Showing posts with label 4 stars. Show all posts
Showing posts with label 4 stars. Show all posts

Wednesday, June 28, 2023

Book Review: The Firefly Summer by Morgan Matson


 
Pages: 400
Genre: Middle Grade Fiction
Pub Date: May 2, 2023
Publisher: Simon & Schuster for Young Readers
Source: Library
Other Books By Author: Amy & Roger's Epic Detour,
My Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
 

Goodreads says, "The Penderwicks meets The Vanderbeekers of 141st Street in a story about a young girl who gets to know her mom’s side of the family and hunts for hidden treasure over the course of one chaotic summer. For as long as Ryanna Stuart can remember, her summers have been spent with her father and his new wife. Just the three of them, structured, planned, and quiet. But this summer is different. This summer, she’s received a letter from her grandparents—grandparents neither she nor her dad have spoken to since her mom’s death—inviting her to stay with them at an old summer camp in the Poconos. Ryanna accepts. She wants to learn about her mom. She wants to uncover the mystery of why her father hasn’t spoken to her grandparents all these years. She’s even looking forward to a quiet summer by the lake. But what she finds are relatives… so many relatives! Aunts and uncles and cousins upon cousins—a motley, rambunctious crew of kids and eccentric, unconventional adults. People who have memories of her mom from when she was Ryanna’s age, clues to her past like a treasure map. Ryanna even finds an actual, real-life treasure map! Over the course of one unforgettable summer—filled with s’mores and swimming, adventure and fun, and even a decades-old mystery to solve—Ryanna discovers a whole new side of herself and that, sometimes, the last place you expected to be is the place where you really belong."



Ryanna's mother died when she was just three years old, so the maternal side of her family has always been a mystery as they are estranged. But one day she gets an invitation from her maternal grandparents to come spend the summer at their house in the Poconos. Ryanna agrees as she is curious about her extended family and also she hopes to learn more about her mother. What she thought was going to be a quiet lakeside summer with her grandparents turned out to be so much more. It's not just her grandparents who are there; there are aunts, uncles, and cousins staying at what was once a bustling summer camp that her grandparents operated. Camp Van Camp, an idyllic getaway in the Poconos, is no longer in operation, but is in crisis. Nonetheless, Ryanna's days are filled with all the summer fun you would expect lakeside, hanging out with her cousins, treasure maps, her mom's old books, and more. One old treasure map might hold the key to keeping Camp Van Camp. Morgan Matson's middle-grade debut, The Firefly Summer, is an absolute delight of a summer novel.

Ryanna is the type of character you instantly feel for in
The Firefly Summer. She is just getting to know her grandparents and extended family, so it's a bit awkward in the beginning, especially with how she met her cousins. Slowly, she folds into the family nicely and acclimates to summer life at the lake. I loved how she got to know her mom's side of the family and the adventures with her crew of cousins. She also tries to piece together what happened between her grandparents and her dad as that is the reason why they were estranged.

One of the main problems in
The Firefly Summer is the fact that her grandfather can't find the handwritten document from his neighbor, who has since passed away, which indicates the land of Camp Van Camp goes to him. Without this document, the fate of the camp is up in the air, so clearly this is a focus for Ryanna this summer as well. It turns into a bit of an adventure involving her mom's old book, notes in the margins, and a treasure map---pure summer fun!
 
Matson captures summer life at the Poconos so well in
The Firefly Summer; it made me want to plan another trip back. Readers can easily tell that Matson writes from the heart about the Poconos, because all the descriptions are completely vivid and accurate. Fans of the Poconos will love this aspect of the novel; I certainly did.
 

Fans of the Vanderbeekers series will especially enjoy this novel as it has some similarities. In sum, Matson can do no wrong. She is such a fantastic writer and I am so glad she wrote her first middle-grade novel. I hope she continues to write more; The Firefly Summer is a novel I would have loved to pick up when I was in middle school. So, are you a fan of Morgan Matson? Let me know your thoughts in the comments below.

