wronged them—setting three lives across centuries on a dangerous collision course.

Rule #1: The poison must never be used to harm another woman.

Rule #2: The names of the murderer and her victim must be recorded in the apothecary’s register.

One cold February evening in 1791, at the back of a dark London alley in a hidden apothecary shop, Nella awaits her newest customer. Once a respected healer, Nella now uses her knowledge for a darker purpose—selling well-disguised poisons to desperate women who would kill to be free of the men in their lives. But when her new patron turns out to be a precocious twelve-year-old named Eliza Fanning, an unexpected friendship sets in motion a string of events that jeopardizes Nella’s world and threatens to expose the many women whose names are written in her register.

In present-day London, aspiring historian Caroline Parcewell spends her tenth wedding anniversary alone, reeling from the discovery of her husband’s infidelity. When she finds an old apothecary vial near the river Thames, she can’t resist investigating, only to realize she’s found a link to the unsolved “apothecary murders” that haunted London over two centuries ago. As she deepens her search, Caroline’s life collides with Nella’s and Eliza’s in a stunning twist of fate—and not everyone will survive.

With crackling suspense, unforgettable characters and searing insight, The Lost Apothecary is a subversive and intoxicating exploration of women rebelling against a man’s world, the destructive force of revenge and the remarkable ways that women can save each other despite the barrier of time. 

Kindle Edition, 320 pages
Expected publication: March 2nd 2021 
by Park Row Books/HarperCollins
4/5 stars

Thanks to the fine folks at Park Row Books/Harper Collins this was a combination listen and read book.  I've done this a couple times, its great for getting a real sense of the voices through the audio and curling up on the couch for a read rounds it off nicely.

Debut author, Sarah Penner has written this dual time period story told through 3 different narratives, two in the past and one present day.  Naturally I was drawn to the past for its mystery and history.  I loved listening to Nella tell her story on the audio, the narrator had a dark edgy tone that had me visualising probably more then what was written - does that make sense? Definitely the audio for the past worked nicely.  

The present day story was interesting enough,  mud larking was a new term for me and now I want to go to England and mud lark, searching for lost treasures. It was an interesting thread, I liked Caroline's drive and watching her transition but it was the past that keep me reading.

The Lost Apothecary is a story of herbs, while usually to heal this time it's the opposite.  Getting to know Nella through her past answered the question of why she does what she does.  The friendship with Eliza and ramifications turned this into a story of survival with some suspense and sacrifice. 

A solid debut that I highly recommend.

Both the audio and ebook were provided by publisher (via Netgalley) in exchange
 for an honest review.


Monday, February 22, 2021

Review: The Kitchen Front by Jennifer Ryan

In a new World War II-set story from the bestselling author of The Chilbury Ladies' Choir, four women compete for a spot hosting a wartime cookery program called The Kitchen Front - based on the actual BBC program of the same name - as well as a chance to better their lives.

Two years into WW2, Britain is feeling her losses; the Nazis have won battles, the Blitz has destroyed cities, and U-boats have cut off the supply of food. In an effort to help housewives with food rationing, a BBC radio program called The Kitchen Front is putting on a cooking contest--and the grand prize is a job as the program's first-ever female co-host. For four very different women, winning the contest presents a crucial chance to change their lives.

For a young widow, it's a chance to pay off her husband's debts and keep a roof over her children's heads. For a kitchen maid, it's a chance to leave servitude and find freedom. For the lady of the manor, it's a chance to escape her wealthy husband's increasingly hostile behavior. And for a trained chef, it's a chance to challenge the men at the top of her profession.

These four women are giving the competition their all--even if that sometimes means bending the rules. But with so much at stake, will the contest that aims to bring the community together serve only to break it apart?

Kindle Edition, 416 pages
Expected publication: February 23rd 2021
 by Ballantine Books
4/5 stars

Happy Release Day to Jennifer Ryan! The Kitchen Front as been released into the world.

At first I wasn't sure that I was ready for another WW2 book, they can be emotionally draining at times.  When I first started this book my initial thought was that it would be a lighter story about 4 women squabbling in the kitchen.  But low and behold as the story progressed it showed a side of the war not often seen.  These 4 women had different roles but longed for something else.

