It’s Halloween in Notchey Creek, Tennessee, and whiskey distiller Harley Henrickson is in the midst of preparations for the town’s autumn harvest festival. Harley lives a quiet life of books and hard work, an introvert who is dismissed by many as the town nerd. Her life is changed when she and her best friend, Tina Rizchek discover a disoriented stranger in the ditch, mumbling about a lost boy who was “innocent.” When the man disappears into the woods, Harley is left with many unanswered questions. Who was the mysterious man, and what happened to the innocent boy?
As she digs deeper, she discovers the stranger, in reality, was no stranger at all, and had ties to many highly-esteemed citizens in town. When one of those citizens, a wealthy history professor, is murdered on Halloween night, Harley decides to investigate. What she discovers is a multitude of secrets, lies, and sins, dating back decades, and revolving around a handsome and brooding rock star who has chosen Notchey Creek as his new home.
In addition to sleuthing, other issues are causing problems for Harley. Professional football player-turned sheriff, Jed Turner, doesn’t appreciate her interference in the murder investigation. The mayor and Chamber of Commerce president are convinced her pet pig, Matilda, is trying to ruin Pioneer Days. Her great-aunt, Wilma True–in between her hair emergencies–is on a mission to create matching festival outfits for Harley and her pig. And thanks to her great-uncle, Tater, she finds herself hauling a giant model cupcake, a pig, and an antique toilet in her truck–all in one week.
Source: Purchase Rating: 4½/5 stars
Harley Henrickson has spent her life being underestimated, dismissed, or simply scorned. An orphan at an early age, Harley was raised by her beloved whiskey-distilling grandfather, her aunt Wilma and Uncle Tater. Harley is intelligent beyond compare, but life has kept her from pursuing a college education and realizing her true intellectual potential. With all the said, Harley wouldn’t change one thing about her life and has learned to fully accept her place in town as the nerdy girl with virtually no friends.
Harley’s best friend is the high-strung yet supremely talented local bakery owner, Tina Rizchek. Most of Tina’s phone calls to Harley begin with some form of shrieking, but in this instance, the shrieking is completely justified. When Harley makes her way to Tina, the two friends find an unconscious man in a ditch with no identification and no means of conveying to the women how he got there and in such a state. What’s more, in a small town like Notchey Creek, everyone knows everyone else and neither Tina nor Harley recognizes the poor man.
Though Harley certainly feels for the man, once he disappears, she assumes her role in the whole mess is over. Harley has every been so wrong. What transpires over the next days and weeks is a roller coaster ride of emotions, actions, and reactions that has everyone in town confused, hurt, and simply shocked by the secrets that are coming to light. Somehow, Harley has found herself smack dab in the center of the entire mess and if she can’t solve the mystery others are most certainly going to suffer.
Harley’s inherent intelligence and ability to mentally organize a load of information at a time are two of her greatest strengths. Her other strength lies in the fact that the people who truly know her, trust Harley and are willing to help her with information. Every person Harley talks to gives her a bit more information and with the help of the local library, Harley discovers a truth that has been buried for more than 20 years. Exposing the truth will alter the lives of a number of people as well as bring closure to several others. One thing is certain, no matter what Harley does, Notchey Creek is going to be forever changed.
Despite seemingly always being on her own, Harley finds herself surrounded by people as she investigates the various mysteries wrapped around the mystery man in the ditch. Perhaps the loudest and most obnoxious is town sheriff, Jed Turner. Once upon a time, Harley and Jed were good friends, but circumstances beyond their control tore them apart and now the two have something of a contentious relationship. Harley being far better at Jed’s job than he is certainly earns her no good will. What Jed simply can’t wrap his brain around is the fact Harley wants no recognition for her work, only the satisfaction of knowing she has righted several wrongs and genuinely helped people in distress.
