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The Enchanted April–looking for happiness

The Enchanted April

by Elizabeth Von Arnim

In an exceptionally rainy and dreary March in England, four strangers decide to get away by sharing the rent on a medieval castle in sunny Italy for the month of April. Lotty Wilkins, who can “see” or visualize people at their best and happiest initiates the effort, recruiting Rose Arbuthnot. Both in their early thirties, they do not have happy marriages. Lady Caroline is a little younger and extremely attractive, but is tired of the superficial cloying of people bewitched by her good looks. The very authoritative Mrs. Fisher in her sixties is still wearing mourning blacks years after her husband’s death and focuses her thoughts and conversations on childhood memories of encounters with famous people, particularly authors. This fictional account relies strongly on character development as these ladies’ situations are examined and they react to each other and to their temporary environment for the month. As I reread the many lines I had highlighted, I found that the writing is indeed exquisite.

The Enchanted April is the kind of book that holds beauty and introspection and gently insists that readers immerse themselves in the deliciousness of a sunny month of flowering plants and enticing foods. There are humorous situations thrown in as Lotty and Rose speak no Italian and the other two ladies don’t want to undertake the bother of dealing with the servants or managing the finances. There are also some surprising plot twists at the end of the tale. If you join the ladies in their Italian castle, your only regret will be saying “Arrivederci” at the end of the stay.

Rating: 5/5

Category: Fiction

Notes: Originally published in 1922.

Publication: July 19, 2005—Project Gutenberg

Memorable Lines:

She wanted to be alone, but not lonely. That was very different; that was something that ached and hurt dreadfully right inside one. It was what one dreaded most…Was it possible that loneliness had nothing to do with circumstances, but only with the way one met them?

“Oh, but in a bitter wind to have nothing on and know there never will be anything on and you going to get colder and colder till at last you die of it—that’s what it was like, living with somebody who didn’t love one.”

In heaven nobody minded any of those done-with things, one didn’t even trouble to forgive and forget, one was much too happy.

A Letter to the Last House Before the Sea–reinventing yourself

A Letter to the Last House Before the Sea

by Liz Eeles

Many series depend on the continuation of a character or a set of characters. The Heaven’s Cove Series does not. The continuity is found in the setting—the little village of Heaven’s Cove and Driftwood House perched on a cliff high above the ocean. Therefore, with only a few characters from the first book showing up in the second, anyone can easily jump into the series with this second book, A Letter to the Last House Before the Sea. I should add, however, that I loved the first book and immediately after reading it purchased the second book so I would be ready to jump into the third which was recently published.

Lettie has had a hard time finding her way in life. Her family tries to manage her personal life while depending on her to be on call for their needs—be they babysitting, shopping, or sorting repairs. When she is sacked from a customer service job five weeks after the death of her beloved great-aunt Iris, she does a runner to Heaven’s Cove where she hopes to fulfill the bedside wish of her aunt to “find out for me, darling girl.” Aunt Iris had secrets about her past. She left Heaven’s Cove as a teenager with her whole family, never to return. She bequeathed a delicate gold key to Lettie that was connected to her secret. Lettie is committed to discovering what the secrets are that make up Iris’ past.

Locals are suspicious and disdainful of outsiders so Lettie has trouble researching the history, but in the process realizes that maybe she is ready to rediscover her former passion for history and reinvent herself. Along the way she meets several handsome young men and some cranky old timers. She finds Heaven’s Cove calling to her. As she follows leads on Iris’ story, she discovers someone else in need of her skills to track down a long lost love, adding another emotional dimension to the plot.

Lettie is a very likable main character. You will want the best for her and feel her frustrations as your own. My second visit to Heaven’s Cove kept me turning pages and ended with me smiling in satisfaction.

Rating: 5/5

Category: Women’s Fiction

Notes: 1. # 2 in the Heaven’s Cove Series, but would be good as a standalone.
2. Clean fiction—no sex or violence and very little swearing.

Publication: May 19, 2021—Bookouture

Memorable Lines:

Truth be told, Claude had saved Buster that night, as the rain lashed down and the shivering stray risked being swept away by the waves breaking over the quay wall. But then Buster had saved Claude, in return, from the loneliness that often threatened to overwhelm him.

“People disappear from your life, but they always leave an echo,” said Claude quickly.

Much as she’d grown to love Heaven’s Cove, she would never get used to the village grapevine. In London you could drop dead and no one would notice.