Playing off a BBC radio program, I loved how some of the chapters ended with some recipes from the actual time period and using ingredients available at that time.  The struggles these women faced was vividly portrayed and authentic.  It's an emotional time as they confront inner demons while at the same time come together for this cooking completion where they get more than they bargained for.

The Kitchen Front is a story of personal growth, reaching out, forgiveness and relationships. It's finding the strength to step out of their comfort zone and taking risks.  I'm glad that I read this book, it was uplifting watching the changes that take place.  Definitely a book and author I recommend.

My thanks to Ballantine Books (via Netgalley) for an advanced copy in exchange for an honest review.

Sunday, February 21, 2021

Review: Dark August by Katie Tallo

An electrifying, page-turning debut about a young woman haunted by her tragic past, who returns to her hometown and discovers that there might be more to her police detective mother’s death—and last case—than she ever could have imagined.

Augusta (Gus) Monet is living an aimless existence with her grifter boyfriend when she learns that her great grandmother—her last living relative—has just died. Ditching her boyfriend, Gus returns to the home she left as a young girl. Her inheritance turns out to be a dilapidated house and an old dog named Levi. While combing through her great grandmother’s possessions, Gus stumbles across an old trunk filled with long-lost childhood belongings. But that’s not all the trunk contains. She also discovers cold case files that belonged to her mother, a disgraced police detective who died in a car accident when Gus was eight. Gus remembers her mother obsessing over these very same documents and photographs, especially a Polaroid of a young ballerina.

When Gus spots a front-page news story about the unearthing of a body linked to one of the cold case files from her grandmother’s trunk, she can’t resist following her mother’s clues. As she digs deeper, determined to finish her mother’s investigation, her search leads her to a deserted ghost town, which was left abandoned when the residents fled after a horrific fire. As Gus’ obsession with the case grows, she inadvertently stirs up the evils of the past, putting her life in danger. But Gus refuses to be undeterred and is committed to uncovering long-buried secrets, including the secrets surrounding a missing geology student, the young ballerina in the Polaroid, a prominent family’s devastating legacy, and a toxic blast that blew an entire town off the map.

But is Gus ready to learn the truths that culminated on one terrible August night, more than a decade earlier, when lives were taken, and secrets were presumed buried forever…?

Dark August introduces a bold new voice and will leave readers guessing until the final startling conclusion.

Paperback, 448 pages
Published June 30th 2020
 by Harper Paperbacks
4.5/5 stars

It's always fun to read a book with a setting close to home and am familiar with.  I had no idea where or what this book was about, it was part of a SweetReadsBox last summer.  Hearing rave reviews and the book calling my name I hunkered down during the last snow storm and dove it.

Beginning when Gus (Augusta) is 20 years old the story weaves with back memories to slowly reveal a mysterious town, unexplained disappearances and repressed memories.  Although it started out a tad slow it wasn't long before I was immersed in what happened and what was happening.

It's a long winded blurb so no need to add more.  Suffice to say that I liked the author's writing style, it was atmospheric with an intricate plot and a cast of untrustworthy characters.  It might have been a little predictable, but then again maybe not so much. I liked the ending which was satisfying and fitting.

Dark August is a story of grief, closure and trying to right wrongs.  A solid debut that has me wondering when another Katie Tallo book will appear.

This book is part of my 2021 Reading Off My Shelf Challenge

Saturday, February 20, 2021

Review: Our Darkest Night by Jennifer Robson

To survive the Holocaust, a young Jewish woman must pose as a Christian farmer’s wife in this unforgettable novel from USA Today bestselling author Jennifer Robson—a story of terror, hope, love, and sacrifice, inspired by true events, that vividly evokes the most perilous days of World War II.

It is the autumn of 1943, and life is becoming increasingly perilous for Italian Jews like the Mazin family. With Nazi Germany now occupying most of her beloved homeland, and the threat of imprisonment and deportation growing ever more certain, Antonina Mazin has but one hope to survive—to leave Venice and her beloved parents and hide in the countryside with a man she has only just met.

