Thursday, May 18, 2017

Before We Were Yours

Before We Were YoursBefore We Were Yours by Lisa Wingate
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

In 1939, twelve-year-old Rill Foss lives with her parents, three younger sisters, and a toddler brother in a ramshackle shantyboat on the Mississippi River near Memphis, Tennessee. All is well in their world until the stormy night when their father has to rush their mother to the hospital across the river in a frantic attempt to save both her and the twin babies she's struggling to bring into the world. The next morning, while Rill and the fifteen-year-old ward of their family friend are in charge, the police come and force the five siblings into a car, saying they are taking the children to visit their folks in the hospital. Rill knows this is a lie but is powerless to prevent her siblings from being kidnapped and taken to the Tennessee Children's Home Society orphanage where Rill, her sisters, and her brother are plunged into a nightmare of abuse and separation.

In present-day South Carolina, Avery Stafford is a privileged daughter of a prominent family, a successful attorney, and engaged to marry a lifelong friend. While home helping her father the senator get through a health crisis, an elderly woman in a nursing home mistakes her for someone else...and changes Avery's life forever. Buried family secrets lead Avery to question who she is and what she wants in her life.

Rill and Avery's stories are told in alternating chapters, urgent and riveting, their paths slowly converging in ways both inevitable and unexpected. Bittersweet, heartbreaking, and ultimately hopeful.

4.5 stars, but I'm rounding up because the .5 off is solely due to my incomprehension over why the present-day characters feel the past should remain a secret. Who cares if it becomes public knowledge that nearly 80 years ago children were kidnapped and sold to adoptive families? The perpetrators are long since dead, and the victims deserve to have their stories told. How would it harm the senator if people knew his mother had been one of those children? This makes no sense to me.

For readers' advisors: all four doorways are strong, especially character & story. In some ways it qualifies as a "clean read," but the subject matter might not be what readers are looking for if they ask for that. The novel is based on real-life events wherein Georgia Tann ran a Memphis-based adoption organization that elevated the perception of adoption and orphans while simultaneously ripping families apart as she coordinated the kidnapping and sale of impoverished children to wealthy families across the country from the 1920s to 1950. Thousands of children endured horrific abuse, and hundreds died (or were killed).

I do not recommend reading this novel at bedtime because you won't be able to put it down, and if you did manage to put it down, you'd lay awake thinking about it instead of sleeping. Or at least, that's what happened to me!

Many thanks to NetGalley and the publisher for letting me read an advanced reader's copy (ARC) in exchange for my honest review.

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Monday, February 27, 2017

Merely a Marriage

Merely a MarriageMerely a Marriage by Jo Beverley
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

When Princess Charlotte dies in childbirth, it sends British society into a tailspin of mourning and reminds Lady Ariana Boxstall just how fragile life can be. Although she has been firmly "on the shelf" since a disastrous coming out season when she was only 17, she is desperate to have her younger brother marry and start a family, ensuring their family name and fortune will never fall into the hands of their drunkard uncle. The siblings make a grudging bargain: Norris will marry if Ariana will. To Town they go, in search of spouses they can each both tolerate and persuade quickly into matrimony. To Ariana's dismay, this means she suddenly finds herself frequently in company with the same man who broke her heart 8 years ago. However, he isn't the same man he once was, any more than she is the same girl she was back then, and maybe, just maybe, hearts can be healed.

Took me a little while to get into this story, but I grew to like the characters and wanted to know what would happen to them and what had happened in the past. Might have gone with 4 stars, but I have some issues with the plausibility and internal (in)consistency of the ending, which I can't fully discuss without spoilers. Still, it was a fun read, and I thoroughly enjoyed it.

For readers' advisors: character doorway is primary, setting (right after the death of Princess Charlotte) secondary. A bit of mild swearing, some kisses, and one not-at-all-descriptive sex scene.

Many thanks to NetGalley and the publisher for letting me read an advance copy of the ebook in exchange for my honest review.

