Paris, 1939. Maison Chanel has closed, thrusting haute couture dressmaker Lila de Laurent out of the world of high fashion as Nazi soldiers invade the streets and the City of Lights slips into darkness. Lila’s life is now a series of rations, brutal restrictions, and carefully controlled propaganda while Paris is cut off from the rest of the world. Yet in hidden corners of the city, the faithful pledge to resist. Lila is drawn to La Resistance and is soon using her skills as a dressmaker to infiltrate the Nazi elite. She takes their measurements and designs masterpieces, all while collecting secrets in the glamorous Hôtel Ritz—the heart of the Nazis’ Parisian headquarters. But when dashing René Touliard suddenly reenters her world, Lila finds her heart tangled between determination to help save his Jewish family and bolstering the fight for liberation.
Paris, 1943. Sandrine Paquet’s job is to catalog the priceless works of art bound for the Führer’s Berlin, masterpieces stolen from prominent Jewish families. But behind closed doors, she secretly forages for information from the underground resistance. Beneath her compliant façade lies a woman bent on uncovering the fate of her missing husband . . . but at what cost? As Hitler’s regime crumbles, Sandrine is drawn in deeper when she uncrates an exquisite blush Chanel gown concealing a cryptic message that may reveal the fate of a dressmaker who vanished from within the fashion elite.
Told across the span of the Nazi occupation, The Paris Dressmaker highlights the brave women who used everything in their power to resist darkness and restore light to their world.
Source: NetGalley, Thomas Nelson, and Purchase Rating: 5 stars
The Bottom Line: Kristy Cambron comes out swinging yet again with another brilliantly conceived historical fiction. The Paris Dressmaker follows the lives of two women, Lila de Laurent and Sandrine Paquet as they struggle in Nazi-controlled Paris to keep their lives, keep their secrets, and keep those they love from paying for their choices. While Lila uses her skills born of the fashion industry to infiltrate the lives of high-ranking Nazis via their paramours, Sandrine uses her skills in the art world to help catalogue all that has been stolen from Jews across Europe. Through an intricate network of spies and resistance workers, the women work tirelessly to achieve their goals and thwart the Third Reich. I found this book to be endlessly fascinating! Cambron has a unique ability to bring her characters fully to life, to enliven them through their actions and words, and make them as real in print as if they were standing before you telling their own story. While I greatly enjoyed the entirety of the book, I found the last third-ish to be the most entertaining. As Lila and Sandrine’s lives begin to cross and the end of the war is upon them, the pace of the writing picks up dramatically and really brings home the sense of relief that so must surely have felt during this period., What’s more, the final chapters of the book are an incredible sort of epilogue that I found most informative, heartbreaking, and heartwarming. Cambron evokes the emotion of the time and place without creating a sense of morbidity or false happiness. The moments, the people, the plot are real and this is always going to be my kind of historical fiction.
1940. Hanna Tillich cherishes her work as an archaeologist for the Third Reich, searching for the Holy Grail and other artifacts to bolster evidence of a master Aryan race. But when she is reassigned to work as a museum curator in Nuremberg, then forced to marry an SS officer and adopt a young girl, Hanna begins to see behind the Nazi facade. A prayer labyrinth becomes a storehouse for Hanna’s secrets, but as she comes to love Lilly as her own daughter, she fears that what she’s hiding–and what she begins to uncover–could put them both in mortal danger.
Eighty years later, Ember Ellis is a Holocaust researcher intent on confronting hatred toward the Jewish people and other minorities. She reconnects with a former teacher on Martha’s Vineyard after she learns that Mrs. Kiehl’s mother once worked with the Nazi Ahnenerbe. And yet, Mrs. Kiehl describes her mother as “a friend to the Jewish people.” Wondering how both could be true, Ember helps Mrs. Kiehl regain her fractured childhood memories of World War II while at the same time confronting the heartache of her own secret past–and the person who wants to silence Ember forever.
Source: Purchase Rating: 3/5 stars
Mrs. Kiehl has spent her life in service of others; as a schoolteacher, Mrs. Kiehl strove to educate and enlighten her students often using the stories of her own family’s past to illustrate her points. Over the course of her career, Mrs. Kiehl inspired many students, but none so much as Ember Ellis.
