Wednesday, February 28, 2018

The Heart of the Garden by Victoria Connelly

Setting: England
Genre: Women's Fiction
Publisher: Lake Union
Author: Victoria Connelly
Release Date: February 22, 2018

Okay, first things first. Anne Marie's husband and step-daughters in The Heart of the Garden were complete and utter jerks. I was totally rooting for her to tell them where they could go. Those characters will have you cheering her on as she goes through a kind of later-in-life coming of age.

The Heart of the Garden isn't all Anne Marie's story. Things go like this. Fifty-something Emilia Morton has been the reclusive owner of Morton Hall for decades. Few have ever seen her. Townspeople really only know that she's never really been a part of the town and that her estate's gardens are gorgeous but in need of restoration.

When Emilia dies, a small group of locals is summoned to her lawyer's office. She's left it to them to work together and restore the gardens. If they can do so in a year, the manor home and all of its priceless museum-quality art will become the property of the entire village.

For Anne Marie, the gardens have been her sanctuary against a husband and step-daughters who treat her like a servant. Cape's been the caretaker of the gardens for a short while now, and he's always wanted to completely turn it around. Others in the group all bring their own strengths and weaknesses. As they work together, they realize the gardens have the power to turn their lives around.

Though The Heart of the Garden is set in the present time, there's a bit of a Gothic feel. The manor is very dark and imposing. It's hiding secrets that get revealed along the way. Some never got fully unraveled though and that was the one thing that keeps me from giving higher praise to this book than necessary. I guess you simply have to draw your own conclusions.

Tuesday, February 27, 2018

The French Girl by Lexie Elliott

Setting: England/France
Genre: Suspense/Mystery
Publisher: Berkley
Author: Lexie Elliott
Release Date: February 20, 2018

Years ago, six Oxford college mates headed to the French countryside to spend time together. There, they met Severine, a local girl. Years later, the friends are drawn together again. Severine's body has been found in a well. Police aren't sure who killed her and put her there, but since these college friends were the last to see her alive, they're all suspects.

Kate has worked hard to put the past behind her. She never trusted Severine, and events from that holiday together changed friendships forever. She's already struggling to keep her company afloat. The last thing she needs is to become a suspect in a decade-old murder case, especially one where the French girl haunts her at every turn.

I wanted to get lured into The French Girl, but this book was a miss for me. I figured out the killer far too early. Once that was apparent, I lost interest in the rest of the story. I didn't like a lot of the characters, and Kate's dwelling on past loves grew tiring. I also found the story moved slowly in spots and just didn't hold my interest.

Monday, February 26, 2018

The Queen of Hearts by Kimmery Martin

Setting: North Carolina
Genre: Women's Fiction
Publisher: Berkley
Author: Kimmery Martin
Release Date: February 13, 2018

In The Queen of Hearts, best friends Zadie Anson and Emma Colley have made it through college, become successful doctors, and have husbands and kids. They've never stopped being close friends, even as their lives have changed. Everything is about to enter into a state of turmoil.

Emma learns that Dr. Nick Xenokostas is moving to Charlotte. Zadie and Emma knew Nick long ago and long-buried secrets and events are all tied to Nick. As truths are revealed, Zadie and Emma's friendship may not survive the damage.

I was drawn into Zadie and Emma's story. I liked the flashes into the past and catching up on their work now. I adored Zadie's precocious daughter. Three-year-old Delaney had me laughing each time she appeared. I know Nick was there for conflict, but I just didn't like him. Once he entered the story in the present, I grew weary. Part of the secret wasn't all that shocking, while the other part was. Either way, I could never grow to like Nick and didn't enjoy sections of the story where he appeared.

If you like Grey's Anatomy or Chicago Med, you'll find The Queen of Hearts is enjoyable and carries that same medical drama feel. I liked it but never truly loved it.

Tuesday, February 20, 2018

Last Seen by Rick Mofina

Setting: River Ridge
Genre: Suspense/Mystery
Publisher: MIRA
Author: Rick Mofina
Release Date: February 27, 2018

Every year, I am on a quest to find that book that stands out. It's a book where I can't guess the outcome. It's a book that makes me struggle to work and not toss it all aside to get back to the story. Last Seen is that book.

Faith Hudson is tired. She's tired of having a husband who is rarely there and even when he is, he's focused on his work as a journalist. She's stunned when Cal agrees to spend the day with her and their son Gage. The carnival is in town, and Gage is determined to prove his friends wrong and go into the house of horrors.

It's in that carnival ride that the Hudson's lives are forever altered. They go in together, but Gage never comes out. The last time Faith saw him was on the spinning platform that leads to the exit tubes. Hours pass with no sign of the nine-year-old boy.

Suspicions flare. Secrets are kept. A marriage is on the verge of being torn apart, while both parents try to cope with their son's disappearance. FBI detectives are determined to find Gage before it's too late, even if that means pushing the Hudson's to their breaking points.