The Bottom Line: It’s only April but I’m going to call this one of my favorite books of the year. What a wonderful new cozy mystery series for me and one I am very excited about sharing with others. The characters in this book really are wonderfully weird, quirky, and varied. From the delightful Aunt Wilma and Uncle Tater to the arrogant (though with a heart?) sheriff, I took such great pleasure in learning about each of these characters and how they fit into Harley’s life. For as much as I loved the characters, I loved the amount of history and backstory found in this book. So much about the local history, legends, and families is dealt with in this book and it was a delight to see it all play out and come together as it should, in the end. I found the plot to be just a smidge darker than the average cozy mystery, but this only enhanced the read further for me. In all, this is a very exciting new series well worth adding to your TBR.
In addition to her house-flipping talents, Jazzi Zanders is breaking ground as a sleuth. But she’s going to need every tool at her disposal to solve two crimes . . .
In their hair salon, Jazzi’s sister Olivia and mother are savvy businesswomen whose creativity brings fashion and flair to the folks of Rivers Bluff, Indiana. So when their newest hairstylist Misty is caught scamming clients’ debit cards and selling beauty products during off hours to pocket the profits, Olivia fires her. But Misty retaliates by hitting back with a defamation lawsuit—which she is more than happy to drop if Olivia pays her ten grand.
But neither blackmail nor courtroom fees are accrued after Misty’s body is discovered in the salon with Olivia’s scissors stuck in her chest. Olivia may be the number one suspect, but her murdered employee had a reputation for making enemies.
Then Jazzi’s ex Chad appears, asking for help with his marital strife. This already awkward situation worsens when Chad’s wife vanishes and the police investigate him. Now, it’s up to Jazzi to clear both her sister’s and ex’s names while the killer—or killers—could be a mere hair breadth’s away . . .
Source: Purchase Rating: 4/5 stars
Jazzi Zanders always has her hands full. Between her full-time job flipping houses, her weekly family dinners, and her crime solving hobby, Jazzi has more than she can handle on a regular basis. In her limited free time, Jazzi enjoys hanging out at home with her handsome Viking, playing with her adorable animals, and planning special meals and events for her family. Unfortunately, there isn’t a great deal of down time, currently.
Just as Jazzi, Ansel, and her cousin begin the heavy lifting on a new project, Jazzi is called by her sister Olivia with a very serious problem. Turns out, Olivia’s recently fired hairdresser had the audacity to not only steal from Olivia and her mother’s business, but she also found herself dead as can be with Olivia’s scissors sticking straight out of her chest. While the situation certainly doesn’t look good for Olivia, Jazzi is on the case and won’t stop until she knows the truth of the matter.
With Detective Gaff along for the ride, Jazzi begins a deep dive into the victim’s life and quickly discovers she was not well liked by most who knew her. While this doesn’t narrow down the list of suspects, it certainly does cast suspicion on others more so than Olivia. Because the universe is always watching and waiting for an opportunity to mess with a human, just as Jazzi is knee deep in her sister’s case, she gets a phone call from her despicable ex-boyfriend looking for help with the case of his missing wife. Though Jazzi has reservations about allowing Chad back into her life, Jazzi’s grandmother utters several proclamations Jazzi simply can’t ignore. With two cases unfolding simultaneously, it will be a wonder if Jazzi ever has a free moment for herself.
The Bottom Line: I am still finding this series both entertaining and engaging, but I have to say, even with two mysteries in this read, I was more enthralled by the work done on the flip house and the scrumptious meals concocted by Jazzi. Somehow the meals and the work on the houses simply stood out more this time than in previous books. The house is unlike anything the crew has ever done, and Jazzi and the other women really outdo themselves with the weekly offerings for dinner. It is in these moments, the quieter family and work moments that I get the most pleasure from this series and sincerely hope the creativity of these situations never wanes. Does this mean I didn’t enjoy the mystery bits? Absolutely not! The mysteries are integral to this series and without them the other bits wouldn’t seem so intimate and precious. I’m still all in on this series and look forward to round seven!
Two thousand years ago, Mary Magdalene hid a set of scrolls in the rocky foothills of the French Pyrenees, a gospel that contained her own version of the events and characters of the New Testament. Protected by supernatural forces, these sacred scrolls could be uncovered only by a special seeker, one who fulfills the ancient prophecy of l’attendue — The Expected One.
