Since the day Filomena Fontana cast a curse upon her sister more than two hundred years ago, not one second-born Fontana daughter has found lasting love. Some, like second-born Emilia, the happily-single baker at her grandfather’s Brooklyn deli, claim it’s an odd coincidence. Others, like her sexy, desperate-for-love cousin Lucy, insist it’s a true hex. But both are bewildered when their great-aunt calls with an astounding proposition: If they accompany her to her homeland of Italy, Aunt Poppy vows she’ll meet the love of her life on the steps of the Ravello Cathedral on her eightieth birthday, and break the Fontana Second-Daughter Curse once and for all.
Against the backdrop of wandering Venetian canals, rolling Tuscan fields, and enchanting Amalfi Coast villages, romance blooms, destinies are found, and family secrets are unearthed—secrets that could threaten the family far more than a centuries-old curse.
Poppy Fontana has waited, literally waited for decades to be reunited with the love of her life. As the black sheep in the family, Poppy has long been estranged from her family, that is, the part of her family who believes in the centuries old curse that has doomed every second born daughter to a lifetime of hopelessness and despair because they cannot ever have a true and lasting love. At nearly 80-years-old, Poppy is bound and determined to prove them all wrong and along the way, she is going to convince two other second-born Fontana girls.
Emilia has thoroughly convinced herself that a life without love is just fine with her; she will gladly continue to work in her family’s bakery, live in her small apartment, and settle for the occasional fling. No, love isn’t the cards for Emilia, but it has nothing to do with a silly curse. Conversely, Emilia’s brash and bold cousin, Lucy, is utterly convinced her love life is doomed and the proof of that can be found in the string of bad dates in her past. With her mother constantly on her about finding a man and settling down, Lucy is at her wit’s end so when Emilia comes to her with an offer of an all-expenses paid trip to Italy, guaranteed to break the curse, Lucy just can’t say no.
Emilia’s life revolves around her family and their needs. She is the dutiful child, the one who bends over backward for everyone else, and always does as she is told. To go to Italy with her aunt Poppy and Lucy would be outright rebellion, but for once in her life, Emilia is ready to be bold, to take a chance. From the moment the three women meet – Lucy, Emilia, and Poppy – there is tension in the air. Lucy is rude, pessimistic, and outraged at having to spend time with an old woman like Poppy. Ever the peacemaker, Emilia does her best to smooth over the situation while Poppy refuses to acknowledge such bad behavior. In fact, Poppy seem impervious to anything but her own happiness and achieving her goals. She has clearly told Lucy and Emilia they have a great deal of freedom during their trip, but on the day of her 80th birthday, Poppy must be on the steps of the church where she wed her long-lost husband. Though the girls are skeptical, Poppy is paying their way and if it means breaking the second-daughter curse, well, they’re will to go along for the ride.
The first days in Italy are a whirlwind with Poppy charging along and introducing the girls to their mother country. As a wild and free-spirit, Poppy is a wonderful tour guide with a true love and passion for Italy. As she makes her way around the city, she slowly begins to explain to the girls how the curse on their lives can be broken. Little did either girl know that the key to breaking of the curse lies in the story of Poppy’s own life and how she came to be the Fontana black sheep. Though Lucy is seriously put out, Emilia sees the story of Poppy’s life as a gift. As the days pass, not only do the girls begin to learn more about Poppy’s past but also about her quite uncertain future. Even the testy and nearly-always irritable Lucy begins to soften around the edges and both she and Emilia make it their mission to see Poppy’s dreams realized.
Along the way, both Emilia and Lucy also begin to unravel the mystery of their own lives. Lucy finally confronts an uncomfortable truth she has long suspected, but been fearful of acknowledging, and Emilia begins to realize she has long been the whipping post of her family, the one everyone else relies on but does little for in return. In so many ways, Italy is a type of awakening for Emilia and Lucy and both have their wild and wondrous aunt to thank. To thank her, the girls go to extraordinary lengths to get Poppy to her meeting place, but as her birthday comes to a close, it seems all their hopes are going to be dashed.