Last Seen is a spiraling mystery that goes down many rabbit holes only to find out it was another red herring. I had my suspicions about what was going on, but it wasn't until the detectives were also at that point. Not being able to unravel the truth in advance was refreshing. I didn't want to stop reading.

I've read one other Rick Mofina novel and liked it. This one I loved. I immediately knew I needed to hunt down his other books involving missing children. The pace, characters, and mystery meshed perfectly leaving a story that seemed ripped right from the headlines and that had me hooked. I won't soon be forgetting this novel.

Thursday, February 15, 2018

The First Kiss of Spring by Emily March

Setting: Eternity Springs
Genre: Contemporary Romance
Publisher: St. Martin's Paperbacks
Author: Emily March
Release Date: February 27, 2018

Caitlin Timberlake's spent several years in New York City working her way up the corporate ladder. While her mom and dad are thrilled, Caitlin is not happy. She longs for true love and a blissful family life in the country.

She's in town for a friend's wedding. There, she gets stuck in a gondola with Josh Tarkington. He seems to be everything she wants, even if he is determined to remain a bachelor. What Caitlin wants, she's determined to get.

The longer he's around Caitlin, however, the more Josh is tempted. He's determined to stay single, but he can't help but also want Caitlin in his life. What's a guy to do?

The First Kiss of Spring is another book in the Eternity Springs series. I've read past books and loved them. I liked this one, but I didn't connect to it as much as I had previous novels. I liked Caitlin and her determination, but one of Josh's secrets fell short with me. I can't understand why he wasn't just honest from the start in terms of one of his big revelations. After going through what he had, I would have thought that being honest would have been a priority for him.

That niggle aside, the romance is steamy and I loved seeing how some of the other characters are doing. For that reason alone, The First Kiss of Spring is worth it.

Wednesday, February 14, 2018

Darkest Night by Tara Thomas

Setting: Charleston
Genre: Romantic Suspense
Publisher: St. Martin's Paperbacks
Author: Tara Thomas
Release Date: February 27, 2018

After Tilly Brock's dad was charged with embezzling and died just a few months later, her life fell apart. Once part of the elite society in Charleston, she and her mother are forced into a life of poverty. Not only that. It ended the blossoming romance between teens Tilly and Keaton Benedict.

Keaton Benedict is part of the Benedict family, and it's his father that fired Tilly's dad for embezzlement. The three Benedict brothers have always felt something was off with the entire situation. When Tilly comes back into their lives, they can't help but feel protective of her. Plus, Keaton wants to give their relationship a chance.

Between their happiness is a killer. Someone wants Tilly dead. Someone is sending the Benedict brothers sinister messages. No one knows why, but they want to get to the bottom of it.

Darkest Night kicks off the Sons of Broad series in suspenseful style. There's a mystery at play, there's a killer on the loose, and there are loose ends that leave you wanting more. It's a gripping start, even if I am not pleased I have to wait for answers.

Tuesday, February 13, 2018

Where the Wild Cherries Grow by Laura Madeleine

Setting: France and England
Genre: Historical Women's Fiction
Publisher: Thomas Dunne Books
Author: Laura Madeleine
Release Date: February 13, 2018

It's 1969. Bill Perch's boss gives him his chance to spread his wings. The young solicitor is tasked with unraveling what happened to Emeline Vane. After her brother has a stroke, her remaining family needs to prove she is dead, even if her brother is convinced he has proof that she's still alive.

Back in 1919, Emeline suffers a great loss. She's now the owner of Hallerton House, but money's tight and her uncle wants to sell it. Small situations lead up to one big incident. Her uncle believes she is mentally incapacitated and wants to have her committed. As he hands her over to a nurse who will escort her the rest of the way, Emeline escapes on another train.

She winds up on the border of France and Spain where she convinces a local cafe owner and her 20-year-old son to take her in. There, she must keep her secret if she's to keep from ending up in a place she's convinced she doesn't belong.

Where the Wild Cherries Grow bounces between 1919 and 1969. The changes are fluid and never leave you wondering who is speaking. I found myself totally engrossed in Emeline's story and, as a result, knew why Bill felt the way he did. His urgency in unraveling the truth kept the plot moving.

The details of the food Emeline, Clemence, and Clemence's son Aaro were just as enchanting. I found my mouth watering with each very vivid dish to come out of the kitchen. What I wouldn't have loved to be part of that town!

This is a gorgeous book with likable characters, a stunning setting, and a mystery that slowly unwinds with each page. I highly recommend it.

Monday, February 12, 2018

By the Book by Julia Sonneborn

Setting: California
Genre: Women's Fiction
Publisher: Gallery Books
Author: Julia Sonneborn
Release Date: February 6, 2018

Time to reveal a secret. I'm not a Jane Austin fan. By the Book is touted as a "retelling of Persuasion." I haven't read it. I've tried. I've tried many of Austin's books and just can't find the appeal. Keeping that in mind, I really have no basis to compare the two. I dove in without any expectations.

