Book Review: An Earl, The Girl, and A Toddler

If you know me, you probably know that one of my guilty pleasures is historical romance. I want to blame my mother in law, passing along books she has read, but I’m quite certain she just cultivated roots that were already there. I passed many an hour in my teen years silently observing as early settlers fell in love on wagon trains, in the wilderness, or in small western towns thanks to the likes of Janette Oke.

As I’ve matured, my reading list has expanded to other authors and other settings and I like a good Regency romp or Victorian escape – fluff pieces, often, but easy to read and distracting from the laundry baskets piling up around me or the never ending emails flooding my inbox. When I saw An Earl, the Girl, and a Toddler by Vanessa Riley I was intrigued. I jumped in thinking it would, once again, just be a bit of mindless drivel – enjoyable but not impactful. Oh, but how I was mistaken. I should have paid more attention to the publisher’s notes.

Acclaimed author Vanessa Riley infuses the ballroom settings of Regency England with hints of Demerara Island and Jamaican flair in Rogues and Remarkable Women, her series revolving around The Widow’s Grace, a secret society of widows battling society to regain their money and a chance at love everlasting. In this sweeping, swoon-worthy second installment, a shipwrecked woman searches for her memories and becomes entangled with a conflicted nobleman who holds more answers than he realizes…

An OMag.com & Bibliolifestyle Most Anticipated Romance of 2021
PopSugar Best Romance of April
Publishers Weekly Top 10 Romance of Spring 2021

A witty and moving story from the acclaimed author of A Duke, the Lady, and a Baby, about the lengths to which a woman will go for the love of her child…and the love of a man who knows her worth. Breaking with traditional Regency rules and customs, Vanessa Riley pens an unforgettable story perfect for fans of Julia Quinn’s Bridgerton, Evie Dunmore, and Eloisa James looking for something fresh and stirring!

One comment I think important to note is that I don’t think the comparison to Bridgerton is fair. Ms. Riley has created a well-crafted world in her own right, worthy of it’s own success. While both series are remarkable, they are not the same, although I can see how fans of the Bridgertons will enjoy the Rogues & Remarkable Women Series – with less, um, heaving bosoms. Both authors are talented and acclaimed.

In reviewing this novel itself, I say there was a depth of emotion and feeling that I didn’t expect. It was full of high stakes drama and flawed but likeable characters. And a ferocity – oh the ferocity and strength – were balanced with heart break, humour, and romance. Motherhood, strong women, unfair societal constraints, prejudice, loss – this title had it all along with danger and daring. What I particularly noted was a lack of ‘skip scenes’ – all the steam was closed door – so no objectionable content for anyone trying to avoid blatant intimacy. (I will note that this is actually one of the complaints I’m seeing from other reviewers – not everyone wants a “clean read” but this novel didn’t need intimate scenes. There was heat and chemistry between the characters but it’s not in-your-face.)

Best of all, in a world where representation matters, Riley delivers a beautiful story with diversity and multi-culturalism as an #OwnVoices author. I enjoyed this title so much that I then went and bought the previous title in the series (but know this title can be read as a standalone) and have flagged Riley as must-read author as I work my way through her backlist. What an enjoyable adventure that will be!

My thanks to Kensington Books for the Advanced Readers Copy via NetGalley. This title will be published April 27th and if you’re a fan of Regency romance, you should probably check it out! While I received a complimentary copy from the publisher, all opinions are my own.

Book Review: The Rose Code by Kate Quinn

Does anyone else compile novels in their head as they fall asleep? Just me? The first lines are what get me. I often come up with a spectacular first chapter draft that I’m sure I’ll remember the next morning and much like an incredible dream, the details tend to be pretty fuzzy upon awakening. If I’m not compiling fiction in my head, I’m compiling blog posts. The unpublished, unedited, mostly forgotten versions of posts that fill the archive of my mind are overflowing the file drawers and spilling onto the floor.

Earlier this year, much like the fashion of our day to day routines changing by the week, I thought it would be fun to try something new – audiobooks. I’ve downloaded two – one a Christmas gift, and one a NetGalley selection. To say I’m a bit, umm, unfocused is greatly underselling how much this format is not suited to my disciplines. However, I will say I think I could come up with a way to make it work. I’m not ready to give up on audiobooks yet.

