Healer’s Legacy by M. MacKinnon


cover188537-mediumColleen Fitzgerald has finally found the perfect man. But when fate steals her happiness yet again, she finds herself searching for redemption in the Scottish Highlands. A haunted castle will pit her nursing skills against a vengeful ghost and a modern killer, but also offer a chance at true love – if she is strong enough to trust her heart one more time.

Gothic romance novels played a big part in my development as a reader, so this one appealed to me as a light, uncomplicated read since it combines some of my favorite things – ghosts, a mystery, a romance, and Scotland.

I found a very pleasant, well-told story with some memorable characters. This is the 1970s gothic updated for 2020, with modern settings and language, but a very familiar plot. Our heroine gets burned by a rotten, cheating scoundrel and retreats to a remote castle/country house in another country to lick her wounds. Once there, she stumbles into some sort of historical mystery involving the supernatural and a surly man who eventually becomes her love interest.

While nothing new plot-wise, MacKinnon delivers a fun and engaging story that will appeal to romantic mystery fans.

Publication Date: April 1, 2020
Published By: DartFrog Plus
Thanks to Netgalley for the review copy

The Authenticity Project by Clare Pooley

1

cover171999-mediumThe story of a solitary green notebook that brings together six strangers and leads to unexpected friendship, and even love

Julian Jessop, an eccentric, lonely artist and septuagenarian believes that most people aren’t really honest with each other. But what if they were? And so he writes–in a plain, green journal–the truth about his own life and leaves it in his local café. It’s run by the incredibly tidy and efficient Monica, who furtively adds her own entry and leaves the book in the wine bar across the street. Before long, the others who find the green notebook add the truths about their own deepest selves–and soon find each other In Real Life at Monica’s Café.

The Authenticity Project’s cast of characters–including Hazard, the charming addict who makes a vow to get sober; Alice, the fabulous mommy Instagrammer whose real life is a lot less perfect than it looks online; and their other new friends–is by turns quirky and funny, heartbreakingly sad and painfully true-to-life. It’s a story about being brave and putting your real self forward–and finding out that it’s not as scary as it seems. In fact, it looks a lot like happiness. The Authenticity Project is just the tonic for our times that readers are clamoring for–and one they will take to their hearts and read with unabashed pleasure.

Reading this book was a balm for my soul during a particularly difficult time. I’ve spent my career believing in the power of words to reveal and heal, and Clare Pooley accomplishes that in this heartwarming story. Being authentic, truly authentic, is terrifying for most people. Would you ever reveal your deepest secret, and if you did, would it be in a notebook that you leave on a table in a coffee shop for a complete stranger to read? That’s what happens here, but instead of strangers remaining strangers, the people who find the notebook and read the contents become friends who help each other move on from particularly difficult parts of their lives.

This will make a great book club selection and will be a popular read for those who are craving happiness and human comfort.

Publication Date: February 4, 2020
Published By: Penguin Group Viking; Pamela Dorman Books
Thanks to Netgalley for the review copy

Queenie Malone’s Paradise Hotel byRuth Hogan


cover180892-mediumFrom the wildly popular bestselling author of The Keeper of Lost Things comes a surprising and uplifting story about the complicated relationships between mothers and daughters, and the magic of chosen family.

Tilly was a bright, outgoing little girl who loved fizzy drinks, naughty words, and liked playing with ghosts and matches. When her beloved father suddenly disappeared, she and her fragile, difficult mother moved into Queenie Malone’s magnificent Paradise Hotel in Brighton, with its endearing and loving family of misfits—including the exuberant and compassionate Queenie herself. But then Tilly was dealt another shattering blow when her mother sent her off to boarding school with little explanation and no warning, and she lost her beloved chosen family.

Now an adult, Tilda has grown into an independent woman still damaged by her mother’s unaccountable cruelty. Wary of people, her only true friend is her dog, Eli. When her estranged mother dies, Tilda returns to Brighton and the home she loved best. With the help of the still-dazzling Queenie, she sets about unraveling the mystery of her exile from The Paradise Hotel, only to discover that her mother was not the woman she thought she knew at all…and that it’s never too late to write your own happy ending.

With Ruth Hogan’s trademark quirky, clever, and life-affirming characters, Queenie Malone’s Paradise Hotel will dazzle readers and mesmerize them until they reach the surprising twist at the end.

I adored Ruth Hogan’s Keeper of Lost Things so was excited to crack open this new story. The description promised colorful, unconventional characters and plenty of past heartbreak and adult angst. I was not disappointed.

Hogan does a masterful job of communicating how differently people perceive the same actions and situations. The different memories of the past experienced by Tilly and her mother paint a picture of two people so far apart in how they perceive things that they essentially ruin each others lives. The reconciliation that Tilly experiences through her mother’s diaries after her death is heartbreaking, real, and ultimately beautiful.