The Bottom Line: I think this book may very well be one of my favorites of the year! I could not nor did I want to put this book down, so I didn’t. Damn adulting and damn responsibilities, I saw this book through, cover to cover in a single sitting. At its core, this book is all about family, for better or for worse, and how the power of words can so dramatically and negatively impact an entire family. From the moment she decides to travel to Italy with Poppy, I was Team Emilia; Lucy took a hot minute to warm up to, but once she calmed down and I understood her a bit better, I simply adored her. The three women together are so entertaining: Lucy with her boldness and lust for life, Emilia with her calmer, quieter manner that makes her more cautious, and Poppy with her wild stories and absolute belief in love and its ability to conquer all, even 200-year-old curses. The three women become so important to one another in such a short amount of time, they bolster each other’s spirits, they encourage, the correct, they teach, they laugh, and they love. As each woman, especially Lucy and Emilia come into their own, they decide it is high time to start living their life on their terms and not according to what their ill-tempered and often mean family members believe. I found myself applauding the strength and the courage of these women, their bravery and willingness to forge their own path even in the face of their families’ disappointment. I laughed, I cried, and I completely devoured this book. Though it is told completely in the present, it is truly a past meets present read and that blending of the two happens through Poppy’s recollections and stories. In all, a truly wonderful and uplifting book sure to please all who love family sagas.
Iris Buckley is sew ready for a change. After the death of her beloved grandfather, Iris decides to return to her Maine hometown to help out her widowed grandmother, Anne–and bring her online hand-made apron designs to real-time retail life. Her and Anne’s shop, Ruffles & Bows, is set to include all the latest and vintage linen fashions, a studio for sewing groups and classes, and a friendly orange cat. The only thing that they were not planning to have on the property? A skeleton in the basement.
Anne recognizes the remains of an old friend, and when a second body shows up in the apron shop–this time their corrupt landlord, whom Anne had been feuding with for decades–she becomes a prime suspect. Now, it’s up to Iris to help clear her name. Enlisting the help of her old high-school crush Ian Stewart who, like certain fabrics, has only gotten better-looking with age and her plucky BFF Madison Morris, Iris must piece together an investigation to find out who the real killer is. . .and find a way to keep her brand-new business from being scrapped in the process.
The Bottom Line: Well, based on the overall rating on Goodreads, I am most decidedly in the minority on this one! When reading a new book, I need to feel like the characters are robust and real, the setting is realistic, and the plot is plausible. Unfortunately, I found none of that in this book. Quite frankly, if it weren’t for the synopsis on Goodreads, I wouldn’t be able to tell you much about this book as none of it has stuck with me since I finished reading. I can recall hoping the characters would become more real, more interesting and that the plot would become, at the very least, reasonable. I found much of the plot to be a stretch and that left me quite unsatisfied. Generally speaking, I can usually let something slide in a first-in-s-series book, give the author the benefit of the doubt and give the second book a shot, but I just can’t see that happening with this series. With three major issues – characters, setting, and plot – being so tremendously lacking, I find myself calling it a day after only one book. As I said, I am clearly in the minority on this one so, all you cozy mystery lovers out there might want to give this go and find out for yourself if I am right or if I am woefully wrong.
As the French revolution ravages the country, Desiree Clary is faced with the life-altering truth that the world she has known and loved is gone and it’s fallen on her to save her family from the guillotine.
A chance encounter with Napoleon Bonaparte, the ambitious and charismatic young military prodigy, provides her answer. When her beloved sister Julie marries his brother Joseph, Desiree and Napoleon’s futures become irrevocably linked. Quickly entering into their own passionate, dizzying courtship that leads to a secret engagement, they vow to meet in the capital once his career has been secured. But her newly laid plans with Napoleon turn to sudden heartbreak, thanks to the rising star of Parisian society, Josephine de Beauharnais. Once again, Desiree’s life is turned on its head.
Swept to the glittering halls of the French capital, Desiree is plunged into the inner circle of the new ruling class, becoming further entangled with Napoleon, his family, and the new Empress. But her fortunes shift once again when she meets Napoleon’s confidant and star general, the indomitable Jean-Baptiste Bernadotte. As the two men in Desiree’s life become political rivals and military foes, the question that arises is: must she choose between the love of her new husband and the love of her nation and its Emperor?