The Magician’s Nephew–another C.S. Lewis masterpiece

The Magician’s Nephew

by C.S. Lewis

I entered The Magician’s Nephew not really knowing what to expect. It was written by C.S. Lewis the year prior to the publication of the last book in the series, The Last Battle, which I have not read yet. At the suggestion of a member of our book club who was actually rereading the series, we inserted The Magician’s Nephew immediately before The Last Battle—not because it belongs there chronologically, but because it could perhaps be appreciated better at that point in our reading. I don’t think you could go wrong with any sequence of these books! C.S. Lewis intended it to be read first in his Chronicles of Narnia, but by the time it was first published, many of his readers would have already greedily devoured the first five books. It is indeed a prequel to the delightful The Lion, Witch, and the Wardrobe, but for those who have already read that first classic tale, you will enjoy the “ah ha” moments that arise as Lewis gives you a backstory that renders both subtle and obvious connections. It never has the feel of a book written at the instigation of a publisher who just wants to squeeze more out of a popular series. It seems that it is Lewis’ desire to bring the pictures he has painted in his novels together with cohesion and forward looking vision.

In The Magician’s Nephew, a story which begins in London, you will learn of the creation of the world Narnia, meet Aslan the Lion, and witness the awakening of the Witch. There are many connections to the creation of Earth and its population as found in the Bible; but of course it is Narnia and in this fictional realm we learn how the animals came to talk and see the never changing character of Aslan who reigns with power and love, who grieves for the things that grieve us, and gives us hope during times of devastation.

This book has sad and fearful moments as well as happy and triumphant ones. The humor as the animals plant and water Uncle Andrew in hopes that the poor “plant” will revive is more refreshing to the reader than to Uncle Andrew! The pure evil of Jadis the Witch is the stuff of ancient fairy tales as is the conflict of good and evil. The characters are ones you can feel strongly about. The setting, as always with C.S. Lewis, is so vividly and well described that you can visualize both the “real” world of London and fictional worlds to which the children (main characters Digory and Polly) can transport themselves. As to plot, it constantly throws in surprises, but events are always connected. It becomes a quick read, not because it is short or light reading, but because it is so much fun to read. As with all the books in the series, it can be read as a child enjoys fiction or as an adult looking for deeper meaning. I suggest you read it both ways at once. Come to the story for entertainment and leave with the enrichment of a well-told tale imbued with rich symbolism.

Rating: 5/5

Category: Fiction, Christian

Notes: #1 in The Chronicles of Narnia series, but can be read at any time in the reading of the series. Warning: If this book is your first experience with this series, you will probably want to read more!
This series is often listed as Children’s Fiction, but is really appropriate for all ages with adults reading it on a different level from children. It is perfect for a read-aloud.

Publication: 1955—Harper Collins

Memorable Lines:

For what you see and hear depends a good deal on where you are standing; it also depends on what sort of person you are.

She has won her heart’s desire; she has unwearying strength and endless days like a goddess. But length of days with an evil heart is only length of misery and already she begins to know it. All get what they want; they do not always like it.

For the rest of that day, whenever he looked at the things about him, and saw how ordinary and unmagical they were, he hardly dared to hope; but when he remembered the face of Aslan he did hope.

Christmas Island–romance in Norway

Christmas Island

by Natalie Normann

I am not moving to Norway. Ever. It’s too dark and too cold for me. I had a lot of reading fun coming to that conclusion, however, as I read Christmas Island, a romance that begins on a wet, cold, dark, rainy island in Norway. The snow and the need for many layers of heavy clothing would come later. The author, Natalie Normann, is highly qualified to be our atmospheric guide as she grew up in a shipping town on the west coast of Norway. When she writes about the many Christmas foods and traditions peculiar to Norway, she speaks from experience. Originally a Norwegian writer of historical romance, she has lived in Cardiff, Wales, since 2017, and Christmas Island is her second book written in English.

Holly Greene has an enforced four week leave of absence from her hospital job as a doctor resulting from a problem with a co-worker on the job. She is invited to Christmas on the island by her brother Jack as a way to help her survive this period. She meets Tor, mysterious and reclusive, who has rented a house on the island. The reasons both are there are revealed to the reader quite gradually. Holly lives in London and Tor in Oslo making a long-term relationship out of their holiday fling problematic to say the least. They are likable characters in need of healing. Will they find what they need in Norway? Within the island community? With each other?

Normann really helped me experience Norway. I felt like I was tasting the foods along with Holly. I understood her difficulties with the language. Once I raised my head from the pages almost expecting to see a wet snow drifting down. The backdrop she paints is important to the story and pervades the reader’s imagination.

I would like to extend my thanks to NetGalley and to HarperCollins UK (One More Chapter) for giving me the opportunity to read this book in exchange for an honest review.