 

Tuesday, June 20, 2023

Audio Book Review: Yours Truly by Abby Jimenez



Genre: Romance/Audio Book
Pub. Date: 4/11/23
Publisher: Forever
Source: Library
Other Books by Author: Part of Your World
 

Goodreads says, "Dr. Briana Ortiz’s life is seriously flatlining. Her divorce is just about finalized, her brother’s running out of time to find a kidney donor, and that promotion she wants? Oh, that’s probably going to the new man-doctor who’s already registering eighty-friggin’-seven on Briana’s “pain in my ass” scale. But just when all systems are set to hate, Dr. Jacob Maddox completely flips the game . . . by sending Briana a letter.  And it’s a really good letter. Like the kind that proves that Jacob isn’t actually Satan. Worse, he might be this fantastically funny and subversively likeable guy who’s terrible at first impressions. Because suddenly he and Bri are exchanging letters, sharing lunch dates in her “sob closet,” and discussing the merits of freakishly tiny horses. But when Jacob decides to give Briana the best gift imaginable—a kidney for her brother—she wonders just how she can resist this quietly sexy new doctor . . . especially when he calls in a favor she can’t refuse."

 

 

 

Briana Ortiz is an ER doctor and has a lot going on. She is recently divorced (her husband cheated on her), she is hoping to get a promotion at work, and her brother is in desperate need of a new kidney. There's a lot on her plate, so when a new ER doctor, Jacob Maddox, enters the scene, she assumes that he will want the new job that is up for grabs. But things aren't as they appear with Jacob. He doesn't want the job; in fact, he has his own issues starting with clinical anxiety and the fact that his girlfriend dumped him for his brother. So, obviously, when Briana and Jacob meet they both have a lot of baggage. After a really bad first impression, Jacob writes Briana a letter and then they start corresponding that way and actually hit it off. The letters level up to lunch dates and so much more. Abby Jimenez's Yours Truly is a delightful rom-com that had me laughing out loud and while the novel touches on serious issues at times, it never feels overly dark.

I really enjoyed Briana from the start of
Yours Truly. I thought she was a really fun character and her glitter revenge and other scenes had me cackling. Her dedication to her brother tugged on my heartstrings and I appreciated that Jimenez highlighted chronic health issues and how they can impact an entire family as well as the toll it takes mentally. Jimenez adds her own personal health issues in the author's note at the end of Yours Truly, so I really appreciated that as well and I think many readers can relate to it. So, needless to say, I was rooting for Briana.

Jacob is a picture-perfect boyfriend in Yours Truly. I mean he offers to donate his kidney to Briana's brother. He writes letters. He has houseplants! His family is laugh-out-loud hilarious. Need I say more? The one issue he has is clinical anxiety and I think Jimenez does a brilliant job showing us through Jacob how that can impact a person both socially and at work. While I didn't really buy that he would donate his kidney so soon, I appreciated the sentiment and adored his character.

There are many common tropes in
Yours Truly--fake dating for starts, but Jimenez makes it feel fresh and fun. Many readers will enjoy this romance and I think it would be a great one to throw in your beach bag this summer. I listened to the audio version and really enjoyed it as well. A solid romance!

Are you a fan of Jimenez? Have you read
Yours Truly yet? Let me know your thoughts in the comments below. 
 
 

Wednesday, June 14, 2023

Book Review: The Five-Star Weekend by Elin Hilderbrand


 
Pages: 384
Genre: Adult Fiction
Pub. Date: 6/13/2023
Publisher: Little, Brown & Co
Source: Publisher for review
Other Books By Author: Golden Girl,  The Hotel Nantucket,
My Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
 

Goodreads says, "Hollis Shaw’s life seems picture-perfect. She’s the creator of the popular food blog Hungry with Hollis and is married to Matthew, a dreamy heart surgeon. But after she and Matthew get into a heated argument one snowy morning, he leaves for the airport and is killed in a car accident. The cracks in Hollis’s perfect life—her strained marriage and her complicated relationship with her daughter, Caroline—grow deeper. So when Hollis hears about something called a “Five-Star Weekend”—one woman organizes a trip for her best friend from each phase of her her teenage years, her twenties, her thirties, and midlife—she decides to host her own Five-Star Weekend on Nantucket. But the weekend doesn’t turn out to be a joyful Hallmark movie. The husband of Hollis’s childhood friend Tatum arranges for Hollis’s first love, Jack Finigan, to spend time with them, stirring up old feelings. Meanwhile, Tatum is forced to play nice with abrasive and elitist Dru-Ann, Hollis’s best friend from UNC Chapel Hill. Dru-Ann’s career as a prominent Chicago sports agent is on the line after her comments about a client’s mental health issues are misconstrued online. Brooke, Hollis’s friend from their thirties, has just discovered that her husband is having an inappropriate relationship with a woman at work. Again! And then there’s Gigi, a stranger to everyone (including Hollis) who reached out to Hollis through her blog. Gigi embodies an unusual grace and, as it happens, has many secrets. The Five-Star Weekend is a surprising and captivating story about friendship, love, and self-discovery set on Nantucket. It will be a weekend like no other."
 