From the lavish estates of the French Riviera to the raucous streets of Paris and Stockholm, Desiree finds herself at the epicenter of the rise and fall of an empire, navigating a constellation of political giants and dangerous, shifting alliances. Emerging from an impressionable girl into a fierce young woman, she discovers that to survive in this world she must learn to rely upon her instincts and her heart.
I don’t normally delve into French history (unless it’s artists) when I go trolling for new historical fiction. However, I tend to enjoy historical fiction which focuses on the women rather than the men, so The Queen’s Fortune was just what I was looking for at the time. Because of the time and the place that she lived and her association with Napoleon Bonaparte, Desiree Clary often gets overlooked by historians. Thankfully, Allison Pataki has taken the life of a little-known woman, Desiree Clary and has spun a wonderfully engrossing tale that endures into the modern period.
By all accounts, Desiree Clary was a lovely young woman from a strong French family, and like most girls of her age, she was meant to be married off, advantageously in order to strengthen the family, their connections, and fortunes. As fate would have it, before Desiree could be saddled with an appropriate husband, she met and fell in love with a young Napoleon Bonaparte. Though the two pledged themselves to one another and no other, Napoleon was a fickle man whose only real interest in life was his own advancement and the acquisition of power. To that end, as soon as it suited Napoleon, he threw off his ties to Desiree and married the infamous Josephine.
Though Desiree had been cast aside, she was still tied to Napoleon through her sister who married Napoleon’s greatest supporter, his brother. From an early age, and perhaps better than anyone else, Desiree knew of Napoleon’s temperament, his lust for power, and his inability to care for anyone (even Josephine!) beyond himself. In fact, for the remainder of her life, Desiree will watch – often with a great deal of worry for herself – as Napoleon runs roughshod over those around and directs others’ lives as if they were nothing more than pawns in a game. To that end, even Desiree is advantageously married to one of Napoleon’s most trusted men in an effort to keep both she and he close. Though the arrangement turns out to be an agreeable one for Desiree, there are certainly bumps along the road and though she tries to remain separate from Napoleon and his machinations, she finds she and her family are constantly drawn back in. Through revolution and times of relative peace, Desiree watches as Napoleon and his fortune rise and fall, his life with Josephine ebbs and flows, and his turn as leader of France takes terrifying turns.
Desiree Clary grows into a woman through the reign of Napoleon, serves his wife as a part of her inner circle, and advises her own husband as Napoleon is a paranoid and temperamental man. Through the years, the decades really, Desiree becomes as adept at politics and political intrigue as any man. She learns to navigate treacherous waters and though her life (and that of her family) is often threatened, she learns to protect herself and position herself and her family for safety above all else. Though she never could have imagined what her life would become, Desiree rises higher than ever anticipated and becomes a very real part of the history she is living through.
The Bottom Line: My greatest complaint regarding this book is length; The Queen’s Fortune could reasonably be about a hundred pages shorter and still have the same impact. I am not a fan of excessive detail so, for those of you who are, this really isn’t a complaint at all 😊 I did find the environment and the atmosphere to be very well and clearly conveyed, both literally and figuratively. This book covers a tumultuous time in French history when nothing was certain and the landscape, both political and otherwise, was constantly changing. Revolution was constantly in the air, treachery always afoot, and intrigue was at every turn. All of this is expressed wonderfully in this book and very much keeps the reader on edge. Of all the characters, I found Desiree and Josephine to be the most compelling; Desiree for her maturity and ability to adapt and endure and Josephine for her over-the-top antics that often masked a shrewd and discerning mind. Though Desiree Clary never wanted power or prominence, she got both and she did so without ever betraying her own sensibilities and/or morals. Given the time and place, that, in itself was a stunning achievement. While history most assuredly remembers Napoleon and Josephine, it should also remember Desiree Clary. Afterall, it is Desiree’s line that STILL sits on European thrones today while Napoleon and Josephine’s lines have died out.
Paris, 1940. With the city occupied by the Nazis, three young seamstresses go about their normal lives as best they can. But all three are hiding secrets. War-scarred Mireille is fighting with the Resistance; Claire has been seduced by a German officer; and Vivienne’s involvement is something she can’t reveal to either of them.
Two generations later, Claire’s English granddaughter Harriet arrives in Paris, rootless and adrift, desperate to find a connection with her past. Living and working in the same building on the Rue Cardinale, she learns the truth about her grandmother – and herself – and unravels a family history that is darker and more painful than she ever imagined.
