Review: Notorious (Book #1: (Rebels of the Ton Series) by Minerva Spencer

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The cure for a willful wife…

Drusilla Clare is full of opinions about why a woman shouldn’t marry. But that doesn’t stop the rush of desire she feels each time her best friend’s brother, notorious rake Gabriel Marlington, crosses her path. So imagine her dismay when she finds herself in the clutches of a scoundrel, only to be rescued by Gabriel himself. And when Gabriel’s heartless—and heart-pounding—proposal comes, it’s enough to make Dru’s formidable resolve crumble…

…is a smitten husband.

She’s sharp-tongued, exasperating—and due to one careless moment—about to become his wife. Still, something about Drusilla has Gabriel intrigued. First there’s the delicious flush of her skin every time she delivers a barb—and then the surprisingly sensual feel of her in his arms. Gabriel even finds himself challenged by her unusual philosophies. And when he discovers a clandestine rival for Dru’s affection, his temperature flares even hotter. But the real threat to their happiness is one neither of the newlyweds sees coming. If they’re to save their future—and their very lives—they’ll need to trust in each other and their growing love.

Source: NetGalley and Purchase Rating: 4½/5 stars

Gabriel Marlington has spent his life as an outsider.  Oh, make no mistake, the Ton puts on quite a show of accepting him, but mothers everywhere are certainly not clamoring for their daughters to marry Gabriel despite his title and fortune.  In truth, there is only woman who would be beyond pleased to marry Gabriel Marlington, but she certainly isn’t going to tell him that!

Drusilla Clare is, much like Gabriel, a grudgingly accepted member of the Ton.  She is ridiculously wealthy, cultured, witty, and intelligent, but her father made their fortune as a shop owner.  Yes, Dru’s money comes from good old fashioned hard work rather than inheritance, and for that, she is largely shunned.  The exception to the shunning is Dru’s best friend who also happens to be Gabriel’s stepsister.  For years now, Dru has been among Gabriel’s family and though she has grown to love Gabriel, she has no intention of making her feelings known.  Gabriel has always made it quite clear, Dru is little more than a mouthy irritant who is only worth his time when he is in the mood for a little verbal sparring.

Fate is a funny figure and while she often appears capricious or even fickle, it often turns out she knows better than most and her actions are reasonable once the whole event plays out.  Of course, in the beginning, folks like Dru and Gabrielle have no compassion nor understanding for Fate and her machinations, especially when they find themselves unexpectedly engaged following circumstances beyond their control. 

Oh, yes!  While Dru is secretly pleased with her circumstances in some ways, she also feels terrible to be tying Gabriel to a life he clearly doesn’t want.  Though her feelings are certainly mixed, Dru decides she will do her level best to make the best of the situation even if her new husband isn’t willing to do so.  For his part, Gabriel is determined to make the best of the situation even if his new wife clearly has no desire to be with him.  Wouldn’t it be some kind of wonderful if the two actually spoke to one another? 😊  Of course, actually talking to one another would eliminate a great deal of the drama and tension and make this read so much less fun!

The Bottom Line:  I quite liked this book, and I especially liked the very feisty nature of Dru and Gabriel; both are strong-willed, opinionated characters who are actually perfectly suited for one another if they can get past their own hang ups.  Adding to the tension of this read is the mess created by a particularly odious member of the Ton whose goal in life is seemingly to ruin Gabriel.  With all the intrigue and reckless behavior, it is hard for Gabriel and Dru to come together as a couple; on the flip side, all the intrigue and reckless behavior also creates a wonderful dynamic that also (eventually) draws them together.  I found the whole affair to be quite entertaining and am quite glad the Ton is full of characters just waiting to tell their own story.

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Review: The Last Bookshop in London by Madeline Martin

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August 1939: London prepares for war as Hitler’s forces sweep across Europe. Grace Bennett has always dreamed of moving to the city, but the bunkers and blackout curtains that she finds on her arrival were not what she expected. And she certainly never imagined she’d wind up working at Primrose Hill, a dusty old bookshop nestled in the heart of London.

Through blackouts and air raids as the Blitz intensifies, Grace discovers the power of storytelling to unite her community in ways she never dreamed—a force that triumphs over even the darkest nights of the war.

