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.


Friday, February 21, 2020

The Brightest of Dreams by Susan Anne Mason


The Brightest of Dreams by Susan Anne Mason

Let’s begin with the summary:

Quinten Aspinall is determined to fulfill a promise he made to his deceased father to keep his family together. To do so, he must travel to Canada to find his younger siblings, who were sent there as indentured workers while Quinn was away at war. He is also solicited by his employer to look for the man's niece who ran off with a Canadian soldier. If Quinn can bring Julia back, he will receive his own tenant farm, enabling him to provide a home for his ailing mother and siblings.

Julia Holloway's decision to come to Toronto has been met with disaster. When her uncle's employee rescues her from a bad situation, she fears she can never repay Quinn's kindness. So when he asks her to help find his sister, she agrees. Soon after, however, Julia receives some devastating news that changes everything.

Torn between reuniting his family and protecting Julia, will Quinn have to sacrifice his chance at happiness to finally keep his promise?

And now, my review:

Readers get to experience an adventure with our hero. His primary mission is recovering his siblings, but since he was also hired to find and bring home his employer’s niece, a beautiful, single adult near his own age, his mission is complicated.

I liked this author’s fresh, engaging prose and how she provided many allies. So often main characters don’t have enough allies to support them. The story’s pacing kept me reading, and we didn't lack for conflict in this layered story.

Though the hero was on a noble quest, he often came across as juvenile, extremely whiny, and self-absorbed. We never saw him outgrow this. His selfishness contrasted sharply with the heroine’s maturity. She’s used to serving others, not putting herself first. What surprised me was that she couldn’t see his immaturity. That didn’t seem quite believable.

As with many historicals, I did find a few instances of melodrama. Unfortunately, readers are left out when this happens. I also found a couple of instances of modern language in this historical, but I was reading the ARC, so that may have been changed in the final version. The writing in the final third of the story wasn't quite as strong as earlier. That's where the melodrama came in. And I found multiple uses of phrases involving "heated cheeks," which felt repetitive. Again, it's possible that was toned down to one or two in the final version.

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!