Review: The Bookshop at Peony Harbor (An Aster Island Novel) by Rosie Summers

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Eloise Paisley needs cash, and she needs it fast. Thanks to an unexpected divorce, Eloise is low on funds, and if she doesn’t figure out a way to make ends meet—soon—she’ll lose the beachfront cottage that’s been in her family for over three generations.

Then one morning, out of the blue, Eloise receives a mysterious letter from her grandmother who has been gone for over twenty years. Inside the envelope is the deed to a rundown bookshop on Main Street—a gift for Eloise. Is she up to the task of breathing life into the almost-derelict building, or will she have to sell the beloved property so she can afford to stay on the island near her children?

Fortunately, Eloise isn’t alone in her decision. She’s got three grown children on her side, though each has problems of their own.

Jack, the eldest, is running his own company. Despite his success, he finds that something in his life is missing. Next is Lilah, a mother of two young children whose husband has been spending unexplained late nights at the office, and she’s determined to find out why. The youngest, Angelica, is a free spirit traveling the world for her career. But when she encounters an old flame at home, is it enough to draw her back?

Come visit the Paisley family on Aster Island and follow their journey as they explore new love and second chances, as they travel far and return home, and as they throw their hearts and souls into making a dream come true.

Source: NetGalley, Summer Reads, and Purchase Rating: 4/5 stars

The Bottom Line:  It will be a cold day in Hell before I bypass a book set in a bookstore 😊 The Bookshop at Peony Harbor is a special sort of place given the fact it comes to Eloise from her long-deceased grandmother at just the right moment in Eloise’s life.  With her three grown children home to help her navigate this great surprise in her life, Eloise decides to make a go of the bookshop.  Eloise has her hands full with the remodel and renovations of the bookshop, but her hands aren’t so full that she can’t see the troubles of each of her children.  As the family comes together to help Eloise, each child must also make some hard decisions about their own lives.  I truly enjoyed this first in a series book and see so much potential for the series.  With the bookshop and the small family cottage as a backdrop for the continuation of the series I am looking forward to moving forward.  Thankfully, I stumbled upon this book at a time when there are already at least two more book available.  YAY for me and my love sweet stories in idyllic settings and family sagas.

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Review: Aunt Ivy’s Cottage (Book #2: Dune Island Series) by Kristin Harper

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All Zoey’s happiest childhood memories are of her great-aunt Ivy’s rickety cottage on Dune Island, being spoiled with cranberry ice cream and watching the tides change from the rooftop. Now, heartbroken from a recent breakup, Zoey can see her elderly aunt’s spark is fading, and decides to move to the island so they can care for each other.

When she arrives to find her cousin, Mark, sitting at the solid oak kitchen table, she knows why Aunt Ivy hasn’t been herself. Because Mark—next in line to inherit the house—is pushing Ivy to move into a nursing home.

With the cousins clashing over what’s best for Ivy, Zoey is surprised when the local carpenter who’s working on Ivy’s cottage takes her side. As he offers Zoey comfort, the two grow close. Together, they make a discovery in the attic that links the family to the mysterious and reclusive local lighthouse keeper, and throws doubt on Mark’s claim…

Now Zoey has a heartbreaking choice to make. The discovery could keep Ivy in the house she’s loved her whole life… but can Zoey trust that the carpenter really has Ivy’s best interests at heart? And will dredging up an old secret destroy the peace and happiness of Ivy’s final years—and tear this family apart for good?

Source: NetGalley and Bookouture Rating: 3/5 stars

The Bottom Line: Aunt Ivy’s Cottage is an emotional roller coaster of a ride that traces the love, lives, loyalties, and betrayals of a family as one generation is coming to an end.  Aunt Ivy has spent her life in her home on Dune Island and until recently, she was quite happy to be there.  With the death of her beloved friend/sister-in-law, Aunt Ivy now faces her final years alone, rattling around in a home that now seems way too big and full of memories and shadows. 