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Saturday, November 19, 2016

Pleating for Mercy

Pleating for Mercy (A Magical Dressmaking Mystery, #1)Pleating for Mercy by Melissa Bourbon Ramirez
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Harlow Cassidy has recently returned to Bliss, Texas, after years of working in NYC as a fashion designer. She's set up a custom dressmaking shop in the house her recently deceased great-grandmother left her, and she's eager to get her new business off the ground. However, having a client's bridesmaid murdered in her garden isn't helping, so Harlow is quite motivated to figure out who the real killer is and clear her name.

This is the first installment of a fun cozy mystery series with elements of magic and ghosts. The Cassidy women have all been gifted with various talents thanks to a wish made by their long-dead many-times-great grandfather, Butch Cassidy. (Yes, that Butch Cassidy.) Death doesn't necessarily put an end to these talented women, either, as Harlow comes to realize.

I read this book about the same time I read the first in another magical mystery series, Secondhand Spirits, by Julia Blackwell. Both are enjoyable, but overall, this one feels more like a cozy, despite surface similarities of magical backgrounds, affinity for knowing what clothes someone should wear, trying to get fledgling businesses off the ground, and potential non-magical love interests. It's a bit lighter in tone.

One thing that left me puzzled, though: How in the world did Miriam and the sheriff know to barge into the bathroom there at the end when Harlow was being attacked by the killer? That made no sense. Did I miss something?

For readers' advisors: story doorway is primary, character & setting secondary. No sex or graphic violence, but I think there might have been a couple of mild swear words? I forget--it's been a couple months since I finished it. (I'm just really behind with reviews.)

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Saturday, October 22, 2016

Secondhand Spirits

Secondhand Spirits (A Witchcraft Mystery, #1)Secondhand Spirits by Juliet Blackwell
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

After leading a globe-trotting, itinerant life for years, Lily Ivory has finally settled down to run a vintage clothing store in the Haight-Ashbury district of San Francisco. She's making friends and enjoying the quirkiness of the area that helps camouflage her own powerful talent for witchcraft. Then one day, a child is kidnapped and a client dies under mysterious supernatural circumstances. Despite her reluctance to get involved and reveal her talents, Lily can't let the evil go unchecked, and she dives head first into a paranormal battle to save the little girl from La Llorona.

The first book in this cozy mystery series felt more like an urban fantasy where the main character happens to solve a suspicious death and save an abducted child. I liked it once I got used to the idea that it wouldn't be as lighthearted as either of Heather Blake's magical cozy mystery series--this series has a more "realistic" depiction of witchcraft, with detailed recipes for brews, spells, charms, etc.

The budding romance angle was appealing to me--I like Max and think the relationship could work if he softens his stance on the (non)existence of magic. I do not like the character Aidan, the male witch. He seriously creeps me out, not the least of which due to his unnatural charisma. I hope future volumes of this series reveal more of his secrets--I feel sure he's got nefarious ulterior motives.

For readers' advisors: story doorway is primary. There are a few mild swear words and a couple of creepy-atmosphere scenes, but no sex or graphic violence. It is a cozy mystery, but it feels a little darker (or perhaps more serious?) than other cozies, even other cozies featuring some type of magic or witchcraft. Fans of the TV show "Charmed" would most likely enjoy this series.

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Tuesday, October 18, 2016

A School for Brides

A School for Brides (Keeping the Castle, #2)A School for Brides by Patrice Kindl
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

The eight young ladies of the Winthrop Hopkins Female Academy came to attend the school through disparate circumstances and harbor a wide range of goals and dreams, yet they share one thing in common: the understanding that finding a suitable husband is infinitely more difficult when one lives in a tiny village virtually devoid of potential candidates. This doesn't perturb Miss Rosalind Franklin, who would much rather devote herself to scientific studies, but it greatly alarms the other seven, including those too young to be in immediate danger of spinsterhood. Fortunately (for the ladies, anyway), their prospects improve when a young, handsome, injured traveler takes up temporary residence in the school's guest room and is visited by his young, handsome friends. Toss in a mysterious admirer, a scheming governess, and a giant sheepdog, and life in Lesser Hoo is anything but dull.