When journalist Maureen Pascal begins the research for a new book, she has no idea that she is stepping into an ancient mystery so secret, so revolutionary, that thousands of people have killed and died for it. She becomes deeply immersed in the mystical cultures of southwest France as the eerie prophecy of The Expected One casts a shadow over her life and work and a long-buried family secret comes to light.
Maureen’s extraordinary journey takes her from the dusty streets of Jerusalem to the cathedrals of Paris . . . and ultimately to search for the scrolls themselves. She must unravel clues that link history’s great artistic masters, including Sandro Botticelli, Nicolas Poussin, and Jean Cocteau; the Medici, Bourbon, and Borgia dynasties; and great scientific minds like Leonardo da Vinci and Isaac Newton. Ultimately, she, and the reader, come face-to-face with Jesus Christ, Mary Magdalene, John the Baptist, Judas, and Salome in the pages of a deeply moving and powerful new gospel, the life of Jesus as told by Mary Magdalene.
Source: Purchase Rating: 5 stars
The Bottom Line: For a whole host of reasons, Mary Magdalene has long been one of my favorite historical figures. I find her story and the narratives that have been spun about her over the last 2,000 years to be utterly fascinating. I have read this particular book at least three times now and I have yet to lose my interest in this story. This book tends a bit more toward the esoteric, the spin off groups with their various beliefs about the Magdalene, as well as the Biblical research related to her life. I devoured every bit of this book, but my favorite parts without doubt are the chapters that are told from the perspective of the Magdalene. Once the story leaves the present and delves deeply into the past, I could not turn pages fast enough. This is most certainly an alternative narrative and because of that I do not think it will appeal to all readers. For me, this alternative seems highly likely and not only possible but plausible. In truth, I would sincerely hope and wish the life of the Magdalene presented in this fictional story is something which would have happened for one of history’s most misunderstood women. With all this being said, I must also mention the skill with which the time slips are handled in this book. Time slips either go wonderfully right or horribly wrong; in this instance, the shifts between the past and the present shift smoothly and encourage further reading. Finally, I found the explanations of some of history’s most truly complicated and complex characters and situations to be easily accessible. In all, a fairly perfect read for me.
All Maggie Bliss needs to do is write. Forty-eight years old and newly single (again!), she ventures to Paris in a last-ditch effort to finish her manuscript. With a marvelous apartment at her fingertips and an elegant housekeeper to meet her every need, a finished book—and her dream of finally taking her career over the top—is surely within her grasp. After all, how could she find anything except inspiration in Paris, with its sophistication, food, and romance in the air?
But the clock is running out, and between her charming ex-husband arriving in France for vacation and a handsome Frenchman appearing one morning in her bathtub, Maggie’s previously undisturbed peace goes by the wayside. Charming and heartfelt, Dee Ernst’s Maggie Finds Her Muse is a delightful and feel-good novel about finding love, confidence, and inspiration in all the best places.
Source: NetGalley and St. Martin’s Press Rating: 3/5 stars
For the first time in her career, Maggie Bliss has a serious case of writer’s block. The words simply won’t come, and she is on a deadline that is closing in at lightning speed. If she doesn’t finish her book, the dreams she has long worked for simply won’t happen. If Maggie doesn’t do something soon it’s all going to come crashing down.
First, Maggie gets rid of her worthless and completely unsupportive boyfriend. With little emotion and a load of determination, Maggie tells the lump to pack his bags and get stepping! Though he simply can’t understand how Maggie can possibly let a catch like him go, she does and has zero regrets about her decision.
Second, Maggie accepts an absolutely stunning offer from her dear friend to fly to Paris, live in his apartment and find her muse among the sites, sights, and people of the French capital. With nothing tying her to her current location, Maggie packs her bags, crosses the big pond, and settles in easily to her new environment. The settling takes no time as the neighborhood is gorgeous, the apartment is sumptuous, and the company is delightful.