Source: NetGalley and Hanover Square Press Rating: 4/5 stars

When Grace Bennett moved to London, she saw her whole life before her.  Grace saw a glamourous job as a shop girl, nights spent out with friends at the theater, dancing, and simply celebrating being young and alive.  The reality is quite different as England is on the verge of war with a very determined Adolf Hitler and Grace’s options are far different than she once dreamed of. 

The reality of Grace’s lie in London is sharing a small room with her best friend in a small boarding house, thanks to curfews and restrictions there are no fun nights out, and the job in a glamourous department store is actually a position in a dusty old bookshop.  While Grace is not all pleased with her placement, she soon sees ways in which she can turn her negative into a positive.  The shop’s proprietor is a grumpy old man who largely leaves Grace to her own devices.  Over the course of many, many weeks Grace makes huge changes to the store in terms of cleaning, accessibly, and organization. 

A happy result of Grace’s efforts is an increase in traffic and sales.  As the war inches every closer to England’s shores, books are still plentiful when so many other goods and products are not.  The bookstore is thriving, and Grace spends much of her free time dreaming up new and improved way to further improve the store’s appearance and offerings.  Unfortunately, Grace’s free time becomes far more limited as she begins to work more closely with community volunteers to help protect citizens once the German bombs begin to fall on a regular basis.  Grace’s nights are filled patrolling her neighborhood, ushering citizens to the underground shelters, and reading to those gathered in the darkness while her days are filled praying her beloved bookshop survives another day.

The Bottom Line:  I’m not entirely sure what I expected from this book, but I got a truly fine read.  Grace is perhaps one of the strongest characters I have had the pleasure of reading about in a good long while.  Grace’s strength is quiet yet determined and while she never feels she is doing enough for the people around her; she eventually realizes her efforts are exactly what is needed just when needed.  In so many ways, Grace becomes the center of her small community, the calm in the storm others know they can count on, rely on.  What’s more, and perhaps the real message of this book, is how the community rallies around Grace when she needs them.  I am a sucker for a book with a great sense of spirit and community and I certainly found that in spades here.

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Review: Murder Comes to Notchey Creek (Book #1: Harley Henrickson Series) by Liz S. Andrews

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It’s Halloween in Notchey Creek, Tennessee, and whiskey distiller Harley Henrickson is in the midst of preparations for the town’s autumn harvest festival. Harley lives a quiet life of books and hard work, an introvert who is dismissed by many as the town nerd. Her life is changed when she and her best friend, Tina Rizchek discover a disoriented stranger in the ditch, mumbling about a lost boy who was “innocent.” When the man disappears into the woods, Harley is left with many unanswered questions. Who was the mysterious man, and what happened to the innocent boy?

As she digs deeper, she discovers the stranger, in reality, was no stranger at all, and had ties to many highly-esteemed citizens in town. When one of those citizens, a wealthy history professor, is murdered on Halloween night, Harley decides to investigate. What she discovers is a multitude of secrets, lies, and sins, dating back decades, and revolving around a handsome and brooding rock star who has chosen Notchey Creek as his new home.

In addition to sleuthing, other issues are causing problems for Harley. Professional football player-turned sheriff, Jed Turner, doesn’t appreciate her interference in the murder investigation. The mayor and Chamber of Commerce president are convinced her pet pig, Matilda, is trying to ruin Pioneer Days. Her great-aunt, Wilma True–in between her hair emergencies–is on a mission to create matching festival outfits for Harley and her pig. And thanks to her great-uncle, Tater, she finds herself hauling a giant model cupcake, a pig, and an antique toilet in her truck–all in one week.

Source: Purchase Rating: 4½/5 stars

Harley Henrickson has spent her life being underestimated, dismissed, or simply scorned.  An orphan at an early age, Harley was raised by her beloved whiskey-distilling grandfather, her aunt Wilma and Uncle Tater.  Harley is intelligent beyond compare, but life has kept her from pursuing a college education and realizing her true intellectual potential.  With all the said, Harley wouldn’t change one thing about her life and has learned to fully accept her place in town as the nerdy girl with virtually no friends. 

Harley’s best friend is the high-strung yet supremely talented local bakery owner, Tina Rizchek.  Most of Tina’s phone calls to Harley begin with some form of shrieking, but in this instance, the shrieking is completely justified.  When Harley makes her way to Tina, the two friends find an unconscious man in a ditch with no identification and no means of conveying to the women how he got there and in such a state.  What’s more, in a small town like Notchey Creek, everyone knows everyone else and neither Tina nor Harley recognizes the poor man.