Nico Gerardi was studying for the priesthood until circumstances forced him to leave the seminary to run his family’s farm. A moral and just man, he could not stand by when the fascists and Nazis began taking innocent lives. Rather than risk a perilous escape across the mountains, Nina will pose as his new bride. And to keep her safe and protect secrets of his own, Nico and Nina must convince prying eyes they are happily married and in love.

But farm life is not easy for a cultured city girl who dreams of becoming a doctor like her father, and Nico’s provincial neighbors are wary of this soft and educated woman they do not know. Even worse, their distrust is shared by a local Nazi official with a vendetta against Nico. The more he learns of Nina, the more his suspicions grow—and with them his determination to exact revenge.

As Nina and Nico come to know each other, their feelings deepen, transforming their relationship into much more than a charade. Yet both fear that every passing day brings them closer to being torn apart . . ..

Paperback, 384 pages
Published January 5th 2021 
by William Morrow Paperbacks
4.5/5 stars

Jennifer Robson is one author that I have managed to read everything as released.  She was also the first author event I attended back when her debut, Somewhere in France, was released in 2013.  While I have enjoyed all her books I find they get better with each new one.  

One of the things this pandemic has done is made virtual author events easily accessible with zoom and video chats on both Facebook and Instagram.  Jennifer Robson has shared the initial inspiration for this book and I encourage readers to check out her website at where you can follow the links to see pics and videos that add so much to this story.

Our Darkest Night is a well researched WW2 story taking place in Italy.  Getting a different perspective reinforced the brutality the Nazis wheeled. Even with the distance from Germany Jewish people suffered, were abused and boarded trains to destinations unknown.  The first part of the book showed the strong family bond and what life was like in this village.  As it progressed the darkness of the war was shown and at times hard to read.  I definitely felt a wide range of emotions reading this book.

Again Robson has written a story of hope, strength, family and endurance.  A book that I will recommend.

This book was part of my 2021 Reading Off My Shelf Challenge.

Tuesday, February 16, 2021

Review: Legendborn (Legendborn #1) by Tracy Deonn

After her mother dies in an accident, sixteen-year-old Bree Matthews wants nothing to do with her family memories or childhood home. A residential program for bright high schoolers at UNC–Chapel Hill seems like the perfect escape—until Bree witnesses a magical attack her very first night on campus.

A flying demon feeding on human energies.

A secret society of so called “Legendborn” students that hunt the creatures down.

And a mysterious teenage mage who calls himself a “Merlin” and who attempts—and fails—to wipe Bree’s memory of everything she saw.

The mage’s failure unlocks Bree’s own unique magic and a buried memory with a hidden connection: the night her mother died, another Merlin was at the hospital. Now that Bree knows there’s more to her mother’s death than what’s on the police report, she’ll do whatever it takes to find out the truth, even if that means infiltrating the Legendborn as one of their initiates.

She recruits Nick, a self-exiled Legendborn with his own grudge against the group, and their reluctant partnership pulls them deeper into the society’s secrets—and closer to each other. But when the Legendborn reveal themselves as the descendants of King Arthur’s knights and explain that a magical war is coming, Bree has to decide how far she’ll go for the truth and whether she should use her magic to take the society down—or join the fight. 

Hardcover, 512 pages
Published September 15th 2020
 by Margaret K. McElderry Books
4/5 stars

I've heard of authors that dislike comments along the lines of 'such and such genre isn't my thing but I read it anyway and that's why I don't like this book'. Can't say I blame them, why read a book that you know you won't like? Right?  In my case I'll confess that fantasy isn't really my thing but I would never penalise a book because I wanted to try the genre out.  Sometimes its good to step out of ones comfort zone and see if there is something you might be missing.  Such is the case with Legendborn which was part of an Owlcrate YA box, I was thrilled to open this book and see the roll Arthur/Merlin and that whole legend play.

Legendborn is more than just a story about the Arthur legend, it's about a young girl and the grief and despair she goes though with the loss of her mother.

This hardcover comes in at almost 500 pages, it was fast paced (though its a bit hard on the wrists to hold after a while).  With the opening scenes I was hooked and just wanted to give Bree a hug, so ya I was drawn in right away and never looked back. 

There are so many things besides grief that shine through - I loved the diversity, what Black women endure, history/slavery and the Arthurian legend.

