Thursday, July 27, 2017

Review: A Twist in Time

A Twist in Time
By Julie McElwain
Published: April 4, 2017

When Kendra Donovan’s plan to return to the 21st century fails, leaving her stranded in 1815, the Duke of Aldridge believes he knows the reason―she must save his nephew, who has been accused of brutally murdering his ex-mistress.
Former FBI agent Kendra Donovan’s attempts to return to the twenty-first century have failed, leaving her stuck at Aldridge Castle in 1815. And her problems have just begun: in London, the Duke of Aldridge’s nephew Alec―Kendra’s confidante and lover―has come under suspicion for murdering his former mistress, Lady Dover, who was found viciously stabbed with a stiletto, her face carved up in a bizarre and brutal way.

Lady Dover had plenty of secrets, and her past wasn’t quite what she’d made it out to be. Nor is it entirely in the past―which becomes frighteningly clear when a crime lord emerges from London’s seamy underbelly to threaten Alec. Joining forces with Bow Street Runner Sam Kelly, Kendra must navigate the treacherous nineteenth century while she picks through the strands of Lady Dover’s life.

As the noose tightens around Alec’s neck, Kendra will do anything to save him, including following every twist and turn through London’s glittering ballrooms, where deception is the norm―and any attempt to uncover the truth will get someone killed.

My review:

In this sequel to A Murder in Time, Kendra heads to London to investigate the murder of Lady Dover, a house guest in the first book and also the ex of Kendra's love interest, Alec. Kendra is also dealing with frustration over her situation as well as some changes in her life as she is now the ward of the Duke, meaning a higher social status and more rules to follow. Kendra comes to realize that investigating a murder in London is very different from investigating one on the Duke's own lands and the stakes are much higher.

A Twist in Time is an enjoyable mystery though perhaps not as thrilling as the first book which involved a serial killer on the loose. On the plus side there isn't as much build up to the story because the setting is already established. Favorite characters from the first book are back including the Duke, Sam Kelly and Kendra's new best friend Lady Rebecca who is a feminist ahead of her time. I liked the growth and further development of these relationships as well as the details of life in Regency London and how crimes were solved back then. I'd suggest this series to fans of historical mystery and suspense as well as readers who like time travel fiction.

Note: I received an ARC for review purposes courtesy of the publisher and Edelweiss

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Review: The Alice Network

The Alice Network
By Kate Quinn
Published: June 6, 2017

In an enthralling new historical novel from national bestselling author Kate Quinn, two women—a female spy recruited to the real-life Alice Network in France during World War I and an unconventional American socialite searching for her cousin in 1947—are brought together in a mesmerizing story of courage and redemption.
1947. In the chaotic aftermath of World War II, American college girl Charlie St. Clair is pregnant, unmarried, and on the verge of being thrown out of her very proper family. She's also nursing a desperate hope that her beloved cousin Rose, who disappeared in Nazi-occupied France during the war, might still be alive. So when Charlie's parents banish her to Europe to have her "little problem" taken care of, Charlie breaks free and heads to London, determined to find out what happened to the cousin she loves like a sister.
1915. A year into the Great War, Eve Gardiner burns to join the fight against the Germans and unexpectedly gets her chance when she's recruited to work as a spy. Sent into enemy-occupied France, she's trained by the mesmerizing Lili, the "Queen of Spies", who manages a vast network of secret agents right under the enemy's nose.
Thirty years later, haunted by the betrayal that ultimately tore apart the Alice Network, Eve spends her days drunk and secluded in her crumbling London house. Until a young American barges in uttering a name Eve hasn't heard in decades, and launches them both on a mission to find the matter where it leads.