Though Harley certainly feels for the man, once he disappears, she assumes her role in the whole mess is over.  Harley has every been so wrong.  What transpires over the next days and weeks is a roller coaster ride of emotions, actions, and reactions that has everyone in town confused, hurt, and simply shocked by the secrets that are coming to light.  Somehow, Harley has found herself smack dab in the center of the entire mess and if she can’t solve the mystery others are most certainly going to suffer.

Harley’s inherent intelligence and ability to mentally organize a load of information at a time are two of her greatest strengths.  Her other strength lies in the fact that the people who truly know her, trust Harley and are willing to help her with information.  Every person Harley talks to gives her a bit more information and with the help of the local library, Harley discovers a truth that has been buried for more than 20 years.  Exposing the truth will alter the lives of a number of people as well as bring closure to several others.  One thing is certain, no matter what Harley does, Notchey Creek is going to be forever changed.

Despite seemingly always being on her own, Harley finds herself surrounded by people as she investigates the various mysteries wrapped around the mystery man in the ditch.  Perhaps the loudest and most obnoxious is town sheriff, Jed Turner.  Once upon a time, Harley and Jed were good friends, but circumstances beyond their control tore them apart and now the two have something of a contentious relationship.  Harley being far better at Jed’s job than he is certainly earns her no good will.  What Jed simply can’t wrap his brain around is the fact Harley wants no recognition for her work, only the satisfaction of knowing she has righted several wrongs and genuinely helped people in distress. 

The Bottom Line:  It’s only April but I’m going to call this one of my favorite books of the year.  What a wonderful new cozy mystery series for me and one I am very excited about sharing with others.  The characters in this book really are wonderfully weird, quirky, and varied.  From the delightful Aunt Wilma and Uncle Tater to the arrogant (though with a heart?) sheriff, I took such great pleasure in learning about each of these characters and how they fit into Harley’s life.  For as much as I loved the characters, I loved the amount of history and backstory found in this book.  So much about the local history, legends, and families is dealt with in this book and it was a delight to see it all play out and come together as it should, in the end.  I found the plot to be just a smidge darker than the average cozy mystery, but this only enhanced the read further for me.  In all, this is a very exciting new series well worth adding to your TBR.

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Review: The Body in the Beauty Parlor (Book #6: A Jazzi Zanders Mystery Series) by Judi Lynn

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In addition to her house-flipping talents, Jazzi Zanders is breaking ground as a sleuth. But she’s going to need every tool at her disposal to solve two crimes . . .

In their hair salon, Jazzi’s sister Olivia and mother are savvy businesswomen whose creativity brings fashion and flair to the folks of Rivers Bluff, Indiana. So when their newest hairstylist Misty is caught scamming clients’ debit cards and selling beauty products during off hours to pocket the profits, Olivia fires her. But Misty retaliates by hitting back with a defamation lawsuit—which she is more than happy to drop if Olivia pays her ten grand.

But neither blackmail nor courtroom fees are accrued after Misty’s body is discovered in the salon with Olivia’s scissors stuck in her chest. Olivia may be the number one suspect, but her murdered employee had a reputation for making enemies.

Then Jazzi’s ex Chad appears, asking for help with his marital strife. This already awkward situation worsens when Chad’s wife vanishes and the police investigate him. Now, it’s up to Jazzi to clear both her sister’s and ex’s names while the killer—or killers—could be a mere hair breadth’s away . . .

Source: Purchase Rating: 4/5 stars

Jazzi Zanders always has her hands full.  Between her full-time job flipping houses, her weekly family dinners, and her crime solving hobby, Jazzi has more than she can handle on a regular basis.  In her limited free time, Jazzi enjoys hanging out at home with her handsome Viking, playing with her adorable animals, and planning special meals and events for her family.  Unfortunately, there isn’t a great deal of down time, currently. 

Just as Jazzi, Ansel, and her cousin begin the heavy lifting on a new project, Jazzi is called by her sister Olivia with a very serious problem.  Turns out, Olivia’s recently fired hairdresser had the audacity to not only steal from Olivia and her mother’s business, but she also found herself dead as can be with Olivia’s scissors sticking straight out of her chest.  While the situation certainly doesn’t look good for Olivia, Jazzi is on the case and won’t stop until she knows the truth of the matter.