The world building was kinda staggering, with attention to detail everything made sense and clicked into place.  The characters weren't perfect, a nice mix of those I like and others not so much.  The action scenes vivid, there were twists and turns.  As for the ending, I was caught off guard and loved it - a great opening for book 2.  Yea it's the start of a new series.

So slowly I am reading more YA fantasy books maybe, just maybe I might graduate to adult fantasy but lets not push that just yet.

This book was part of my 2021 Reading Off My Shelf Challenged and obtained from the fine folks at Owlcrate which included a special cover and signed by the author.

Monday, February 15, 2021

Review: An Unexpected Peril (Veronica Speedwell #6) by Deanna Raybourn

A princess is missing, and a peace treaty is on the verge of collapse in this new Veronica Speedwell adventure from the New York Times bestselling and Edgar Award-nominated author Deanna Raybourn.

January 1889. As the newest member of the Curiosity Club—an elite society of brilliant, intrepid women—Veronica Speedwell is excited to put her many skills to good use. As she assembles a memorial exhibition for pioneering mountain climber Alice Baker-Greene, Veronica discovers evidence that the recent death was not a tragic climbing accident but murder. Veronica and her natural historian beau, Stoker, tell the patron of the exhibit, Princess Gisela of Alpenwald, of their findings. With Europe on the verge of war, Gisela's chancellor, Count von Rechstein, does not want to make waves—and before Veronica and Stoker can figure out their next move, the princess disappears.

Having noted Veronica's resemblance to the princess, von Rechstein begs her to pose as Gisela for the sake of the peace treaty that brought the princess to England. Veronica reluctantly agrees to the scheme. She and Stoker must work together to keep the treaty intact while navigating unwelcome advances, assassination attempts, and Veronica's own family—the royalty who has never claimed her. 

Kindle Edition, 336 pages
Expected publication: March 2nd 2021 
by Berkley
4/5 stars

What better day to post a review of one of my favourite couples, Veronica and Stoker, than Valentine's Day.

An Unexpected Peril is book 6 in Deanna Raybourn's Veronica Speedwell Series and one I've been waiting for.  On any given day it's great to spend time with this couple but even more so now given what the world is going through.  If you've read this series you'll know what I mean and if not...well you should pick up A Curious Beginning.

Again in typical Raybourn style, she delivers a unique story that sets Veronica and Stoker on a path filled with mystery, suspicion and, danger with a group of unreliable characters. There were new faces and new places along with some familiar faces. The mystery part had some twists and turns, quite entertaining with the usual bantering and comments that made me smile and put me in my happy place.

This Veronica Speedwell Series is one of my favorite series, I love that each story is different, the time period is great and I love watching their relationship develop.  Definietely a series I highly recommend and suggest starting at the beginning with A Curious Beginning.

My thanks to Berkley for an advanced ARC (via Netgalley) in exchange for an honest review.


Saturday, February 13, 2021

Review: Canoeing with the Cree by Eric Sevareid

In 1930 two novice paddlers--Eric Sevareid and Walter C. Port--launched a secondhand 18-foot canvas canoe into the Minnesota River at Fort Snelling for an ambitious summer-long journey from Minneapolis to Hudson Bay.

Without benefit of radio, motor, or good maps, the teenagers made their way over 2,250 miles of rivers, lakes, and difficult portages. Nearly four months later, after shooting hundreds of sets of rapids and surviving exceedingly bad conditions and even worse advice, the ragged, hungry adventurers arrived in York Factory on Hudson Bay--with winter freeze-up on their heels.

First published in 1935, Canoeing with the Cree is Sevareid's classic account of this youthful odyssey. The newspaper stories that Sevareid wrote on this trip launched his distinguished journalism career, which included more than a decade as a television correspondent and commentator on the CBS Evening News. Now with a new foreword by Arctic explorer, Ann Bancroft. 

Paperback, 248 pages
Published April 15th 2005
 by Borealis Books 
(first published May 1st 1935)
4/5 stars

I've been on an outdoorish kick lately, maybe I am craving getting outside and basking in some sun while on the water.  I read this after finished Alone Against the North about a local adventurer trekking northern Ontario.  With Canoeing with the Cree it jumps back to 1930 when 2 teens embark on a 2250 mile adventure.

