Tuesday, October 16, 2018

Review: The Clockmaker's Daughter

Kate Morton is a wonderful storyteller. She can take two (or more) time periods and characters within them and weave an incredible story. The Clockmaker's Daughter showcased her talents once again. But...I didn't completely fall in love with it as I had hoped to. It's a great novel, don't get me wrong, but I think I expected more.

Here's the synopsis:
My real name, no one remembers.
The truth about that summer, no one else knows.

In the summer of 1862, a group of young artists led by the passionate and talented Edward Radcliffe descends upon Birchwood Manor on the banks of the Upper Thames. Their plan: to spend a secluded summer month in a haze of inspiration and creativity. But by the time their stay is over, one woman has been shot dead while another has disappeared; a priceless heirloom is missing, and Edward Radcliffe’s life is in ruins.
Over one hundred and fifty years later, Elodie Winslow, a young archivist in London, uncovers a leather satchel containing two seemingly unrelated items: a sepia photograph of an arresting-looking woman in Victorian clothing, and an artist’s sketchbook containing a drawing of a twin-gabled house on the bend of a river.
Why does Birchwood Manor feel so familiar to Elodie? And who is the beautiful woman in the photograph? Will she ever give up her secrets?
Told by multiple voices across time, The Clockmaker’s Daughter is a story of murder, mystery, and thievery, of art, love, and loss. And flowing through its pages like a river is the voice of a woman who stands outside time, whose name has been forgotten by history, but who has watched it all unfold: Birdie Bell, the clockmaker’s daughter.
I can't quite put my finger on what it was about this novel that prevented me from loving it. It might have been the number of points of view (there are so many that I honestly couldn't tell you all of them). Or it could have been that Part One only had two POVs and switching to others in the following parts made me miss Elodie. She played such a huge part in Part One and barely showed up in the whole rest of the book.

I also wasn't a huge fan of how the book ended. I was reading along and knew it would be done soon because I could tell things were being wrapped up and all the little clues and hints were coming together into an almost satisfying conclusion. Then I realized I only had about 35 pages left of the book. How could it all come together in a great ending in only 35 pages? Turns out it couldn't. Not totally. That being said, there is resolution. And we, as the reader, do know the full story (and I do kind of appreciate Morton assumes intelligence of the reader and allows us to make some final connections). I think I just wanted (needed) to see all the characters finally realizing the full story too. (Wow, it's hard to write about the final pages of a novel without giving anything away.)

Even if I wished the ending had played out a bit differently for the characters, I was reminded how great Morton is at bringing seemingly unconnected threads together to form a full picture. I never know exactly how things are going to be connected but I trust that Morton has a wonderful story in store for me. There's nothing better than exclaiming "Ohhhhh!" as you realize how something that seemed insignificant earlier on was actually the key all along.

The setting of this novel was absolutely magical. It's no wonder Elodie, as her mother before her, was entranced by the fairy story and the house in the country. I could easily picture the house and the landscape as I was reading - and definitely wanted to visit even if the house is likely haunted.

The art nerd in me loved the art history aspect of the story too. It was really neat to read as Morton imagined what it would have been like for artists at the time gallivanting off to make art and how they worried about making pieces to satisfy those wealthy folks who were paying them.

While The Clockmaker's Daughter wasn't as amazing as I wanted it to be, I was still hooked and completely invested in Kate Morton's newest novel. It's mysterious, historical and contemporary, and really well written. It's also a beast at 400+ pages so make sure you have the time to commit once you start because you likely won't want to stop.

*An eARC of this novel was provided by Simon & Schuster Canada via NetGalley in exchange for review consideration. All opinions are honest and my own.*

Friday, October 12, 2018

Cover Reveal: The Last Resort

There are a few authors I've read over the years who immediately go on my "must read" list no matter what they write. Some of them I've been lucky enough to meet in person and it only confirms my desire to support them in everything they do. Marissa Stapley is one of those authors for me. She's a fantastic author and an even better human. She revealed the cover of her new book, The Last Resort, yesterday and, because I find it so damn swoonworthy, I asked her if I could feature it on my blog so all of you could swoon over it too!