Rating: 4/5

Category: Romance

Notes: 1. #2 in the Very Hygge Holiday Series, but could clearly be read as a standalone.
2. There are too many American and British swear words and vulgarisms for my taste. When I embark on a Christmas read, I look forward to sweet and clean. Although there is a fling, there are no graphic details. Language is the only obstacle for me with this Christmas read.
3. Recipes for three sweet Christmas treats are included.

Publication: November 30, 2020—HarperCollins UK (One More Chapter)

Memorable Lines:

“Fresh air is the Norwegian cure for everything. If you’re unwell, get some fresh air; if you can’t sleep, get some fresh air; if you’re feeling sad, get some fresh air. I think it comes from living too close to the sea and the mountains,” Tor said.

At the hospital gossip and rumours were part of the daily routine, and mostly it was friendly and amusing…until it wasn’t. But she didn’t want to dwell on that today.

Holly opened her mouth to answer, then got completely flustered and knew she was blushing like a whole crop of tomatoes.

Love Your Life–another fun Kinsella main character

Love Your Life

by Sophie Kinsella

Ava is the latest in the line of Sophie Kinsella’s over the top lovable main characters. She rescues almost everything—from her mischievous beagle Harold to books no one else would want to buy. She is passionate about her ever-changing interests but never seems to achieve any of her goals. Her conversations with herself and others can best be described as stream of consciousness. The word “tidy” is not in her vocabulary.

Ava’s support group from university choir days is a cadre of unlike souls who nevertheless get along fabulously. Ava goes to Italy at their urging for a writer’s retreat where she meets Matt whose family business is all consuming. He has a sterile apartment, weird taste in art, and two odd roommates. Their dynamic is amusing in a male supportive kind of way.

The rules at the writer’s retreat keep everyone anonymous and focused on their writing—in theory. Ava and Matt quickly focus on each other and reveal their identities to continue their relationship when they return home. Watching Ava and Matt interact is like watching the proverbial train wreck. You know disaster will happen, yet you can’t look away. Although much of the book is pleasantly predictable, there are some stunning surprises along the way. Love Your Life is a fun foray into chick lit: twenty-first century romance featuring online dating and What’s App and wacky but lovable characters. It is a humorous look at the glue that hold friendships together and the ties that bind hearts in love.

I would like to extend my thanks to NetGalley and to Random House (Dial Press) for giving me the opportunity to read this book in exchange for an honest review.

Rating: 4/5

Category: Romance, Women’s Fiction

Notes: Some foul language

Publication: October 27, 2020—Random House (Dial)

Memorable Lines:

Maud’s basic conundrum in life is that she has three children but only two hands.

Nell doesn’t normally do hope. Not since she got ill. She describes her life philosophy as “managed pessimism.”

For a few minutes we’re both silent as rain starts to thunder down on the car roof. Hurt is crackling around the car like a lightning storm.

A Pretty Deceit–the pursuit of Ardmore continues

A Pretty Deceit

by Anna Lee Huber

In the aftermath of The Great War, there are many “walking wounded.” This category refers to soldiers with physical wounds, of course. Also included are those psychologically affected, unable to relate to others, even those they love most. Waking or sleeping, the horrors of the war remain with them. Their families have suffered as well. Many have lost sons, fathers, brothers, and husbands either through death or trauma. Women are living in limbo or trying to raise children on their own. All of these injured are touched on as we witness the struggles of the characters in A Pretty Deceit. The protagonist, Verity Kent, is a high society woman married to a war hero. You would think the couple would be happily “living the life” after the war. They harbor secrets, however, as each individually worked for intelligence services, and their past efforts continue to disrupt their current lives.

Verity has a penchant for solving mysteries, and in this historical novel by Anna Lee Huber, Verity is called on by her family to investigate her aunt’s missing possessions as well as the disappearance of a maid. Her husband’s influence is solicited to encourage the government to provide reparations to Verity’s aunt for damages that occurred when Air Force officers were billeted in her home. As the couple tries to help, a murder is discovered on the estate, and Verity is called on to clear the murder victim’s wife. In the middle of these investigations, the couple is asked, unofficially, to investigate a wealthy businessman with connections that rise high in the government. He rarely dirties his own hands but has many minions willing to do his bidding.

I have read two more books in this series, and A Pretty Deceit is my favorite so far. Well written, as all of the books in this series are, this novel is outstanding in background, pace, and character development. We meet Reg, Verity’s cousin who was blinded in the war. We also see her current interactions with two men who had a romantic interest in Verity during the war. Verity is well aware of her attractiveness and is not afraid to subtly use it to achieve her ends. The position and influence of a woman in this time period is well demonstrated by the reactions of characters to women in accordance with class status and race. This historical fiction is a piece worth reading.