Ember Ellis has a dark and miserable past that she works daily to forget. Thanks to her beloved former teacher Mrs. Kiehl, Ember has set her career goals on exposing the crimes of the past in an effort to prevent the atrocities of the past from being repeated. Ember’s research and teaching are devoted to the war crimes of the Third Reich and the treatment of Jews. One of Ember’s overriding goals of her research is to find just one person, one tremendously courageous human who risked everything to help those being targeted by the Nazi party.
When Ember reads an interview with her former teacher, she thinks she may have found that person, that missing link that will help her complete her dissertation. Visiting Mrs. Kiehl takes Ember down a path of her past she has vowed never to return to; while self-preservation is certainly on her mind, Ember’s desire to uncover a truth, expose a true hero is greater. Though Mrs. Kiehl is thrilled to have Ember back in her life, she doesn’t have a great deal to offer outside of tidbits and snippets of information. Though the information isn’t much, it is a clue to a trail Ember is determined to follow.
As soon as Ember touches down in Nuremberg, she begins following the minuscule leads she has gathered. With the help from a most unlikely source, Ember’s leads lead to other leads which eventually leads to a truth that changes the fabric of many, many lives. Ember’s research uncovers truths long thought lost and perhaps would have been had a young researcher with a deplorable past of her own hadn’t come along and exposed the lives, values, risks, and triumphs of a small network of men and women determined to fight against evil.
The Bottom Line: I normally enjoy and past meets present story, but I found great portions of the present part of this story to be extraneous and unnecessary. Stripping much of Ember’s backstory would have made these chapters of the book far more interesting and enjoyable. What’s more, the chapters of the book dedicated to the past are particularly strong and could easily stand on their own as a single story. I very much enjoyed the chapters dedicated to the past, to the courageous woman who occupied that time and place and faced insurmountable odds in an effort to fight against their own countrymen. These chapters reveal both the horror and the tremendous spirit of the human heart, and I found them most revealing and uplifting. Even through the horrific moments, there were flashes of faith and kindness that had me rooting for the underdog.
At twenty-six, Dahlia Lighthouse has a lot to learn when it comes to the real world. Raised in a secluded island mansion deep in the woods and kept isolated by her true crime-obsessed parents, she has spent the last several years living on her own, but unable to move beyond her past—especially the disappearance of her twin brother Andy when they were sixteen.
With her father’s death, Dahlia returns to the house she has avoided for years. But as the rest of the Lighthouse family arrives for the memorial, a gruesome discovery is made: buried in the reserved plot is another body—Andy’s, his skull split open with an ax.
Each member of the family handles the revelation in unusual ways. Her brother Charlie pours his energy into creating a family memorial museum, highlighting their research into the lives of famous murder victims; her sister Tate forges ahead with her popular dioramas portraying crime scenes; and their mother affects a cheerfully domestic façade, becoming unrecognizable as the woman who performed murder reenactments for her children. As Dahlia grapples with her own grief and horror, she realizes that her eccentric family, and the mansion itself, may hold the answers to what happened to her twin.
Source: NetGalley and Atria Books Rating: 2½/5 stars
The Bottom Line: I will freely admit, I read this book in two marathon sessions but that isn’t necessarily indicative of how much I liked this book. In truth, I found this book to be somewhat perplexing. While I fully appreciate this is a fictional story, I guess I just need my fiction to be a bit more believable and/or realistic for my satisfaction. This is most prominently on display when the Lighthouse family backstory is fully revealed; I found myself thinking how absolutely unbelievable the whole family is and how, even for fiction, this isn’t working.
From start to finish, the Lighthouse family is, as one character puts it, “unnatural.” In fact, much to my great displeasure, this sentiment is often repeated throughout the book not only verbally, but also in the actions of the characters. With each new revelation, I found myself sinking further into disbelief but, like a train wreck, I couldn’t stop watching either. Though the characters are meant to be deep and terribly disturbed, they come off more as immature adults who won’t deal with their issues. I have trouble with characters who refuse to deal with their issues which means I couldn’t ever find a character in this book to root for, though the plot would suggest rooting for the entire Lighthouse family. I don’t feel a reader should ever walk away from a book more confused than when they started the book and that’s what happened here. I finished this book with a deep sense of dissatisfaction and wonder at what I’d just read. I admit, I couldn’t stop reading, but I don’t think that inability to stop was for the right reasons.