My review:

The story starts with Charlotte "Charlie" St. Clair who is traveling abroad with her mother and briefly stopping over in England before finishing their trip to Switzerland. Charlie is pregnant and their destination is a clinic where the "little problem" can be taken care of. But Charlie also hopes to discover what happened to her cousin Rose who disappeared during WWII and the key to her quest is Eve Gardiner. She escapes her mother's clutches and finds Eve with the hope that she will lead Charlie to Rose. 
Eve is a fascinating character. During WWI, she became a spy in France and the parts of the story that share her experience during that time are the most compelling. She worked undercover at a restaurant where prominent Nazis dined and her employer was a dangerous collaborator. Eve went through some horrible experiences and the war definitely changed her. In 1947 when Charlie finds her, she is now a drunk suffering from PTSD and guilt. 
Charlie is a privileged young woman but she has her own share of grief both from her missing cousin and her brother who died tragically during the war.  I found it difficult to like Charlie at times though especially with her hallucinations of Rose (and imaginary conversations with her) as well as imaginary conversations with the "Little Problem". I did feel sorry for her because of what happened with her brother and the way her family is treating her though. I just liked Eve a lot more. 
The Alice Network was a real spy ring of women during WWI. I found that part to be really interesting. While Eve is a fictional character, "Lili" was a real historical figure and war hero, Louise de Bettignies. I liked how the author brought this little known aspect of WWI history to life. The novel becomes a page turner, especially the 1915 sections and even the 1947 part has some suspense as the past and "present" collide. Overall I really enjoyed this historical novel. I initially listened to the audio book and I thought the narration was pretty good but I had to switch to the print version because it was too suspenseful to listen to in the car on the way to work and I couldn't wait to find out what happened! I suggest this book to fans of historical fiction like The Nightingale, The Girl You Left Behind, The Orphan's Tale and the Maggie Hope mysteries by Susan Elia MacNeal. Although not quite as good as The Nightingale, it is definitely well worth reading.

Thursday, July 20, 2017

Review: The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo

The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo
By Taylor Jenkins Reid
Published: June 13, 2017

In this entrancing novel “that speaks to the Marilyn Monroe and Elizabeth Taylor in us all” (Kirkus Reviews), a legendary film actress reflects on her relentless rise to the top and the risks she took, the loves she lost, and the long-held secrets the public could never imagine.

Aging and reclusive Hollywood movie icon Evelyn Hugo is finally ready to tell the truth about her glamorous and scandalous life. But when she chooses unknown magazine reporter Monique Grant for the job, no one is more astounded than Monique herself. Why her? Why now?

Monique is not exactly on top of the world. Her husband has left her, and her professional life is going nowhere. Regardless of why Evelyn has selected her to write her biography, Monique is determined to use this opportunity to jumpstart her career.

Summoned to Evelyn’s luxurious apartment, Monique listens in fascination as the actress tells her story. From making her way to Los Angeles in the 1950s to her decision to leave show business in the ‘80s, and, of course, the seven husbands along the way, Evelyn unspools a tale of ruthless ambition, unexpected friendship, and a great forbidden love. Monique begins to feel a very real connection to the legendary star, but as Evelyn’s story near its conclusion, it becomes clear that her life intersects with Monique’s own in tragic and irreversible ways.

“Heartbreaking, yet beautiful” (Jamie Blynn, Us Weekly), The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo is “Tinseltown drama at its finest” (Redbook): a mesmerizing journey through the splendor of old Hollywood into the harsh realities of the present day as two women struggle with what it means—and what it costs—to face the truth.

My review:

I love Hollywood's Golden Age and classic movies so the subject of this book really appealed to me. Evelyn is a strong character and very fascinating though not exactly easy to relate to. In a way she reminded me of Scarlett O'Hara in her drive and determination to get what she wants. Evelyn loves fame and she wants to be at the top of the game but to get there she has to sacrifice a lot and at times she makes some bad decisions. She may have been married seven times but not one of her husbands was the love of her life.  Now that she is in the twilight years of her life, Evelyn is finally ready to "tell all" . Her story is sad at times because even with wealth and fame there was loneliness and all that she had to give up or keep secret for her career's sake.

The parts of the book that detail Evelyn's history and career are the most interesting to read about. While all the actors mentioned are fictional, their stories remind me of real Hollywood stars. Monique's storyline is not as interesting though everything ties together neatly in the end.  Readers who are fans of Old Hollywood will be caught up in this juicy story of Hollywood history, secrets and scandals. I found it to be a page-turning story, perfect for summer reading. 