I would like to extend my thanks to NetGalley and to Kensington Books for giving me the opportunity to read this book in exchange for an honest review.

Rating: 5/5

Category: Historical Fiction, Mystery

Notes: #4 in the Verity Kent Series, but works well as a standalone

Publication: September 29, 2020—Kensington Books

Memorable Lines:

For all that Aunt Ernestine would be horrified at such conduct in others, she was remarkably oblivious to the fault in herself.

Compassion need not be a restricted commodity, especially not during a time when everyone was still struggling to right themselves after the topsy-turvy years of the war.

He was a cunning manipulator, making people question even those things they knew beyond a shadow of a doubt to be true, and exploiting people’s best and worst natures to convince them to do things they would never have dreamed themselves capable of.

False Conclusion–dangerous inheritance

False Conclusion

by Veronica Heley

Much to her dismay, Bea Abbot, the owner of the Abbot Agency becomes desperately entangled in the affairs of the rich and influential Trescott family. All is not as it appears in that closely knit family…well, closely knit in terms of the secrets they try to keep. Mysterious deaths keep piling up. Bea’s ward Bernice is rather forced at boarding school into a friendship role with the Trescott matriarch’s niece Evelina (Evie), a disheveled and almost incoherent teenager. Evie is meant to marry an older cousin Joshua who has promised to take care of her and, Bea suspects, her fortune too. Meanwhile, some rather disturbing patterns arise when Joshua’s tempestuous brother Benjy takes an interest in Bernice who is only 14 and also destined to be wealthy.

Veronica Heley’s False Conclusion is a good mystery that combines reasoning, investigation, and character conflicts with action. The author’s writing style insists that the reader sneak a quick peak at each “next chapter” which, of course, segues into the next and the next; it is a book that is hard to put down.

If you have been following this series, you will be interested in the relationship developments between Bea and her ex-husband Piers, a famous portrait painter whose artistic skills and quick thinking play a role in False Conclusion’s plot. If this series is new to you, don’t hesitate to dive in; you will quickly be brought up to speed on the characters and find that the plot is fresh. In fact, the intriguing opening lines throw both new and returning reader into the story without hesitation: “Bea Abbot shut the front door on her departing guests and demanded, ‘What on earth was that all about?’ ”

I would like to extend my thanks to NetGalley and to Severn House for giving me the opportunity to read this book in exchange for an honest review.

Rating: 5/5

Category: Mystery, Christian

Notes: 1. #14 in the Abbot Agency Mystery Series, but would work as a standalone.

2.  Although not overtly a Christian book, the author does show Bea’s reliance on God through a few short prayers for wisdom and protection during difficult times.

Publication:   July 7, 2020—Severn House Publishers

Memorable Lines:

His hand on her shoulder had been heavy. He’d meant her to feel the weight of his hand, and to remind her of the power behind it. He was smiling, but his eyes glittered, needle sharp. He had ceased to dismiss her as a pawn in the game.

She stared into the future. It was a dark pit, filled with crashing noises and a seething tangle of snakes. It was more real than her bedroom. It horrified her. She couldn’t look away. She couldn’t even pray.

“Forgiveness comes with understanding. And remorse. And courage to look into the future and not back at the past.”

I Owe You One–the power of guilt

I Owe You One

by Sophie Kinsella

I Owe You OneI have read and enjoyed a number of books by Sophie Kinsella who is perhaps most famous for her Shopaholic series. Then I read one that just didn’t have the same zing and humor, so I entered I Owe You One with some trepidation. I am pleased to report that Kinsella’s latest book lives up to her standards and my expectations. At first I was a little concerned there would be too much predictability. The main character’s name is Fixie, derived from her penchant for fixing things ranging from the placement of objects to personal relationships. OCD is definitely in play as she struggles not to rearrange things or declare her every thought. As Fixie’s high school heartthrob reenters her life, the reader is watching a foreseeable train wreck: “No, Fixie, don’t do it!”

The plot leaves the anticipated pathway soon after with lots of surprises in store. It does not focus solely on Fixie’s love life. Fixie also struggles with family relationships which are closely tied with the family business. You will like Fixie if for no other reason than she tries so hard in everything she does. She feels like a failure, is loaded with unwarranted guilt, and carries the torch for making everything turn out right and keeping everyone happy—a big burden for one person.

There are many other interesting major and minor characters you will meet, but not all of them are likable, of course. The setting is West London where the denizens range from scruffy to posh. The book flows nicely with lots of humor and is a fast and enjoyable read.