In wartime, the three seamstresses face impossible choices when their secret activities put them in grave danger. Brought together by loyalty, threatened by betrayal, can they survive history’s darkest era without being torn apart?
It always makes me feel crappy to say I love books about the Nazi regime and World War II, but it is the truth. I tend to soak up these books and the stories of the people who lived through and triumphed over such misery and depravity. Fiona Valpy’s The Dressmaker’s Gift is no exception to the rule, and I made through all but the last few chapters in a single sitting.
I am particularly fond of books that shuffle between the past and the present. There is always some grand truth, some awful secret that is revealed in these types of books and I am quite a sucker for them. In this case, young Harriet has come to Paris to begin her life’s work in the fashion industry; upon her arrival, Claire discovers she is working and living in the same location her grandmother once lived and worked in many, many years ago. Harriet’s grandmother, Claire and her two best friends, Mireille and Vivienne, not only live and worked at the same location, but they also undertook secret and tremendously dangerous missions to aid the French Resistance against the onslaught of Hitler and his Nazis’.
For Harriet, her time in Paris isn’t just about beginning her own bright career, but also about connecting with her past and understanding the legacy left to her through the women in her family. As fate would have it, Harriet’s roommate is the granddaughter of one of Claire’s greatest friends and she (Mireille) is willing to help Harriet piece together the puzzle of the past and Harriet’s own family history. For Harriet, the adventure has only just begun and what she discovers is a harrowing tale of three women – unsung heroes – who sacrificed everything for the greater good.
From start to finish, I found the chapters related to Claire, her friends, and the war the most interesting. Each of the three women, Claire, Mireille, and Vivienne were all such bright and wonderful characters, each with their own unique voice and story to tell. There is a great deal of backstory in this book related to these women and how they each came to be Resistance fighters. The backstory really brings the women’s lives and sacrifices into focus and helps both the reader and Harriet to understand how each woman came to be who she was. With each chapter related to the three women and their Resistance efforts, the drama increases and the tension mounts. Every page is a study in tension and when the dam finally breaks, you are swept up in the devastation and depravity as much as the three friends certainly were. From the streets of Paris to the concentration camps, three lives unfold to reveal what true passion, compassion, daring, and caring can do when the will and heart are strong.
As Harriet learns more about her grandmother and her friends, the sacrifices they made and the risks they took, Harriet must come to terms with some of her own truths. For much of her life, Harriet has blamed her inability to truly connect with others on the loss of her mother at an early age and the rather standoffish nature of her father and his new family. In the face of her grandmother’s story, Harriet resolves to stop blaming others, to deal with her own issues, and live a life worthy of Claire, Mireille, and Vivienne.
The Bottom Line: As a means of full disclosure, I listened to the Audible version of this book rather than read a physical copy. I believe I may have had a far better experience with this book on audio than I would have simply reading it myself. With two narrators – one for Claire and one for Harriet – I was able to more fully connect with the women and their stories. What’s more, Claire’s narrator in particular is so very skilled at conveying emotion through tone. I was able to feel the tension, the sadness, the fear through the narrator and it greatly enriched the experience for me. I found the transitions from one narrator to the next to be flawless and easy to follow which means the transitions from past to present were also flawless. I preferred the chapters related to the past the most and found the detail and historical accuracy to be spot on. Again, it always makes me feel awful to say I loved a book such as this, but I did! The story of these women is told with compassion, empathy, and a very real sense admiration. Though Claire, Mireille, and Vivienne are fictional characters, the most certainly represent real women who sacrificed everything to help bring evil to an end.
All Caleb Donovan has to do to redeem his family name is take a rundown Miami Beach apartment building and turn it into luxury condos. Easy, right?
Unfortunately, that would also turn the local dog park into a parking lot and the neighbors aren’t having it. Caleb is faced with outright revolt, led by smart, beautiful building manager Riley Carson and her poodle, LouLou.
For Caleb, this project should have been a slam dunk. But even more challenging than the neighborhood resistance is the mutual attraction between him and Riley. It would be so much easier just to stay enemies.
Can Riley and her canine sidekick convince Caleb that what’s best for business isn’t always best for the heart?