Note: I received an ARC for review purposes courtesy of the publisher and Edelweiss

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Review: The Cafe By the Sea

The Cafe By the Sea
By Jenny Colgan
Published: June 27, 2017

Years ago, Flora fled the quiet Scottish island where she grew up -- and she hasn't looked back. What would she have done on Mure? It's a place where everyone has known her all her life, where no one will let her forget the past. In bright, bustling London, she can be anonymous, ambitious... and hopelessly in love with her boss.
But when fate brings Flora back to the island, she's suddenly swept once more into life with her brothers (all strapping, loud and seemingly incapable of basic housework) and her father. Yet even amid the chaos of their reunion, Flora discovers a passion for cooking -- and finds herself restoring dusty little pink-fronted shop on the harbour: a café by the sea.
But with the seasons changing, Flora must come to terms with past mistakes... and work out exactly where her future lies...
Funny and heartfelt, The Café by the Sea is a delightful summertime novel that puts a modern twist on the classic Seven Brides for Seven Brothers story. 

My review:
Flora MacKenzie hasn't been back to Mure in years. Not since a tragic loss hit her family. She is focused on her career and new life in London where she has a tiny apartment and a huge crush on her boss, Joel. Then when her firm's important new client, American multibillionaire Colton Rogers, who happens to own property on Mure, needs legal assistance he specifically requests Flora's help even though she is a paralegal. Joel gives her no choice but to go home to Mure to work on the case. Things are rocky with her family and some in the community who are not pleased that she ditched everyone for the bright lights of London. 
It is really hard for Flora to be back on Mure, facing the sorrow she left behind. Her family initially gives her a hard time, especially her brother Fintan who I wanted to punch several times. The MacKenzies have a dairy farm on Mure and it is facing hard times. That isn't the only change Flora finds when she returns. Fewer businesses and fewer people live on the island due to the economy and the locals aren't pleased that she is working for Colton Rogers who they view as an outsider who doesn't care about Mure. Flora has her work cut out for her as she hopes to win people over for her firm's sake but as she spends more time on Mure she remembers all the good things about her beautiful island home.
The Cafe By the Sea is a charming story with such a lovely setting. Flora is a really likable protagonist. I felt so bad for her as she returned home and tried to come to terms with loss and the changes and the way people were treating her at first. I was glad that she had a good friend in Lorna and gradually others warmed up to her and she started to see that not everyone was upset with her. Something that I've noticed in Jenny Colgan's books is that she creates these wonderful communities with warmhearted and caring people and that is the same here.
Of course there is also a romance. Flora is in love with her boss (Joel) who doesn't really notice her till he visits Mure and sees her in a new light. He initially comes across as a jerk but then we get his backstory and understand why he is the way he is. He changes as the book progresses too.  There is also a local guy who is interested in Flora and I won't tell you who she ends up with!
I listened to the audio book which I mostly enjoyed. The narrator did a great job with the Scottish voices. It was wonderful to listen to. The only downside was that her American voices were terrible and as two of the characters are American (Colton and Joel) it lessened my enjoyment a little. Her voice for Flora's niece Agat also grated but Agat didn't have as many lines which helped.
Overall I really liked this book. The setting was fantastic and the heroine was someone I really rooted for. Also the food descriptions made me hungry! The book includes recipes though I probably won't try them. I kind of hope the author will write a sequel so we can revisit Mure and its zany residents. If you like Scotland, village life or foodie fiction, consider picking this up!

Sunday, July 16, 2017

Sunday Post (95) / It's Monday, What Are You Reading

The Sunday Post is a weekly meme hosted by Kimberly @ Caffeinated Book Reviewer. It’s a post to recap the past week, showcase books and things we have received and share news about what is coming up on our blog for the week ahead. It's Monday, What Are You Reading is a fun weekly meme now hosted by Kathryn at Book Date, where we share what we've read and reviewed over the past week and what we plan to read next.

It's been two weeks since the last time I participated in Sunday Post or It's Monday, What Are You Reading but not much has happened aside from a root canal this past Wednesday that I am still healing from. I hate dental work :( I had to take the day off yesterday due to pain. Today I am feeling better and hopefully I'll be back to normal by Monday. I am enjoying the excuse to eat pudding and pancakes though. 

