Category Archives: fiction

Reading: Prosecco and Promises by A.L. Michael

12th February 2018

Requested for review from the publisher on Netgalley.

Mia is trying – and failing – to prepare herself for orphanhood. Her mother died when she was young, and now her beloved dad is succumbing to the cancer he survived years before. The dutiful daughter, Mia finally agrees to her father’s final wish. When the time comes, she is to leave him with his much younger wife, take a plane to the Italian island of Ischia, where her mother grew up and her family still lives, and have a drink in his memory.

Devastated, angry, and broken, Mia arrives in Ischia, to her warm, loving aunt (the only one who knows her father is dying), her shrunken, bitter Italian grandmother, and her fun-loving cousin. She remembers her only other trip to Ischia and seeks out the antique shop she visited only to find herself drawn into the shop owner and his grandson’s lives, as she learns more and more about her mother and herself.

While Prosecco and Promises didn’t appear to be my typical fare, combine Italy and prosecco with a little archaeology, and I’m all in. As in many books, the main character is seeking something, not realizing she really needs to find herself. Ischia is steeped in her family’s history, and Mia wants to learn more about her mother, the fleeting figure she can hardly remember, but at the same time, she has to come to terms with the impending loss of her father. A.L. Michael writes Mia’s ache so well, and I felt for Mia and understood her anger. At the same time, it was evident that Mia’s life was on hold and that the anger that bubbled out of her was directed as much at herself as anyone else. The release she feels once her father dies allows her to fast track the life she didn’t realize she was missing, and I loved that the author didn’t clip the ending but instead allowed Mia room to explore and feel her way a bit.

The cover belies the struggle Mia faces, as this is no chick lit, and Prosecco and Promises was a good mid-winter read, as the sunny Italian island is a perfect foil for the cold weather.

*Read what others have to say on Goodreads.

Reading: The Widow of Larkspur Inn by Lawana Blackwell

31st January 2018

Julia is comforting her youngest child, sitting in contemplation as she mourns her recently deceased husband, when the butler appears to announce the arrival of a guest. The late hour concerns Julia, but she sees the visitor anyway and is shocked when the man explains, hat in hand, that her husband owed him money. Unsettled by the visit, Julia’s life is shattered the next day when she learns her husband had known for nearly a year that the house they shared was being foreclosed upon. The culprit? Her husband’s gambling habit she knew nothing about. The bankers feel obvious remorse for the woman with three young children and recommend she make her home at one of her husband’s properties the bank has no interest in, the Larkspur, an old abandoned inn in a small village, Gresham.

Devastated but determined to make a life for her children, Julia, with the help of a surprising character, makes the decision to turn the inn into a lodging house. Taking her faithful maid and friend Fiona with her, Julia and the children work to make Larkspur a home, and the village offers a lively cast of characters, as do the lodgers Julia secures.

While not much happens in The Widow of Larkspur Inn, in terms of plot, the changing narrators and focus on various characters means you learn quite a lot about these people, and you care about their arcs. Though I didn’t know it to start, the book is also what I’d label Christian fiction, but the proselytizing was not so heavy as to take over the narrative.

A quiet novel in the vein of Lamb in Love by Carrie Brown, I really, surprisingly enjoyed this book and was pleased to learn there were sequels, as I wasn’t quite ready to leave Gresham.

*To see what others have to say about The Widow of Larkspur Inn, click here.

Reading: Plantation Shudders by Ellen Byron

29th January 2018

Magnolia Marie Crozat, Maggie for short, has returned from New York after heartbreak to help out with the family business. The Crozat plantation, now a bed and breakfast, is hurting for business, and with just her parents, grandmother, and a hired couple to work it, Maggie injects a bit of life into the place, offering a special to fill rooms for the end-of-summer festival. A full house has them all thrilled, until a storm leaves a pair of elderly honeymooners dead – one of natural causes and the other, not so much.

Maggie knows her own family can’t be involved (right?), but trying to determine what an Australian family, married hipsters, trio of frat boys, and/or plantation enthusiasts had to do with the death is tricky. The decades-old grudge between the police chief’s family and the Crozats doesn’t simplify matters, even when a new detective arrives on the case. Nepotism at work, Bo Durant is the police chief’s (attractive) cousin, but he seems fair, and together with Maggie, the two are determined to uncover the many secrets that threaten to incriminate the wrong people.