With Detective Gaff along for the ride, Jazzi begins a deep dive into the victim’s life and quickly discovers she was not well liked by most who knew her.  While this doesn’t narrow down the list of suspects, it certainly does cast suspicion on others more so than Olivia.  Because the universe is always watching and waiting for an opportunity to mess with a human, just as Jazzi is knee deep in her sister’s case, she gets a phone call from her despicable ex-boyfriend looking for help with the case of his missing wife.  Though Jazzi has reservations about allowing Chad back into her life, Jazzi’s grandmother utters several proclamations Jazzi simply can’t ignore.  With two cases unfolding simultaneously, it will be a wonder if Jazzi ever has a free moment for herself.

The Bottom Line:  I am still finding this series both entertaining and engaging, but I have to say, even with two mysteries in this read, I was more enthralled by the work done on the flip house and the scrumptious meals concocted by Jazzi.  Somehow the meals and the work on the houses simply stood out more this time than in previous books.  The house is unlike anything the crew has ever done, and Jazzi and the other women really outdo themselves with the weekly offerings for dinner.  It is in these moments, the quieter family and work moments that I get the most pleasure from this series and sincerely hope the creativity of these situations never wanes.  Does this mean I didn’t enjoy the mystery bits? Absolutely not!  The mysteries are integral to this series and without them the other bits wouldn’t seem so intimate and precious.  I’m still all in on this series and look forward to round seven!

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Mini Review: The Expected One (Book #1: Magdalene Line Trilogy) by Kathleen McGowan

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Two thousand years ago, Mary Magdalene hid a set of scrolls in the rocky foothills of the French Pyrenees, a gospel that contained her own version of the events and characters of the New Testament. Protected by supernatural forces, these sacred scrolls could be uncovered only by a special seeker, one who fulfills the ancient prophecy of l’attendue — The Expected One.

When journalist Maureen Pascal begins the research for a new book, she has no idea that she is stepping into an ancient mystery so secret, so revolutionary, that thousands of people have killed and died for it. She becomes deeply immersed in the mystical cultures of southwest France as the eerie prophecy of The Expected One casts a shadow over her life and work and a long-buried family secret comes to light.

Maureen’s extraordinary journey takes her from the dusty streets of Jerusalem to the cathedrals of Paris . . . and ultimately to search for the scrolls themselves. She must unravel clues that link history’s great artistic masters, including Sandro Botticelli, Nicolas Poussin, and Jean Cocteau; the Medici, Bourbon, and Borgia dynasties; and great scientific minds like Leonardo da Vinci and Isaac Newton. Ultimately, she, and the reader, come face-to-face with Jesus Christ, Mary Magdalene, John the Baptist, Judas, and Salome in the pages of a deeply moving and powerful new gospel, the life of Jesus as told by Mary Magdalene.

Source: Purchase Rating: 5 stars

The Bottom Line:  For a whole host of reasons, Mary Magdalene has long been one of my favorite historical figures.  I find her story and the narratives that have been spun about her over the last 2,000 years to be utterly fascinating.  I have read this particular book at least three times now and I have yet to lose my interest in this story.  This book tends a bit more toward the esoteric, the spin off groups with their various beliefs about the Magdalene, as well as the Biblical research related to her life.  I devoured every bit of this book, but my favorite parts without doubt are the chapters that are told from the perspective of the Magdalene.  Once the story leaves the present and delves deeply into the past, I could not turn pages fast enough.  This is most certainly an alternative narrative and because of that I do not think it will appeal to all readers.  For me, this alternative seems highly likely and not only possible but plausible.  In truth, I would sincerely hope and wish the life of the Magdalene presented in this fictional story is something which would have happened for one of history’s most misunderstood women.  With all this being said, I must also mention the skill with which the time slips are handled in this book.  Time slips either go wonderfully right or horribly wrong; in this instance, the shifts between the past and the present shift smoothly and encourage further reading.  Finally, I found the explanations of some of history’s most truly complicated and complex characters and situations to be easily accessible.  In all, a fairly perfect read for me.

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Review: Maggie Finds Her Muse by Dee Ernst

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All Maggie Bliss needs to do is write. Forty-eight years old and newly single (again!), she ventures to Paris in a last-ditch effort to finish her manuscript. With a marvelous apartment at her fingertips and an elegant housekeeper to meet her every need, a finished book—and her dream of finally taking her career over the top—is surely within her grasp. After all, how could she find anything except inspiration in Paris, with its sophistication, food, and romance in the air?