Summer reading is wrapping up at the library and now I'm starting to plan for our fair next month. This year our bookmobile won't be there but we'll have a booth of some sort. If we're lucky we'll be inside a building (though I don't think it has AC) instead of on the grass under a tent. That can get muddy (and it usually rains at least one day of fair week). I usually enjoy working at the fair though. We are going to be doing rock painting at our booth this year since that is so popular. 

Today (Sunday) is the premiere of season 7 of Game of Thrones. I am worried about the fates of my favorite characters. Such a stressful show to watch! I have also been watching The Great British Baking Show on PBS. I love that show and this is the final season (of this version of it anyway). There are older seasons that PBS hasn't shown so maybe we'll get to see some of those at least.

Last week on my blog:

Before We Were Yours by Lisa Wingate (review)
Erotic Stories for Punjabi Widows by Balli Kaur Jaswal (review)

Books read:

A Murder in Time by Julie McElwain (reread)

I wanted to reread this book before I read A Twist in Time so the characters and setting would be fresh in my mind. I enjoyed rereading the book and strangely enough I forgot which character was the killer at first so that made it more interesting.

A Twist in Time by Julie McElwain

I liked this book though it wasn't as suspenseful as A Murder in Time. This time around instead of a serial killer, someone murdered a lady in a crime of passion and Kendra's love interest is a suspect. 

Words in Deep Blue by Cath Crowley

I thought this was a pretty good book. I liked all the references to other books and the bookstore setting. I felt really bad for Rachel but it took me longer to warm up to Henry.

Of Fire and Stars by Audrey Coulthurst

This YA fantasy was okay. It featured an LGBT romance and the story was interesting but the world building was lacking and the ending was kind of abrupt. 

Love Letters to the Dead by Ava Dellaira

I am not sure how I feel about this book. There were parts of it that I liked where the writing was good but I just couldn't connect with the main character. I think it was because of the letter format.

This e-book is the first part of a serialized novel, Keep the Home Fires Burning. Home Fires was a fantastic British TV show (set in England during WWII) that aired on PBS. There were two seasons of it and the second season ended with a cliffhanger but the show was cancelled in the UK. The creator of the show is writing three books to show what would have happened next and this is the first one. The entire book will be available in print in October.

Books listened to:

Once and For All by Sarah Dessen

I was so looking forward to this book and I mostly liked it. Louna and her story were especially good. Her love story with Ethan was heartbreaking. The part of the book that let me down was the relationship with Ambrose. I thought he treated the girls he dated badly, especially at the end. I liked him as a friend for Louna but not a love interest.

The Cafe By the Sea by Jenny Colgan

I enjoyed this story and the Scottish island setting. The narration was excellent except for one notable issue: while the narrator's Scottish accents (and even her singing) are fantastic, her American accents are terrible and one of Flora's love interests is American. I recommend the book but the audio version could have been better because of that one flaw.

Currently reading:

Heartstone by Elle Katharine White

This is a fantasy retelling of Pride and Prejudice. I like it so far though I do wish there was a list of characters and creatures in the front of the book to help me keep it all straight. I sometimes struggle with fantasy fiction if a lot of unusual creatures or vocabulary are introduced.  

Currently listening to:

The Alice Network by Kate Quinn

I kind of wish I had the print version of this book. The narration is okay but sometimes the voices grate. The story is told in a dual timeline of 1915 and 1947. In the 1947 story, Charlie St. Clair is trying to track down her cousin Rose who went missing in France during the war. In the 1915 story, Eve Gardiner becomes a spy during WWI and is sent to France. Both stories converge when Charlie goes to Eve for help in finding out what happened to Rose. 

On my TBR list:

Orphan Train by Christina Baker Kline

I have owned this book for years but I'm just now getting around to reading it because my book group selected it for our July discussion.

Lucky in Love by Kasie West

I enjoyed one of her other books so I wanted to give this a try. 

Changes in Latitudes by Jen Malone

I thought this sounded interesting and I loved Wanderlost so hopefully I'll like this too.