Here's what her new book - which is out June 4 in Canada and June 18 in the US - is all about:
From bestselling author Marissa Stapley comes a gripping novel about marriage, loyalty, and the deadly secrets that unravel over the course of a two-week couples’ therapy retreat in Mexico.
Miles Markell is missing, and everyone is a suspect.
To the guests at The Harmony Resort, Doctors Miles and Grace Markell appear to be a perfect power couple. They run a couples’ therapy retreat in a luxurious resort in the Mayan Riviera where they help spouses deal with their marriage struggles.
Johanna and Ben’s relationship looks great on the surface, but in reality, they don’t know each other at all. Shell and Colin fight constantly—Colin is a workaholic, and Shell always comes second.But what has really torn them apart is too devastating to talk about. When both couples begin Harmony’s intensive therapy program, it becomes clear that Harmony is not all that it seems—and neither are Miles and Grace. What are they hiding, and what price will these couples pay for finding out their secrets?
As a powerful hurricane descends on the coast, trapping both the hosts and their guests, confidences are revealed, loyalties are tested, and not one single person—or marriage—will ever be the same.
A gripping exploration of relationships and trust, The Last Resort is a propulsive read about all the big truths we hide, even from ourselves.
You're intrigued, aren't you? Good.

Ready for the stunning cover?

Isn't it gorgeous? Even though you can see the hurricane coming to shore. I think it perfectly captures the essence of the story with beauty but underlying menace.

Head to Marissa's website to find all the pre-order links so you can get a copy of your own from your favourite retailer.

If you're really interested in Marissa and what she's written before (check out my reviews of Mating for Life and Things to Do When It's Raining) and are in GTA-ish area next weekend, make sure you check out the event being held at the L.E. Shore Memorial Library in Thornbury. And bonus: KA Tucker, Joanna Goodman, and Ruth Marshall will be there too! (So will I and I'm SO EXCITED.)

Happy reading (and pre-ordering), everyone!

Wednesday, October 10, 2018

Review: The Witch of Willow Hall

As much as I adore the Harry Potter novels, I usually like my witch stories to be a little more historical (think The Witches of New York) and/or feature more discreet magic (think Practical Magic - the book, not the movie). I was intrigued by The Witch of Willow Hall, Hester Fox's debut novel because it seemed like it would tie into the Salem Witch Trials and feature magic that was more, for lack of a better word, realistic than wand-waving. The magic that did show up was just what I wanted but I needed a lot more of it.

Here's the synopsis:
Take this as a warning: if you are not able or willing to control yourself, it will not only be you who suffers the consequences, but those around you, as well.
New Oldbury, 1821
In the wake of a scandal, the Montrose family and their three daughters—Catherine, Lydia and Emeline—flee Boston for their new country home, Willow Hall.
The estate seems sleepy and idyllic. But a subtle menace creeps into the atmosphere, remnants of a dark history that call to Lydia, and to the youngest, Emeline.
All three daughters will be irrevocably changed by what follows, but none more than Lydia, who must draw on a power she never knew she possessed if she wants to protect those she loves. For Willow Hall’s secrets will rise, in the end…
While I know some readers absolutely adored this novel, there was something was a little lacking for me. And I think it was the witchcraft - or lack thereof. Lydia has no idea what's happening to her. She doesn't know why she's seeing things that shouldn't be there or why things seem to happen without her meaning them to. She doesn't recognize it as magic and she fights it for the majority of the novel which means there really isn't much witchcraft in the book. It reads more like a Gothic ghost story than a story about a witch.

While there was a lack of witchcraft, there was an abundance of sibling rivalry. The drama between Lydia and her older sister, Catherine, took over the story. This would be fine if it hadn't been for the expectation that the story would be more about witches than two sisters sniping at each other for 300+ pages. 