 
Hollis Shaw has it all at first glance. She lives in beautiful Wellesley and has a gorgeous vacation home on Nantucket. Her husband is a doctor, her college-age daughter is an aspiring filmmaker, and Hollis is the face behind the wildly popular website Hungry with Hollis complete with a community of food lovers. But peel back the layers of perfection and you can see the cracks that are starting to form. Things with Hollis and her husband are on the rocks, her daughter is angry most of the time, and her family resents her for spending so much time on the internet with her "followers." When her husband decides to not attend their annual Christmas party and go to a work conference instead, Hollis is upset. They have words before he leaves and en route to the airport, he gets into a car crash and dies. Now Hollis's daughter, Caroline, is even more angry and things will never be the same for Hollis. She leaves Wellesley behind for Nantucket, which is her hometown, and comes up with the brilliant idea to boost her mood--host a "five-star" weekend featuring four of her best friends from the various stages of life. There's Tatum, her childhood best friend, and Dru-Ann, her college bestie. Then there's Brooke, her friend from when the children were little, and lastly, Gigi, her internet friend whom she has never met from Hungry with Hollis. She will combine them for a weekend of fun at her house on Nantucket. What could possibly go wrong? Elin Hilderbrand's The Five-Star Weekend is a story about female friendships, the ups and downs of life, and figuring it all out.

I must be honest that I had a hard time connecting with Hollis in
The Five-Star Weekend. I am not sure if it's because she was older than me, but I really couldn't connect with her like I usually do with Hilderbrand's protagonists. Nonetheless, I was rooting for her to find some happiness during her weekend with her friends; however, we know that is much more complicated than it appears at first glance. Getting together girlfriends from various stages of a person's life is a recipe for disaster, especially as personalities collide. Tatum, the Nantucket native, hasn't talked to Hollis in years and is dealing with her own very heavy medical issues. Brooke is facing another disaster with her husband and Dru-Ann, a very successful sports agent, is being canceled on social media. Then there's the mystery around Gigi. Who is she really? Throw in Caroline, as Hollis has paid her to film the weekend, and you've got yourself a houseful of drama. Plus, Hollis's first love, Jack, is back in town. Cue major drama between the fancy food, the tequila, color-coordinating dinners, and nights out at the Chicken Box.

One thing that Hilderbrand does so well in The Five-Star Weekend is to bring Nantucket to life. Readers can expect that from her by now. The fancy dinners, the Nantucket restaurants, the details surrounding the island, the descriptions of mouth watering food, the cold Sancerre.....you name it. The details are all there and every foodie will be dreaming of a delicious meal by the time they finish the novel. Also, Hilderbrand tackles some tough topics very well --- cancel culture, a possible cancer diagnosis, infidelity, sexual harassment, and more, but somehow keeps the book well-balanced, which is why her beach reads work so well. They have substance, but it isn't too overbearing and dark for summertime.

While
The Five-Star Weekend wasn't my favorite of Hilderbrand's novels, it is still a fantastic beach read that I know will be in many beach bags this summer. Have you picked up a copy of The Five-Star Weekend yet? Is it on your TBR list? What's your favorite of Hilderbrand's novels? Let me know in the comments below.


Wednesday, June 7, 2023

Book Review: The Secret Book of Flora Lea by Patti Callahan Henry


 
Pages: 368
Genre: Adult Historical Fiction
Pub. Date: May 2, 2023
Publisher: Atria
Source: Publisher for review
Other Books By Author: Surviving Savannah
My Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
 