Tilly’s relationships with the real and the unreal can be confusing at times, but ultimately come together to form a unique and special narrative.

And there has never been a better ending sentence. Read this book.

Publication Date: April 14, 2020
Published By: William Morrow
Thanks to Netgalley for the review copy

The Bookish Life of Nina Hill by Abbi Waxman

2

cover155614-mediumFrom the Publisher: The author of Other People’s Houses and The Garden of Small Beginnings delivers a quirky and charming novel chronicling the life of confirmed introvert Nina Hill as she does her best to fly under everyone’s radar.

Meet Nina Hill: A young woman supremely confident in her own…shell. The only child of a single mother, Nina has her life just as she wants it: a job in a bookstore, a kick-butt trivia team, a world-class planner and a cat named Phil. If she sometimes suspects there might be more to life than reading, she just shrugs and picks up a new book.

When the father Nina never knew existed suddenly dies, leaving behind innumerable sisters, brothers, nieces, and nephews, Nina is horrified. They all live close by! They’re all—or mostly all—excited to meet her! She’ll have to Speak. To. Strangers. It’s a disaster! And as if that wasn’t enough, Tom, her trivia nemesis, has turned out to be cute, funny, and deeply interested in getting to know her. Doesn’t he realize what a terrible idea that is?

Chick Lit is one of my least favorite genres, but a friend just recently raved to me about Abbi Waxman, so I thought I’d give this one a try. The writing is chatty and colloquial, with frequent bits of some biting wit tossed in for good measure. The story is a cute modern fairy tale where shy girl born to outgoing, world-traveling single Mom discovers family she never knew she had at the same time her trivia team loses, her bookstore is bought out, she finds love and, you guys! IT’S ALL TOO MUCH FOR HER!

Snark aside, I really enjoyed this and am 100% certain this will be a hit with women looking for a light summer read. It’s great fun.

Publication Date: July 9, 2019
Published By: Berkley
Thanks to Netgalley for the review copy

Midnight at the Tuscany Hotel by James Markert


cover153987-mediumFrom the Publisher: For years, guests of the Tuscany Hotel could leave their pasts behind and live among fellow artists. Now guests of a different sort fill the rooms, searching for their memories—no matter the cost.

Run by renowned sculptor Robert Gandy and his wife and muse, Magdalena, the Tuscany Hotel hosted guests of a certain kind—artists, actors, scientists, and engineers who left their worries behind so that they could create their latest masterpieces. Surrounded by lore, the hotel was rumored to free the mind and inspire artists’ gifts. But tragic circumstances force Robert and his family to move.

After thirteen months at war, Vittorio Gandy is haunted by memories, and his former life is unrecognizable. Once a gifted painter, now he can’t bear the vivid, bleeding colors on a canvas. His young son doesn’t remember him, and his wife, Valerie, is scared of him. But the most disconcerting change is in Vitto’s father, Robert Gandy, who has fallen from being a larger-than-life sculptor to a man whose mind has been taken by Alzheimer’s.
When Robert steals away in the night, Valerie, Vitto, and his new acquaintance and fellow veteran John go to the only place Robert might remember—the now-abandoned Tuscany Hotel. When they find him there, Robert’s mind is sound and his memories are intact.

Before long, word gets out that drinking from the fountain at the hotel can restore the memories of those suffering from Alzheimer’s and dementia. The rooms once again fill up with guests—not artists this time, but people seeking control over their memories and lives. Vitto desperately wants to clear his own mind, but as he learns more about his mother’s life and her tragic death, he begins to wonder whether drinking the water comes at a price.

A story of father and son, memories lost and found, artists and their muses, Midnight at the Tuscany Hotel explores the mysteries of the mind, the truth behind lore, and the miracle of inspiration.

This gorgeous book joins my “Best of 2019” list, pretty darn close to the top. This is storytelling at its best, with characters who twine themselves around your heart and pull tight until you think you’ll explode. The blend of Greek myth with a wholly original story about muses, memory, art, and love creates a narrative that leaves you emotionally spent. Markert explores relationships here – between fathers and sons, mothers and sons, husbands and wives, and between friends – with special emphasis on aging and memory. There are beautiful love stories here – Magdalena and Robert, and Vitto and Valerie – that explore trust, passion, friendship, and deep love that transcends the ordinary world.

This would make a fabulous selection for a book club, and is one I’ll be recommending for a long time.

Publication Date: April 9, 2019
Published by: Thomas Nelson Publishing
Thanks to Netgalley for the review copy

Book Woman of Troublesome Creek by Kim Michele Richardson


bookwomanPhotos of the pack librarians of the early 20th century have been all over library social media recently, so I was pleased to find a book about the service. While this story includes the pack service as a central element, the real story is Book Woman Cussy Mary, a member of blue people of Kentucky. Not only is Cussy Mary a woman attempting to develop a career as a librarian, she is also different because of the blue color of her skin. I was prompted to research the blue people because I’d never heard of them, and was fascinated to learn about how the families evolved.

