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Book Review: Mischief and Mayhem (Whiskey Sister Book 2) by L.E. Rico

Jameson O’Halloran never asked for her life to be so complicated and unpredictable. She never asked for a cheating husband, never asked to be in charge of her father-in-law’s life, and certainly never asked for her brother-in-law to show up looking so irresistible. Since her recent divorce, Jameson has focused on rebuilding her life without the dream family she always wanted. Her toddler, Jackson, takes up most of her time, and when she isn’t caring for him, she is helping her sisters run the family pub in Mayhem, Minnesota, after the death of their father. She is NOT looking for love, not now, maybe not ever again, but when her ex-father-in-law suffers a stroke, she is forced into the very delicate position of health proxy for the seriously ill man she still considers family. However, she isn’t alone. Big Win Clarke named a co-proxy, his estranged second son, Scott. Scott, a Project Peace employee, has spent the last ten years abroad, running from his father and from himself, but when he is called to his unconscious father’s bedside, he knows those years spent abroad were a mistake, one he may never get to correct if his father doesn’t recover. When he lays eyes on his beautiful ex-sister-in-law, he can’t deny the attraction drawing him to her. Together they must uncover the truth behind the mystery that sent him running years earlier and hopefully find themselves along the way.

Family bonds is a strong theme within this novel. The contrast between the close knit O’Hallaron sisters and the volatile Clarke brothers is significant to every part of the plot. The “Whiskey sisters,” Hennessy, Jameson, Walker, and Bailey, function as a solid unit. Named by their pub-owning father, these girls share more than their unique names; they have a solidarity which is touching and profound. Even when they argue, they know the immense love they have for each other will never fade. Pulling together to run the family business after their father’s death, these women willingly sacrifice for the legacy left them by their parents. Having lost their mother many years before their father, the girls have been both mother and sister to each other. They celebrate triumphs and mourn loss as one, filling in the gaps in their lives with sibling unity. Jameson can’t fathom going days, much less years, without seeing her sisters, holding them, confiding in them. On the other hand, Scott and Win Clarke (junior) have never had and likely never will have that bond. The brothers have spent their lives at odds with other, keeping secrets and driving a wedge in what could be the most enduring relationship of their lives. For Win, jealousy pushes him to exploit Scott’s weaknesses, and Scott’s need to escape keeps him from discovering the truth behind his family history and from forging a bond with his ill father. Just like the Whiskey sisters, the Clarke brothers have also lost their mother, but where that draws the women closer, it only serves as the catalyst for pushing the men apart. It isn’t until Scott begins to lean on Jameson that he finally sees what family should be. The Whiskey sisters show Scott the strength behind sibling loyalty and help him face the revelation that changes his life.

Like most novels of this genre, this second installment of this series is chocked-full of romance but with a refreshing burst of humor that will leave the reader LOLing! Scott Clarke is sigh-worthy on every level, and like most male protagonists in a romance novel, he struggles with the notion of settling down and committing to any woman. He’s unsure he can give up his nomadic life while feeling drawn to the notion of a home of his own, a family to come home to every night. Jameson has been hurt in a way only adultery can hurt. She feels unworthy of love and bitter that her picket-fence dream has been shattered by the only man she’s ever loved. In many respects, the plot is traditional for the genre but the light-hearted nature of Scott and Jameson’s budding relationship is the true gem. In scene after scene, these two–and many of the other characters as well–will leave the reader in stitches. One of the best parts of the novel is Scott’s interaction with Siri, a novelty he has just discovered since his return to civilization after years in remote locations with Project Peace. Numerous chapters end with Scott’s philosophical discussions with his voice-activated assistant, and his first experience with Facetime is priceless! With scenes that will leave you swooning mixed in, the reader will not be disappointed with this clean, wholesome romance. 

Character building, not just for the protagonist but with the entire cast of Mayhem, is a strength of the entire Whiskey Sisters series. From psychic baker to gossipy priest to celebrity cat sweater maker, the characters shine. Each of the O’Hallaron women has her own distinct personality, offering a promising glimpse of what is to come in the series. The reader will love her visit to this picturesque, town and long for the cozy comfort of O’Halloran’s pub. The entire town is a unique tapestry with love woven into every scene. 

This review was written for Chanticleer Reviews.