If you’re a follower of best selling fiction and news from the fiction world, I’m sure you’ve heard of The Rose Code by best-selling author, Kate Quinn. The New York Times and USA Today bestselling author of The Huntress and The Alice Network returns with another heart-stopping World War II story of three female code breakers at Bletchley Park and the spy they must root out after the war is over. It was published March 9th and has spent some time on recommended reading lists and best seller lists alike. You can’t go onto a bookstore’s website or browse their featured selections without seeing it because it’s just that good. This work of magnificent fiction is the audiobook I requested through NetGalley.

The audiobook is narrated by a delightfully accented woman by the name of Saskia Maarleveld. She reads bewitchingly, bringing emotion and colour to the listener. Unfortunately for me, she is also mesmerizing and as I listened, I fell into a mindless complacency, easily allowing the narration to become just background noise to the tasks around me. When I did intentionally focus, I found I was straining to stay abreast of the details of the story while I interpreted the British accent. This is not a criticism of Maarleveld or the novel. Both were enjoyable (more on that…) but rather, a sad commentary on my own failings as an active listener. (My husband and coworkers would most likely agree that I have many shortcomings in this regard.)

So I did what any sensible person would do when they haven’t listened to their advanced copy before publication date… I ordered the paperback version with deckle edge. This book is, well, weighty. My arms would get tired while reading in bed. It smacked my face more than once with quite a bit of heft. I turned into this weird hybrid reader, listening at times while doing dishes or driving, and than skimming to catch up in my print copy before tucking away a few chapters in the print version. The paperback, however, wasn’t portable enough for me, so I also purchased an e-book to read on my phone or my Kindle. It is quite possible I lost my place more than once having so many versions in my hands.

But I needed access to this novel, because the story was so well done, so intriguing, so consuming that I couldn’t put it down. It was by no means a quick read, but it was epic and heartfelt. It is a remarkable work of historical fiction and will be one of my top picks for 2021, if not of all time. I am traditionally a fan of heroic WWII sagas, but I enjoyed that this didn’t put us on the frontlines or in the shoes of those living through an invasion, but brought us behind the scenes, so to speak, and into the heart of valiant warriors in their own right. I found it to be an absolutely fascinating masterpiece that brought me to laughter, tears, and frustration. It will be worth a re-read one day, and in all honestly, I’m having a difficult time leaving Bletchley Park behind.



My thanks to HarperAudio for the advanced listener copy via NetGalley. It was truly appreciated.

Blog Tour & Book Review: The Path to Sunshine Cove by RaeAnne Thayne

I have run into some hit and miss situations with women’s fiction lately and it’s tilted me towards a bit of a mystery/suspense streak. If one genre isn’t working, why not try another? Now, I don’t want to lead anyone to the incorrect assumption that I’ve given up on women’s fiction or romance, I just needed to cleanse the palate a little, leaving me ready for RaeAnne Thayne’s latest title, The Path to Sunshine Cove. After reading it, my love for the genre is firmly intact once again.

One thing I’m not sure I’ve ever explained is regarding how the book review blog tours work. The publicity team at the publishers reach out months in advance asking if you’ll agree to read and review a certain title (or three) well in advance of publication date. You agree and then download the book or wait for the download to become available. Then you wait for the related assets (photos, bios, etc.) and then you post on a pre-selected date. I didn’t just wake up last week and decide it was time to dive into this one… I selected my title and blog date back in November and in typical Lindsey fashion, waited to read the book last week. I don’t recommend this method, but my review is at least fresh in my mind.

ABOUT THE BOOK:
She knows what’s best for everyone but herself…

With a past like hers, Jessica Clayton feels safer in a life spent on the road. She’s made a career out of helping others downsize—because she’s learned the hard way that the less “stuff,” the better, a policy she applies equally to her relationships. But a new client is taking Jess back to Cape Sanctuary, a town she once called home…and that her little sister, Rachel, still does. The years apart haven’t made a dent in the guilt Jess still carries after a handgun took the lives of both their parents and changed everything between them.