Finally, Maggie must find her muse. As it happens, that is as easily said as done. When Maggie stumbles upon a very hungover Max in the apartment’s bathtub, she sees something special in the handsome stranger. As it turns out, Max is the son of the live-in housekeeper and cook and often spends his down time with his mother. In the days he spends in Paris, Max delights Maggie to no end. He is intelligent, quite knowledgeable about Paris and the surrounding areas, and always willing to join Maggie on her adventures. In short order, Maggie realizes when Max is around the words seem to flow more easily and her book is coming along at a brilliant pace. If she can just keep Max around for a bit longer Maggie will be able to realize all her dreams.
The Bottom Line: There are parts of this book I really enjoyed: I liked the setting and especially the tours through the famous sites and museums, I really liked the descriptions of all the gorgeous meals eaten, and I adored Max. Outside of those three things, I found everything else in this book to be rather cliché and predictable. It all had to fall apart before Max and Maggie could enjoy their HEA and the big fall apart was just a little to standard romance novel for me. With that said, this was a fine little distraction for a night or two and though I wouldn’t tell you to move this to the top of your TBR, I would also not tell you to skip this one.
Alex Nash dreams of being a soccer star. Or a graphic artist. Maybe both. But being a cowboy? Nope and no way. Not if it means being anything like his seldom seen father.
Then, out of nowhere, tragedy shatters Alex’s world, and when he thinks life couldn’t sucker-punch him again, it does. He’s forced to live with Roberto Nash, a man he barely knows. Or wants to know.
Until Alex finds out his dad has bought him a peace offering of a sort, one with a red coat, lightning speed, and a fighting spirit. A spitfire of a horse that just might heal Alex’s heart and reunite father and son.
Source: Author, NetGalley, Purchase, and Owl Hollow Press Rating: 5 stars
The Bottom Line: Y’all, I truly cannot get enough of these reads! Darby Karchut has a gift for writing characters who are full, beyond interesting, fully developed, and absolutely memorable. Once again, for me, those characters are the TALKING HORSES. In this read, I felt a real connection to the horses as each worked to not only find his place on the ranch but among their humans as well. In this instance, there is a horse for each human, but the smaller of the humans, Alex, has never been around horses and must learn to trust the mount his dad, Roberto has given him as a gift. The true heart of this story is the connection between Alex and his horse. Though they cannot talk to one another, the communicate in a myriad of other ways which is often so kind and so tender. This is the story of trust and friendship, both of which blossom as the connection between a boy and his horse grows.
Finally, I have said it before and I will continue to say it: if you aren’t reading Darby Karchut, get started. Her books are beautifully written, thoughtfully conceived, and full of endearing and wonderfully likeable characters. What’s more, Karchut’s books are appropriate for any age reader and I highly encourage you to encourage your kids to dive into her books. You won’t regret it!
For four hundred years, generations of the Family Del Toro and their battle-savvy warhorses have secretly guarded their corner of Colorado from all things creepy. But when a menacing woman with some wicked witch powers shows up at the Del Toro ranch and demands the return of the Red Casket, twelve year old Matt Del Toro must team up with his best friend Perry—along with the warhorses Rigo and Isabel—to out-wit, out-ride, and out-fight one Viking-size sorceress.
Source: Author, Purchase, NetGalley, and Owl Hollow Press Rating: 5 stars
The Bottom Line: Holy TALKING HORSES, Batman! If I haven’t mentioned it in a hot minute or two, I love books with talking animals. Talking animals always add another dimension to a story and in this particular series, the TALKING HORSES are integral part of the story. The horses are prominent characters whose attitudes, language, and actions make them standouts among the cast of characters. If I am honest, I get so much more pleasure out of the TALKING HORSES than I do out of the humans. Don’t get me wrong, the humans are fine, beautifully developed characters – especially Perry! – but they come second to the TALKING HORSES for me. Finally, I found the plot to this story to be all kinds of exciting and entertaining. Who doesn’t love a sorceress with a grudge and a mission? Oh, and does anyone else think that scene with Perry and the sorceress may have somehow altered Perry?? I’m looking forward to an answer to that particular question as well as the future endeavors o the Del Toro family and their amazing TALKING HORSES.