This was a light, fun read. I very much enjoyed the humorous, vaguely Austenesque style of writing and the creativity of the names. I did have difficulty on occasion, however, keeping the characters straight, so I was thankful for the Character List at the beginning of the book--I referred back to it often.

For readers' advisors: language and story doorway are primary, setting secondary. No sex, violence, or bad language. A few characters from Keeping the Castle reappear in this book, but it's not really necessary to have read the first in the series in order to enjoy the second. Although several of the girls are engaged by the end, the book comes across more as historical fiction than historical romance, since you never really delve deeply into any of the romantic relationships--the development of friendships between several of the girls is just as (or more) important.

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Saturday, October 15, 2016

Jeweled Fire

Jeweled Fire (Elemental Blessings, #3)Jeweled Fire by Sharon Shinn
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Corene grew up as a princess in the royal court of Welce, believing she had a decent chance of becoming the next queen. When that changes, she is left without direction or purpose and decides to make a big change to demonstrate her independence. Stowing away aboard a ship headed for Malinqua and a chance to become a queen there by marrying one of the empress's three nephews seems like a grand adventure...until she realizes the current ruler is playing a mysterious game of her own, and the visiting princesses competing for the throne are more like pampered hostages than guests. Still, the chance to reinvent herself gives Corene the opportunity to make close friends--something she's never really had before. Along with Foley, her steadfast bodyguard, Corene and her new friends must uncover the secrets hidden by members of Malinqua's court if they are to survive the struggle for succession.

Corene wasn't my favorite character in the first two books, although she definitely grew on me as Ms Shinn developed her character and gave glimpses of the hurting girl beneath the spoiled behavior. She really gets her chance to grow up and shine in this volume of the series, though! Her impulsive behavior at the beginning definitely fit with the developmental stage of an older teenager, but by the end of the story, I kept thinking she was older than her chronological age.

Interestingly, none of the primary characters in this book has magical abilities, unlike in the two previous volumes. This makes for a different feel to the story. Not better, not worse--just different.

For readers' advisors: character and setting doorways are primary, story and language strong secondary doorways. Sharon Shinn is a master of world-building! The 3 mild swear words--2 in the same sentence--are the reason I hesitate to mark this book as "clean reads." There are strong elements of romance and murder mystery, although not enough to label them as either of those genres, especially romance since the story would remain even if the romance between Corene and Foley were removed. Book #3 in this series starts off at a leisurely pace that intensifies as it progresses toward the suspenseful climax. Despite the entire book taking place outside Welce, it still should be read in series order so as to fully understand and appreciate the history and context.

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Saturday, October 8, 2016

A Whole Latte Murder

A Whole Latte MurderA Whole Latte Murder by Caroline Fardig
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Just as things are getting back to normal at Java Jive, the Nashville coffee shop Juliet Langley manages for her best friend Pete, Juliet's neighbor is killed and one of her employees (the neighbor's roommate) goes missing during her shift. Juliet and Pete are determined to find her before she ends up becoming the next victim. Ryder's recent promotion to homicide detective complicates his on-again/off-again relationship with Juliet.

I liked this one MUCH better than book #2. Except for the love...rectangle(?) that drove me nuts. I still hate that Ms. Fardig wrote herself back into a mess instead of developing Juliet and Pete's long-standing-but-suppressed love for each other. Their attempts to date other people will never be successful if they are too cowardly to explore the possibilities of a meaningful romantic relationship with each other first. And once they give their own relationship a chance, there will be no need to date anyone else anyway!

At least the secondary characters were more consistent and logical. I suspected the plasticized Dr. was fishy early on, so thankfully the big reveal wasn't as out of left field as in the previous book.

For readers' advisors: story doorway is primary, character secondary. There is plenty of swearing, but most of the sex happens off-screen. There is a bit of violence, but it's not too graphic.

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