But the clock is running out, and between her charming ex-husband arriving in France for vacation and a handsome Frenchman appearing one morning in her bathtub, Maggie’s previously undisturbed peace goes by the wayside. Charming and heartfelt, Dee Ernst’s Maggie Finds Her Muse is a delightful and feel-good novel about finding love, confidence, and inspiration in all the best places.

Source: NetGalley and St. Martin’s Press Rating: 3/5 stars

For the first time in her career, Maggie Bliss has a serious case of writer’s block.  The words simply won’t come, and she is on a deadline that is closing in at lightning speed.  If she doesn’t finish her book, the dreams she has long worked for simply won’t happen.  If Maggie doesn’t do something soon it’s all going to come crashing down.

First, Maggie gets rid of her worthless and completely unsupportive boyfriend.  With little emotion and a load of determination, Maggie tells the lump to pack his bags and get stepping!  Though he simply can’t understand how Maggie can possibly let a catch like him go, she does and has zero regrets about her decision.

Second, Maggie accepts an absolutely stunning offer from her dear friend to fly to Paris, live in his apartment and find her muse among the sites, sights, and people of the French capital.  With nothing tying her to her current location, Maggie packs her bags, crosses the big pond, and settles in easily to her new environment.  The settling takes no time as the neighborhood is gorgeous, the apartment is sumptuous, and the company is delightful. 

Finally, Maggie must find her muse.  As it happens, that is as easily said as done.  When Maggie stumbles upon a very hungover Max in the apartment’s bathtub, she sees something special in the handsome stranger.  As it turns out, Max is the son of the live-in housekeeper and cook and often spends his down time with his mother.  In the days he spends in Paris, Max delights Maggie to no end.  He is intelligent, quite knowledgeable about Paris and the surrounding areas, and always willing to join Maggie on her adventures.  In short order, Maggie realizes when Max is around the words seem to flow more easily and her book is coming along at a brilliant pace.  If she can just keep Max around for a bit longer Maggie will be able to realize all her dreams.

The Bottom Line:  There are parts of this book I really enjoyed: I liked the setting and especially the tours through the famous sites and museums, I really liked the descriptions of all the gorgeous meals eaten, and I adored Max.  Outside of those three things, I found everything else in this book to be rather cliché and predictable.  It all had to fall apart before Max and Maggie could enjoy their HEA and the big fall apart was just a little to standard romance novel for me.  With that said, this was a fine little distraction for a night or two and though I wouldn’t tell you to move this to the top of your TBR, I would also not tell you to skip this one.

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Mini Review: On A Good Horse by Darby Karchut

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Alex Nash dreams of being a soccer star. Or a graphic artist. Maybe both. But being a cowboy? Nope and no way. Not if it means being anything like his seldom seen father.

Then, out of nowhere, tragedy shatters Alex’s world, and when he thinks life couldn’t sucker-punch him again, it does. He’s forced to live with Roberto Nash, a man he barely knows. Or wants to know.

Until Alex finds out his dad has bought him a peace offering of a sort, one with a red coat, lightning speed, and a fighting spirit. A spitfire of a horse that just might heal Alex’s heart and reunite father and son.

Source: Author, NetGalley, Purchase, and Owl Hollow Press Rating: 5 stars

The Bottom Line:  Y’all, I truly cannot get enough of these reads!  Darby Karchut has a gift for writing characters who are full, beyond interesting, fully developed, and absolutely memorable.  Once again, for me, those characters are the TALKING HORSES.  In this read, I felt a real connection to the horses as each worked to not only find his place on the ranch but among their humans as well.  In this instance, there is a horse for each human, but the smaller of the humans, Alex, has never been around horses and must learn to trust the mount his dad, Roberto has given him as a gift.  The true heart of this story is the connection between Alex and his horse.  Though they cannot talk to one another, the communicate in a myriad of other ways which is often so kind and so tender.  This is the story of trust and friendship, both of which blossom as the connection between a boy and his horse grows. 

Finally, I have said it before and I will continue to say it: if you aren’t reading Darby Karchut, get started.  Her books are beautifully written, thoughtfully conceived, and full of endearing and wonderfully likeable characters.  What’s more, Karchut’s books are appropriate for any age reader and I highly encourage you to encourage your kids to dive into her books.  You won’t regret it!