The vineyards stretched away in every direction as he plucked a perfect red grape, sparkling with dew. “Marry me,” he’d said. “We’ll run these vineyards together.” But now he is gone. There is no one to share the taste of the first fruit of the harvest. And her troubles are hers alone…
In sleepy little Reims, France, grieving Nicole Clicquot watches her daughter play amongst the vines under the golden sun and makes a promise to herself. Her gossiping neighbours insist that the rolling fields of chalk soil are no place for a woman, but she is determined to make a success of the winery. It’s the only chance she has to keep a roof over her head and provide a future for her little girl.
But as the seasons change, bringing a spoiled harvest and bitter grapes, the vineyards are on the brink of collapse. Without her husband’s oldest friend, travelling merchant Louis, she’d truly be lost. No one else would stay up all night to help count endless rows of green bottles deep in the cellars, or spread word far and wide that Nicole makes the finest champagne he’s ever tasted. One magical night, as a shooting star illuminates their way under a velvet sky, Nicole gazes up at his warm smile and wonders if perhaps she doesn’t need to be quite so alone…
But when Louis shrinks from her touch after returning from a long trip abroad, Nicole fears something is terribly wrong. And as an old secret about her husband – that only Louis knew – spreads from the cobbled village streets all the way to the Paris salons, her heart and fragile reputation are shattered. Was she wrong to put her trust in another man? And with Napoleon’s wars looming on the horizon, can she find a way to save her vineyards, and her daughter, from ruin?
Source: Purchase, NetGalley, and Bookouture Rating: 5 stars
As a young girl with her whole life ahead of her, the headstrong Nicole Clicquot agrees to marry the man of her dreams. With the world at their feet and beautiful and bountiful vineyards as their future, there is nothing the Clicquot’s cannot accomplish. Unfortunately, Fate always has her hand in the lives of mere mortals and this time, she takes Nicole’s husband far too soon. With a small child and employees to care for, Nicole decides, against all the odds and conventions of her time and place, she will run the vineyards and make them the success she and her beloved once dreamed they could be.
Though Nicole knows the mechanics of running a vineyard, her job is made doubly hard given the fact she is a woman. In her time and place, single, even widowed women, simply don’t own and run a successful business. At nearly every turn, Nicole is faced with yet another man hellbent on hindering her success. What’s more, the men willing to work with her either have to grudgingly admit to her knowledge and expertise and work with her as well as becoming to next focus of the town’s gossip.
Over the years, Nicole, her vineyards, and her employees see hundreds of ups and downs, not the least of which is Napoleon’s march across Europe. With each new victory, Napoleon shuts down more and more of Europe making is nearly impossible and certainly illegal to export goods. On more than one occasion, Nicole risks her own life and the lives of some of her dearest friends in order to get her wares to the countries clamoring for them. Sometimes, the deliveries go according to plan and others are epic disasters. The disasters threaten the very existence of Nicole’s livelihood and she will do whatever she must to ensure its existence.
The Bottom Line: This was a long, saga-esque read that I enjoyed every minute and every page of. I am always a fan of strong women who are far, far ahead of their time and place. In Nicole’s case, she doesn’t bow to the whims of others, but expects others to come around to her way of thinking. Nicole expects those who are with her to work as she does, defy convention as she does, and reap the benefits of their hard work and determination. What I found particularly interesting about this read is the descriptions of the vineyards and the lengths Nicole is willing to go to in order to ensure her continued success. Make no mistake, this isn’t a terribly happy read, but it is one of knowledge, determination, sheer stubbornness, and cleverness beyond anyone’s reckoning. Nicole defies all the odds and comes out all the better for it in the end.
P.S. I also found this book under the alternate title The Champagne Widow
2017, London: When Aurelia Leclaire inherits an opulent Paris apartment, she is shocked to discover her grandmother’s hidden secrets—including a treasure trove of famous art and couture gowns. One obscure painting leads her to Gabriel Seymour, a highly respected art restorer with his own mysterious past. Together they attempt to uncover the truths concealed within the apartment’s walls.
Paris, 1942: The Germans may occupy the City of Lights, but glamorous Estelle Allard flourishes in a world separate from the hardships of war. Yet when the Nazis come for her friends, Estelle doesn’t hesitate to help those she holds dear, no matter the cost. As she works against the forces intent on destroying her loved ones, she can’t know that her actions will have ramifications for generations to come.