The story here is hard to read, given the horrible living conditions of people in the Kentucky hills in the early 20th century, which were even worse for women and those who were different. I was surprised and unsettled by the violence against Cussy Mary so early in the book, and had to actually put it down for awhile to process what happened to her. I did pick up again and finish the book, finding comfort in the fact that she eventually ends up okay, but the path there was so filled with bigotry, hatred, and violence that I would warn readers who are triggered by violence against women and minorities to be cautious reading this.

Published By: Sourcebooks Landmark
Publication Date: May 7, 2019
Thanks to Netgalley for the review copy

A Treacherous Curse by Deanna Raybourn


63015F11-62D8-4D94-AF5D-84294F64F38EThe Veronica Speedwell I came to admire in A Curious Beginning is back and as fierce as ever! The semi-acknowledged, illegitimate daughter of the Prince of Wales, Veronica is an independent “modern” woman (or as independent and modern as one can be in 19th century England) who collects and studies butterflies, and has a healthy appetite for sex. She lives and works with Revelstoke Templeton-Vane, a rake of the highest order.

I was left a bit disappointed in the second book in this series, A Perilous Undertaking, and I wrote then that I felt the chemistry between Veronica and Stoker was missing. Well, no more. The sparks literally flew off the page in this one, and I was quite taken with the restraint with which Veronica comported herself during the most stressful scenes with Stoker. Raybourn has done a skillful job of slowly developing both main characters, revealing bits of their past lives in each entry in this series. Readers are kept waiting and anticipating how and when the author will achieve the coupling we are all hoping for in the future, although I am wondering if the Viscount Templeton-Vane will throw a wrench in the works of that happening.

All that speculation aside, A Treacherous Curse is a rollicking good adventure, riffing off the “Egyptian curse” trope so popular in fiction set in the late 19th and early 20th century, but not relying on the curse to move the action forward. Here, Veronica and Stoker are engaged to find the crown of an Egyptian princess which disappeared from a a dig in the Valley of Kings. Matters are complicated by the fact that a member of the dig has also disappeared, who just happens to be the man responsible for the break up of Stoker’s marriage. As usual, the author has introduced some colorful characters and trotted in old favorites from past stories (Lady Wellie is a favorite). The story is not a new one (you will find similar characters and plot elements in many of the Amelia Peabody books by Elizabeth Peters), but this series is really all about Veronica and Stoker. Raybourn can set them down inside any story and have a successful novel if she keeps focused on their relationship. Recommended for fans of blended mystery-adventure-romance-historical-fiction. Well done!

House of Shadows by Nicola Cornick


IMG_0195Elizabeth Stuart (1596-1662), daughter of James VI, wife of Frederick V, known as the Winter Queen due to her single winter as Queen of Bohemia. Not a familiar queen to most, but an engaging subject in this entertaining piece of semi-historical fiction from Nicola Cornick which blends history, mystery, mysticism, and romance.

The story opens at the close of Elizabeth’s life with a deathbed scene between her and William Craven, to whom she transfers ownership of the mysterious Sistrin Pearl. The pearl, we come to understand, is a powerful vessel for magic when combined with a particular crystal mirror. Elizabeth and Frederick, members of the clandestine order Knights of the Rosy Cross, use the pearl and mirror to foresee the outcome of battles and negotiations during their lifetime of effort to regain control of their Palatine lands. Craven, Frederick’s trusted advisor and defender, becomes the love of Elizabeth’s life, although hurt and betrayal abound throughout. Despite all the intrigue, or perhaps because of it, the pearl and mirror drive the actions of the 17th century characters through to Elizabeth’s final breaths.

Fast forward to present day, where Holly Ansell is woken in the middle of the night by a frantic phone call from her young niece, who reports that her Daddy, Holly’s brother Ben, is missing. Holly hotfoots to Ashdown Dean and the old mill where she and Ben grew up, only to find that no one seems to know much about why Ben was there and, more importantly, where he’s gone. As the days pass, Holly learns that Ben was researching family history, as well as Elizabeth Stuart, the Winter Queen. As she digs deeper, she discovers that Ben was searching for the Sistrin Pearl and the Crystal Mirror and that the story of the Winter Queen and William Craven has more significance than she could possibly imagine, both for her and the magnetic and handsome Mark, a local developer to whom Holly is attracted. Past and present come crashing together as Holly uncovers the stories of Elizabeth, Craven, and their descendants, and finally discovers what happened to Ben.