Framed and Frosted, the third book in the Cupcake Catering Mystery series, finds cupcake caterer, Emory Martinez, working at a Laguna Beach society Fourth of July soiree, with her sister and their new employee, Sal. With a host that seems intent on accosting both catering employees and guests alike, things go from bad to worse when he accuses Sal of murdering his long-dead son.
As the crescendo of exploding fireworks overhead becomes the backdrop for cupcakes and champagne, a deadly murder occurs. Can Sal and Emory explain why the cupcake the host ate, after shoving a trayful of buttercream frosted cupcakes onto Sal, resulted in his death? Or will the guests and detective alike believe that Sal is a murderer? Emory and her octogenarian employer, Tillie, whip into action to find out who framed Sal after being frosted by the victim.
Source: Purchase Rating: 4½/5 stars
The Bottom Line: I love it when a series continues to strengthen with each additional book and that is exactly what is happening with this series. By far, the plot and characterization in this book are the strongest they have been to date, and I devoured this book because of these qualities. Yet again, Emory finds herself embroiled in not one but two mysteries and both are threatening her livelihood and her life.
As always, Emory can’t keep herself out of trouble and when a man drops dead seemingly from ingesting her sister’s food, the race is on to find the real killer, save her sister’s catering business, and the life of a young employee wrongfully jailed for the crime. In the course of sussing out the culprit for one murder, Emory stumbles upon a very serious issue within the Skylar family. Through a series of very twisted and disturbing events, it becomes clear the two mysteries are related to one another and if Emory can figure out one, the other will also become clear. Unfortunately, solving both will prove to be both literally and figuratively painful for a number of people. I found this book not only suitably entertaining, but a step up in caliber. Davis upped her game with this book and really brought together two seemingly unrelated plotlines into one succinct and slightly more complex than normal plotline. Davis also created a deal of believable, real life drama for her main characters and that caused each to make some big, life-altering decisions that will certainly play a role in later installments of the series. I liked this series before this book, but this book ignited a real fire in me that has me quite excited about Emory’s future.
When your mother is an astrologist and your dad is a minister, you learn to keep an open mind. Which is just what Mac loves to do–exercise her mind by puzzling out fictional clues in the mystery novels she reads and discusses with her Cozy Capers Book Group.
But now Mac’s friend Gin has found herself in a sticky situation. After wealthy genealogist Beverly Ruchart is found dead outside Gin’s taffy shop, the candy maker becomes a person of interest. When it’s revealed that Beverly was poisoned the night Gin brought a box of taffy to a dinner party at Beverly’s house, she’s bumped to the top of the suspects list. It’s up to Mac and her Cozy Capers crime solvers to unwrap this real-life mystery. But this time they might have bitten off more than they can chew…
Source: NetGalley and Kensington Rating: 4/5 stars
Beverly Ruchart is not known for her winning personality. In fact, with the exception of just a handful of people, Beverly isn’t really liked by most people in her sleepy little seaside town. Her prickly personality has made her something of a recluse so when she winds up dead outside the local medical clinic, there aren’t many in town who are surprised.
The two who are surprised are Mac Almeida and her best friend, Gin. Shortly before their morning walk, Gin and Mac find Ms. Ruchart crumpled on the sidewalk with no obvious explanation for her passing. Though Gin and Mac only found the body, it soon becomes clear – evidence! – that Gin is the prime suspect on the short list held by the police. Gin will be the first to admit Ms. Ruchart wasn’t her favorite person, but she certainly had no cause to murder the poor, old lady.
Once again, Mac and her cozy mystery group are drawn into the investigation to save one of their own. What the group quickly finds is that not only was Ms. Ruchart generally not liked by the community, but she was also disliked by most of her remaining family. What’s more, the dearly departed was in possession of quite a large estate which always brings out the vultures and exposes motives. With just a few pokes and prods, Mac and her friends find there are motives galore for the death of Ms. Ruchart and sorting through the mess is going to take real skill and determination.