While Jess couldn’t wait to put the miles between her and Cape Sanctuary, Rachel put down roots, content for the world—and her sister—to think she has a picture-perfect life. But with the demands of her youngest child’s disability, Rachel’s marriage has begun to fray at the seams. She needs her sister now more than ever, yet she’s learned from painful experience that Jessica doesn’t do family, and she shouldn’t count on her now.

Against her judgment, Jess finds herself becoming attached—to her sister and her family, even to her client’s interfering son, Nate—and it’s time to put everything on the line. Does she continue running from her painful past, or stay put and make room for the love and joy that come along with it?

ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
New York Times bestselling author RaeAnne Thayne finds inspiration in the beautiful northern Utah mountains where she lives with her family. Her books have won numerous honors, including six RITA Award nominations from Romance Writers of America and Career Achievement and Romance Pioneer awards from RT Book Reviews. She loves to hear from readers and can be reached through her website at www.raeannethayne.com.

MY THOUGHTS:
As I was first getting into this title, I assumed that it was a light and easy beach read, a little bit of family drama, a whole lot of romance, sandy shores, and sunshine. I was right… but I was also wrong. It reads like a warm and easy feel-good novel, but that shouldn’t deceive the reader. The author doesn’t go deep with a lot of issues, but she has created characters with weighty backstories who are definitely shaped by their pasts. There are experiences of neglect, abuse, and suicide, and a more prominent thread of grief and loss that have created the flawed, bruised characters of the present. Lest you think, wow, that’s dark, know that the characters are living, growing, changing, experiencing life, despite or in spite of those experiences – building business, families, relationships and finding themselves day by day.

The setting is absolutely gorgeous. For those of you not living on the west coast with sunshine and palm trees, after being cooped up for the last year it will definitely stir the travel bug. The entire cast of characters is delightful – Nate’s mom is just the best. There’s a balance in the developing romance and the strengthening of the sister’s relationship – defining this as women’s fiction vs. romance would be a struggle for me. I don’t think either outcome takes center stage and both carry an equal importance in the telling of the story of the whole. We’d be lost without one or the other. Overall, it hit all the right notes for me – it’s a feel-good, delightful, easy-to-read, happily ever after – just don’t be fooled that it’s all fluff and nonsense.

The Path to Sunset Cove hits booksellers shelves today! Pick up a copy for yourself and let’s compare notes. Happy publication day, Ms. Thayne!

Note: This is the second title in a series but is absolutely able to be read as a standalone.

My thanks to the publisher for including me in this one.

THE PATH TO SUNSHINE COVE 
Author: RaeAnne Thayne 
ISBN: 9781335665430
Publication Date: March 30, 2020
Publisher: HQN Books

Book Review & Blog Tour: Tell No Lies by Allison Brennan

Way back in January of last year, I had the opportunity to preview a copy of Allison Brennan’s The Third to Die. You can find my blog post here. It was the first in her book-a-year Quinn & Costa series. While I don’t remember the plot in it’s entirety, I remember it as a knock out thriller with twists and turns and heart pounding action. Last week, I finished up my review copy of the second title in the series, Tell No Lies, and I think it was even better than the first!

FROM THE PUBLISHER:
New York Times bestselling author Allison Brennan’s newest thriller again features an edgy young female LAPD detective and an ambitious special agent, both part of a mobile FBI unit that is brought in to investigate the unsolved murder of a college activist and its alleged ties to high stakes crime in the desert Southwest.

Something mysterious is killing the wildlife in the desert hills just south of Tucson, Arizona. When Emma Perez, a college-intern-turned activist, sets out to collect her own evidence, she too ends up dead. Local law enforcement seems slow to get involved. That’s when the mobile FBI unit goes undercover to infiltrate the town and the copper refinery located there in search of possible leads. Costa and Quinn find themselves scouring the desolate landscape that keeps on giving up clues to something much darker—greed, child trafficking, other killings. As the body count continues to add up, it’s clear they have stumbled on more than they bargained for. Now they must figure out who is at the heart of this mayhem and stop them before more innocent lives are lost.