Book Review: Dared to Return by J.J. Clarke

Kate Anderson has an exciting new life in Tampa Bay, Florida. An aspiring writer with a new book recently released, she’s left behind her old life as a court investigator in Kingseat, Missouri, but when she receives a frantic call from her ninety-two-year-old grandfather, she hops on a plane home. Just five weeks earlier, Kate’s step-grandmother, Helen, died, and not long after Helen’s death, Kate’s grandfather, Theodore, was thrown out of his home and sent to the Squaw Valley Nursing Home, a place where old people go to die. Unbeknownst to Kate, most of Helen’s two-million dollar estate has been left in a trust, not to her husband of twenty-five years. The trustee is a corrupt secret society known as HOGG, a group of important town officials who con elderly citizens out of their money, distribute it to charities, and take a huge percentage for themselves. Despite receiving a piece of Helen’s property, a gift Kate considers hush money to keep her from suing, Kate refuses to sit idly by while this group fleeces unsuspecting old people who think they are donating to the betterment of the community. She teams up with her spunky publicist, Susie Jones, and former US Marshall and newly appointed Kingseat Police Chief Reese Matthews to get her revenge and try to bring down this ring of corruption. With a family feud, a suspicious trust, and a fiery sleuth, what could possibly go wrong?

Kate is a protagonist to be reckoned with. She is the epitome of a survivor from a young age since her parents died in a plane crash when she was only four years old. Raised by her biological grandfather and step-grandmother, she has never had an ordinary life considering her grandfather believed his job was to make her tough. With a degree in law enforcement, she spent five years working as a bond investigator until she became the prime suspect in a murder investigation. Using her law knowledge, she gives US Marshall’s a merry chase as she works to clear her name. With two deaths tied to her, Kate is a tough nut to crack, and she isn’t about to let the evil forces at work in Kingseat get away with stealing from her grandfather. Her tenacity even causes her to punch a lawyer in court (and get away with it), and her endless costume closet presents unlimited chances to catch her prey red-handed initially in some humorous–and oddly satisfying–ways. She and Susie make a modern-day, irreverent superhero duo, righting the wrongs done by the evil, dominating force of HOGG.

Kate’s fight for justice goes beyond the boundaries of the novel. Preying on the old is a despicable act that, unfortunately, occurs often. Her need for satisfaction is likely a need numerous families have felt in reality. This “beautiful little town with an underbelly of evil” hits close to home in many ways for some, and Kate’s fight for her grandfather is a fight for every man.

This review was written for Chanticleer Reviews.

Book Review: Grace in the Wings by Kari Bovee

Grace Michelle never asked for stardom or fame. Content to sew costumes with her mentor Lucile, Lady Duff Gordon, Grace doesn’t need adoration from anyone, but when her sister Sophia, a rising starlet in the Ziegfeld Follies, begins a rapid downhill spiral and then ends up dead, Grace is thrust into the spotlight by Florenz Ziegfeld Jr. Flo was her savior, rescuing Grace and Sophia from a life on the streets when they were mere children, and now Grace feels obligated to take up the reins and save his floundering Follies, but Grace knows her sister’s death was no accident and definitely not the suicide those around her believe. However, the only place to find the truth is California where her sister was last seen alive with her new husband, Jack Pickford, brother to the famous actress Mary Pickford. When Flo sends her from New York to Hollywood on a promotional tour, Grace reluctantly agrees even though it means traveling with Chet Riker, a private investigator indebted to mobster Joe Marciano with whom Flo has made a shady deal to finance his new show. Haunted by Sophia’s death and overwhelmed by the pressure to bring Flo success, Grace doesn’t need to fall for the handsome stranger, but neither can deny the longing they feel. As Grace gets closer to the truth, she realizes everyone is keeping secrets, even Chet, and the only person she can rely on is herself. But will she be enough? 

A significant issue raised within the novel is that of female independence. At twenty years old, Grace is just beginning to understand who she is and what she wants from life. Having moved from seamstress to junior designer, she is finally on the path she most desires, one spent in the shadows of the stage, not in the gleaming gel lights. Grace has no desire to become a stage sensation and is content to let Sophia have that honor though both have spent the last seven years taking dance, voice, and acting lessons thrust upon them by their benefactor, Florenz Ziegfeld Jr. However, Sophia succumbs to the lure of alcohol, drugs, and the attention of powerful men, leaving Grace to pick up the pieces with a forced sense of obligation. She cannot comprehend why her sister would give up the power she has gained through her career to follow a frivolous, unstable man (Jack Pickford) across the country. She is also completely flabbergasted to learn that Sophia had carried on an illicit affair with more than one man, including and most especially, Flo. Grace is disgusted and shocked and quickly comes to the realization that Sophia’s feelings for these men in no small part come from fear for her future, falling victim to promises of marriage that are never going to find fulfillment. Sophia and Grace have had to claw for survival, especially Sophia, who always took care of her younger sister. As Grace finds her voice literally and figuratively, she knows she cannot follow in her sister’s footsteps, neither on stage nor in life. As she investigates Sophia’s death, she becomes emboldened and more sure of herself. She learns to challenge those in power, people to whom she normally would have cowed, and the more strength she finds, the more righteous anger develops–mostly for Flo for having taken advantage of first Sophia with their physical relationship and then Grace by forcing her into a career she doesn’t want. Though she will fulfill her obligatory role in his new scheme, she vows to fight for freedom once she has finished, to never again allow a man to take care of her but to put her own feet on the ground when and where she chooses. 