 
Goodreads says, "When a woman discovers a rare book that has connections to her past, long-held secrets about her missing sister and their childhood spent in the English countryside during World War II are revealed. In the war-torn London of 1939, fourteen-year-old Hazel and five-year-old Flora are evacuated to a rural village to escape the horrors of the Second World War. Living with the kind Bridie Aberdeen and her teenage son, Harry, in a charming stone cottage along the River Thames, Hazel fills their days with walks and games to distract her young sister, including one that she creates for her sister and her sister alone—a fairy tale about a magical land, a secret place they can escape to that is all their own. But the unthinkable happens when young Flora suddenly vanishes while playing near the banks of the river. Shattered, Hazel blames herself for her sister’s disappearance, and she carries that guilt into adulthood as a private burden she feels she deserves. Twenty years later, Hazel is in London, ready to move on from her job at a cozy rare bookstore to a career at Sotheby’s. With a charming boyfriend and her elegantly timeworn Bloomsbury flat, Hazel’s future seems determined. But her tidy life is turned upside down when she unwraps a package containing an illustrated book called Whisperwood and the River of Stars . Hazel never told a soul about the imaginary world she created just for Flora. Could this book hold the secrets to Flora’s disappearance? Could it be a sign that her beloved sister is still alive after all these years? As Hazel embarks on a feverish quest, revisiting long-dormant relationships and bravely opening wounds from her past, her career and future hang in the balance. An astonishing twist ultimately reveals the truth in this transporting and refreshingly original novel about the bond between sisters, the complications of conflicted love, and the enduring magic of storytelling."

 

It's 1960 and Hazel Linden is working at a bookstore when she comes across a novel entitled Whisperwood. It's the exact story she created and told her younger sister twenty years ago. This is more than a case of who stole Hazel's story, as this is a red flag and a major clue. Hazel's sister, Flora, disappeared twenty years ago; could she be the author of this story? Is she still alive? Hazel and Flora left war torn London for the British countryside during the Blitz and while there, Flora disappeared. All that remained was her teddy bear. Hazel should have been watching her as Flora was only five years old, but she snuck off for a few minutes with Harry, the boy whose house she is staying at in Oxford, and lost track of Flora. The police assumed she fell into the River Thames. Twenty years later, Hazel can't help but wonder if this book is a sign that she lived as no one else knew this story. Whisperwood was created as a way to comfort her sister, much like a well loved blanket. Hazel takes it upon herself to come up with a plan to figure out if Flora is still alive after all these years. Patti Callahan Henry's The Secret Book of Flora Lea is a magical historical novel filled with beautiful prose, a tale of sisterhood, and the power of stories.

Hazel is such an interesting character in
The Secret Book of Flora Lea. My heart broke for her and Flora when they had to leave their mother behind for an unknown house in the countryside. I was aware of Operation Pied Piper during WWII, but Henry brought it to life in this story in a way that I hadn't really thought about it before. It seemed so heart wrenching and to send your child away to an unknown location seems unfathomable. Once Hazel and Flora reach Birdie's house in Oxford, it seems idyllic, but so much goes wrong. Hazel, being a teenager, has feelings for Birdie's son, Harry, and this distracts her from watching Flora on that fateful day she disappears. While living in an unknown house, they share the made-up tales of Whisperwood and that is why it's such a red flag when she comes across the book twenty years later. Hazel has never really forgiven herself for losing sight of Flora and her subsequent disappearance. I can only imagine how this haunts their mother as she sent them away with the best intentions.

The narrative jumps back to the 1960s with Hazel on the hunt for Flora years later due to the discovery of the Whisperwood novel. She goes on a bit of an adventure looking for Flora and in turn, is reunited with Birdie and Harry, whom she hasn't seen since Flora's disappearance. She unearths some other unsettling truths as well. 

Henry's prose is beautiful throughout
The Secret Book of Flora Lea. I loved all the magical/fairy tale undertones in the story and the power of storytelling in general. It felt like there was a magical undercurrent running throughout the tale and I really liked that aspect. Fans of historical fiction, as well as stories of sisterhood will enjoy this moving novel. 

Is
The Secret Book of Flora Lea on your summer TBR list? Are you a fan of Patti Callahan Henry? Let me know in the comments below.

 

Friday, May 26, 2023

Mini Reviews: Beach Read Edition


 

'Tis the season for all the beach reads, right? Here are two delightful new releases for your beach bag this summer. Be sure to let me know what you think in the comments below.


Summer Stage by Meg Mitchell Moore

Pages: 336
Genre: Adult Fiction
Pub. Date: May 23, 2023
Publisher: William Morrow
Source: Publisher for review
Other Books By Author: The Islanders
My Rating; 3.5 out of 5 stars