Brennan’s latest novel brims with complex characters and an ever-twisting plotline, a compelling thriller that delivers.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
ALLISON BRENNAN is the New York Times and USA TODAY bestselling author of over thirty novels. She has been nominated for Best Paperback Original Thriller by International Thriller Writers and the Daphne du Maurier Award. A former consultant in the California State Legislature, Allison lives in Arizona with her husband, five kids and assorted pets.

MY THOUGHTS:
Tell No Lies kept me up way past my bedtime. The deeper I got into the novel, the less I wanted to put it down. I feel it started off a bit slower paced than I anticipated, but quickly picked up speed as the mystery deepened, the danger increased, and the team unravel a myriad of secrets in a small town. Edgy, interesting, and absolutely rife with layers of crimes, you’ll find more than you expected as Costa and Quinn and associates start digging into life in the desert. If you are a fan of crime team thrillers, you’ll love Tell No Lies. It releases March 30th, but you can pre-order now through all major booksellers and your favourite independent bookstores.

I’m leaving my pickier book friends with the same disclosure as last time:
Reader discretion is advised for violence, mature situations, and strong language.  It’s dark and gritty, dealing with some uncomfortable situations as the plot unveils some of the worst of human nature.

My thanks to the publisher, MIRA books, for the complimentary ARC.

Tell No Lies : A Novel 
Allison Brennan
On Sale Date: March 30, 2021
ISBN 9780778331469
Hardcover

Book Review: Bookshop by the Sea by Denise Hunter

Sophie Lawson should be enjoying her sister’s wedding day. But nothing could have prepared her to see the best man again.

After her mother became bedridden and her father bailed on the family, Sophie found herself serving as a second mother to her twin brother, Seth, and younger sister, Jenna. Sophie supported her siblings through their college years, putting aside her own dream of opening a bookshop in Piper’s Cove—the quaint North Carolina beach town they frequented as children.

Now it’s finally time for Sophie to follow her own pursuits. Seth has a new job, and Jenna is set to marry her college beau in Piper’s Cove. But the destination wedding reunites Sophie with best man Aiden Maddox, her high school sweetheart who left her without a backward glance.

When an advancing hurricane strands Aiden in Piper’s Cove after the wedding, he finds the hotels booked to capacity and has to ask Sophie to put him up until the storm passes. As the two ride out the weather, old feelings rise to the surface. The delay also leaves Sophie with mere days to get her bookshop up and running. Can she trust Aiden to stick around? And will he find the courage to risk his heart?

Denise Hunter has delivered another charming contemporary romance with Bookshop by the Sea. In this hopeful easy-to-read novel, our female protagonist is a bit of a mess personally even though she seems to have it all together when it comes to managing everyone around her. Sophie finds herself at a juncture in life when she can finally pursue her own interests. Throw in some speedbumps in the form of old love, natural disasters, and emotional setbacks – can Sophie bring her dreams to life?

I am a big fan of Hunter’s writing style, balancing inspirational fiction with real, messy life. Her characters are flawed and therefore a bit more realistic as they face their doubts, insecurities, and questions of faith. The relationship development in this novel is heartfelt and sweet. The setting is as charming as the tale itself, a cozy bookshop in a small coastal town where neighbours look out for each other. There’s everything to love about this feel-good contemporary read and you’ll be cheering on Sophie and Aidan.

Bookshop by the Sea is set to hit booksellers on April 13th. Be sure to pre-order now! My thanks to the publisher, Thomas Nelson, for the complimentary digital copy via NetGalley.

Book Review & Blog Tour: The Jigsaw Man by Nadine Matheson

When it comes to entertainment, every once in a while I really enjoy a good heart-poundingly intense police drama – bad guys, mystery, the gruff but lovable detective – crime thriller at it’s most interesting. Sign me up for all the tropes, I am in. I was fortunate to get my hands on an advanced readers copy of The Jigsaw Man by debut novelist Nadine Matheson, courtesy of the publisher, and the description had my interest piqued!