Chet Riker is more than just a pretty face. Tall, dark, and handsome, he fits the mold of most romance heroes; however, Chet’s story adds another layer to this period thriller. Chet is haunted by his memories of World War I, a man with a complicated past, but not in the expected “brooding hunk” way.  Chet was given up by his mother when he was a boy. Old enough to remember her, he spent his life wanting to find her again someday, but when he does, he discovers she is dying and in need of an expensive operation. His need for money drives him to borrow and gamble and leaves him in the debt of a vicious mobster. That debt takes him to Flo, who then attempts to use him in an illegal scheme, and eventually sets him up as an unwitting conspirator in his machinations to use Grace. He knows he must pay off his debts or risk his PI career–and possibly his life. Torn between his anger at being used by these two men and his newfound love of Grace Michelle, Chet will have to decide between honor and honesty or ruthlessness and reputation. His story, much like Grace’s, will force him to fight for independence or to remain a captured pawn in a game of titans. 

Set against the glamorous stage of the Roaring Twenties, this star-studded whodunnit will not disappoint fans of mystery and history.

This review was written for Chanticleer Reviews.

Book Review: Evil Under The Stars: The Agatha Christie Book Club 3 by C.A. Larmer

Who commits a murder in a crowd of a hundred people relaxing in a park, and how did the Agatha Christie Book Club miss the entire thing from only a few feet away? In the trendy Sydney suburb of Balmain, Kat Mumford, social media interior design star, has been murdered during the inaugural Cinema Under the Stars. Her distraught husband, Eliot, is clearly the prime suspect, but at the time of Kat’s strangulation, he is nowhere near her. In fact, no one was sitting near Kat, and the crowd seems to have been so absorbed by the movie, Agatha Christie’s Evil Under Sun, that no one saw a thing out of the ordinary. When Alicia Finlay and her book club realize the murder occurred right under their noses, there is no way they can just let the police handle it, and when Alicia’s boyfriend, Detective Inspector Liam Jackson acutally calls her for information, she and her club decide to do a little investigating of their own. Despite being told to butt out, Alicia, Lynette, Claire, Missy, and Perry go undercover to find the killer, but the twists in this case will lead them down a strange path to find a crafty killer. The club must sift through the suspects: a smarmy barman, a detestable reverend, a pregnant domestic abuse victim, a mystery mustached man, a dead junky, and a hipster hubby. With few clues but a number of deadends, the club will meet their most challenging mystery yet!

This mystery is one crazy ride. Anyone who loves a good whodunnit will adore this novel. Despite being the third novel in the series, it isn’t hard to learn the who’s who of the Agatha Christie Book Club. Claire, the vintage clothing shop owner; Missy, the pink-haired librarian; Perry, museum PR organizer; Lynette, self-trained food blogger; Alicia, online journalist; and even the reluctant Anders, the doctor who pronounces Kat dead on the scene, create a fantastic cast of characters who truly engage the readers from the first page. Like Christie’s beloved Miss Marple, the book club are only amatuer slueths, who must rely on a stealthy approach to crime solving, going undercover unbeknownst to DI Indira Singh, the no-nonsense, by-the-book detective in charge of the case, facing her wrath on more than one occasion. The ease with which the author introduces this cooky crew of curious minds will make it simple to jump in headfirst and enjoy this fast-paced roller coaster complete with plenty of red herrings and deadends, eventually leading to a crafty killer who manages a daring, deadly crime in the middle of hundreds of witnesses. 

An unexpected plus in the plot is the romance between Alicia and Liam. Having just previously broken up with fellow club member Anders (creating a tension among the book club), Alicia’s fledgling relationship with hunky Liam experiences some bumps when she interferes with his case, but the respect he has in her abilities–and that of club–adds depth to what appears to be solely a mystery novel on the surface. Liam seeks out Alicia’s help, valuing her abilities, and not attempting to control her. Being the less attractive of the Finlay sisters, Alicia is often “eclipsed” by the beautiful blonde Lynette, but she never feels anything less with Liam. He makes it “crystal clear which sister he prefer[s] in his orbit.” Liam even takes Alicia “on the beat” to track down would-be suspects and leads, partly because he needs her and partly because he knows she will love it. This symbiotic-style relationship is sweet in a mature way that romance readers will appreciate.