The girls (I say girls but they were actually, I think, young ladies. Lydia is mentioned as being 19 and Catherine was older but I definitely wasn't sure and kept thinking of them as much younger for some reason) were also competing for the attention of a young (maybe he wasn't young? I apparently didn't do well on paying attention to the ages of these characters) man. Catherine had a reason (completely and totally messed up but a reason nonetheless) to snag herself a husband and she wasn't being picky. Lydia, on the other hand, was experiencing love that she was certain was unrequited. For a storyline that wasn't mentioned in the synopsis, these romantic (and not so romantic) entanglements take up a lot of the novel. (I'm sorry for all the brackets.)

As hard as I may be on the story, mostly for lacking the witchcraft I really wanted, the story was a good one. I was invested and needed to keep reading to find out how things would end up for Lydia. I felt the ups and downs and whatever else she was feeling right alongside her and hoped she would find a Happily Ever After, or as happy as it could be considering the circumstances.

In reading the author bio at the back of the book, I learned Fox had a background in history and worked as a collections maintenance technician at a museum. That love of history came through as I really felt like I was in 1821. Sometimes historical novels can seem too much like a history textbook but Fox sets the scene without making it seem like she's trying to teach the reader anything. You're completely absorbed in the world she creates.

The Witch of Willow Hall was a good book to read on a Fall weekend (even though we had unseasonably warm temperatures this past Thanksgiving weekend). Even though I wish Hester Fox had given readers more witches and fewer ghosts, I think this is a perfectly Gothic novel to read in the lead up to Halloween.

*A copy of this novel was provided by the publishers, Harlequin, in exchange for review consideration. All opinions are honest and my own.* 

Wednesday, October 3, 2018

Blog Tour: The Christmas Sisters

I love Christmas stories with a (heavy) romantic undertone. Just absolutely love them. Curling up by the lit up Christmas tree, fireplace burning, and glass of wine beside me while reading a holiday love story? Sign. Me. Up. I have great news for anyone who feels the same. The Christmas Sisters, Sarah Morgan's latest novel, was holiday perfection in my books.

Here's the synopsis:
In the snowy Highlands of Scotland, Suzanne McBride is dreaming of the perfect cozy Christmas. Her three adopted daughters are coming home for the holidays and she can’t wait to see them. But tensions are running high…
Workaholic Hannah knows she can’t avoid spending the holidays with her family two years in a row. But it’s not the weight of their expectations that’s panicking her—it’s the life-changing secret she’s hiding. Stay-at-home mom Beth is having a personal crisis. All she wants for Christmas is time to decide if she’s ready to return to work—seeing everyone was supposed to help her stress levels, not increase them! Posy isn’t sure she’s living her best life, but with her parents depending on her, making a change seems risky. But not as risky as falling for gorgeous new neighbor Luke…
As Suzanne’s dreams of the perfect McBride Christmas unravel, she must rely on the magic of the season to bring her daughters together. But will this new togetherness teach the sisters that their close-knit bond is strong enough to withstand anything—including a family Christmas?
There are so many things to love about this Christmas story. Honestly. That being said...there was a little something that kept me from giving it 5 stars on Goodreads. (Why haven't they come up with 1/2 stars yet? Or maybe I don't want them too...that'll just give people more to complain about "Why didn't I get that extra half star? They must have hated the book if they only gave it 3 1/2." OK, so that's a rant for another day...) This is such a solid story though that I'm not going to look too closely at why I left off that last star (it's very likely just because I have extremely high standards for 5 stars). I'll just talk about all the lovely things about the book. Sound good? Good.