FROM THE PUBLISHER:
In THE JIGSAW MAN (March 16, 2021; Hanover Square Press), Detective Inspector Anjelica Henley has a lot to deal with on her first day back her from leave from the Serial Crimes Unit of Scotland Yard. After nearly becoming a victim of the vicious serial killer, The Jigsaw Man, just before he was put behind bars, she also has to contend with the subtle digs and microaggressions that come with being the unit’s only black female detective. Add a new trainee and a rocky marriage to the mix, and DI Henley nearly has a full plate. Until the first call comes in…

Along the Thames, a fan of the Jigsaw Man and copycat killer has scattered two dismembered bodies along the shores like a jigsaw puzzle. When DI Henley sees one of the victims, a young black woman, is already being written off by her colleagues, she makes it her mission to solve the case, driving her to seek help from the original Jigsaw Man himself, Peter Oliver. Oliver, however, is determined to get to his copycat before Henley can, and sets into motion a series of events that puts Henley and her family in the crosshairs of two monstrous serial killers. 

MY THOUGHTS:
This book had a gentle acceleration. While I was expecting for edge of my seat thrills throughout, I found it slowly worked it’s way to the peak, lulling me into a bit of reader’s complacency, and then we plummeted for a white knuckle roller coaster ride. Packed with twists and turns that I didn’t see coming, the heart racing drama is definitely found in the second half of the title while the first half reads more like a procedural with the investigation and the build up.

Matheson’s protagonist is both strong and vulnerable, fierce and feminine. She is no stranger to racial prejudice or gender bias. She’s intelligent but flawed and I absolutely loved her. The secondary characters were also well drawn, creating a team with both likeable and dislikeable traits – flawed, damage, loveable. In speaking of flawed, the charismatic psychopath was absolutely detestable and yet, reflected the charisma that was his trademark. I hated him intensely, and yet… the copycat, however, didn’t shine, but I also don’t believe they were meant to. We were kept guessing as to their identity and the why behind their crimes, but ultimately, the focus was on DI Henley and her encounters with the Jigsaw Man.

Overall, I found this debut title to be a very fascinating work of fiction. My attention was held throughout and the pacing worked well. As with many crime & justice novels, it’s dark and gritty, dealing with the ugliest side of human nature and it highlights the burden and wear the quest for justice can take, physically, mentally, and socially. The subject matter can be disturbing and mature language and mature themes occur – reader discretion advised. By the final chapter, the author wrapped up the mystery in such a way that the audience is satisfied, but there are enough loose threads that we could easily enjoy a sequel (pretty please?) I, for one, want more of Anjelica Henley.

Debut Novelist
Nadine Matheson

AUTHOR BIO: 
Nadine Matheson is a criminal defense attorney and winner of the City University Crime Writing competition. She lives in London, UK.

THE JIGSAW MAN
Author: Nadine Matheson
ISBN: 9781335146564
Publication Date: March 16, 2021
Publisher: Hanover Square Press

My thanks to the publisher for the complimentary copy of this title and the opportunity to share my thoughts.

Blog Tour & Book Review: To Catch A Dream by Audrey Carlan

To Catch A Dream by Audrey Carlan is being released next week, but a selection of readers across the blog-o-sphere had the opportunity to read an advanced copy direct from the publisher, alongside an invitation to share our thoughts.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
Audrey Carlan is a #1 New York TimesUSA Today, and Wall Street Journal bestselling author of over 40 novels, including the worldwide phenomenon Calendar Girl serial, and her books have been translated into more than 30 languages across the globe. Audrey lives in the California Valley with her two children and the love of her life.

FROM THE PUBLISHER:
The #1 New York Times bestselling author of the worldwide phenomenon Calendar Girl series brings readers a poignant and honest look at life’s most complicated relationships.

When their mother passed away, Evie Ross and her sister were each given a stack of letters, one to be opened every year on their birthday; letters their free-spirited mother hoped would inspire and guide them through adulthood. But although Evie has made a successful career, her desire for the stability and security she never had from her parents has meant she’s never experienced the best life has to offer. But the discovery of more letters hidden in a safe-deposit box points to secrets her mother held close, and possibly a new way for Evie to think about her family, her heart and her dreams.