This review was written for Chanticleer Reviews.

Book Review: But Not Forever by Jan Von Schleh

Like most fifteen-year-olds, Sonnet McKay loves a good adventure, but when she, her siblings, and cousins discover a deserted Victorian mansion in the middle of the woods outside a deserted town near Seattle, they get much more than they bargained for. In an upstairs bedroom, Sonnet inadvertently steps inside a time travel portal and is whisked away to 1895. In her place stands Emma Sweetwine, an identical doppelganger for Sonnet. Emma’s family was a prominent family when Monte Cristo was a booming mine town, but life is not what it seems for the oldest of the Sweetwine children. With a mother who seems to despise her and a secret engagement, Emma’s life is oppressive and controlled–a sharp contrast to the spirited, independent Sonnet. With no idea how or why they were switched, Sonnet and Emma must quickly adjust to their new environments and rely only on their closest friends and family, but time is running out for the girls as both of their lives rush headlong in opposite directions. They must find a way back to their own times before their chance is gone forever. 

Family, both those of birth and those of choice, is a major theme of this novel. Sonnet has a close familial support system in her twin brother Evan, older sister Jules, cousin Niki, and best friend and cousin Lia. She has been surrounded by a loving family her entire life and spends part of each summer with her Aunt Kate, her father’s sister. Without doubt or hesitation, Evan, Jules, Niki, and Lia spring into action to both cover Sonnet’s absence and find the impossible path back to 1895. Rapp, a boy who has only known Sonnet for a day before her disappearance, is also a seamless part of the rescue brigade. The closeness of the teens is endearing and perhaps will inspire a nostalgia for that tight-knit feeling only present in adolescent friendship. This group instantly takes Emma into their embrace and makes her feel safe and loved, a first in her life. Though Sonnet has little help from Emma’s family, she quickly builds that friendship network she enjoys in her modern life. It is only with the support of Kerry, the sixteen-year-old Sweetwine family nanny; Maxwell, the teenage family driver; and Tor, Emma’s secret betrothed; that Sonnet will hatch an escape plan. Both groups vow to take care of each girl respectively and help them keep the faith to make all things possible. 

The difference between Sonnet and Emma will highlight the struggle and growth of women in the world. Sonnet isn’t burdened by the many stifling rules, both spoken and unspoken, that Emma must endure. Emma is forced to hide her true self, her true feelings, none so much as those she has for Tor. As an immigrant tasked with a life of menial labor, Tor should never be a part of Emma’s social circle much less her fiance. She has no close female friends and must remain docile and meek even when her mother demeans and abuses her. She is stifled by all who should love and support her. Sonnet, with her modern mind and outspoken nature, fights all of those restrictions and leaves Emma’s life better. Sonnet makes Emma stronger, and Emma teaches Sonnet how to appreciate the love in her life. In the very oppression, Sonnet finds the enjoyment of her freedom, and Emma’s liberation will create a connection to Sonnet that she can’t even imagine. Sonnet and Emma are not the only female characters who highlight the advancement of women in society. Kerry, the teenage nanny of the Sweetwine family, has an extraordinary story as well. After journeying alone from Ireland at the age of twelve, Kerry has created her own place. As a trusted servant, she cares for Emma’s younger brothers, Jacob and Miles, as well as Emma on occasion even though they are only one year apart in age. Kerry has the courage to secretly help Sonnet though, if discovered, she could lose her position. She gains Sonnet’s admiration and quickly reveals herself as a capable confidante in Sonnet’s escape back to 2015. Kerry also has the courage to dream of a better life and the ingenuity to make it happen. She, too, will later become a vital part of Sonnet’s future as well as an inspiration for her. 

This review was written for Chanticleer Reviews.