The Bottom Line: I had a bit more fun reading this book than the first as all the groundwork was already in place. The characters and the setting were already familiar making those details a garnish rather than the meat of the story. I did quite like the plot of this story, but I also found myself very invested in one of the smaller plotlines, Mac’s relationship with her boyfriend. On top of trying to solve a murder, Mac also has to deal with some hard questions that have arisen in her personal life. While I liked all these things, there was one bit of this book that had me absolutely in stitches . . . . Belle the African Grey parrot! Belle is a delight throughout the book, but that last scene or two at the end really brought everything together in a most hysterical way. If nothing else, I am coming back for book three because of the bird 😊
It’s Fourth of July in Salem, Massachusetts—and B&B owner Charlene Morris is about to witness the shot heard ’round the town . . .
Madison Boswell, a beauty recently transplanted from Boston, is starring in the Independence Day play in this New England town full of colonial history—and, of course, witchcraft. Madison may not be a Wiccan, but she does seem to have certain hypnotic powers. And she’s left some angry people in her wake, from a fellow actress beaten out for a role to a jealous betrayed wife. Now, as Charlene films the performance for her housemate, Jack—a handsome ghost who shares the Victorian bed-and-breakfast with her and her Persian cat—the drama queen takes a deadly bullet from what was supposed to be a prop gun.
With a long list of suspects and lots of backstage whispers, it looks like the investigation by Charlene and Detective Sam Holden could set off some fireworks . . .
Source: NetGalley and Kensington Rating: 4/5 stars
The Bottom Line: Yet another holiday has come to Salem and Charlene Morris is up to her neck in another mystery. This time, Charlene’s entire guest list is present when a thoroughly unlikeable actress is killed during a local performance at a 4th of July event. With the whole town watching it would seem impossible for no one to have seen anything, but that is indeed the case and Charlene has her hands full trying to unravel the mystery. Perhaps the saddest part of this mystery is the fact no one really seems to mind that the dead girl is gone which means Charlene has a huge suspect list. With the help of her friends, the local sheriff, her guests, and her ghost, Charlene whittles away at the list until she finally exposes the culprit. Yet again, there was a lot going on with this book and while I pretty much enjoyed the read, it didn’t fire me up with enthusiasm for the next book. I think I’ve come to the end of my association with this series; there are simply too many other truly great cozies out there for me to continue on with a series that doesn’t consistently stoke my interest.
Charlene’s parents are in town for Christmas, and her mother is driving her up a tree. Her bed-and-breakfast’s resident ghost, Jack, isn’t fond of her either–and he’s showing it with some haunting high jinks. But when Charlene takes her mom and dad out for dinner, the less-than-seasonal spirits take a deadly turn.
David Baldwin has just won a fortune in the lottery–and it adds a lot of drama to the charity auction he’s hosting at his restaurant. When he caps off the evening by playing Santa and handing out checks to some of the attendees, the mood shifts . . . and Charlene observes mysterious tensions between David and his flashy, bleached-blonde wife, his neglected teenage son from a previous marriage, and his hostile business partner, among others. And they’re only a few on the long list of potential suspects when David runs into the road and is mowed down by a fleeing motorist. Now it looks like it’s going to be homicide for the holidays . . .
Source: Purchase Rating: 3/5 stars
The Bottom Line: Admittedly, I am not a fan of Christmas books, but my star rating for this one has more to do with the overall story than my dislike of Christmas stories. I swear! There is a lot going on in this book and while I didn’t have any difficulty following the story, I found it to be unnecessarily cluttered. Between the convoluted murder plot, the ongoing business between Charlene, her ghost, and the police officer, and the appearance of her parents, there was a lot of ground to cover. What’s more, I found the story to be somewhat dominated by Charlene’s mother who isn’t the most likeable of creatures. I made it through this book as I have the others, but I think I felt relief more than satisfaction when I hit the end of this one. Time to move forward and hope book four has more to offer than book three.