Goodreads says, "Amy Trevino, a former aspiring playwright, has stayed close to her Rhode Island hometown while her famous brother, Timothy Fleming, pursued and achieved his Hollywood dreams. Now a high school English teacher and occasional drama director, Amy takes on the production manager role for her brother’s play in an effort to mend rifting family relationships.  Sam, Amy’s daughter, was a Disney child star who continued her pursuit for fame in a Manhattan TikTok house. Now she’s returned home unexpectedly. Her sudden arrival is shrouded in secrets, and Sam refuses to open up to her mother, deciding instead to join her uncle on Block Island for the summer.   Timothy, a successful and well-loved actor, is directing a summer production at a storied Block Island theater—and his famous ex-wife has the lead role. As they work together to ensure the production is a success, Amy, Sam, and Timothy are forced to grapple with their desires for recognition and fortune, stand up for what they believe art and fame actually mean, and discover what they really want out of life. A bighearted and delicious novel about family, ambition, and opportunity,  Summer Stage is the must-read book of the summer. "

 

 

Timothy Fleming, a famous actor, returns home to help his ex-wife, Gertie, who is also an actress with her summer production of Much Ado About Nothing. Gertie needed a location for her show and Timothy pulled some strings and got a location at his hometown of Block Island. He even recruits his sister, Amy, as production manager as not only was she once an aspiring playwright, but maybe they will make amends this summer. Then there's Amy's daughter, Sam, a child actress. She returns home unexpectedly this summer. She was once very successful but has suffered a bit as of late due to a social media scandal that she doesn't want her family to know about. As they all work together this summer on the show, both family and backstage drama ensue in Summer Stage by Meg Mitchell Moore.


What better than a summer theater production set on the coastal town of Block Island? Cue all the drama!
Summer Stage was filled with a lot of behind-the-scenes of what goes on during a theater production, but it also a lot of heart in it. It dealt with family issues, old resentments, and moving on from the past. It took a while to get the story going, but once it did, I truly cared about the characters and their summer theater production. While I could have used a bit more "beach" in this novel, it was still a solid read for the summer, especially for fans of family drama.

 


The Darlings by Hannah McKinnon

Pages: 320
Genre: Adult Fiction
Pub. Date: May 2, 2023
Publisher: Atria
Source: Publisher for review
Other Books by Author: Mystic Summer
My Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
 
 
Goodreads says, "At age ninety-two, Tish Darling is the matriarch and protector of what’s left of the Darling family fortune, including the decades-old beach house, Riptide. Located on the crook of Cape Cod, it’s a place she once loved but has not returned to in decades, since a tragic family accident one perfect summer day. Still, she is determined to keep Riptide in the family. Even if that means going back there on the cusp of her granddaughter’s wedding. Even if it means revealing someone else’s truth. Her daughter-in-law Cora has her own complicated feelings surrounding Tish’s return as well as doubts about her place within the Darling family. After all, Cora came into the family carrying a secret that her husband promised to keep for her forever. Tish’s sudden return to Riptide may force everything they’ve worked so hard to protect out into the light. Meanwhile, Cora’s eldest daughter, Andi isn’t exactly looking forward to her little sister’s wedding so soon after her own divorce. To make matters worse, her ex has arrived on the Cape with his insufferable new girlfriend. Andi has no idea how she’ll be able to survive this family reunion…until she bumps into an old friend from the past. A friend who may just offer her a second chance. As the three distinct generations of Darling women arrive at Riptide, they have no idea that this summer will forever change them. One old secret, kept with the best of intentions, threatens to not only divide the family, but shatter each member’s sense of who they really are. Can the ties that bind survive, when the history you’ve always been told turns out to be untrue?

 

Tish Darling is in her 90s now and hasn't returned to her family's beach house, aptly named Riptide, since a tragic accident many years ago. She wants to keep it in the family, so she plans to gift it to her granddaughter at her wedding there this summer. She arrives three weeks early, which sends the family into a tizzy, as Cora, her husband's wife, has never really gotten along with Tish. They are all gathered at Riptide for Sydney's wedding, including her older sister, Andi, and this proves to be a challenging few weeks as she is going through her divorce. Cora is trying to keep things going smoothly for her daughter's wedding, but she can't seem to control everything, including Tish's secret that she plans to unload before the wedding, which will prove that Cora is hiding some secrets of her own. The Darlings is a juicy family drama set in a gorgeous beach house; The Darlings by Hannah McKinnon is the perfect companion to a lazy day at the beach.  


The Darlings focuses on Tish, Cora, and Andi the most and I have to say that I found myself rooting the most for Tish and Andi. Cora's story, while I was sympathetic towards her plight, I found myself getting frustrated with her choices. On the other hand, I appreciated Tish's journey as it tugged on my heartstrings, and McKinnon's use of flashbacks really filled in the gaps regarding what happened at Riptide and how did Tish end up in the place she is at. The huge secret that she held all these years was bursting at the seams and while I am not sure her timing was right, it made for an entertaining story. Lastly, I adore McKinnon's style. There's something about how she describes a beach house and a family coming together that appeals to me; I was smitten! Family drama lovers shouldn't miss
The Darlings this summer.