New books received:

The Alice Network by Kate Quinn (purchased)

The Cafe By the Sea by Jenny Colgan (purchased)

Heartstone by Elle Katharine White (purchased)

The Secret History of Us by Jessi Kirby (for review)

The Paris Spy by Susan Elia MacNeal (for review)

Woman Enters Left by Jessica Brockmole (for review)

The One That Got Away by Melissa Pimentel (for review)

Lucky in Love by Kasie West (for review)

Changes in Latitudes by Jen Malone (for review)

Royal Bastards by Andrew Shvarts (library book)

Thursday, July 13, 2017

Review: Erotic Stories for Punjabi Widows

Erotic Stories for Punjabi Widows
By Balli Kaur Jaswal
Published: June 13, 2017

A lively, sexy, and thought-provoking East-meets-West story about community, friendship, and women’s lives at all ages—a spicy and alluring mix of Together Tea and Calendar Girls.
Every woman has a secret life . . .
Nikki lives in cosmopolitan West London, where she tends bar at the local pub. The daughter of Indian immigrants, she’s spent most of her twenty-odd years distancing herself from the traditional Sikh community of her childhood, preferring a more independent (that is, Western) life. When her father’s death leaves the family financially strapped, Nikki, a law school dropout, impulsively takes a job teaching a "creative writing" course at the community center in the beating heart of London’s close-knit Punjabi community.
Because of a miscommunication, the proper Sikh widows who show up are expecting to learn basic English literacy, not the art of short-story writing. When one of the widows finds a book of sexy stories in English and shares it with the class, Nikki realizes that beneath their white dupattas, her students have a wealth of fantasies and memories. Eager to liberate these modest women, she teaches them how to express their untold stories, unleashing creativity of the most unexpected—and exciting—kind.
As more women are drawn to the class, Nikki warns her students to keep their work secret from the Brotherhood, a group of highly conservative young men who have appointed themselves the community’s "moral police." But when the widows’ gossip offers shocking insights into the death of a young wife—a modern woman like Nikki—and some of the class erotica is shared among friends, it sparks a scandal that threatens them all.

My review:

When Nikki's older and more traditional sister asks her to post her matrimonial ad at the Sikh temple, Nikki reluctantly agrees even if it isn't something she herself believes in. When she visits the temple, she sees an ad for an instructor to teach creative writing and she decides to give it a go. Unfortunately the ad is misleading--the Sikh community center is looking for someone to teach basic English not writing. Things become more complicated when one of her new "students" finds an erotic book in Nikki's bag (that she'd bought as a gag gift for her sister) and the class suddenly has a new purpose. The ladies want to share erotic stories and have Nikki transcribe them. Not at all what Nikki (or the rest of the community) would expect from traditional Sikh widows! Of course there are those in the community who would strongly object if word got out and some who would resort to violence to stop it.

Nikki is an interesting foil to the women in the class. Not all of the women are traditional. One younger widow, Sheena, is more similar to Nikki in her views and behavior but most of the women are very different from Nikki. They see her as an outsider at first because she doesn't embrace traditional roles in her community. She is modern-working at a bar, wearing Western clothing instead of Indian garb, etc. Gradually as they get to know each other I think that Nikki's views of the women changes and they see her differently too. They become a support group and family to each other which is nice to see.

At the beginning of the book, Nikki is sort of aimless. She has been drifting through life since her dad died. Before his sudden death, Nikki and her father had gotten into a big fight over her career plans and it hadn't been mended so that is a pretty heavy thing to bear. She believes he died disappointed in her. Her relationship with her mom and sister is also strained but it is great to see how that changes by the end of the book as Nikki embraces more of her culture while still being true to herself. 

Erotic Stories for Punjabi Widows is an interesting blend of comedy, romance and more serious topics like abuse and women's rights. As the title implies there are some brief erotic stories told by the women in the class and interspersed through the book (but for those who don't want to read that, you can skip those parts and still enjoy the story).  The stories do illustrate a little about the characters who share them. In a way I was reminded of the tales shared by the pilgrims in The Canterbury Tales but these stories all have to do with desire.  There is also some suspense involving what happened to a young woman who is connected to the class. Everything ties together well in the end. This is a different kind of book--what we in the library field might call a "genre-blending" novel and I think it would appeal to a variety of readers. I wanted to read this book because it is Indian fiction and the hilarious title as well as the book description appealed to me. I'm glad I gave it a try.