The Bottom Line: This is one of those feel good reads that make for a quick read when you aren’t quite ready to dive into the bigger, more serious books on your list. In truth, this book is as predictable as they come, but that didn’t stop me from enjoying the ride and the read. I’m always going to be a fan of books that put the animals front and center and that is certainly the case here. For the most part, this is a very light and somewhat superficial read, but it does have its merits. It’s a solid enemies to lovers read, with a few feisty little old ladies thrown in for good measure, a lot of drama, and plenty of fur. While I can’t in good conscious tell you to move this one to the top of your TBR list, I can tell you to hang on to this one for the day, which inevitably comes, when you need something light and fun that you don’t have to think a whole lot about. Should I happen upon the next book in the series, I may pick it up, but I don’t think I’m going to go hunting for book two.
Alexandra Daniels hasn’t set foot in the quiet seaside town of Bellamy Bay, North Carolina in over twenty years. Ever since her mother’s tragic death, her father has mysteriously forbidden her from visiting her aunt and cousins. But on a whim, Alex accepts an invitation to visit her estranged relatives and to help them in their family business: an herbal apothecary known for its remarkably potent teas, salves, and folk remedies.
Bellamy Bay doesn’t look like trouble, but this is a town that harbors dark secrets. Alex discovers that her own family is at the center of salacious town gossip, and that they are rumored to be magical healers descended from mermaids. She brushes this off as nonsense until a local is poisoned and her aunt Lidia is arrested for the crime. Alex is certain Lidia is being framed, and she resolves to find out why.
Alex’s investigation unearths stories that some have gone to desperate lengths to conceal: forbidden affairs, family rivalries, and the truth about Alex’s own ancestry. And when the case turns deadly, Alex learns that not only are these secrets worth hiding, but they may even be worth killing for.
Alex Daniels has spent her life in the dark: in the dark about how her mother really died, in the dark about her mother’s family, and in the dark about her own connection to magic. Alex’s father was determined to never allow his daughter to succumb to the same fate as her mother and in an effort to protect her, he has inadvertently cut her off from the only people who can truly help her, her mother’s family.
In the wake of her father’s death, Alex has decided to reconnect with her mother’s family and spend some time in Bellamy Bay. The quaint little seaside town is just what Alex needs to soothe her soul and her mind and help her decide what her next life steps should be. Not one to lay about or shirk her responsibilities, Alex agrees to help her aunt and cousin in their small herbal apothecary. Though Alex doesn’t particularly believe in magic and woowoo, magic and woowoo believe in her and she quickly discovers there is far more to her family than she ever suspected.
As if her life weren’t already changing at the speed of light, the knowledge of her family’s gifts also comes with a terrifying murder that her aunt is accused of committing. Though she’s no detective, Alex can’t allow her aunt to be falsely accused of murder, so she begins poking about and asking questions. Trouble is, Alex is the new kid in town and her poking takes her to places her mother fought hard to keep her from, like magic and woowoo and old and dangerous family rivalries. Determined to help, Alex not only takes a more active role in the family business, she also begins training to control and wield her magic so that she might clear her aunt’s name.
Magic, like murder isn’t something to be trifled with and as Alex quickly learns not all wielders of magic have good intentions. Alex’s investigation brings her into contact with one of Bellamy Bay’s oldest and most powerful family’s, a family she learns has no love for her own family and a grudge that has been passed down through the generations. Unfortunately, to unveil the actual culprit of the crime, Alex must work with at least one member of the rival family and though trust is at a premium, she has to trust someone in order to get the help she needs. As she comes ever closer to discovering the truth, Alex also comes closer to true danger and as a new magic wielder, she may not be totally equipped to handle what she’s facing.
The Bottom Line: What a fun new series for me! This one has all the stuff I love about cozy mysteries: a quaint, small town setting, a wonderful little business that isn’t at all what it appears to be, characters with power and secrets, and a plot that took me into the history/backstory of the characters and town. Everything sort of comes together in this first-in-a-series read and I was delighted with the outcome. There’s a lot to be had in this book and much of what is thrown at the reader – especially the backstory and history – is in an effort to set up future books and plot lines. I can see a ton of potential and room for growth in this series and its characters and I sincerely hope that is what will come to pass.