This was a nice story filled with pictures, maps and people met along the way.  I loved getting the visuals which just made this journey much more.  At first I thought it would be a solitude journey with just Eric and Walter but they were able to stop along the way, stock up on supplies and meet people. They had little experince, a deadline between them and Hudson Bay but determination and commitment kept them on the path.

A nice little book first published in 1935 that still has a lot of appeal.

This book is part of my 2021 Reading Off My Shelf Challenge.

Wednesday, February 10, 2021

Excerpt: The Vineyard at Painted Moon by Susan Mallery

I am thrilled to share this excerpt from The Vineyard at Painted Moon today.

Hardcover, 400 pages
Expected publication: February 9th 2021 
by HQN


Chapter One

“Not that what you’re wearing isn’t great, but the party starts in an hour.” 

Mackenzie Dienes looked up from the grapevine she’d been studying, her mind still on the tight clusters of small, hard grapes that would, come late September, be ripe and sweet and ready for harvest. Between now and then, she would monitor their progress, willing them to greatness and protecting them from danger, be it mold, weather or hungry deer. 

She blinked at the man standing in front of her, tall and familiar, with an easy smile and broad, capable shoulders.

 “Party?” she asked, letting her thoughts of the vineyards go and remembering that, yes, indeed, it was the evening of the annual Solstice Party, hosted by the Barcellona family. As she was a Barcellona, by marriage if not by name, she would be expected to attend. 

Wanted to attend, she reminded herself. It was always a good time, and Stephanie, her sister-in-law, worked hard to make it a perfect night. 

“The party,” she repeated, her voice slightly more panicked this time, then glanced down at herself. “Crap. What time is it?”

 Rhys, her husband, shook his head. “You really don’t listen when I talk, do you? We have an hour. You’ll be fine.” 

She pulled off her gloves and shoved them into the left front pocket of her coveralls, then stepped behind Rhys and gave him a little push toward the flatbed truck he’d driven out to the west vineyards. 

“You say that because all you have to do is shower and get dressed. I have to do the girl thing.” 

“Which takes you maybe ten minutes.” He put his arm around her as they hurried toward the truck. “Happy with the grapes?”

 “I think so,” she said, glancing toward the healthy vines growing on either side of them. “We might have to do some thinning in a couple of weeks, but so far, so good.”

 As they slid onto the bench seat of the old truck, he glanced at her. She smiled, knowing there was a fifty-fifty chance he would call her out on her thinning statement. He was, after all, the vineyard manager. Technically all the decisions about the vineyard were made by him with her input, but not her instruction. As winemaker, she managed the grapes from the moment they were picked until the wine was bottled. 

But at Bel Après, areas of responsibility often overlapped. Theirs was a large, boisterous family in which everyone had opinions. Not that Mackenzie listened to a lot of other ideas when it came to her wines, although as Rhys often pointed out, she was very free offering hers when it came to his work.

He drove along the dirt path that circled the vineyard, stopping by her truck. She slid into the cab, then followed him back to the family compound. The main road leading into Walla Walla was thick with tourists who wanted to enjoy the longest day of the year. She merged into the slow-moving traffic, doing her best to keep from glancing at the clock on the truck’s dashboard as she inched along. 

Vineyards stretched out on either side of the road, flat on the left and rising toward the hills on the right. Bright green leaves topped sturdy trunks that had been carefully trained to grow exactly as she wanted them to. The rows were long and neat, and the spaces between them were filled with native grasses that held in moisture and protected the roots from the heat. 

Looking at her healthy crop kept her mind off the fact that she and Rhys were going to be desperately late.

 Twenty minutes later, she followed him off the highway onto a less crowded secondary road—a back way home. Five minutes after that, they parked the trucks by the processing buildings behind the big tasting room. Rhys had already claimed one of the golf carts the family used to get around. She slid in next to him and they took off toward the center of the property. 

