Saturday, February 29, 2020

The Fifth Avenue Story Society by Rachel Hauck

The Fifth Avenue Story Society

What a lovely cover! A reader’s delight—shelves of books in a cozy room. An unexpected element? This novel is not a time-slip novel like Rachel's other recent books.

Let’s begin with the summary:

An invitation to join The Fifth Avenue Story Society gives five New York strangers a chance to rewrite their own stories.

Executive assistant Lexa is eager for a much-deserved promotion, but her boss is determined to keep her underemployed.

Literature professor Jett is dealing with a broken heart, as well as a nagging suspicion his literary idol, Gordon Phipps Roth, might be a fraud.

Uber driver Chuck just wants a second chance with his kids.

Aging widower Ed is eager to write the true story of his incredible marriage.

Coral, queen of the cosmetics industry, has broken her engagement and is on the verge of losing her great-grandmother’s multimillion-dollar empire.

When all five New Yorkers receive an anonymous, mysterious invitation to the Fifth Avenue Story Society, they suspect they’re victims of a practical joke. No one knows who sent the invitations or why. No one has heard of the literary society. And no one is prepared to reveal their deepest secrets to a roomful of strangers.

Yet curiosity and loneliness bring them back week after week to the old library. And it’s there they discover the stories of their hearts, and the kind of friendship and love that heals their souls.

And now, my review:

I like the premise of mysterious invitations to join a story society. At first, I thought it’d be a book club, but the objective is deeper than that. Picturing the setting of an old library made me want to grab a hot beverage, a throw, and curl up with this book.

Each character has their own strengths and weaknesses in this ensemble cast. I liked the multiple-POV approach. Rachel is always clear about whose POV we’re in, and her characters had distinct voices.

Though this wasn’t a time-slip novel, which I'd expected (I don't read back covers before reading books—too many spoilers), I was interested and invested. But I was interested and invested. The only downside was that we never go too deeply into any one character’s history. Because we’re spread over several, there isn’t page space.

Rachel kept me hooked through withholding information. There are plenty of secrets to learn about each person, and we unravel those as we read. She gave us enough info to both care about the characters and root for them.

As is her trademark, we have a supernatural element in the book. This novel would work well as a crossover as the God-element is subtle for three-quarters of the story. Her prose is often so insightful, I have to highlight it.

I loved watching the characters have victory. Through sharing their real struggles with each other, they find healing and their burdens lift. These varied folks find friendship. I enjoyed that theme. They also find courage to do what they need to do for those victories.

I'm always watching for Rachel's next book to release. She's a must-read for me. Whether it's a time-slip or not, I enjoy her distinct writing style.


Sunday, February 9, 2020

The Way of the Brave by Susan May Warren

The Way of the Brave

Susie has a new series!

Here’s the summary of book one in the Global Search and Rescue series:

Former pararescue jumper Orion Starr is haunted by the memory of a rescue gone wrong. He may be living alone in Alaska now, but the pain of his failure—and his injuries—has followed him there from Afghanistan. He has no desire to join Hamilton Jones's elite rescue team, but he also can't shirk his duty when the call comes in to rescue three lost climbers on Denali.

Former CIA profiler and psychiatrist Jenny Calhoun's yearly extreme challenge with her best friends is her only escape from the guilt that has sunk its claws into her. As a consultant during a top-secret mission to root out the Taliban, she green-lighted an operation that ended in ambush and lives lost. When her cathartic climb on Denali turns deadly, she'll be forced to trust her life and the lives of her friends to the most dangerous of heroes—the man she nearly killed.

Her skills and his experience are exactly what's needed to prevent another tragedy—but in order to truly set Orion free from his painful past, Jenny will have to reveal hers. They'll have to put their wounds behind them to survive, but at what cost?

And now, my review:

What a read! I could almost see my breath in front of my face, when I remembered to breathe.