This book is perfectly Christmassy. It is so rare to read a Christmas story (I'll admit most of my holiday reading are romances because I am a sucker for them) that actually has such a focus on Christmas. There were the traditional and concrete Christmas elements - buying and giving presents, trees and decorations, baking and eating - as well as the feeling and essence of Christmas - family, love, a dash of stress. Those magical Christmas feelings wrapped themselves around me and I almost felt like I was cozied up in front of the fire at Suzanne and Stewart's with the McBride family all around me. Which, I admit, was a really weird feeling to have at the end of September when I read the novel. If I can make one suggestion, it's that you wait until December or, at the very least, after Thanksgiving - Canadian or American, take your pick - to read this one. I think the magic of the season will make the story that much more powerful for you.

I recently read (and reviewed) Sarah Morgan's last book, How to Keep a Secret, which was her first foray into "women's fiction" (instead of true romance). I didn't really think it was too much of a departure from her usual romances because she always has such strong characters and a solid storyline. This one though? Even though there were relationships and lovers all over the place, it felt more contemporary fiction than contemporary romance. (This might be a really hard thing to understand if you're not a romance and contemporary reader but I read a good amount of both so, I guess I'm an expert?) The storyline was a bit heavier (not to say romances must always be light and fluffy) and all the feelings of all the characters were explored, not just the romantic feelings. It was as much a family story as it was a romantic one.

The characters were all, somewhat surprisingly, quite fleshed out. I say surprisingly because there were a lot of them to get to know. The POV cycled through Suzanne, Posy, Beth, and Hannah and Morgan really managed to make each woman shine. Not only that, each of their husbands/love interests (Stewart, Luke, Jason, and Adam, respectively) had strong personalities as well (and I don't necessarily mean Alpha male personalities, just well developed ones). It was so lovely to read such great characters. Even Beth and Jason's daughters were delightful and their little personalities came through the pages as well.

And it takes place in Scotland. I LOVE THAT. I'm a Stewart. Of course I do.

I could likely gush about this heartwarming tale all day so I'll just say this: if you only read one Christmas novel this year, make it Sarah Morgan's The Christmas Sisters. It was such a delight and already has me looking forward to the holiday season.

And good news for any Canadian and American readers out there...if you've finished reading this post and thought, "Boy, I wish I had a copy of this book for myself." you're in luck! The publisher is holding a giveaway, just enter the Rafflecopter below. Good luck!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Just in case you don't win, you can buy the book in all these places:

And check out and follow Sarah Morgan all over the Internet!

*An e-galley of this novel was provided by the publisher, Harlequin, in exchange for a review for the purposes of a blog tour. All opinions are honest and my own.*

Monday, October 1, 2018

Pumpkins and Pages Hop

Fall is so pretty, but aside from Halloween, there isn't much going on. (Unless you're Canadian like me and are looking forward to Thanksgiving this weekend and all of the food that comes with it.) 

The ladies at Chick Lit Chat HQ decided to create their own Fall fun to tie together all the great elements of the season - the rich colours, the pumpkins (and pumpkin spice lattes for those who indulge), wearing sweaters, walking through crunching leaves, curling up by the fire with a good book. 

Chick Lit Chat HQ is continuing its tradition of hosting killer hops for Chick Lit and Romantic Comedy fans with their PUMPKINS AND PAGES FACEBOOK HOP to get this season started right. 

From October 1st through the 7th, more than 50 Chick Lit and RomCom authors are banding together to bring you their most awesome event yet. Along with individual author prizes, they'll be giving away grand prizes of a beautiful fall wreath by Twoinspireyou valued at $160* and THREE gift bags full of pumpkin-scented goodies from Bath & Body Works. 

PSLs, chunky sweaters, and crunchy leaves ain't got nothing on this week-long party, so don your scarf and mittens and head on over to Facebook and join the CLC HQ events group to hang with authors and readers, find your next great fireside read, and enter to win all sorts of fabulous prizes. 

Hope to see you there!
*The Grand Prize fall wreath giveaway is open to US residents only. (I know, I know...I can't even enter it myself but I know I have some American readers and wanted to share.) However, all of the individual author giveaways and the grab bag giveaways are open internationally.