With nothing but her aunt’s best interests at heart, Zoey has returned to Dune Island to care for her aunt.  Not realizing the mess she has stumbled into, Zoey finds herself fighting her cousin for her aunt’s health and happiness, caring for her somewhat troubled niece, and fighting her feelings for the local contractor.  As Zoey tries to navigate the complexities of her own life, she also unravels the complexities of her Aunt Ivy’s life.  Zoey uncovers lies and secrets, love and loyalties that have stood the test of time. 

While I generally like the story, I didn’t care for two of the main characters.  I know Zoey’s heart is in right place, however, she comes across as seriously naïve and more than a bit whiny and her cousin is scheming rat bastard with nothing but his own self-interest in mind.  I found it difficult to feel much of anything for these two as they vied for control of Aunt Ivy and her possessions.  The only real character I had any great affection or feeling for was Aunt Ivy.  Ivy brought humor, compassion, and love to the story and made it likeable. 

I found, throughout the book, lots of places were the story slowed to a snail’s pace, lots of Zoey’s whining was repetitive, and the ending was less than satisfyingly.  The last chapters of the book definitely picked up the pace, but the ending fell flat.  In the end, I’m on the fence with this read; I disliked some primary characters, but I did like the actual story and the addition of the past crashing into the present.

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Review: The Bohemians by Jasmin Darznik


In 1918, Dorothea Lange leaves the East Coast for California, where a disaster kick-starts a new life. Her friendship with Caroline Lee, a vivacious, straight-talking woman with a complicated past, gives her entrée into Monkey Block, an artists’ colony and the bohemian heart of San Francisco. Dazzled by Caroline and her friends, Dorothea is catapulted into a heady new world of freedom, art, and politics. She also finds herself unexpectedly–and unwisely–falling in love with Maynard Dixon, a brilliant but troubled painter. Dorothea and Caroline eventually create a flourishing portrait studio, but a devastating betrayal pushes their friendship to the breaking point and alters the course of their lives.

The Bohemians captures San Francisco in the glittering and gritty 1920s, with cameos from such legendary figures as Mabel Dodge, Frida Kahlo, Ansel Adams, and DH Lawrence . At the same time, it is eerily resonant with contemporary themes, as anti-immigration sentiment, corrupt politicians, and the Spanish flu bring tumult to the city–and as the gift of friendship and the possibility of self-invention persist against the ferocious pull of history.

Source: NetGalley, Ballantine Books, and Purchase Rating: 2½/5 stars

The Bottom Line: I have been an Art Historian for the better part of two decades and while I often enjoy historical fiction related to art and artist, from time to time, I come across a read that just doesn’t sit well for or with me.  Unfortunately, The Bohemians is one such book.  Dorothea Lange is, without doubt, one of the most celebrated photographers in American history, but much of her history is largely ignored in this book and I found that very difficult to reconcile.  For example, throughout this book the long hours Lange spent in the darkroom are repeatedly mentioned yet nothing is mentioned about her, at best, rudimentary darkroom abilities.  In fact, unless she simply could not afford it, Lange often paid other photographers – including Ansel Adams – to complete her darkroom work for her.  Lange’s genius lay behind the camera where she most certainly sought to convey the humanity and character of her subjects; for her hired hands, she left detailed instructions about the effect she wanted in the final print.  Furthermore, Lange was also known to spend time with her subjects and talk with them if at all possible.  Lange often used the words of her subjects as the captions for her photos and openly criticized other well-known photographers (Margaret Bourke-White) for not doing something similar in their own work.  Though this was touched on in this read, it wasn’t emphasized to the extent it really needed to be. While I certainly appreciate what the author is trying to convey with this book, the license taken is just a bit too much for someone such as myself who has spent two decades studying the likes of Dorothea Lange.  The things left out of this book are just as critical to understanding Lange’s later development as an artist as what is mentioned.  In the end, this book just isn’t a good representation of a woman who becomes an icon of early photography.