Bel Après Winery and the surrounding land had been in the Barcellona family for nearly sixty years. Rhys and his siblings were third-generation. The original main house had been updated several times. When Rhys and Mackenzie had married, Barbara, Rhys’s mother, had suggested they build themselves a house close to hers, rather than commute from town. Eager to stay in the good graces of her new mother-in-law, Mackenzie had agreed.

 A large two-story home had been built. Barbara and Mackenzie had decorated every room, the act of choosing everything from light fixtures to doorknobs cementing their affection for each other.

 A few years later, Stephanie, the second of Barbara’s four children, had gotten a divorce and moved back home with her two kids, requiring another house to be constructed. When the youngest of the three girls had married, the last house had been added. Only Lori, the middle daughter, still lived in the original home. 

All four houses faced a huge central courtyard. Mexican pavers were shaded by vine-covered pergolas. The extended family used the space for big dinners and as a kids’ play area. If one of the women baked cookies, a cookie flag was hung out the front door, inviting anyone to stop by. At Christmas, a large tree was brought in from Wishing Tree, and for the annual Summer Solstice Party, dozens of long tables were brought in to seat the two hundred or so guests. 

Rhys swung the golf cart behind the large main house, circling counterclockwise. Normally he would cut across the courtyard, but with all the party preparations, he had to go the long way. He pulled up at the rear entrance to their house and they dashed inside. 

Mackenzie paused to unlace her boots and left them in the mudroom. Rhys did the same. They raced up the stairs together, separating at the landing to head to their individual en suite bedrooms. 

Once in her bathroom, she started the shower. Thankfully, she’d already picked out the dress she would wear. She raced through a shower. After she dried off, she wrapped her hair in a towel and dug out the scented body lotion Rhys had given her a couple of years ago. Why anyone would want to smell like coconut and vanilla was beyond her, but he liked it. 

She walked into the large closet and opened her underwear drawer. To the right were all the sensible bikini panties she usually wore—to the left were the fancier ones for special occasions. She chose a black pair and slipped them on, then went to the second drawer and looked for the matching push-up bra. When it and the pads were in place and doing the best they could with her modest curves, she pulled on a robe and returned to the bathroom. 

After plugging in her hot rollers, it took her only a few minutes to apply eyeliner and mascara. She was flushed from the day working outside, so she didn’t bother with any other makeup. 

Her hair took a lot longer. First she had to dry the dark red shoulder-length waves, then she had to curl them. While the rollers were in place, she searched for a pair of black high-heel sandals that wouldn’t leave her crippled by the end of the night.

 Those found, she opened her small jewelry box and pulled out her wedding set, sliding both the engagement ring and the wedding band into place on her left hand. Diamond stud earrings followed. She’d barely stepped into her sleeveless black dress when Rhys walked into the closet, fully dressed in black slacks and a dark gray shirt. 

She sighed when she saw him. “See. You have it so much easier than me.” 

“Yes, but in the end, you’re more beautiful. That should be worth something.”

 “I’d rather have the extra time.” 

She turned, presenting him with her back. He pulled up the zipper, then bent to collect her shoes. They retreated to her bathroom and together began removing the curlers. 

“We’re late,” Mackenzie said, catching sight of his watch. “Your mom is going to be all snippy.” 

“She’ll be too busy welcoming her guests.” The last of the curlers was flung onto the counter. Mackenzie fluffed her hair, then pointed to the bedroom. 

“Retreat,” she said, reaching for the can of hair spray. 

Rhys ducked to safety. She sprayed the curls into submission before running into the bedroom to escape the death cloud. Rhys was on the bench at the foot of the large bed. She sat next to him and quickly put on her shoes. 

“Done,” she said, pausing to reacquaint herself with the seldom-used skill of walking in heels. 

She grabbed her husband’s wrist. “Seven fifteen. Barbara’s going to kill us.” 

“She’s not. I’m her only son and you’re just plain her favorite.” 

“We weren’t ready exactly at seven. I can already hear the death-march music in my head. I want to be buried on Red Mountain.” 

Rhys chuckled as he led the way downstairs. “In the vineyard? I’m not sure your decaying body is going to be considered organic.” 

“Are you saying I’m toxic?” she asked with a laugh as they walked toward the front door. 

“I’m saying you’re wonderful and I’d like us to have a good night.” 