Friday, September 21, 2018

Review: A Nordic King

I feel like royal stories are becoming a dime or dozen these days (thanks, Harry and Meghan) but when they're as well told and as engrossing as Karina Halle's are, I don't mind one bit. A Nordic King is Halle's latest book in a sort-of-but-not-really-at-all series she's been writing about Scandinavian princes and kings. The new book (just published today) is all about King Aksel, who we met briefly in her two previous books, The Swedish Prince (review here) and The Wild Heir (review here). The books have been getting better and better (to me, personally) and this last one totally swept me off my feet.

Here's the synopsis:
When I first applied for the job I thought it would be like all the others: working as a nanny for an aristocratic family.
Then I got the job and found out how wrong I was.
Now I’m the new nanny for two adorable little girls who happen to be princesses.
Their father is the widowed King of Denmark.
And my new home? The royal palace in Copenhagen.
Adjusting to my new life isn't easy but the hardest part hasn’t been the girls who still grieve over the loss of their mother.
It’s their father.
Cold, mysterious and moody, with an icy stare that seems to penetrate your soul, King Aksel may have hired me to take care of his daughters but he wants as little to do with me as possible.
Yet the longer I share these palace walls with this man, the more that I’m drawn to him. His chiseled face and sexual swagger are only part of the package. It’s in the long, intense glances at the dinner table, the way we’ll brush up against each other in the halls, the rare glimpses of the man deep inside, like the sun passing through clouds.
But no matter how I feel about him, we can never be together.
You think it's bad enough being in love with your boss?
Try falling in love with a king.
I hadn't realized I have a problem with romances involving a couple with one person in a position of power over the other. That is, until I read a really, really good one. Obviously King Aksel has all of the power in this novel. Not just over Aurora but over the whole of Denmark. But he doesn't use that power for evil (sorry, lapsing into fairy tale speak here). Sure, he and Aurora joke about it in the bedroom but they're doing so in a safe space. Plus, Halle makes it extremely clear that Aurora wouldn't put up with any of that nonsense - and Aksel knows that. A strong heroine makes all the difference (plus having a man who's, you know, not an asshole. Though she does call him King Asshole on occasion!).

On a personal note, I loved that Aurora was Australian. I've been to that marvelous country twice (her hometown, Windorah, is just a mere 14 hour drive from where I stayed) and I love when contemporary stories feature Aussie characters.

As I mentioned, this is the third book in Halle's royal sort-of series. You can read any of these books in any order. Trust me! Aksel only flits through the first two and readers of those books likely got the same first impression Aurora did - that Aksel was unhappy, cold, stand-offish, grieving. But unlike Viktor and Magnus, the princes featured in the other books, Aurora actually tries to figure out what makes Aksel tick and she truly wants to help the family, Aksel and his two adorable daughters, heal after their loss. (To be fair to the princes, they had their own issues to deal with that didn't involve figuring out what was happening with the king in a neighbouring country.) Even though this isn't a series, you'll probably still want to read the other two for a great dose of royals and romance.

Halle's books are always super emotional and will always deliver a few gut punches and heartbreaks. But there's always a Happily Ever After waiting at the end and it's never cheesy. Her books are real (even with the whole "falling in love with a royal" thing) and that means there are highs (lots of laughs and sexy times) and lows (lies and sorrow). She strikes such a good balance and I know when I dive into her books I'll be feeling all the feels. I can't think of another author who does that so well.

I experienced a major book hangover when I finished Karina Halle's A Nordic King. The story - and  characters - burrowed right into my heart and soul and I fell in love with it. I can't wait for everyone else to read it too. It's one to pick up (immediately!) if you love love and really well told stories.

Download A Nordic King today! 
FREE in Kindle Unlimited * Amazon US * Amazon UK * Amazon CA * Add to Goodreads

Meet Karina
Karina Halle is a former travel writer and music journalist and The New York Times, Wall Street Journal and USA Today Bestselling author of The Pact, Love, in English, The Artists Trilogy, Dirty Angels and over 20 other wild and romantic reads. She lives on an island off the coast of British Columbia with her husband and her rescue pup, where she drinks a lot of wine, hikes a lot of trails and devours a lot of books.
Halle is represented by the Root Literary and is both self-published and published by Simon & Schuster and Hachette in North America and in the UK.