Note: I received an ARC for review purposes courtesy of the publisher and Edelweiss

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

Review: Before We Were Yours

Before We Were Yours
By Lisa Wingate
Published: June 6, 2017

Two families, generations apart, are forever changed by a heartbreaking injustice in this poignant novel, inspired by a true story, for readers of Orphan Train and The Nightingale.

Memphis, 1939. Twelve-year-old Rill Foss and her four younger siblings live a magical life aboard their family's Mississippi River shantyboat. But when their father must rush their mother to the hospital one stormy night, Rill is left in charge--until strangers arrive in force. Wrenched from all that is familiar and thrown into a Tennessee Children's Home Society orphanage, the Foss children are assured that they will soon be returned to their parents--but they quickly realize the dark truth. At the mercy of the facility's cruel director, Rill fights to keep her sisters and brother together in a world of danger and uncertainty.

Aiken, South Carolina, present day. Born into wealth and privilege, Avery Stafford seems to have it all: a successful career as a federal prosecutor, a handsome fiancé, and a lavish wedding on the horizon. But when Avery returns home to help her father weather a health crisis, a chance encounter leaves her with uncomfortable questions and compels her to take a journey through her family's long-hidden history, on a path that will ultimately lead either to devastation or to redemption.

Based on one of America's most notorious real-life scandals--in which Georgia Tann, director of a Memphis-based adoption organization, kidnapped and sold poor children to wealthy families all over the country--Lisa Wingate's riveting, wrenching, and ultimately uplifting tale reminds us how, even though the paths we take can lead to many places, the heart never forgets where we belong.

My review:

Rill Foss grew up on the river with her parents and younger siblings. It wasn't always easy but they were happy. Then when her mom has difficulty giving birth, her parents leave for the hospital, putting Rill in charge. The next morning their boat is boarded by authorities and Rill and her siblings are taken to the orphanage. At first Rill thinks that her parents will come for her when they leave the hospital but then she finds out what really goes on at the orphanage. 

Avery Stafford is the daughter of a politician and she is being groomed for political life herself. When she makes a visit with her dad to a nursing home, she meets a new resident named May who insists that Avery's bracelet that once belonged to her grandmother is actually hers. Avery starts investigating her family history and finds out secrets that could change the way her family is viewed.

Before We Were Yours is told from the viewpoints of Rill (in the past) and Avery and May in present day. Usually when I read a book with dual timelines I find the historical story to be more interesting than the modern day one and that is the case here as well. Rill's situation is heartbreaking and the parts of the book in her POV are the strongest and most engaging. In contrast Avery's story is lackluster. I wished the story had just been told from Rill's perspective as a historical novel with an epilogue for modern day. Towards the end I felt that Rill's story was wrapped up too quickly so that we can return to the present storyline. Avery is not as compelling a character and after reading about Rill's hardship, it wasn't easy to  care about Avery's problems. There is also a forced romance that didn't work for me. 

Before I read this book I hadn't heard of the Tennessee Children's Home Society or Georgia Tann. She was an evil woman. In addition to kidnapping or coercing/tricking parents into giving up rights to their children, she also had connections in powerful places and she'd do her best to make sure birth parents couldn't find their kids again, even changing their names. The orphanage abused the kids in its' care and some even died. I won't say more so I don't spoil the story but I was surprised by how this was going on so long (till 1950).

Overall I liked the this book in spite of my issues with the contemporary part of the story because the historical part was so good. I know my views are in the minority so other readers may enjoy the book even more than I did.  While the publishers are marketing this as a book for readers of The Nightingale, that novel sets the bar pretty high and this doesn't quite work as a readalike. I'd suggest Before We Were Yours to fans of Lisa Wingate, Susan Meissner or Christian historical fiction in general.

Note: I received an ARC for review purposes courtesy of the publisher and Edelweiss.