It seems I’ve been reading a lot of multi-century, historical-mystery-romances lately. Some are good, some are not so good. House of Shadows, fortunately, is one of the good ones. The author moves seamlessly between the 17th and 21st centuries, and paces the chapters and action well. Often in stories like this, the chapters are too long and full of extraneous detail, making it difficult to remember what happened in the previous chapters/centuries. Cornick devotes just enough time to each story – Elizabeth/William and Holly/Mark – alternating between past and present but always managing to tie the two together. The mystery of Ben’s disappearance keeps the action flowing in the present day, while William and Elizabeth tie everything together in the past.

The stories are interesting, and the characters are appealing. I can’t comment on the accuracy of the history, but I am intrigued enough by the Winter Queen to do some research and learn more about her, Frederick of Bohemia, and the Rosicrucians (Order of the Rosy Cross). When a novel prompts me to do that, I count it as a winner. Recommended.

Publication Date: October 17, 2017
Thanks to Edelweiss+ for the review copy

The Fortune Teller by Gwendolyn Womack


IMG_0190Part mystery, part psychic adventure, part romance – The Fortune Teller has it all. The story opens with a death, that of Marcel Bossard, renowned collector of rare books and manuscripts. That disturbing scene is followed by our introduction to Semele Cavnow, an employee of the auction firm hired to sell the Bossard collection. As she begins her work, she feels an immediate, unusual attraction to Bossard’s son, Theo, which only intensifies as she spends more time in the Bossard home in Switzerland. Eventually, she finds a hidden book, very ancient and very mysterious, but not as mysterious as the handwritten note left in the book by Marcel Bossard, which is addressed specifically to her.

As Semele translates the book, the story splits in two – the present day story revolving around the book, and the ancient story which begins in 45 bc at the Library of Alexandria. The book, it turns out, was written by a powerful seer, selected by the Egyptian Goddess Wadjet to shape the future. Semele is stunned to discover that the seer wrote to her by name in the book, and that the book foretells what will happen to Semele and Theo in the present day. Typical action-adventure ensues, with Semele eventually coming face to face with the evil genius who put all the story-pieces in play for his own demented purpose.

With this second novel, Womack cements her place in the genre with authors such as M.J. Rose and Kate Mosse. Her writing is engaging and clever, the characters and their stories are interesting, and the action moves along at a decent pace. Blending two story arcs – one in the past and one in the present – can sometimes lead to a disjointed narrative, but Womack has paced her chapters perfectly. The story is fascinating and heartbreaking at the same time, and I loved the way Womack brought two strands of the story (Nettie and Lilyas) together at the end. The only dissonance for me is the way in which Semele’s adoption news is handled. (She found out she was adopted when looking through papers after her father died.) Her reaction seemed really extreme, although the scene where she confronts her mother over her father’s death rang true. Despite this one minor issue, I thoroughly enjoyed the story and was captivated to the very end.

The Fortune Teller joins favorites such as M.J. Rose’s Reincarnationist series, Susanna Kearsley’s The Winter Sea, and Kate Mosse’s Labyrinth and Sepulchre on my bookshelves. I read and enjoyed Womack’s first book, Memory Painter, but this, her sophomore effort, is even better. Recommended.

Goblins of Bellwater by Molly Ringle

4

goblinHow could I resist a book inspired by one of my all-time favorite pieces of writing, Christina Rossetti’s Goblin Market? Molly Ringle’s reimagined Market takes place in the forests of present day Washington State, where we are introduced to Kit Sylvain, a young man bound by a family curse to take care of a tribe of goblins. By “take care of” I mean provide them with gold or whatever else they want to prevent them from messing around with the nearby humans. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t, since goblins are wily, deceitful creatures.

While Kit is tending to the goblins, sisters Skye and Livy Darwen have grown up in the small town of Bellwater, and spend hours exploring the forest, where they imagine “teeny-tinies” call to them. One day, Skye follows a path that wasn’t there before, drawn by the call of the “teeny-tinies,” which turn out to be goblins who ensnare her into their world. Kit, Livy, and Grady (Kit’s cousin who is unwittingly drawn into Skye’s drama) eventually come to understand that Skye has been cursed and join forces to keep her from becoming a goblin.

The story is fresh and engaging, and the characters well-written. Ringle skillfully develops four likable characters and weaves their stories together to an exciting, nerve-jangling ending. The story moves along at a rapid pace, with the current dilemma of Skye’s curse being nicely woven into the older story of how the goblins became attached to Kit’s family. I especially liked the fact that all four of our heroes were essentially saved by the first goblin “victim” who was snared so long ago. There’s an extraordinary amount of sex here, more than I expected, but it fits with the darker side of fairytales that few dare to tell, and creates a sizzling romantic side to an otherwise folklore/fantasy-heavy story.

I give Ringle props for taking an old story and hanging new skin on it. This will appeal to fantasy fans, for sure and would make an awesome graphic novel. Highly recommended.