Connect with Karina
Facebook * Amazon * Instagram * Website * Join her Reader Group
Stay up to date with Karina by signing up for her newsletter here

*An eARC was provided by the author via Social Butterfly PR in exchange for review consideration. All opinions are honest and my own.*

Thursday, September 6, 2018

Review: How to Keep a Secret

I've been reading Sarah Morgan's romances for a long time now and they're always so enjoyable. Like many romance authors in recent years, Morgan has just published a women's fiction novel, How to Keep a Secret. Personally, I think there's a lot of cross-over between the genres and the different marketing sometimes really frustrates me because they (publishers) really only do it because some idiots people turn their noses up at romance novels. *breathes* But that's a rant for another day. Today I will gush about the loveliness that is Morgan's latest book!

Here's the synopsis:
When three generations of women are brought together by crisis, they learn over the course of one hot summer the power of family to support, nourish and surprise
Lauren has the perfect life...if she ignores the fact it's a fragile house of cards, and that her daughter Mack has just had a teenage personality transplant.
Jenna is desperate to start a family with her husband, but it's... Just. Not. Happening. Her heart is breaking, but she's determined to keep her trademark smile on her face.
Nancy knows she hasn't been the best mother, but how can she ever tell Lauren and Jenna the reason why?
Then life changes in an instant, and Lauren, Mack, Jenna and Nancy are thrown together for a summer on Martha's Vineyard. Somehow, these very different women must relearn how to be a family. And while unraveling their secrets might be their biggest challenge, the rewards could be infinite...
Heartwarming and fresh, Sarah Morgan's brilliant new novel is a witty and deeply uplifting look at the power of a family of women. 
I do have to talk about the difference between this book and Morgan's usual romances (not rant-y, I promise). How to Keep a Secret isn't so much about the love stories (there are three of them) but more about the four Stewart women and their relationships with each other. The familial relationships are way more complicated and problematic than the romantic ones and I appreciated the balance between the two. It was actually quite refreshing because I haven't read a book like this in a little while and it was so well done.

The only thing I didn't really like was, funnily enough, the secrets that were being kept. I had a feeling I knew what Lauren and Jenna were keeping from their mother, and vice versa, but the girls' reasoning just didn't sit well with me. It was a sound reason at 11 and 8 ish but once they grew older? Not so much. I guess I just didn't understand why they wouldn't try to work past it. Maybe they thought the relationships were too damaged to try and repair them. This secret also caused a blow-up between Jenna and her husband that didn't seem very realistic but I think it was more a "last straw" than the actual problem. (Yeah, that's vague but spoilers must be avoided!)

I was worried that the story might get a bit confusing with all the points of view but Morgan managed to keep everything together well. I do think I wanted more time with/background of/interactions between the characters but it's hard to do in a story like this sometimes. I liked all the different viewpoints and how you could see as the story went on how the women were starting to trust each other more and become closer.

Oh my gosh. And the setting? I could totally picture The Captain's House and the lovely scenery Morgan painted for the reader. Made me crave a beach vacation or perhaps a visit to my hometown on Georgian Bay.

Finally, I have to share how exciting it was to see a character with the same name as me! She was minor (so minor she's only mentioned in passing) but I've only encountered this in two other books and twice in real life (the actress doesn't count).

How to Keep a Secret may not be a traditional Sarah Morgan romance but it has all the things readers look for when picking up one of her books - and more. Someone looking for a really light-hearted story would be disappointed (my recommendation is change your viewpoint/expectation and read it anyway) but anyone who wants a great story about family and love will be so pleased with Morgan's latest book.

*A copy of this novel was provided by the publisher, Harlequin, in exchange for review consideration. All opinions are honest and my own.*