 
 
So, what do you think of these two beach reads? Are they on your TBR list? Let me know your thoughts in the comments below. 
 

Thursday, May 25, 2023

Mini Reviews: WWII Edition


 

If you love historical fiction, you won't be let down by these two historical novels that take place during WWII, which is one of my favorite time periods to read about. Both novels involve female spies and/or codebreakers, so it's always interesting when authors highlight strong women from the time period.

 

The Golden Doves by Martha Hall Kelly
Pages: 528
Genre: Adult Historical Fiction
Pub. Date: April 18, 2023
Publisher: Ballantine
Source: Publisher for review
Other Books By Author: Lilac Girls
My Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
 
 
Goodreads says, "Two former female spies, bound together by their past, risk everything to hunt down an infamous Nazi doctor in the aftermath of World War II—an extraordinary novel inspired by true events from the New York Times bestselling author of Lilac Girls. American Josie Anderson and Parisian Arlette LaRue are thrilled to be working in the French resistance, stealing so many Nazi secrets that they become known as the Golden Doves, renowned across France and hunted by the Gestapo. Their courage will cost them everything. When they are finally arrested and taken to the Ravensbrück concentration camp, along with their loved ones, a reclusive Nazi doctor does unspeakable things to Josie’s mother, a celebrated Jewish singer who joined her daughter in Paris when the world seemed bright. And Arlette’s son is stolen from her, never to be seen again. A decade later the Doves fall headlong into a dangerous dual mission: Josie is working for U.S. Army intelligence and accepts an assignment to hunt down the infamous doctor, while a mysterious man tells Arlette he may have found her son. The Golden Doves embark on a quest across Europe and ultimately to French Guiana, discovering a web of terrible secrets, and must put themselves in grave danger to finally secure justice and protect the ones they love. Martha Hall Kelly has garnered acclaim for her stunning combination of empathy and research into the stories of women throughout history and for exploring the terrors of Ravensbrück. With The Golden Doves, she has crafted an unforgettable story about the fates of Nazi fugitives in the wake of World War II—and the unsung females spies who risked it all to bring them to justice."

 

Former resistance fighter, Josie Anderson, should be starting her life over now that WWII is over, but she finds herself working undercover at Fort Bliss, Texas. She has been offered the job of tracking down Nazi physician, Dr. Snow, who experimented on people at Ravensbruck concentration camp. This is very personal for Josie as Dr. Snow "worked" on Josie's mother. Then there's Arlette, a former resistance fighter who partnered with Josie, who had her son taken from her during the war. She hopes to be reunited and heard that there is an orphanage in French Guiana for children that were separated from their parents during the war. After so many years apart, she gets a tip that her son might be there, but once she arrives at the orphanage, things aren't as they seem and something sinister lurks in the shadows. Martha Hall Kelly's The Golden Doves is another historical home run, but it is very heavy at times, so readers should be in the right frame of mind before they pick it up.

One thing I can count on Kelly for is a well-researched historical novel. I always learn something when I read her novels and they always really move me. Whether I am experiencing anger at the atrocities committed during WWII, extreme sadness for the victims, or both, Kelly always packs an emotional punch. Readers that enjoy stories based on real-life events, as well as female spies, will especially enjoy this one. I know I was personally blown away by learning the details surrounding Operation Paperclip as well as the Catholic involvement in transporting Nazis to South America. My mind was blown! And even though it was tough to read at times, isn't that the point of a good historical novel? I am glad that Kelly took the time to shed light on some details of the war that often get forgotten.



The Codebreaker's Secret by Sara Ackerman
Pages: 384
Genre: Adult Historical Fiction
Pub. Date: August 2, 2022
Publisher: MIRA
Source: Publisher for review
Other Books By Author: Island of Sweet Pies and Soldiers,
My Rating: 4 out of 5 stars 
 
 
 
Goodreads says, "A brilliant female codebreaker. An “unbreakable” Japanese naval code. A pilot on a top-secret mission that could change the course of WWII. The Codebreaker's Secret is a dazzling story of love and intrigue set during America’s darkest hour. 1943. As war in the Pacific rages on, Isabel Cooper and her codebreaker colleagues huddle in “the dungeon” at Station HYPO in Pearl Harbor, deciphering secrets plucked from the airwaves in a race to bring down the enemy. Isabel has only one wish: to avenge her brother’s death. But she soon finds life has other plans when she meets his best friend, a hotshot pilot with secrets of his own. 1965. Fledgling journalist Lu Freitas comes home to Hawai'i to cover the grand opening of the glamorous Mauna Kea Beach Hotel, Rockefeller's newest and grandest project. When a high-profile guest goes missing, Lu forms an unlikely alliance with an intimidating veteran photographer to unravel the mystery. The two make a shocking discovery that stirs up memories and uncovers an explosive secret from the war days. A secret that only a codebreaker can crack."