Book Review: Estelle: A Novel by Linda Stewart Henley

Twenty-two-year-old museum intern and unknown artist, Anne Gautier, has undertaken a major project, restoring “an elegant house on one of the finest streets in New Orleans.” The grand old Creole home has been in her family for “five generations,” and when her grandfather died, he left her the home on Esplanade Avenue “ ‘where all the best French Creole families’ ” once lived, with the stipulation that she must “restore the property, [or] ownership will revert to the city.” Even though the house is not in “a good part of town,”Anne is determined to celebrate the historical home not only because of her own family but also because the home was an integral part of New Orleans’s history during the visit of Edgar Degas in 1872. In fact, Degas’s notebook, found in Anne’s attic, gives Anne the money she needs to begin the restoration, but her plans go sideways when someone breaks in and vandalizes the home, leaving  behind a threatening note and a mystery to solve. On top of this shocking discovery, Anne is trying to reconcile her feelings about Stella, the half-sister Anne recently met, and whether she might have something to do with the vandalism since she was left out of their grandfather’s will. Anne tries to rely on her new boyfriend, Sam, for advice, but he has begun acting strangely, sneaking around behind her back and hedging her questions. With no one to lean on, a demanding job, and her own artistic-inspiration waning, Anne may never see her beautiful home and its important history revived. 

The duel settings of New Orleans in 1870 and 1970 gives this novel an interesting perspective. The juxtaposition of the issues of the Musson and De Gas families to the modern trials of Anne and her own family provides perspective as well as education for the reader. Though on the surface their struggles seem completely unalike, in reality, the parallel stories are paradoxically similar. Estelle De Gas, sister-in-law and cousin of Edgar Degas, is a strong woman trying desperately to hold together her marriage to a cheating husband and maintain the expected appearance of a well-to-do proud Creole family all the while knowing the family’s fortunes have fallen, and she will soon be blinded by a hereditary disease. Anne is struggling to find her place in the world and to hold together what family she has left while dealing with her own untrustworthy partner, Sam. Though Sam admonishes her for “refusing to look at the practical realities of life,” she seeks “to make things beautiful,” just as Estelle does in encouraging Degas to find his inspiration in Nouvelle-Orleans. Anne wants desperately “to work things out for herself and make her own way in the world,” and though Estelle isn’t an unmarried young woman, she understands the integral role she plays within her own sphere of familial influence, her “abiding concern for the welfare of those she loved despite her many challenges.” The more Anne learns about Estelle, the more she realizes she needs “to take a leaf from Estelle’s book and find her own source of strength.”

Art plays a huge role within this novel. Edgar and Anne share the similar notion that “the life of an artist is not one easily shared with another.” Both are suffering from a lack of inspiration and direction. During the time Degas spent in America, he “had achieved little recognition,”and his brothers hope he will take an interest (and make an investment) in the family cotton business. Anne has given up her art for her busy internship and her flailing love life. Though the museum job isn’t her dream, she understands art is “ ‘not an easy way to make a living.’ ” She’s “avoided facing the truth” that she can’t live the “dreamer” life just as Degas begins to feel he must help his family by selling his work and sending them much-needed money. Eventually, New Orleans offers both a “new subject matter for [their] art,” Anne with her new-found sympathy for the poor of the city and Edgar with his own family’s business.

The growth of Anne’s relationship with her half-sister, Stella, in conjunction with Anne’s realization about the struggles of poverty-stricken New Orleanians is an interesting subplot. Anne has only recently learned of her sister’s existence because Stella, the product of a teenage dalliance, was given up for adoption immediately after her birth because of their grandfather’s racism since Stella was biracial. Anne’s overwhelming “guilt” over her “half-sister’s lost inheritance haunted her day and night,” and though she wants to share her inheritance, “she didn’t favor the idea of giving up part of her own share” to the “half-sister she barely knew.” Stella is also soon facing eviction because she lives in Section C, a “slum” where the houses are “more like shacks.” Anne could offer Stella a home in their grandfather’s former house, but she doesn’t really know her, and their fledgling relationship is awkward at best. In learning about her sister’s life, Anne begins to understand and sympathize with the vandals who destroyed part of her house “when a short distance away homes were being demolished” in a part of the city with as much historical importance as the area where rich Creoles once lived. Anne’s dynamic character growth is both inspirational and realistic. 

This review was written for Chanticleer Reviews.