The Core Four have been friends since college: four men, four women, four couples. They got married around the same time, had kids around the same time, and now, fifteen years later, they’ve started getting divorced around the same time, too. With three of the Core Four unions crumbling to dust around them, Jessica and Mitch Butler take a long, hard look at their own marriage. Can it be saved? Or is divorce, like some fortysomething zombie virus, simply inescapable?
To maximize their chance at immunity, Jessica and Mitch try something radical. Their friends’ divorces mostly had to do with sex—having it, not having it, wanting to have it with other people—so they decide to relax a few things. Terms are discussed, conditions are made, and together the Butlers embark on the great experiment of taking their otherwise happy, functional marriage and breaking some very serious rules.
Jessica and Mitch are convinced they’ve hit upon the next evolution of marriage. But as lines are crossed and hot bartenders pursued, they each start to wonder if they’ve made a huge mistake. What follows is sexy, fun, painful, messy, and completely surprising to them both. Because sometimes doing something bad is the only way to get to the heart of what’s really good.
Jessica and Mitch are the last couple standing among their original group of four. Known as the Core Four, the group has known one another and been a group since college. With the pairings and marriages coming so naturally, no one, especially the Core Four ever thought there would come a time when they would be something other than together.
Life and adulting suck . . . .
Yes, life and adulting have a tendency to suck and a harsh result of the suckiness is Jessica and Mitch being the last couple standing. They have seen their friends fall apart, their marriages end, and their lives radically changed and it, quite frankly, scares the hell out of Jessica. Though Jessica and Mitch have no serious issues in their marriage, Jessica proposes a radical experiment, a sort of preemptive strike to keep their solid marriage from going the way of their friends. To Jessica’s way of thinking, if they get out ahead of the problem then there won’t ever be a problem and she and Mitch can go about their lives and live to tell the tale of their happily ever after.
According to Jessica, each of their friends’ lives and marriages fell apart because of sex. With Mitch in agreement, Jessica proposes she and Mitch stray from their marriage and vows and have sex with other people in an effort to ultimately strengthen their own bond. In order to be fair, they set a series of guideline that will dictate the terms of the experiment and should not be violated by any party. According to Jessica, once the experiment is completed, she and Mitch will be stronger than ever and proof positive that some marriages are meant to go the distance.
Though Mitch agrees to Jessica’s madness and even contributes his own thoughts to the rules/guidelines, he isn’t as certain as his wife is that this experiment even needs to take place. Mitch is happy in his life, he loves his wife, and their family is damn-near perfect. While having a free pass to sleep with other women sounds awesome on its face, the reality is far different than the fantasy. Mitch not only struggles with the idea of sleeping with someone other than Jessica, he actively works to avoid participating in the madness. Jessica, on the other hand takes her free pass and runs with it, right into the arms and bed of a sexy young bartender who desperately wants more than Jessica is prepared to give. The ultimate result of the experiment is a very public display of lunacy which results in a small car wreck, one swift kick to the balls, and everyone, including their young children, knowing their business.
The Bottom Line: Oh, how I struggled with this book and it all comes down to one character, Jessica! I found Jessica to be a tremendously selfish, arrogant, and rather stupid woman. Rather than simply admitting her fears to her husband – a very understanding and accommodating Mitch! – Jessica concocts a ridiculous plan that will allow her to screw some young guy with zero guilt and/or consequences. This whole mess boils down to Jessica wanting to have sex with someone other than her husband and her selfishness threatens to destroy a solid and remarkably good marriage. Jessica wraps her plan in logical and psychobabble as a means of justifying her actions and, in an effort to support his wife and continue to make her happy, Mitch agrees to the madness. As the whole plan unfolds, Jessica’s selfishness becomes magnified and she becomes harder and harder and harder to like. On the flip side, Mitch is a rockstar and I wanted nothing but the best for he and his kids, even if it meant keeping Jessica and not kicking her sorry ass to the curb. At the end of the day, I can’t say I liked or even enjoyed this book. One bad character really can ruin a book and Jessica is a fine example of this. Finally, I don’t at all understand how this book is billed as “hilarious” and/or “heartfelt.” I found it to be frustrating, ridiculous, and the furthest thing from either hilarious or heartfelt. This is a novel of pettiness and selfish behavior that ultimately ends up nearly destroying something that is, in actuality, quite good.