 

 

It's 1943 and Isabel Cooper has enlisted in the Navy as a codebreaker. She initially enlisted, because her brother died at Pearl Harbor, and since then has been so good at breaking the Japanese naval codes, she is sent to the Big Island to work at the Dungeon, an underground facility, and she is the only woman. While there, she spends her time off learning more about her brother through his best friend, Matteo, hiking the island, exploring the lush landscape, surfing, and attending some parties with friends. The more time she spends with Matteo, a pilot, the more she can't deny her strong feelings for him, even though he has plans of his own. Told in an alternating storyline in 1965, journalist Lu, attends the opening of Mauna Kea Beach Resort to write an article for Sunset magazine. The two storylines slowly connect surrounding the disappearance of two women twenty-two years apart. Sara Ackerman's The Codebreaker's Secret is a wonderful historical novel that brought Hawaii to life and gave readers an inside glimpse into codebreaking during the war in the Pacific.


I really enjoyed the character of Isabel right from the start. I found her storyline to be a little bit more intriguing than Lu's, but once the stories started to intersect more, mainly with the disappearance of two women, I was intrigued. One thing Ackerman does so very well is bring Hawaii to life. I felt like I was there - the atmosphere and imagery were breathtaking at times despite the war raging in the background and the sinister undertones in 1965. It's another hit from Ackerman and I am not sure I'll ever tire of her WWII stories set in Hawaii.


So, are you a fan of WWII novels? Have you read Kelly or Ackerman's novels? Let me know your thoughts in the comments below.

 

Friday, May 19, 2023

Book Review: The Audrey Hepburn Estate by Brenda Janowitz


 
Pages: 368
Genre: Adult Historical Fiction
Pub. Date: April 18, 2023
Publisher: Graydon House
Source: Publisher for review
My Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
 
 

 

Goodreads says, "When Emma Jansen discovers that the grand Long Island estate where she grew up is set to be demolished, she can't help but return for one last visit. After all, it was a place filled with firsts: learning to ride a bike, sneaking a glass of champagne, falling in love. But once Emma arrives at the storied mansion, she can't ignore the more complicated memories. Because that's not exactly where Emma grew up. Her mother and father worked for the family that owned the estate, and they lived over the garage like Audrey Hepburn's character in the film Sabrina. Emma never felt fully accepted, except by the family's grandson, Henry—a former love—and by the driver’s son, Leo—her best friend. As plans for the property are put into motion and the three are together for the first time in over a decade, Emma finds herself caught between two worlds and two loves. And when the house reveals a shattering secret about her own family, she’ll have to decide what kind of life she really wants for herself now and who she wants to be in it."

 

 

 



Emma Jansen has grown up on a beautiful Long Island estate, Rolling Hill, not because her parents own it, but because they work there. Her mother is a maid and her father is the butler. So, she has grown up adjacent to a wealthy lifestyle but is by no means wealthy. As the years go on, she befriends the owner of the estate's grandson, Henry, and the driver's son, Leo. She has such great childhood memories of running around the estate, exploring the rooms, swimming at the pool, barbecues for the 4th of July, and more. Except one memory haunts her of the cook, Fleur, who gets into a fight with the owner of the estate, Felix Van Der Wraak, and ends up falling to her death. Just she and Leo witnessed it and are still pretty unsure about what exactly happened. Many years later, she comes to find that Rolling Hill is dilapidated, and instead of being preserved, a developer, who happens to be Leo, wants to tear it down to build a development. This greatly upsets Emma as she has such wonderful memories there (or so she thinks!) and feels the estate should be restored. Throwing herself back into this world has her encountering Henry, who was her first love, and Leo, her former best friend; she is caught in the middle. Brenda Janowitz's The Audrey Hepburn Estate is a wonderful historical read that is a fresh take on Sabrina.