Book Review: Manufactured Witches by Michelle Rene

Sixteen-year-old Nat is a boxcar kid. Since losing his grandmother and family home to the ravages of the Dust Bowl, he has been on his own, hopping trains across Texas in search of a place for himself amid so much loss. Outside of Amarillo, Nat feels a peculiar sensation, a tug from destiny, that pulls him toward the small town of Tanglewood. However, instead of finding a job and some much-needed food, he discovers Polly Jones, a teenager like himself, chained to a post with a sign above her reading, “Thou shalt not suffer a witch.” Nat can’t bring himself to abandon her to the small-minded, fearful townsfolk and immediately becomes her protector until the arrival of Camille Renoir Lavendou, a local woman who operates Miss Camille’s Home for Wayward Children. No one dares stop Camille from releasing Polly and taking both teens with her because Camille is reputed to be in the “witchin’ business” herself. Nat’s excitement at the prospect of food and a place to stay quickly turns to disbelief and wariness when he steps inside Camille’s sanctuary. What he thought was a ploy on Camille’s part to keep the nosey townsfolk at bay doesn’t seem to be a trick at all when he sees Nan, an ancient, glove-wearing woman who paints the ghosts who visit her; Jacob, a clairvoyant, non-verbal child who uses a chess board to plot different realities; Crow, an ageless boy who transforms into a bird at will; and Buck, a pompous taxidermied deer with very high standards. When Polly, too, begins to exhibit extraordinary abilities, Nat begins to feel like an outsider. Despite his limitations, Nat’s intense loyalty quickly leads him into a much more dangerous situation, where his very life may lay in the balance. 

For lovers of the paranormal, this novel will be a special treat! Miss Camille’s Home for Wayward Children is a delight in every room. From books that magically fill for the specific reader to rooms with waterfalls and koi ponds, this realm of possibilities will leave the reader clambering for more and wanting to explore right along with Nat. The delight of discovery and fantastic description within the novel will make readers feel like a kid again, but while the surface of the plot is innocent and childlike, the theme beneath will satisfy the adult need for real substance.

Nat’s story is one of belonging. Throughout his journey, he has the innate, human need for acceptance and home, not just a physical place to lay his head, but the real need for family and kinship. The Dust Bowl setting plays such an intricate role in this theme because so many Americans were searching for what nature and man took from them, their place in the universe. Nat’s story, though fictional, was played out in real-time for millions of people. He has lost everything, his family, his home, his identity. His search and subsequent finding of his place leads to a finding of himself. Though he often feels like he doesn’t belong anywhere–not the boxcar, tramp world, nor Camille’s menagerie of unique people–he comes to see exactly who he is and of what he is capable. Although facing the potential of great danger, Camille, an African American, creates a home for any and all. She is warned multiple times that she cannot take in white children. Her love and that of all her “children” is colorblind. Her home is a haven and a place to discover their true identity. Acceptance takes centerstage in this novel and leaves the reader wrapped in a cozy hug of belonging.

Another major idea within the novel is defending those you love. Nat is the proverbial knight in shining armor. In fact, Nat’s moniker of “Galahad” (given to him by Camille) fits perfectly. Nat defends the weak though he himself is seen by most as a candidate for this category. He immediately jumps to Polly’s aid and continues that behavior throughout the story. Once he is taken in by Camille, he stalwartly defends both her and the other occupants of the house with his very life. He is a true champion, and though he seems to have no supernatural abilities, his courage is more than enough to make him extraordinary.

This review was written for Chanticleer Reviews.

Book Review: The Particular Appeal of Gillian Pugsley by Susan Örnbratt

Irish-born Gillian McAllister knew she was meant for bigger things than a quiet life among her large extended family. Leaving home at seventeen against her protective father’s wishes, Gillian has lived several lifetimes. She was a nanny for a maharaja, a caretaker for WWII internees, and a nurse on the Isle of Man before finally becoming a wife, mother, and grandmother in London, Canada, where she spent the majority of her eighty-nine years. Now with only weeks to live after being stricken by cancer, she knows her time with her beloved granddaughter and namesake is truly precious. Before she goes, she wants to pass on the poems that capture her long, adventurous life to the junior Gillian in hopes that she will use the poems to write about grandmother’s ultimate adventure, her hidden love story. While on vacation in Canada, the teenage Gillian meets and falls madly in love with Christian Hunter. Her love of Christian consumes her, but she leaves him at the cusp of a war that soon alters the course of the world, but destiny isn’t finished with Gillian, and the two reunite after the carnage only to find their love is as fiery and fierce as ever. However, even a love this strong can’t outrun fate, and Gillian is determined to find a way to show her beloved granddaughter the truth before it is too late.

A beautiful theme within this novel is the simple notion of loving life. Even before she steps out into the adult world and leaves Ireland, Gillian knows that life is for living. She wants to squeeze every drop of adventure possible from the time she is given and feast on all that it has to offer. Her ingenuity, spunk, and spicy attitude create an unquenchable need to travel, to meet people, and, most importantly, to make the world a better place. She refuses to settle for a mediocre life and rejects the moderation others preach and try to instill in her. Her “magnificent obsession” isn’t diminished by anything– not heartbreak, a world war, or even death. She lives with passion and gusto, fostering the belief in others that love and laughter, stories and adventures, make life worth living. Her sprawling life’s story is more than just survival and lost love. It’s about finding joy and purpose amongst death and destruction.