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Mini Review: The Red Casket (Book #2: Del Toro Tales Series) by Darby Karchut

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For four hundred years, generations of the Family Del Toro and their battle-savvy warhorses have secretly guarded their corner of Colorado from all things creepy. But when a menacing woman with some wicked witch powers shows up at the Del Toro ranch and demands the return of the Red Casket, twelve year old Matt Del Toro must team up with his best friend Perry—along with the warhorses Rigo and Isabel—to out-wit, out-ride, and out-fight one Viking-size sorceress.

Source: Author, Purchase, NetGalley, and Owl Hollow Press Rating: 5 stars

The Bottom Line:  Holy TALKING HORSES, Batman!  If I haven’t mentioned it in a hot minute or two, I love books with talking animals.  Talking animals always add another dimension to a story and in this particular series, the TALKING HORSES are integral part of the story.  The horses are prominent characters whose attitudes, language, and actions make them standouts among the cast of characters.  If I am honest, I get so much more pleasure out of the TALKING HORSES than I do out of the humans.  Don’t get me wrong, the humans are fine, beautifully developed characters – especially Perry! – but they come second to the TALKING HORSES for me.  Finally, I found the plot to this story to be all kinds of exciting and entertaining.  Who doesn’t love a sorceress with a grudge and a mission?  Oh, and does anyone else think that scene with Perry and the sorceress may have somehow altered Perry??  I’m looking forward to an answer to that particular question as well as the future endeavors o the Del Toro family and their amazing TALKING HORSES.

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Review: The French House by Helen Fripp

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The vineyards stretched away in every direction as he plucked a perfect red grape, sparkling with dew. “Marry me,” he’d said. “We’ll run these vineyards together.” But now he is gone. There is no one to share the taste of the first fruit of the harvest. And her troubles are hers alone…

In sleepy little Reims, France, grieving Nicole Clicquot watches her daughter play amongst the vines under the golden sun and makes a promise to herself. Her gossiping neighbours insist that the rolling fields of chalk soil are no place for a woman, but she is determined to make a success of the winery. It’s the only chance she has to keep a roof over her head and provide a future for her little girl.

But as the seasons change, bringing a spoiled harvest and bitter grapes, the vineyards are on the brink of collapse. Without her husband’s oldest friend, travelling merchant Louis, she’d truly be lost. No one else would stay up all night to help count endless rows of green bottles deep in the cellars, or spread word far and wide that Nicole makes the finest champagne he’s ever tasted. One magical night, as a shooting star illuminates their way under a velvet sky, Nicole gazes up at his warm smile and wonders if perhaps she doesn’t need to be quite so alone…

But when Louis shrinks from her touch after returning from a long trip abroad, Nicole fears something is terribly wrong. And as an old secret about her husband – that only Louis knew – spreads from the cobbled village streets all the way to the Paris salons, her heart and fragile reputation are shattered. Was she wrong to put her trust in another man? And with Napoleon’s wars looming on the horizon, can she find a way to save her vineyards, and her daughter, from ruin?

Source: Purchase, NetGalley, and Bookouture Rating: 5 stars

As a young girl with her whole life ahead of her, the headstrong Nicole Clicquot agrees to marry the man of her dreams.  With the world at their feet and beautiful and bountiful vineyards as their future, there is nothing the Clicquot’s cannot accomplish.  Unfortunately, Fate always has her hand in the lives of mere mortals and this time, she takes Nicole’s husband far too soon.  With a small child and employees to care for, Nicole decides, against all the odds and conventions of her time and place, she will run the vineyards and make them the success she and her beloved once dreamed they could be.

Though Nicole knows the mechanics of running a vineyard, her job is made doubly hard given the fact she is a woman.  In her time and place, single, even widowed women, simply don’t own and run a successful business.  At nearly every turn, Nicole is faced with yet another man hellbent on hindering her success.  What’s more, the men willing to work with her either have to grudgingly admit to her knowledge and expertise and work with her as well as becoming to next focus of the town’s gossip. 

Over the years, Nicole, her vineyards, and her employees see hundreds of ups and downs, not the least of which is Napoleon’s march across Europe.  With each new victory, Napoleon shuts down more and more of Europe making is nearly impossible and certainly illegal to export goods.  On more than one occasion, Nicole risks her own life and the lives of some of her dearest friends in order to get her wares to the countries clamoring for them.  Sometimes, the deliveries go according to plan and others are epic disasters.  The disasters threaten the very existence of Nicole’s livelihood and she will do whatever she must to ensure its existence.