There was something in his tone, she thought, meeting his gaze. She’d known this man her entire adult life. They’d met over Christmas her freshman year of college. Her roommate, his sister Stephanie, had dragged Mackenzie home to meet the family. Grateful not to have to spend the holiday by herself, Mackenzie had gone willingly and had quickly found herself falling not only for her best friend’s hunky older brother but for the entire Barcellona family and the vineyards they owned. Barbara had been like a surrogate mother, and the vineyards, well, they had been just as magical as Rhys’s sexy kisses.

 Now she studied her husband’s expression, seeing the hint of sadness lurking behind his easy smile. She saw it because she hid the same emotion deep inside herself. The days of stealing away for sexy kisses were long gone. There were no lingering looks, no intimacy. They had a routine and a life, but she was less sure about them still having a marriage.

 “I’d like that, too,” she murmured, knowing he wasn’t asking them not to fight. They never did. Harsh words required a level of involvement they simply didn’t have anymore.

 “Then let’s make that happen,” he said lightly, taking her hand in his and opening the front door. 



Monday, February 8, 2021

Audio Review: The Making of Us by Lisa Jewell

In a hospice in Bury St Edmunds, a man called Daniel is slowly fading away. His friend Maggie sits with him every day; she holds his hand and she listens to the story of his life, to his regrets and to his secrets. And then he tells her about the children he has never met and never will. He talks of them wistfully. His legacy, he calls them. 

Lydia, Dean and Robyn don't know each other. Yet. And they are all facing difficult changes. Lydia is still wearing the scars from her traumatic childhood and although she is wealthy and successful, her life is lonely and disjointed. Dean is a young man, burdened with unexpected responsibility, whose life is going nowhere. And Robyn wants to be a doctor, just like her father - a man she's never met. But is her whole life built on an illusion?

Three people leading three very different lives. All lost. All looking for something. But when they slowly find their way into each other's lives, everything starts to change ...

Published June 5th 2018 by Dreamscape Media LLC
Unabridged, Audiobook
Narrated by: Helen Duff
Length: 13 hrs and 55 mins
2.5/5 stars

In my quest to read Lisa Jewell's back list I purchased this audio from Chirp - to give them a try and it was too good a deal to pass up.  While I found the Chirp app and service great my thoughts in the audio sadly did not yield the same results.

I'll start with the fact I am a big Lisa Jewell fan, her latest books have been favourites of mine - dark and twisty, mysterious and kept me guessing.  Her earlier books are more chicklit/women's fiction, which are always nice to read.  However, in this case it just didn't work for me like it did for others.  Maybe if I had read the book verses listening it might be different but sadly I doubt it.

The Making of Us has multiple POVs with the narrator changing her voice for each. Each character is unique, their own story to share and while I understood the connection I wasn't drawn to any of them. Part I think was the narrators voices which helped to define a character trait that I'm not sure was the authors intent. 

I get having flawed and unlikable characters but when the story line doesn't interest me, well there is a problem.  Parts of the story were okay but it was drawn out too long for my liking and the voices just took away from the story, to be honest I'm surprised I finished this one.

Will I continue to read Lisa Jewell?  ABSOLUTELY!  She has a new book coming on later on in the year, The Night She Disappeared (that's Aug 5th for the UK and Sept for us in North America)

Friday, February 5, 2021

Review: What You Never Knew by Jessica Hamilton

Told in alternating points of view between the living and the dead, Jessica Hamilton's debut novel will be perfect for fans of THE LOVELY BONES.

Idyllic Avril lsland, owned by the Bennett family, where their hundred-year-old cottage sat nestled in acres of forest. Forty-year-old June Bennett believed that the island had been sold after the summer of her father's disappearance when she was only twelve years old. It's months after the shocking death of her older sister May in a fatal car accident, that June finds out that the cottage was never sold. Avril Island is still owned by the Bennett family and now it's hers.

Still reeling from the grief of losing her sister, June travels back to Avril lsland in search of answers. As she digs, she learns that the townspeople believe her father murdered someone before taking off. And that's when she begins to notice strange things happening on the island--missing family possessions showing up on her bed, doors open when she had locked them closed. It takes June no time at all to realize that her childhood summers at Avril Island were not at all what they had seemed to be.