The character relationships between Gillian and others is a perfectly developed part of the novel. Gillian’s attachment to her granddaughter is more than just a name. Young Gillian is an aspiring novelist. Both women understand the importance of storytelling and the impact of words. From the moment Gilly was born, Gillian felt the connection between them, and only Gilly can breathe life into her adoration of Christian Hunter. She entrusts her poems to Gilly without telling her the story, allowing Gilly to uncover the secret she has kept for over fifty years, knowing Gilly will understand more than anyone else in Gillian’s life. Watching their last days together unfold is touching and reminiscent for any reader who has shared a bond with a grandparent. 

Gillian’s secret love, Christian, is another important relationship. From the time she was young, Gillian knew someone was waiting for her, someone drawing closer with each day, someone staring at the same moon and longing for another. When she meets Christian, she just knows as does he, and though, ultimately, Gillian comes to realize she doesn’t want to devote herself to one man when the world is waiting, she cannot deny the connection between them. The two are the epitome of opposites attract with his easy-going, unrushed personality, but he immediately sees the effect she has on others, her zest for life. No matter how hard either tries to drown out the other, they can’t escape their entwined destinies, and their contrary natures create a perfect balance. The dance of fate between Christian and Gillian is thrilling and will keep the reader wondering until the end. 

The gorgeous settings of Gillian’s life are an integral part of her history. The richly painted scenes are beautiful and inspiring for the character as well as the reader. From the sweeping sea cliffs to the serenity of Gillian’s cottage on the Isle of Man, the setting becomes its own character. Gillian both embodies and is affected by the scenery. In the quiet of a winter-draped meadow and the countryside teeming with life, Gillian sees herself and the many lives she’s lived.

This review was written for Chanticleer Reviews.

Book Review: Path of the Half Moon by Vince Bailey

After being charged with burglary and attempted arson, fifteen-year-old aspiring African American boxer Curtis Jefferson has been sent to Fort Grant, a juvenile detention area in Arizona, and all of the creepy stories and whispered warnings about the former US military outpost used by the US cavalry to eliminate the Apache a hundred years ago pale in comparison to the truth he finds there. Not only is Curtis facing racism from both inmates and guards, but he is also very aware of a presence not of this world. He quickly discovers (though he doesn’t want to admit it) that he is sentient to the atrocities of the fort’s bloody past. As the site where Pinal and Aravaipa Apaches were slaughtered in their sleep, the fort seems to be a crossroads where past and present meet. From mournful coyotes to hundreds of circling vultures, Curtis can’t escape the strange visions and events inside and outside the fort. When he attracts the unwanted attention of Harvey Huish, an inmate with  strange abilities seemingly connected to the fort, Curtis creates a powerful enemy who is bent on revenge and humiliation. 

A major theme of the novel is the power of language. It appears in numerous aspects of the plot from the Apache cursing the white man’s cunning use of his complicated and deceitful language to Randy’s appreciation of Howard Cosell’s elevated vocabulary. The frame-story technique within the novel establishes the concept of storytelling and the influence of words. Curtis’s story is narrated by Vince, Curtis’s new friend, who is relaying it to the reader at the same time Curtis is telling him. As a natural-born storyteller, Curtis is the storyteller in town, and Vince sees the story as a treasure, a jewel, that Curtis has seen fit to share with him and thus sees himself as somehow honored in receiving the tale.  Vince values the story as more than just words; it makes him greater for having heard it. Though the story is unbelievable at times, Curtis does what all great storyteller’s do–he creates a suspension of disbelief, granting the listener the right to believe, to feel that “[a]ll things are possible,”an idea repeatedly given by various characters within the story. Through the telling, Curtis finds solace in giving his  outlandish tale a literal voice. The theme appears later in the character of Will Farnsworth, Harvey’s tortured attorney. As the newest and most talented attorney in the firm that represents the Huish family, Will has been given the unachievable task of pacifying Harvey during his imprisonment at Fort Grant. Will, like many lawyers, used words in “purposed profusion,” trying unsuccessfully to befriend Harvey and later intimidate him with language. He attempts to use language as his weapon, rather than a tool for understanding, a failure which leads to his enslavement to the abhorrent Harvey.  