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Review: Ruby Red Herring (Book #1: An Avery Ayers Antique Mystery) by Tracy Gardner


After their parents’ deaths, Avery Ayers and her teenaged sister, Tilly, take over the family business, Antiquities & Artifacts Appraised. Life in Lilac Grove is filled with jewels, tapestries, paintings…and the antics of eccentric Aunt Midge. But their world is rocked when they learn that the theft of a priceless ruby may be connected to their parents’ demise.

The trouble starts when the Museum of Antiquities hires Avery to appraise a rare, resplendent ruby. It bears a striking similarity to a stone in the museum’s bejeweled dragon’s-head medallion. One of the dragon’s ruby eyes was stolen long ago–replaced with a fake. Now, Avery’s colleagues–pompous Sir Robert Lane and fatherly Micah Abbott–suspect they may have the missing gem. But facets of the case remain cloudy. Detective Art Smith is snooping around. Another body turns up. And Avery finds mysterious notes that, impossibly, seem to be written by her father.

Accompanied by her Afghan hound, Avery enlists Art’s help in cutting the list of suspects who might have polished off her parents and swiped the jewel. Was it art collector Oliver Renell? Curator Nate Brennan? Actor Tyler Chadwick? Or was the theft an inside job, perpetrated by someone all too close to Avery? If she can’t find the culprit, Lilac Grove may be the setting for Avery’s own death.

Source: NetGalley and Crooked Lane Books Rating: 3/5 stars

The Bottom Line: Yet again, I must admit to struggling with a read I truly expected to blaze through.  It took me days to finish this book and I think it had to do with the wonkiness of the plot.  There is a lot going on in this book, between the project Avery and her partners are working on to the suspicions surrounding the deaths of Avery’s parents.  While the two stories are actually intertwined, I found the blending of the two to be somewhat clunky and awkward.  I also found the pacing of the first two-thirds of the book to be somewhat slow and it wasn’t until the last third that the pace picked up and I was able to move more easily towards the end.  Though I struggled with this book, I like author (another series I follow!) and the cast of characters in this book.  I have faith the second book will overcome some of the clunkiness of this read and I will more thoroughly enjoy the succeeding books in this series.  I am not yet ready to kick this series to the curb and will dive into the second book as it becomes available.

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Review: The Bookshop of Second Chances by Jackie Fraser

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Thea Mottram is having a bad month. Her husband of nearly twenty years has just left her for one of her friends, and she is let go from her office job–on Valentine’s Day, of all days. Bewildered and completely lost, Thea doesn’t know what to do. But when she learns that a distant great uncle in Scotland has passed away, leaving her his home and a hefty antique book collection, she decides to leave Sussex for a few weeks. Escaping to a small coastal town where no one knows her seems to be exactly what she needs.

Almost instantly, Thea becomes enamored with the quaint cottage, comforted by its cozy rooms and shaggy, tulip-covered lawn. The locals in nearby Baldochrie are just as warm, quirky, and inviting. The only person she can’t seem to win over is bookshop owner Edward Maltravers, to whom she hopes to sell her uncle’s antique novel collection. His gruff attitude–fueled by an infamous, long-standing feud with his brother, a local lord–tests Thea’s patience. But bickering with Edward proves oddly refreshing and exciting, leading Thea to develop feelings she hasn’t felt in a long time. As she follows a thrilling yet terrifying impulse to stay in Scotland indefinitely, Thea realizes that her new life may quickly become just as complicated as the one she was running from.

Source: NetGalley and Ballantine Books Rating: 4/5 stars

The Bottom Line: Thea Mottram is one of my favorite character types – the woman wronged, the woman whose life has been turned upside down but refuses to succumb to the wight of it all.  Rather than wallow in self-pity, Thea makes for a small coastal town intent on setting things right with her late relative’s estate and simply taking a few weeks to reset and determine the trajectory of her life from this point forward.