Set seventy-five years apart, against a perilous and a prosperous Paris, both Estelle and Lia must unearth hidden courage as they navigate the dangers of a changing world, altering history—and their family’s futures—forever.
Source: NetGalley and Forever Rating: 5 stars
Estelle Allard has a secret and in 1942, having secrets is a life-ending proposition. With no intention of losing her life, Estelle learns to play the spy in a world now full of evil men and women hellbent on ridding the world of those they deem unacceptable. As a rich, beautiful, unattached socialite Estelle fits easily into lie at the Ritz where she bumbles her way through conversations, feigns ignorance at every turn, and literally sings for her supper. As the saying goes, looks can be deceiving.
Estelle Allard is crafty, clever, highly intelligent, and willing to risk her life for the lives of others. Her work at the Ritz may seem frivolous to most, but Estelle’s access to the high-ranking Nazis who live and socialize at the grand hotel allow her to feed information to the Resistance at every turn. Though she never knows if her information is doing any good, Estelle perseveres. In fact, Estelle expands her operation beyond information gathering to the hiding of precious objects and art, and the safe passage of soldiers being smuggled from one location to another. In an ultimate act of resistance, Estelle even hides a small Jewish child following the “relocation” of her own family.
Long days and long nights have Estelle constantly on edge and while she isn’t completely sure her efforts are making a difference, she continues on. She plays the ignorant socialite so well that even the most discerning among the Nazi party can’t prove Estelle is anything or anyone beyond who she says she is. That is, until the day Sophie walks into her life. Sophie is an unknown quantity who seemingly wants nothing from Estelle in return but is willing to help her. Though Estelle trusts few people, she chooses to trust Sophie so that she might save the life of the young girl she has been hiding for so long. As their plans play out, the danger if discovery and capture is very real and the odds of surviving, minimal.
The Bottom Line: I am always drawn to books related to this time and have found myself to be quite critical of books of this genre. The market is somewhat flooded with books related to this time and place so when I find one, I particularly like, I feel its praises should be sung far and wide. The Fat Lady is warming up . . . In truth, this is a time slip book with the chapters alternating between Estelle and Sophie’s time and the present. Estelle’s granddaughter Lia, who is largely in the dark about her grandmother’s past has inherited Estelle’s estate and is completely confused by what she has found. As Lia begins to uncover the mystery of her grandmother, we are taken back in time to Estelle as she tells her own story. I found the far more plentiful chapters of Estelle’s time and place to be the most enjoyable; the descriptions were flawless, the dialogue excellent, and the mood appropriate tense. I found these chapters and Estelle and Sophie’s story to be the most compelling and feel the book would have been just as good (Better? Maybe?) without Lia’s presence. This is an excellent historical fiction and a fine addition to the genre.
Esme is born into a world of words. Motherless and irrepressibly curious, she spends her childhood in the ‘Scriptorium’, a garden shed in Oxford where her father and a team of dedicated lexicographers are collecting words for the very first Oxford English Dictionary. Esme’s place is beneath the sorting table, unseen and unheard. One day a slip of paper containing the word ‘bondmaid’ flutters to the floor. Esme rescues the slip and stashes it in an old wooden case that belongs to her friend, Lizzie, a young servant in the big house. Esme begins to collect other words from the Scriptorium that are misplaced, discarded or have been neglected by the dictionary men. They help her make sense of the world.
Over time, Esme realises that some words are considered more important than others, and that words and meanings relating to women’s experiences often go unrecorded. While she dedicates her life to the Oxford English Dictionary, secretly, she begins to collect words for another dictionary: The Dictionary of Lost Words.
Source: NetGalley and Affirm Press Rating: 4/5 stars
Esme’s life is significantly different from other girls her age. Raised by a single father, Esme spends her days accompanying her father to work where he serves as an editor for the burgeoning Oxford English Dictionary. Though she isn’t allowed to observe the work, she does listen intently and when the day is at an end, she sits beside her father and soaks up the knowledge he shares with her.