Summer is busy season for Mackenzie “Mac” Almeida’s bicycle shop, nestled in the quaint, seaside hamlet of Westham, Massachusetts. She’s expecting an influx of tourists at Mac’s Bikes; instead she discovers the body of Jake Lacey. Mac can’t imagine anyone stabbing the down-on-his-luck handyman. However, the authorities seem to think Mac is a strong suspect after she was spotted arguing with Jake just hours before his death. Mac knows she didn’t do it, but she does recognize the weapon–her brother Derrick’s fishing knife.
Mac’s only experience with murder investigations is limited to the cozy mysteries she reads with her local book group, the Cozy Capers. So to clear her name–and maybe her brother’s too–Mac will have to summon help from her Cozy Capers co-investigators and a library’s worth of detectives’ tips and tricks. For a small town, Westham is teeming with possible killers, and this is one mystery where Mac is hoping for anything but a surprise ending…
Source: Purchase Rating: 3½/5 stars
Mac Almeida has a life she truly enjoys. She owns a thriving bicycle business, she has a fabulous boyfriend, her family is close by, and her tiny home is just perfect for Mac and her pet African Grey parrot. With everything in her life going swimmingly, Mac doesn’t suspect her life is about to turn upside down.
One of Mac’s favorite hobbies is her weekly book club meeting. She and her friends read nothing, but cozy mysteries and it is on the way home from one of these weekly meetings that Mac literally stumble upon a dead body. Finding a real body is nothing like her beloved cozy mysteries and Mac is horrified to note, not only does she know the victim, but he seems to have died with a custom fish knife owned by her brother. In the blink of an eye, Mac’s perfect life has turned upside down.
Knowing her brother isn’t the slightest bit capable of such a violent act, Mac sets about trying to prove his innocence. That task would be easier by leaps and bounds if Mac knew where her brother has skittered off to. His absence is not only alarming but the impression it leaves the police is that he has something to hide. Until she can find her brother and get some straight answers out of him, Mac turns to the only group of people she trusts to help her work out the murder, her cozy mystery reading group.
Every member of the cozy mystery group lives and works in the area and if anyone is going to put this mystery to bed, it’s going to be them. With a list made and divided among the members, all set out to collect clues, talk to potential suspects, and share their notes with the rest of the group. Of course, as with most serious crimes, the actual culprit has no interest in being caught and the police have no interest in a group of amateur sleuths messing about in their investigation. Unfortunately, for both the culprit and the police, Mac and her crew have intention of giving up on clearing the name of one of their own.
The Bottom Line: I rather enjoyed this little cozy mystery. The author has done a fine job of setting the scene for this series and the scene certainly enhances the overall read. The lazy little beach town vibe is perfect for the cast of characters and the story. Mac’s bike shop is centrally located making it a great location to revolve the story around. The bike shop also gives the reader the opportunity to meet more of the community/people who play a part in the mystery. In all, I was happy with this read and eager to dive into book two following the completion of this book.
The Palazzo Colombina is home to the Uccello family: three generations of men, trapped together in the dusty palace on Venice’s Grand Canal. Awkward fifteen-year-old Nico. His distant, business-focused father. And his beloved grandfather, Paolo. Paolo is dying. But before he passes, he has secrets he’s waited his whole life to share.
When a Jewish classmate is attacked by bullies, Nico just watches – earning him a week’s suspension and a typed, yellowing manuscript from his frail Nonno Paolo. A history lesson, his grandfather says. A secret he must keep from his father. A tale of blood and madness . . .
Nico is transported back to the Venice of 1943, an occupied city seething under its Nazi overlords, and to the defining moment of his grandfather’s life: when Paolo’s support for a murdered Jewish woman brings him into the sights of the city’s underground resistance. Hooked and unsettled, Nico can’t stop reading – but he soon wonders if he ever knew his beloved grandfather at all.
Source: NetGalley, Severn House Publishers, and Purchase Rating: 5 stars
I have spent a great deal of time reading this summer and I believe this is the first five-star read I have come across. This one was certainly worth the wait!
Written in a past meets present format, The Garden of Angels follows the lives of grandfather and grandson, Paolo and Nico Uccello. Nico has spent his entire life with his grandfather by his side and now, at the end of his beloved grandfather’s life, Nico finds Paolo may not be the man Nico has known and loved. With strict orders to share his secrets with no one, Paolo sets Nico on a journey through history that deeply alters everything Nico has ever known and believed about the Uccello family.