MY THOUGHTS:
This book was crafted with passion and that can be seen on every page. I was, admittedly, a little outside my comfort zone a number of times while reading, but can also say the bones of the story – the foundation and core – piqued my attention. The premise of a mother (who I still think was selfish and neglectful) guiding her children into adulthood through letters intrigued me, as did the nuances of family relationships as a whole. The setting was beautifully captured, especially as I read this in the dead of Canadian winter, craving sunlight and warmth like it will never arrive. The romance was fast developing (although it took a lifetime) and also broody – although I’m not sure broody is even the correct word. Alongside the heaviness or the weight of the relationship, there were also elements of sweetness as the author explored first loves and second chances! It wasn’t a perfect fit for me (and not every book will be), but I recognize that Carlan is a talented author and this series should have much success in the women’s fiction/romance market. It featured strong female characters, was well paced, and packed some strong emotion.

This title can be pre-ordered. It is a second in the series, but can be read as a standalone very easily. (I didn’t read the first title and wasn’t lost in the least.) Available in store next Tuesday for purchase. I leave you with my typical HQN disclaimer of reader discretion advised – adult themes, and all that – if you know, you know. My thanks to the publisher for the opportunity to read and review a digital ARC. All opinions are my own.

TO CATCH A DREAM
Author: Audrey Carlan  
ISBN: 9781335180933
Publication Date: March 9, 2021
Publisher: HQN Books



Blog Tour & Book Review: The Lost Apothecary by Sarah Penner

In a continuation of the blog tour for historical titles released from Harlequin this winter, one of the titles I was excited to be invited to read was The Lost Apothecary by Sarah Penner. I previously reviewed The Girl from the Channel Islands. Other titles in this campaign include Find Me in Havana and The Last Bookshop in London. I’m seeing all four covers popping up in social media, recommended reading lists, and reading groups I’m part of so lovers of historical fiction are taking notice! Today’s focus is on The Lost Apothecary which I will say upfront exceeded my expectations.


FROM THE PUBLISHER:
In this addictive and spectacularly imagined debut, a female apothecary secretly dispenses poisons to liberate women from the men who have wronged them—setting three lives across centuries on a dangerous collision course. Pitched as Kate Morton meets The Miniaturist, The Lost Apothecary is a bold work of historical fiction with a rebellious twist that heralds the coming of an explosive new talent.

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A forgotten history.
A secret network of women.
A legacy of poison and revenge.
Welcome to The Lost Apothecary…

Hidden in the depths of eighteenth-century London, a secret apothecary shop caters to an unusual kind of clientele. Women across the city whisper of a mysterious figure named Nella who sells well-disguised poisons to use against the oppressive men in their lives. But the apothecary’s fate is jeopardized when her newest patron, a precocious twelve-year-old, makes a fatal mistake, sparking a string of consequences that echo through the centuries.

Meanwhile in present-day London, aspiring historian Caroline Parcewell spends her tenth wedding anniversary alone, running from her own demons. When she stumbles upon a clue to the unsolved apothecary murders that haunted London two hundred years ago, her life collides with the apothecary’s in a stunning twist of fate—and not everyone will survive.

With crackling suspense, unforgettable characters and searing insight, The Lost Apothecary is a subversive and intoxicating debut novel of secrets, vengeance and the remarkable ways women can save each other despite the barrier of time.

MY THOUGHTS:
In all my explorations of historical fiction, apothecaries are not a subject I’ve spent a lot of time musing over with more than a passing thought. I opened this title worried it would either be too gruesome, touch on topics that I have a hard time reading about, or *gasp* just bore me. This is the quandary the reader faces every time they pick up a title from an author they’re unfamiliar with. Thankfully, my worries were absolutely needless in this particular instance.

My only single complaint for this title had not to do with the content, but rather, the length of the book or perhaps just the speed I read it – by the final chapter, I wanted more! It was immersive and easy to read without any confusion switching between the dual timeline. I was struck by the author’s artistry as she created a likeable villain, so to speak, while illuminating a crafty tale of women scorned (hell hath no fury, and all that…) The ignorance (of the naïve, uneducated variety) often seen on subjects we take for granted was spotlighted and necessary to the tale. While the present-day scenario happens all too often, I wasn’t entirely sure how the two stories would intertwine beyond Caroline’s curiosity. I enjoyed how Penner adeptly designed two entirely different worlds and brought them together. The Last Apothecary was a beguiling work of historical fiction that moved quickly and broke my heart.