As a few weeks turns into a few months, Thea finds she not only likes the small town and her cozy cottage, but she also likes her otherwise grumpy and irascible boss at the local bookstore.  The bookstore is something of a safe haven for Thea and she learns the business, she learns how to improve the business and that brings a great sense of accomplishment.  Even her surly boss is impressed by her endeavors and encourages Thea to soldier on.  To literally everyone’s surprise, Thea and her boss not only get along but seem to genuinely like one another and that sets tongues a wagging about town.  Yet again, I find myself on the opposite end of the star rating spectrum with this book.  I enjoyed this read.  Between Edward’s sordid past, Thea’s recent life-altering experiences, and the locals, the setting for this particular story is just perfect.  Small towns always breed a bit of crazy and I find myself drawn to this setting again and again.  The Bookshop of Second Chances is exactly what it bills itself to be and for more than one character a second chance is exactly what is given.  Make no mistake, this isn’t a straight line from sad and awful to HEA, but a bit of winding road with plenty of bumps and potholes along the way.  The bumps and potholes make the second chances and the eventual HEA totally worth it and makes this book a solid stand alone read.

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Review: Dogged by Death (Book #1: (A Furry Friends Mystery) by Laura Scott


Ally Winter is going through a ruff patch. The thirty-something veterinarian lost her fiance, her clinic, and her savings in rapid succession. So when Ally’s grandfather undergoes hip replacement surgery, she moves back to Willow Bluff, Wisconsin, to care for him. She arrives home, tail between her legs, only to find sleazy lawyer Marty Shawlin murdered in his home office. And the only witness was Marty’s faithful boxer, Roxy.

Quick as a greyhound, Noah Jorgensen is on the case. The good news is, he’s the best detective around. The bad news, at least the way Ally sees it, is that Noah is still just as fetching as he was back in high school. He also just happens to have witnessed every embarrassing incident that befell accident-prone Ally–including the fire-ant attack that set tongues wagging and won her the unshakable nickname Hot Pants.

Meanwhile, true-crime aficionado Gramps fancies himself a sleuth, and he is doggedly determined to sniff out the culprit himself…with Ally’s reluctant help, of course. Ally has no choice but to team up with Noah–and the irrepressible Roxy–to solve the case while keeping Gramps on a short leash.

Ally had better learn some new tricks, lickety-split. Because if she can’t bring the killer to heel, she won’t just be playing dead.

Source: NetGalley and Crooked Lane Books Rating: 4/5 stars

The Bottom Line:  From the beginning, it is clear Ally Winter is in trouble and if her fortunes and luck don’t turn soon, she’s going to be down to her last dollar and living with her beloved grandfather in his already cramped senior living situation.  With no interest in going backward in her life, Ally sets her sights on the future and growing her burgeoning veterinary clinic. 

With a stack of bills and little pride, Ally takes on all including dog-walking, grooming, and standard veterinary care.  It’s one of her dog walking clients, the uber-creepy Marty Shawlin that draws Ally and her true crime obsessed grandfather into a mess that threatens to bring down Ally and her new clinic.  Marty Shawlin may have excellent taste in dogs, but his business ethics are lacking and lands him in the morgue and Ally with a doggy witness with no home. 

When Ally’s grandfather gets involved, things go from somewhat manageable to downright crazy and reigning him in is a bit like herding cats.  To make matters worse, Ally and her grandfather seem to keep uncovering information the police need, but the police – Noah in particular – is not interested in the help or the tips.  Every uncovered bit of information only encourages Ally’s grandfather and makes him even more difficult to contain.    With the exception of Ally’s constant musings about money and credit cards clearing, I found this book to be fun and quite entertaining.  Ally clearly cares for the animals she helps, her grandfather is relentless and hilarious (the cell phone calls!), and the elderly women he lives with are pure sunshine.  There is a lot about this first in a series book to like and keep me interested in what the future holds for Ally, Roxy, and her grandfather.  This one will appeal to fans of cozy mystery as well as fans of books with a heavy animal presence.