With just over fifty years separating the past and the present, Nico is astounded to read the words written by his grandfather. Though the place is the same, the times are vastly different. Nico’s home, Venice is “run” by Mussolini and Hitler’s henchmen occupy the city. Though Paolo is only 18 years old at the time, he is virtually alone thanks to one of Hitler’s bombs. With only a loyal family friend to help him, Paolo finds himself adrift in a world he can’t possibly navigate.
With a business to keep afloat and a home he rambles around in alone, young Paolo clings to the things that remain. Life in Venice under Nazi occupation is often a deadly affair and Paolo would do well to keep his down, complete the commissions he has, and cause no trouble. Unfortunately, trouble finds Paolo in the form of a brother and sister on the run from Hitler’s men. Though Paolo has never imagined himself a hero, he can’t see not helping these two souls.
As events begin to unfold all around him, Paolo discovers many truths about himself and the world around him. The war has changed everyone, and Paolo is no exception. Living life beyond the war is not something most can imagine and many in Paolo’s city won’t outlive the war to see a better tomorrow. Death surrounds Paolo at all times and helping, even in his own small way is more than enough to see him killed along with the other undesirables.
As Nico reads his grandfather’s account of life during the last days of World War II, he begins to his home and his family from a very different perspective. Though Paolo never meant for Nico to have to grow up so quickly, life is often too short, and time is of the essence. With his newfound knowledge, Nico must now decide who he is and how he is going to process the rest of his life moving forward. With a weighty history behind him, life has become far more challenging than he ever expected.
The Bottom Line: What a wonderful generational story this turned out to be. As always, I enjoyed the chapters from the past the most as they so clearly informed the people of the present. With that said, my absolute favorite part of the book was the last few chapters the delved into the years between Nico reading about the past and working out his own life with that knowledge following him. The last several chapters serve as a sort of extended epilogue, and I really enjoyed the expanded information about Nico and his life. For me, these last chapters really brought the entire book together into a most satisfactory conclusion. Finally, The Garden of Angels really checks all the boxes for me: historical fiction, the Holocaust (even in only tangentially here), generational/family saga, and past meets present.
Halloween is the biggest holiday of the year in Salem, Massachusetts–but when B&B owner Charlene Morris finds the dead body of a witch, it spells trouble…
Charlene, recently widowed, has renovated her historic mansion just in time to greet guests arriving for the town’s annual Halloween festivities. She’s lucky to have a helpful staff to provide support–as well as a handsome ghost named Jack standing invisibly by her side.
Unfortunately, while the revelers head out on haunted tours, have their fortunes told, or grab a drink at Brews and Broomsticks, a killer walks among them. When Charlene discovers Morganna, a local Wiccan, dead in her shop, she starts getting cozy with the local coven, looking for clues to locate the crafty culprit. Salem may be famous for the false accusations of witchery in centuries past, but this time someone is genuinely guilty–of murder…
Unfortunately, while the revelers head out on haunted tours, have their fortunes told, or grab a drink at Brews and Broomsticks, a killer walks among them. When Charlene discovers Morganna, a local Wiccan, dead in her shop, she starts getting cozy with the local coven, looking for clues to locate the crafty culprit. Salem may be famous for the false accusations of witchery in centuries past, but this time someone is genuinely guilty–of murder . . .
Source: Purchase Rating: 4/5stars
The Bottom Line: Yet again, Charlene Morris finds herself drawn into a mystery that she feels compelled to solve. This time, a local witch is killed, and Charlene must figure out what happened before others suffer. This case takes Charlene into a deeper history of Salem and the men and women who have practiced witchcraft there since the founding of the town. Charlene gets a crash course in Wicca and a reminder that not every person is what they initially appear to be. With the help of some very unlikely sources, Charlene plugs away at the case until she finally comes to some very scary conclusions. One thing I particularly liked about this book (and the others) is Charlene’s ability to discern when her guests can help and when she needs to protect them. Her guests come with their own set of skills and knowledge and sometimes those skill sets can be quite useful. This type of involvement also expands the character base which is always fun.