I would like to extend my thanks to netgalley.com and to Dial Press for giving me the opportunity to read this book in exchange for an honest review.

Rating: 5/5

Category: Women’s Fiction

Publication:   February 19, 2019—Dial Press

Memorable Lines:

When I think how I believed his version of everything, how I rationalized everything he said and did, I feel warm with stupidity. But he was so convincing.

Ryan’s pathological, I’ve realized. He says anything to anyone to get out of whatever situation he’s in. Truth doesn’t count, integrity doesn’t count, love doesn’t even figure. Yelling at him would be like yelling at a rock. It’s never going to change.

I learned that failing doesn’t mean you are a failure; it just means you’re a human being.

Coming Home to Holly Close Farm–starting again

Coming Home to Holly Close Farm

by Julie Houston

Coming Home to Holly Close FarmI had strong mixed feelings as I read Coming Home to Holly Close Farm. The tale begins with Charlie (Charlotte) having the worst Friday of her life when she discovers her lover is married with three children. Fallout of this revelation is that she also loses her home and job in one fell swoop. Charlie is a likable main character—smart, attractive, funny, and like many women, gullible when it comes to believing the one she loves.

Author Julie Houston’s book is actually two interwoven stories, and Houston handles that complexity well. One, of course, is the story of Charlie as she starts to rebuild her life. The other is the story of Madge, Charlie’s great-grandmother, and her love of a bomber pilot in World War II. Madge kept her past a secret from all of her family and as the story develops you can see why. It is only revealed because Madge, in her nineties, decides to sell part of Holly Close Farm with the proviso that the buyer must hire Charlie to be the architect for the house renovations. Once that decision is made, the secrets begin to trickle out.

My difficulty with the book is partly one of personal taste. I read it based on the appeal of the plot summary. It seemed like a gentle romance with a complex plot. It is a good plot, but too much of the book is about characters who bed hop, and it is replete with British vulgarisms. In the second chapter there is an extensive description of bawdy pranks on an airliner. This type of humor set a bad tone for me and though that is the worst of it in the book, the other elements continue. While I enjoy Britishisms in books to enhance the setting and characters, the vulgarisms detract for me.

I would like to extend my thanks to netgalley.com and to Aria for giving me the opportunity to read this book in exchange for an honest review.

Rating: 4/5

Category: General Fiction (Adult), Women’s Fiction

Notes: includes bawdy humor and British vulgarities

Publication:  February 5, 2019—Aria

Memorable Lines:

Funny how sorrow makes you slop around in old trackies, eschewing the shower and make-up, but fury has quite the opposite effect.

“You know, war invades not only countries but also the mind and spirit.”

“…finance and big business and being in the centre of London was never really my thing but you get yourself on the treadmill and it’s going so fast you can’t get off.”

Dark Tide Rising–disappointing

Dark Tide Rising

by Anne Perry

Dark Tide RisingI know that Anne Perry is a celebrated author with two main series and many other books to her credit. Therefore, I was really looking forward to reading this work of historical fiction, a genre I have come to enjoy recently. Unfortunately, I was disappointed. A lot of Dark Tide Rising centers around a betrayal that is central to understanding the kidnapping and murder of Kate Exeter. When I say “a lot,” I mean Perry belabors the points to the extent of redundancy. Also, I figured out the identity and motive of the murderer early on in the book. The last courtroom scene of the book is interesting as it establishes proof of the murderer and motives for the actions of some of the minor characters. Another overly emphasized point is that Monk’s wife Hester served with Florence Nightingale in the Crimean War. Although Nightingale has long had my admiration, I do not think any and every association with her needs to be touted as proof of a woman’s fortitude. On a positive note, I did enjoy learning about the Thames River Police.

Although I was anxious to bring this book to a close, I am open to reading another by this author. I want to determine if the problem is this particular book or if Perry’s books are just not a good fit for me.

I would like to extend my thanks to netgalley.com and to Random House (Ballantine) for giving me the opportunity to read this book in exchange for an honest review.

Rating: 3/5

Category: Historical Fiction, Mystery

Notes: #24 in the Monk series, but works as a standalone

Publication:  September 18, 2018—Random House (Ballantine)

Memorable Lines:

Monk himself ached in every bone, but how much was bruising and minor cuts, and how much the torture of utter failure, he did not yet know.

And what other secrets would the search lay bare? Perhaps it was selfish in the face of such grief to think of personal fears, not yet realized, but he could not discard them. When he lay alone and silent in the dark, there was nothing to hold them at bay.

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