This title doesn’t hit the market until March 2, 2021 but you can preorder a copy for yourself today! My thanks to the wonderful team at Harlequin for sharing this title with me in advance.

The Lost Apothecary : A Novel 
Sarah Penner
On Sale Date: March 2, 2021
ISBN 9780778311010, 0778311015

Book Review: A Tapestry of Light by Kimberly Duffy

As I was browsing Bethany House titles available for request through NetGalley a few weeks back, something about the cover of A Tapestry of Light by Kimberly Duffy caught my eye. As I read the description it piqued my interest further and I thought I’d give it a shot, requesting it, but not quite knowing what to expect. Thankfully, the publisher approved my request and I tucked it away on my shelf to read at a later date. A few days later, as I was trying to select a new book to read, I accidentally clicked on the title while swiping through my Kindle library and decided to roll with it. I had zero expectations going in, but I was absolutely blown away.

This novel was exquisite in its attention to detail – not in a monotonous or droning way – but in the essence of how the author captured the senses in every paragraph. With some well-crafted wording, we’re transported from 2021 into a time and place far from home. I don’t generally read about the British colonization of India, for no other reason than it just hasn’t struck my fancy. Duffy has changed that for me by bridging the two worlds of British society and Indian culture and highlighting the plight of a people caught in the middle.

Ottilie (how would you pronounce that name?) is incredibly transparent – she’s suffered enormous loss. She is struggling with acceptance. She has questions and is struggling with faith in God in a land that has many. It’s a bit of the age-old “how can bad things happen to good people” presented in fiction form. Even though Ottilie and I had very little in common, I could relate to her in many of her day to day struggles on one level or another.

Ottilie also struggles with acceptance and belonging due to the harsh realities of her dual-heritage, facing outright prejudice and hate due to her mother’s blood. She’s smart. She’s independent. She’s loyal. She’s beautifully gifted in an art that is rare and lovely. (Google: Beetlewing Embroidery.) Ottilie is also very lost and struggles in her mourning and her identity as everyone she cares for seems to be taken away.

My heart broke for the injustice of this novel and the theme of searching for home – the longing for acceptance, love, and belonging. At the same time, as the author struck a chord with her tale, in a desire to recognize that not everyone can or should tell another person’s story, did she do justice in a book whose very core message highlighting difficulties due to one’s family tree or the people group they belong to? I actually struggled with that throughout the entire novel. Yes, it was beautifully written, but was it Duffy’s story to tell? After the final chapter and a few days of musing, I’m no closer to a concrete answer on that front, but I think Duffy told Ottilie’s story well. She also created an awareness that prods me to dig deeper into learning about the history of Anglo-Indians – to hear their stories and to learn. I don’t often read the author’s notes or afterword, but in this instance I did and some of my musings were quelled – the author addressed some of my concerns in her notes after the novel itself, acknowledging her sensitivity reader and other resources. Was it enough? I don’t know, but again, this novel was beautifully crafted and didn’t hide from difficult issues.

Overall, this was a moving page-turner of a tale. It brought me to tears, to frustration, to empathy. It didn’t coat over messy moments. It made me want to dig deeper, and that’s not something that every piece of fiction can do. It was an engaging work of fiction with notes of bittersweet honesty. Thankfully, it wasn’t just darkness and uncertainty, struggle and loss, but also a richly captivating beacon of beauty, hope, and welcome. I’d recommend you pre-order for yourself today!

I received a complimentary Advanced Readers Copy of this title from Bethany House.
All opinions are entirely my own.