Anne Corey is an English professor. She wants to become tenured, but to do so she must finish and get her book published. She has her friend, Larry, to help keep her sane. This proves to be especially important when the college's new dean turns out to be her ex-fiance.

As if it's not hard enough being this close to her ex, there's a new employee at the college who has his eyes set on Anne. She's just as taken by him, even if her ex keeps trying to warn her off. Anne is strong, determined, and wants to do what makes her happy. Teaching is what makes her happy, and that means she needs to complete her book.

There are touches of romance in this novel, but the bulk of the book is on Anne's quest to do what makes her happiest. There are other struggles along the way. Her father's health is changing, and she and her sister also have to balance his care with their lives. I sympathized with that aspect. I know what it's like.

The basis of this book is about one woman's strength and that a man does not have to define who she is. She's just fine on her own. I liked that message and loved that Anne was such a tough cookie. Along the way, you'll learn why she ended her relationship years ago and see where she goes from here.

I did find that there were slow parts, but my enjoyment of Anne's character kept me reading. It's a lighthearted story that was perfect for staying in during the latest snowstorm to hit my area. Definitely, give By the Book a try.

Tuesday, February 6, 2018

My Name is Venus Black by Heather Lloyd

Setting: Washington/California
Genre: Teen Fiction
Publisher: Random House
Author: Heather Lloyd
Release Date: February 27, 2018

My Name is Venus Black is one of those books where the cover art grabbed me. I'm glad it did. It's not a shocking book, but it's one where I really grew to like the heroine.

Venus Black is just 13 when she commits a crime and winds up serving six years. It's hard to believe that the quiet, studious girl would do something of this nature. She's pretty sure her teachers would never believe their exceptional student would be guilty of anything that could lead to such devastation. It does and she's charged and sentenced. Not long into her incarceration, her younger brother, a boy with special needs, vanishes. Despite the police's best efforts, they're unable to find him.

Six years pass. Venus is released and given the chance to start a new life. She changes her name and finds a job in Seattle where she hopes to start anew. There's a young man showing a clear interest in her. She also finds herself becoming a mother figure to a troubled young girl. Through all of this, thoughts of her brother don't quiet down. She starts to wonder if it's possible to start over without going back to the day her life completely changed.

There are things you need to know about My Name is Venus Black. It's set in the 1980s. This is a time before cell phones, computers for the most part, and the internet. When you remember this, it becomes very clear why Venus had to do things in certain ways. My dad's position at IBM put a computer in our home, and most of my friends would flock to our house because we had a home computer. You have to remember this as Venus starts exploring her brother's disappearance.

When Venus goes out to find a place to live, you might wonder why a girl is playing by herself on the streets without any parental supervision. Again, back then this was normal. From the time we could ride bikes, my friends and I would go as far as a half mile away to shop at the local corner store or play on the school playground. It wasn't that big an issue yet. Most moms stayed home while the dads worked. No matter where I happened to be, I knew someone's mom was watching me and reporting back to my mom if I misbehaved.

This is what made My Name is Venus Black so honest. The time frame was created to clearly match the attitudes of that era. Venus is flawed, but she tries to make herself better. Her crime is left up to you to decide what happened. Only at the very end is the truth revealed.

Are there parts where I felt things fell together too easily? Oh, yes. That, however, never stopped me from really enjoying this story.

Sunday, February 4, 2018

The Lucky Ones by Tiffany Reisz

Setting: Coastal Oregon
Genre: Suspense/Mystery
Publisher: MIRA
Author: Tiffany Reisz
Release Date: February 13, 2018

Thirteen years ago, Allison went to live with Dr. Vincent Capello in his expansive oceanfront home known as "the Dragon." Her time in this home came to an end when she was found unconscious at the bottom of the stairs. She's spent more than a decade convinced that someone tried to kill her.

Allison finds herself drawn back to the house when she learns Dr. Capello is dying. His son Roland, Allison's foster brother, hopes she'll return. As her long-time lover has gotten another woman pregnant and is leaving Allison, she sees this as a chance to start anew.

In Oregon, Allison finds her attraction to Roland Capello has no faded. With Roland's help, Allison decides to uncover the truth. She wants to know what happened the night she was forced to leave. That means diving into things that she never knew about herself and the people who became the closest thing to family she ever had.

There's a bit of a gothic feel to The Lucky Ones. The house is detailed throughout the narrative. I could imagine the glimmering green scales and towering peaks. The characters are mysteries. You know what's going on with Allison, but her foster siblings are enigmas. It's hard to tell if they should be creeping you out or making you cheer. These are four remaining foster kids who've grown up with completely different views on what happened and lifestyles after. 

While there are romantic aspects, a lot of this book is a mystery/suspense. You want to know what happened to Allison so many years ago. When it finally comes out, I actually wasn't surprised. I had a feeling that's where things were going. It's not exactly predictable, but it wasn't a huge twist ending for me either.

This was a solid read in a setting I love. I found myself rooting for Allison and hoping I might be able to catch up with her in the future.

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