Given her time and place, Esme never thought her life would become the dictionary and its creation. With her father by her side, Esme slowly gains more and more responsibility, and she finds the work generally satisfying. With the exception of a few things. One of the things Esme takes exception to is the absence of certain words from the dictionary. From her childhood, Esme has collected the slips of paper containing the words that have been deemed ill-suited for the OED. As Esme grows, matures, and expands her social circle, she begins to understand the words that have been discarded are either words related to women or to the lower classes; that is, words that are deemed inappropriate for polite society.
Through the course of her work with her father and the other men of the OED, Esme learns much about life, others, the world beyond academia, and herself. In her quest to right the wrongs of the world, Esme discovers some of the most rewarding and heartbreaking relationships. From each relationship she learns new words, new meanings, and new ideas to add to her treasure trove of knowledge. Every experience, every encounter, and every word are a new lesson for Esme, and many will stay with her for the rest of her life.
With no intention of ever doing anything with her collected words, Esme is startled to find those among her inner circle see the words and their collection as something entirely significant that should be shared with the world. What Esme has collected, beyond just the words and their meanings, are the stories of the people she has loved and lost, the language of the often ignored, and the vernacular of an entire class of people. Though Esme never really considered publishing her collection, The Dictionary of Lost Words is a gift to those Esme has spent lifetime seeing when others did not.
The Bottom Line: What a sweeping tale this turned out to be! Esme’s life is something of an anomaly for her time and place and those are always going to be the characters and stories I am drawn to. Esme’s story is the story of so many, the lost, the forgotten, the ignored, the displaced, the disapproved-of, and the looked down upon. Esme’s social standing and education allowed her to travel in a variety of circles which allowed her to build her collection of words all while learning about people and places she may have never known about otherwise. Through experience and personal tragedy and triumph, Esme lived her life on her terms and built something incredibly beautiful, a legacy. As the language evolves so does Esme and I found her story and relationships to be both familiar and freshly new. I breezed through this read and found the language of the author to be both easy to read yet appropriate for the story, a combination not easily achieved. Esme’s story is a reminder of the power of words, the lasting influence of language, and how so many are forgotten because of their language.
The small town of Bellamy Bay has its share of skeletons in its closet, but it isn’t used to bodies turning up in the local history museum. After all, this coastal North Carolina town is much like any other…except, of course, for the mermaids.
Helping to run the family business, an herbal apothecary while keeping her supernatural secret hidden is no easy feat for water witch Aleksandra Daniels. But somehow she’s still found time to help her friend Celeste, who has her own Caribbean mermaid heritage plan the annual Mermaid Festival. As fun-seekers throng the beaches, Alex gets to know and is intrigued by renowned artist Neve Ryland, who’s in town to decorate the local park with a mermaid-themed mural. Celeste, however, is less enamored with the artist, as Neve has been spending entirely too much one-on-one time with her boyfriend Jasper, director of Bellamy Bay’s history museum. Then, a reception for Neve ends abruptly when the artist is found dead in his office.
The police investigation nets Celeste who asks Alex to find the true culprit. With the help of her magically-inclined aunt and cousins, Alex dives in to clear her friends name. But there was more to Neve Ryland than met the eye…and Alex fears she may be in way too deep. Will she catch the crook or be next on the hook?
Source: NetGalley and Crooked Lane Books Rating: 2½/5 stars
The Bottom Line: I can always gauge how much a book impacted me or how much I enjoyed it by how much comes back to me easily and readily when I sit down to write a review. In truth, not a lot came back to me about this book and that makes me sad given how much I enjoyed the first book. While I certainly don’t mind the paranormal aspects of this series (I do like it!) I think this book went a bit off the rails for me. At times, I felt the plot was a real reach and I just couldn’t stretch far enough to fall in line and enjoy the read. I also found myself becoming frustrated with the relationship between Alex and her boyfriend; when you can’t tell your significant other something so fundamental to your being, the relationship is doomed. I can’t complain one bit about the mechanics and technical bits of this book, but the creative bits left me a bit let down and wanting something more. Since I now seem to be one and one with this series, I think I’ll give book three a chance before making a final decision on my continued relationship with this series.