A Tapestry of Light
Kimberly Duffy
Bethany House Publishers
Publication Date: March 16, 2021
ISBN 9780764235641

Susan Mallery’s Blog Tour for The Vineyard at Painted Moon – Book Review

It’s publication day for Susan Mallery’s The Vineyard at Painted Moon, a moving fictional exploration of complex human relationships between friends and family and those who are both. Mallery is one of my go-to authors when it comes to women’s fiction so I was eager to participate in the Vineyard at Painted Moon blog tour through Harlequin and NetGalley.

About the Book:

MacKenzie Dienes’s life isn’t perfect, but it’s as close as she could ever hope to get. Her marriage to Rhys, her best friend’s brother, is more friendship than true love. But passion is highly overrated, right? And she loves her job as the winemaker at Bel Apres, her in-laws’ vineyard. So what if it’s a family business and, even after decades of marriage and incredible professional success, she’s still barred from the family business meetings? It’s all enough…until one last night spent together leads to an incredibly honest—and painful—conversation. Rhys suggests that they divorce. They haven’t had a marriage in a long time and, while he wants her to keep her job at Bel Apres, he doesn’t think they should be married any longer. Shocked, MacKenzie reels at the prospect of losing the only family she’s ever really known…even though she knows deep in her heart that Rhys is right.

But when MacKenzie discovers she’s pregnant, walking away to begin a new life isn’t so easy. She never could have anticipated the changes it would bring to the relationships she cherishes most: her relationship with Barbara, her mother-in-law and partner at Bel Apres, Stephanie, her sister-in-law and best friend, and Bel Apres, the company she’s worked so hard to put on the map.

MacKenzie has always dreamed of creating a vineyard of her own, a chance to leave a legacy for her unborn child. So when the opportunity arises, she jumps at it and builds the Vineyard at Painted Moon. But following her dreams will come at a high price—one that MacKenzie isn’t so sure she’s willing to pay…

About the Author:

#1 NYT bestselling author Susan Mallery writes heartwarming, humorous novels about the relationships that define our lives―family, friendship, romance. She’s known for putting nuanced characters in emotional situations that surprise readers to laughter. Beloved by millions, her books have been translated into 28 languages. Susan lives in Washington with her husband, two cats, and a small poodle with delusions of grandeur. Visit her at SusanMallery.com.

My Thoughts:

There are some individuals who believe consumer book reviews are meant for other readers rather than the authors themselves. Others believe reader reviews can help an author hone their craft. I’m somewhere in the middle on this line of thought. I don’t think Susan Mallery needs help from some random middle-aged mom in rural Canada to sharpen her talents. I generally craft my public reviews for other readers. I’m posting that preface to say I actually enjoyed this novel so much that knowing I’d be posting about the title today, I still reached out to the author privately to say I loved the book.

First, my content clause. This is contemporary women’s fiction and deals with adult issues and adult themes – it’s not always hearts and rainbows. Much like real life, it’s not always squeaky clean and some may wish to avoid the mess. Reader discretion is advised.

Second, this novel had so much heart! It made me laugh at times. It made me feel warm and fuzzy. I felt strong emotions (and even some sympathy) towards Barbara (when you’ve read it, you’ll know.) I have never been more grateful for the very bump-free relationship I have with my in-laws. And Rhys? Well, Rhys had my feelings all over the place and by the end, I was done. I will admit I am not much of a wine drinker at all, but I was absolutely captivated by the charm of wine country and the closeness of the industry. Mackenzie appealed to me – realistically, we had very little in common, but she was my age and had been married for 16 years. It’s always fun to find some parallels between yourself and the heroine of the story. My only “complaint” was that it seemed to take a while to see any progress with Painted Moon itself – I want to know more about Mackenzie’s successes and less of the drama at Bel Apres even though that drama was necessary to the story as a whole.

Overall, this was an easy to read, enjoyable work of fiction highlighting the courage it takes to grab what you want when the world falls apart around you and the importance of crafting our own family through friendships with women who will stand by our side when life goes off the tracks. I enjoyed it so much I would actually love to see more about some of the other women and the community in general. A short series, perhaps, pretty please?

Available today from all major book outlets but I’d encourage you to shop your favourite local bookseller!

The Vineyard at Painted Moon
Susan Mallery
On Sale Date: February 9, 2021
ISBN 9781335912794, 1335912797