Kindle Edition, 304 pages
Expected publication: April 13th 2021 
by Crooked Lane Books
3.5/5 stars

What You Never Knew is a book about secrets and we all know that eventually they have a way of not being so secret anymore.

I loved the setting, an old house on an island all by itself just begs to being up to no good.  Honestly it sounds enticing but I couldn't imagine myself being there all alone.  It's an island where weird things happen, usually in the middle of the night.  The perfect setting for a story with ghosts of the past.

Though it's told in alternating POVs the majority is via June as she returns to the family vacation home she hasn't been to in 30 years, leaving abruptly when only 12 years old.  What follows is a search that will have her questioning everything she thought she knew of her family.

The other POV is her sister, May, who died and this is were What You Never Knew comes in.  An interesting perspective that helped the story along.

What You Never Knew was an interesting and unique story but not without a few things I struggled with.  I loved getting to know the girls during their summers when younger, I felt the relationship and sisterly bond but the current time period had me not really knowing them anymore, I missed that. The ending resolved things but also left me pondering still.  

This is the authors debut which releases April 13th and available for pre order now. 

My thanks to Crooked Lane Books for a digital ARC in exchange for an honest review.

Wednesday, February 3, 2021

Audio Review: The Rose Code by Kate Quinn

The New York Times and USA Today bestselling author of The Huntress and The Alice Network returns with another heart-stopping World War II story of three female code breakers at Bletchley Park and the spy they must root out after the war is over.

1940. As England prepares to fight the Nazis, three very different women answer the call to mysterious country estate Bletchley Park, where the best minds in Britain train to break German military codes. Vivacious debutante Osla is the girl who has everything—beauty, wealth, and the dashing Prince Philip of Greece sending her roses—but she burns to prove herself as more than a society girl, and puts her fluent German to use as a translator of decoded enemy secrets. Imperious self-made Mab, product of east-end London poverty, works the legendary codebreaking machines as she conceals old wounds and looks for a socially advantageous husband. Both Osla and Mab are quick to see the potential in local village spinster Beth, whose shyness conceals a brilliant facility with puzzles, and soon Beth spreads her wings as one of the Park’s few female cryptanalysts. 

But war, loss, and the impossible pressure of secrecy will tear the three apart.

1947. As the royal wedding of Princess Elizabeth and Prince Philip whips post-war Britain into a fever, three friends-turned-enemies are reunited by a mysterious encrypted letter--the key to which lies buried in the long-ago betrayal that destroyed their friendship and left one of them confined to an asylum. A mysterious traitor has emerged from the shadows of their Bletchley Park past, and now Osla, Mab, and Beth must resurrect their old alliance and crack one last code together. But each petal they remove from the rose code brings danger--and their true enemy--closer...

Paperback, 656 pages
Expected publication: March 9th 2021 
by William Morrow Paperbacks

Narrated by: Saskia Maarleveld
by Harper Audio
Length: 15 hrs and 40 mins
4/5 stars

Other then a couple of Kate Quinn's anthology's I have read everything she has written.  Needless to say she is one of my go-to authors.  Her last books vividly portrays strong women in history during WW2 and that's right where The Rose Code takes place.  I'll confess the only thing I knew about this book was Bletchley Park and was pleasantly surprised to the role Prince Philip and the royal wedding played.

Told in two time periods, initially separated by 7 years I loved getting to know these women and the role they played at BP. Three vastly different women with a common job of decoding secrets and keeping secrets.  I listened to the audio which was narrated by Saskia Maaleveld, she did a great job bringing life to this story, coming in at almost 16 hours it's long enough for the depth that I crave.  There is time to really get to know the characters and for the story not to be rushed.

The Rose Code is a story of secrets, friendship, betrayal and heartache.  There is intrigue and mystery that kept me on my toes. Kate Quinn's research is evident and knowledge of the history shines through, which is one of the reasons I love her books.  Her respect for history and filling it in with realistic story that drew this reader right in.

The Rose Code releases on March 9th and available for pre-order now.

My thanks to Harper Audio (via Netgalley) for an advanced audio-arc in 
exchange for an honest review.