Another interesting aspect of the novel is the blurring of time. The sinister fort itself is one part of this theme because it seems to exist in two time periods, its tragic past and its purposeful present. Curtis repeatedly sees images of days past that cross into his present-day 1960s. In fact, his first day at the fort, he sees a hanging from the days of the Indian uprising. Later, Curtis crosses this boundary himself and crosses paths with a murdered Apache boy. The Headmaster, Roy Whitcomb, known by all as the Lieutenant, never leaves the fort but is stuck it seems within Fort Grant’s time loop, effectively becoming “the man in the maze,” the Pima tribal emblem. He is forever trapped within the maze’s limitations and obstacles, unable to make the right choices and find his way into the next plane, the gift of a better existence. The very retelling of Curtis’s story symbolizes this blurring of time as well. During the entire story, Vince’s watch remains fixed on the time when Curtis began his tale, time seemingly suspended along with his disbelief. 

Path of the Half Moon is a fascinating tale of cruelty, revenge, and redemption set against the mysterious echoes of the West. Any lover of paranormal mystery will not want to miss this one.

This review was written for Chanticleer Reviews.

Book Review: Wrapped in the Stars by Elena Mikalsen

Maya Radelis has spent the last seven months running from herself. After the death of a patient, she leaves her pediatric residency in New York City for the jungles of Guatemala and the Family Health Volunteers Mission, but even after she exhausted her six-month leave, she still cannot bring herself to return and ends up in Edinburgh, Scotland, where fate intervenes. Maya stumbles across a ring in an antique shop, a ring with a German inscription that somehow “calls” to her. After purchasing the ring, Maya decides to trace the history of it and its owner with the brief seven days before she must return to her university and face the consequences of her absence as well as the investigation of her patient’s death. Fearing she will no longer be allowed to continue in her medical career and dreading the meeting where she’ll learn her fate, she wants to make the most of her search for the ring’s previous owner, especially after she begins to have strange dreams and memory-like episodes of the woman she thinks owned the ring. Enlisting the help of Pauline, her French friend, she traces an odd, twisting path through Paris then Bern, Switzerland. The more she discovers, the more she begins to question her destiny.

With its alternating narration, this novel shows two women worlds (and times) apart but with so many similarities. Maya Radelis, the modern American medical student, is shown in parallel with Rebecca Miller, a Swiss medical student in the years leading up to World War I, and though the obstacles for Rebecca are vastly different than for Maya, their feelings of uncertainty and their love of medicine are very much the same. Rebecca’s desire to become a doctor comes from a family heritage of medicine and, in some part, from the death of her brother, Karl. Maya is also following a family legacy while hoping to somehow erase the guilt she feels for the childhood death of her twin sister, Ella. Both of these accomplished women have this need to “[e]arn [their] right to be alive” and somehow validate their own existence through medicine. Both women share a Jewish ancestry, and neither woman sees the need to marry, desiring instead their independence, a world they have built instead of one handed to them through family ties and marriage bonds, while fearing the lonely paths before them. Maya and Rebecca doubt their abilities and often wonder if their sacrifices are truly worth the pain of disappointing others, but both women have strong supporters in the form of their grandmothers with their constant message of self-worth and strength, and though there are so many similarities, the difference in Rebecca’s time is significant. Rebecca must pave the way for modern women with her studies and her determination to be respected as a female doctor. She sees value in women beyond being wives, mothers, or punching bags for husbands and fathers. Rebecca begins a women’s clinic and leaves her home to travel to America. Maya gains strength from Rebecca’s story and learns to stand up for herself and her dreams. She can feel Rebecca’s “resolve and pride,” her “determination,” and leans on these when she cannot find her own strength. 

“Synchronicity,” or “meaningful coincidences” plays an enormously important role in the novel. The reader will enjoy following Maya’s story, the twists and detours that create such an interesting plot as her history and future entwine. Many of these coincidences will seemingly play out through Rebecca’s story as well, and seeing how the author meshes timelines gives the reader those “epiphany” moments when the stories come together from the robin that leads Maya to the antique shop to the letter she finds in a hundred-year-old book. It also will make you wonder just how much we choose for ourselves and how much the universe chooses for us.

Eternal love is the most touching aspect of Maya and Rebecca’s stories. The German inscription Maya finds in Rebecca’s ring says it best with its message of living within the heart of another and being forever “therein.” The love of Rebecca and Mark seemingly transcends time and lives again through Maya and David. It’s a beautiful message, a love strong enough to defy death and reclaim the lovers a century later. There is something reassuring and peaceful in believing love cannot die. What lovers wouldn’t want such a legacy?

This review was written for Chanticleer Reviews.