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Review: The Ballerinas by Rachel Kapelke-Dale


Fourteen years ago, Delphine abandoned her prestigious soloist spot at the Paris Opera Ballet for a new life in St. Petersburg––taking with her a secret that could upend the lives of her best friends, fellow dancers Lindsay and Margaux. Now 36 years old, Delphine has returned to her former home and to the legendary Palais Garnier Opera House, to choreograph the ballet that will kickstart the next phase of her career––and, she hopes, finally make things right with her former friends. But Delphine quickly discovers that things have changed while she’s been away…and some secrets can’t stay buried forever.

Moving between the trio’s adolescent years and the present day, The Ballerinas explores the complexities of female friendship, the dark drive towards physical perfection in the name of artistic expression, the double-edged sword of ambition and passion, and the sublimated rage that so many women hold inside––all culminating in a twist you won’t see coming, with magnetic characters you won’t soon forget.

Source: NetGalley and St. Martin’s Press Rating: 4/5 stars

The Bottom Line:  What a wonderful train wreck this story turned out to be!  I have long been drawn to stories about dancers and especially ballerinas and this one did not disappoint.  I was in just the right frame of mind for this dark, spiraling story of three friends linked over the years by friendship, secrets, lies, betrayals, and loyalty.  The Ballerinas traces the lives of three friends from their youth to the present when each must deal with the past, face the hard truths of the past and present, and survive the storm they are all embroiled in.  The Ballerinas is not a happy or hopeful story, but a dark and winding tail of three women who have lived lives only a handful can ever truly understand or appreciate.  Though there isn’t much to root for in this book, it was, nevertheless a fascinating dance into the darkness with three women facing some significant demons.  As always, I enjoyed the mixing of the past and the present and how the past has so significantly impacted the present.  The author’s writing style is suitably low-key for the overall tone of the book, and I found I really didn’t want to stop reading this one.  I certainly wouldn’t recommend this one if you’re looking for a sweet, light-hearted read, but if you’re in the mood for dark, angsty, and somewhat sinister then this is the book you are looking for.

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Review: Rescuing Harmony Ranch by Jennie Marts


After her grandmother calls her asking for help, Jocelyn drops everything and heads back home to Harmony Creek, Colorado. Her grandmother runs a living history museum: a ranch and homestead where volunteers wear clothing from the early 1900s and demonstrate how things were done in the old West, from making soap to shearing sheep. The place is in financial trouble, and it needs the revenue from the annual festival to survive.

There’s just one thing that makes this a little awkward: Mack, who’s divorced, and who’s now the caretaker and blacksmith at the homestead. Jocelyn and Mack have their own shared history, which includes both stolen kisses and teenage rivalry.

Even as the past and present collide, they have to save Harmony Ranch. Matchmaking grannies, a meddling mutt, and a flood of fun festival activities might just be enough to overcome their differences and forge two broken hearts back together.

Source: NetGalley and Hallmark Rating: 3/5 stars

The Bottom Line:  I normally have no trouble blazing through a Hallmark read, but I must admit to a bit of a struggle with this one.  I think my greatest issue with this read is the okay-ness of practically every aspect of this read.  Everyone and everything is okay, but nothing and no one (except the dog!) is either spectacular or meant to stand apart from the vast crowd in this genre.  I liked Jocelyn and Mack well enough, their grannies are both quite delightful, and the setting is certainly beautiful, but I feel like I’ve read this same story many times over and that led me to determine everything is just okay. To be completely fair, there is nothing wrong with okay and I certainly can’t say I disliked this book.  I enjoyed the story well enough but can’t say I would be running for book two if this were the beginning of a series.  In truth, I feel most readers will like this book especially if he/she goes into the read knowing it isn’t going to be anything groundbreaking or mind-blowing, but a decent middle of the road read with a lovely HEA.

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Review: The Paris Dressmaker by Kristy Cambron

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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.

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Review: The Curator’s Daughter by Melanie Dobson


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.

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