The Bottom Line:  This was a long, saga-esque read that I enjoyed every minute and every page of.  I am always a fan of strong women who are far, far ahead of their time and place.  In Nicole’s case, she doesn’t bow to the whims of others, but expects others to come around to her way of thinking.  Nicole expects those who are with her to work as she does, defy convention as she does, and reap the benefits of their hard work and determination.  What I found particularly interesting about this read is the descriptions of the vineyards and the lengths Nicole is willing to go to in order to ensure her continued success.  Make no mistake, this isn’t a terribly happy read, but it is one of knowledge, determination, sheer stubbornness, and cleverness beyond anyone’s reckoning.  Nicole defies all the odds and comes out all the better for it in the end.

P.S. I also found this book under the alternate title The Champagne Widow

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Review: The Paris Apartment by Kelly Bowen

The Paris Apartment by [Kelly Bowen]

2017, London: When Aurelia Leclaire inherits an opulent Paris apartment, she is shocked to discover her grandmother’s hidden secrets—including a treasure trove of famous art and couture gowns. One obscure painting leads her to Gabriel Seymour, a highly respected art restorer with his own mysterious past. Together they attempt to uncover the truths concealed within the apartment’s walls.

Paris, 1942: The Germans may occupy the City of Lights, but glamorous Estelle Allard flourishes in a world separate from the hardships of war. Yet when the Nazis come for her friends, Estelle doesn’t hesitate to help those she holds dear, no matter the cost. As she works against the forces intent on destroying her loved ones, she can’t know that her actions will have ramifications for generations to come.

Set seventy-five years apart, against a perilous and a prosperous Paris, both Estelle and Lia must unearth hidden courage as they navigate the dangers of a changing world, altering history—and their family’s futures—forever.

Source: NetGalley and Forever Rating: 5 stars

Estelle Allard has a secret and in 1942, having secrets is a life-ending proposition.  With no intention of losing her life, Estelle learns to play the spy in a world now full of evil men and women hellbent on ridding the world of those they deem unacceptable.  As a rich, beautiful, unattached socialite Estelle fits easily into lie at the Ritz where she bumbles her way through conversations, feigns ignorance at every turn, and literally sings for her supper.  As the saying goes, looks can be deceiving.

Estelle Allard is crafty, clever, highly intelligent, and willing to risk her life for the lives of others.  Her work at the Ritz may seem frivolous to most, but Estelle’s access to the high-ranking Nazis who live and socialize at the grand hotel allow her to feed information to the Resistance at every turn.  Though she never knows if her information is doing any good, Estelle perseveres.  In fact, Estelle expands her operation beyond information gathering to the hiding of precious objects and art, and the safe passage of soldiers being smuggled from one location to another.  In an ultimate act of resistance, Estelle even hides a small Jewish child following the “relocation” of her own family.

Long days and long nights have Estelle constantly on edge and while she isn’t completely sure her efforts are making a difference, she continues on.  She plays the ignorant socialite so well that even the most discerning among the Nazi party can’t prove Estelle is anything or anyone beyond who she says she is.  That is, until the day Sophie walks into her life.  Sophie is an unknown quantity who seemingly wants nothing from Estelle in return but is willing to help her.  Though Estelle trusts few people, she chooses to trust Sophie so that she might save the life of the young girl she has been hiding for so long.  As their plans play out, the danger if discovery and capture is very real and the odds of surviving, minimal. 

The Bottom Line:  I am always drawn to books related to this time and have found myself to be quite critical of books of this genre.  The market is somewhat flooded with books related to this time and place so when I find one, I particularly like, I feel its praises should be sung far and wide.  The Fat Lady is warming up . . . In truth, this is a time slip book with the chapters alternating between Estelle and Sophie’s time and the present.  Estelle’s granddaughter Lia, who is largely in the dark about her grandmother’s past has inherited Estelle’s estate and is completely confused by what she has found.  As Lia begins to uncover the mystery of her grandmother, we are taken back in time to Estelle as she tells her own story.  I found the far more plentiful chapters of Estelle’s time and place to be the most enjoyable; the descriptions were flawless, the dialogue excellent, and the mood appropriate tense.  I found these chapters and Estelle and Sophie’s story to be the most compelling and feel the book would have been just as good (Better? Maybe?) without Lia’s presence.  This is an excellent historical fiction and a fine addition to the genre.

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