We spend much of this book stranded on an icy mountain, and I could feel the cold. Such great descriptions. Susie took us into the minds of both rescuers and climbers. I learned some of their jargon. The story was well researched. I also felt the fear of the stranded climbers.

As usual, we got more than one love story, and I enjoyed that. One of the themes was bravery, of course. Other themes included having a new heart, finding grace, finally being free, and discovering God’s goodness. These were relatable, and as the characters reached toward them, I both rooted for them and sympathized with them.

The romantic, why-not issue seemed insurmountable between the primary MCs (main characters), which kept me hooked. The female characters were doctors or psychologists—great careers. And this led to strong conflict when their training alone couldn’t save them, nor leave them exempt from physical or mental health problems.

I enjoy Susie’s writing, book after book. I would like to see a variety of character voices. Most of the time, they each have the same voice, even in their introspection—both genders. But that element doesn’t keep me from reading her novels as soon as they come out.

With two of the characters, especially, Susie set us up for her the second in this series. We’ll be off on another suspenseful, adventurous rescue. Can't wait!

If you’re looking for a fast-paced, edge-of-your-icy-seat read—this is it.

Highly recommended!

Sunday, January 19, 2020

The Painted Castle by Kristy Cambron

The Painted Castle

We get three stories in one novel here. Such an interesting twist on a time-slip novel, where we usually get one historical and one contemporary story.

Let’s begin with the summary:

A lost painting of Queen Victoria.

A library bricked off from the world.

And three women, separated by time, whose lives are irrevocably changed.

When art historian Keira Foley is hired to authenticate a painting at a centuries-old East Suffolk manor, she hopes this is just the thing to get her career and life back on track. But from the time she arrives at Parham Hill Estate and begins working alongside rumored art thief Emory Scott, she’s left with far more questions than answers. Could this lost painting of Queen Victoria be a duplicate of the original Winterhalter masterpiece, and if so, who is the artist?

As Keira begins to unravel the mystery behind the portrait, two women emerge from the estate’s forgotten past. In Victorian England, talented sketch artist Elizabeth Meade is engaged to Viscount Huxley, then owner of Parham Hill. However, Elizabeth’s real motive for being at Parham Hill has nothing to do with art or marriage. She’s determined to avenge her father’s brutal murder—even if it means a betrothal to the very man she believes committed the crime.

A century later, Amelia Woods—a World War II widow who has turned Parham Hill and its beloved library into a boarding school for refugee children—receives military orders to house a troop of American pilots. She is determined the children in her care will remain untouched by the war, but the task is proving difficult with officers taking up every square inch of their world . . . and one in particular vying for a space in Amelia’s long-shut up heart.

And now, my review:

I was a bit lost at the beginning. I had somehow missed that this was the third in a series when I volunteered to read for review. You might consider reading books one and two, if you haven’t, before you tackle this one.

That said, each character’s world was engaging. The author has a strong voice. She built three distinctive worlds for this novel, each somewhat enchanting. I did find a spot where the modern heroine’s voice (POV) sounded much like the historical woman’s voice from the previous scene, which section may have been reworked before by publication.

Each of our heroines has a tough challenge to overcome. I liked that they were all strong heroines. Two of them were in art, which is always a fun topic. I enjoyed watching their romances unfold with the heroes of their world. We only get a little time with each, since this novel is divided into three story lines. I admit, given how long the novel is, though I was still interested, I had to move on to another book in my queue before finishing. I think I’d prefer two story lines and a shorter book overall, where we get to dive into each character’s world and enjoy their romance with more layers.

I loved the author’s descriptions. She has a way with her historical voice, with the prose, pacing, and descriptions. I lost myself more easily in the historical story lines. The modern story line seemed to have holes, but that may be because the characters were introduced in earlier books.

These heroines are looking for redemption or vindication or reassurance in a broken world. These are relatable themes, part of the human condition. They don’t see their own courage, though readers will.

If you’re looking for a novel to get lost in, this is it. Overall, the journeys are strong and enjoyable.