You guys know I love a good cozy mystery. I don’t always review them because they aren’t always worth it, but Plantation Shudders combined charm, good writing, and enough truth about the South to have me applauding. The Gulf Coast often gets described as sultry, but let’s be honest, there’s nothing sexy about sweating constantly and swatting mosquitoes. And tourist plantations or no, class issues are alive and well in communities like Pelican. Byron doesn’t shy away from any of these elements, which lent a much more authentic air to the first of this cozy series, a challenge compared to other cozies I’ve read.

The list of suspects grew until I was genuinely surprised by the culprit, a nice turn of events after reading several supposed mysteries and guessing early on “who dun it.” All in all, Plantation Shudders was a great light read, and I look forward to seeking out others in this series.

*But don’t take my word for it. Check out what others had to say about Plantation Shudders on Goodreads.

 

Reading: Jamaica Inn by Daphne du Maurier

24th January 2018

Mary Yellan is content with farm life up until the moment her mother dies, leaving her with a deathbed promise to sell the farm and seek out her Aunt Patience, a lively, pretty woman Mary recalls from a trip a decade earlier.

Though her aunt’s letter inviting her to come seems somewhat distant, Mary hopes for the best. Those hopes are dashed when the carriage driver warns her away from Jamaica Inn, an isolated, looming building on the English moors.

Arriving at Jamaica Inn does nothing to dispel Mary’s anxiety, as her boorish uncle, Joss Merlyn, offers none-too-pleasant a greeting, and Aunt Patience is a shell of the woman she was. Nervous and skittish, Aunt Patience tells Mary obvious lies before Uncle Joss comes in and tells Mary exactly what he expects: once in a while she’ll serve drinks in the attached bar, and if she hears a carriage outside, she must hide herself under her covers and put her fingers in her ears.

Undeterred, Mary makes the best of her situation, finding the moors bewitching, yet recognizing the hidden dangers they offer. She meets two men on the moors, the vicar from the next town, and Jem, her uncle’s brother. One an angel, the other a demon, Mary finds herself drawn to both as potential saviors from the deteriorating circumstances in which she finds herself.

Atmospheric and suspenseful, Jamaica Inn is a perfect tale for a wintry day, though I prefer Rebecca and My Cousin Rachel. Daphne du Maurier knows how to create a setting, and the horror of certain events in the novel cannot be overstated; yet, the pacing and intended twist were not as impactful to me as I suspect they were meant to be. Nevertheless, I enjoyed Jamaica Inn and enjoyed adding another du Maurier to my shelves.

*Don’t take my word for it. See what others had to say about Jamaica Inn on Goodreads.

Reading: Sunday Silence by Nicci French

22nd January 2018

In the seventh, penultimate, book in this series, husband-wife writing team Nicci French begin Frieda Klein’s story where it left off in the heart-racing cliffhanger of Dark Saturday.

After defying the law to clear her name in the last installment, London psychologist Frieda is horrified to discover a body beneath the floor of her sanctuary, her home. After several years of trying to convince the police and the commissioner that a serial killer is still alive and toying with her, Frieda feels no satisfaction in their newfound agreement, especially as more bodies are discovered. Yet something feels different about the incidents that follow that threaten her inner circle, and Frieda realizes that Dean isn’t the only danger.

While full of the cast of characters – the ragtag friends and family of Frieda – readers of this series love, Sunday Silence falls short in delivering the taut, suspenseful narrative of the other books. The identity of the second killer is made clear early on, and the push to outwit him isn’t anything new.

Since the series began with Blue Monday, I was anticipating closure to the main story line in this book, and it didn’t come. Instead, the majority of the book focused on a much less interesting, less terrifying, less well developed character than I’ve come to expect. With the number of mysteries I read, I need more than a slightly odd, middle aged guy with a power complex to be the bad guy. Who is he? How did he arrive at the moment he commits a crime?

That said, the opening of this book offers a glimpse of the final showdown to the series, Day of the Dead, out July 2018, and I’m here for it.

But don’t take my word for it. Check out Goodreads to see what others thought of Sunday Silence.

P.S. While you can read these as standalone books, reading them in order is a much fuller experience.