 

I really enjoyed Emma from the start of The Audrey Hepburn Estate. Janowitz really developed her character as readers get to know her from childhood at Rolling Hill up to the present day. Learning more about Emma's childhood at the estate filled in a lot of questions that I had about her and her experiences with Henry and Leo. She has a complicated relationship with her mother and slowly that is fleshed out and secrets are revealed. But The Audrey Hepburn Estate is about more than just family drama and an updated version of Sabrina, there's a lot of intrigue in it surrounding World War II and Nazis. Leo and Emma slowly learn what went on at Rolling Hill and they think there is more to it than they thought; perhaps Felix Van Der Wraak isn't just an art collector. As Emma discovers more about the estate's history, she, in turn, learns more about her family and herself.

 

Janowitz also gives readers some historical details about Audrey Hepburn's life which was very interesting; there's so much more to her than I initially thought. Also, I am a huge fan of Sabrina, so I really enjoyed this modern take on the tale. Readers who enjoy light historical reads will definitely want to throw The Audrey Hepburn Estate in their beach bag this summer.

 

Are you a fan of Brenda Janowitz? Is The Audrey Hepburn Estate on your TBR list? Have you read it? Let me know your thoughts in the comments below.

 

Friday, May 12, 2023

Mini Reviews: Historical Fiction - New Releases

 

For me, there's nothing better than a historical beach read. Whether it's a coastal setting or really compelling characters from long ago, historical fiction can be the best companion for a lazy pool day or a summer vacation. Here's my thoughts on two new historical fiction releases that would be great to throw in your beach bag this summer.
 
 
Fifth Avenue Glamour Girl by Renee Rosen
Pages: 432
Genre: Adult Historical Fiction
Pub. Date: April 25, 2023
Publisher: Berkley
Source: Publisher for review
Other Books By Author: The Social Graces
My Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
 
 
Goodreads says, "It’s 1938, and a young woman selling face cream out of a New York City beauty parlor is determined to prove she can have it all. Her name is Estée Lauder, and she’s about to take the world by storm, in this dazzling new novel from the USA Today bestselling author of The Social Graces and Park Avenue Summer. In New York City, you can disappear into the crowd. At least that’s what Gloria Downing desperately hopes as she tries to reinvent herself after a devastating family scandal. She’s ready for a total life makeover and a friend she can lean on—and into her path walks a young, idealistic woman named Estée. Their chance encounter will change Gloria’s life forever. Estée dreams of success and becoming a household name like Elizabeth Arden, Helena Rubinstein, and Revlon. Before Gloria knows it, she is swept up in her new friend’s mission and while Estée rolls up her sleeves, Gloria begins to discover her own talents. After landing a job at Saks Fifth Avenue, New York’s finest luxury department store, Gloria finds her voice, which proves instrumental in opening doors for Estée’s insatiable ambitions. But in a world unaccustomed to women with power, they’ll each have to pay the price that comes with daring to live life on their own terms and refusing to back down."

 

It's the 1930s in New York City and Gloria is escaping her family's scandal and starting over. A former socialite, she really has no work experience, so takes a job as a shampoo girl at a local salon. While there, she meets Estee Lauder, a young woman selling her own beauty products out of local salons, but hopes to make a name for herself. Estee is constantly handing out samples, giving beauty advice, and hawking her products with the hopes they will end up in stores like Saks. Both women form an unlikely friendship and throughout the years keep many secrets about each other and from each other. After a lot of struggles, things start to go their way with Gloria as a shop girl at Saks and Estee is starting to revolutionize the beauty world. Renee Rosen's Fifth Avenue Glamour Girl is an interesting glimpse into Estee's beginnings and how both Gloria and Estee, two very different women, have a lot in common when it comes to reinventing themselves.

I really enjoyed both the characters of Gloria and Estee even though they did not always make the best decisions in Fifth Avenue Glamour Girl. It was also interesting to get the backstory on Estee's beginnings and how she climbed and clawed her way to the top. It most definitely wasn't instant success and there were a lot of obstacles in her way. I appreciated her determination and grit. Also, I liked her friendship with Gloria, even if it was tumultuous at times, and the secrets they both harbored I knew would eventually come out! If you enjoy smart historical fiction about real-life women, give Fifth Avenue Glamour Girl a try this summer.  



The Cuban Heiress by Chanel Cleeton
Pages: 336
Genre: Adult Historical Fiction
Pub. Date: April 11, 2023
Publisher: Berkley
Source: Publisher for review
Other Books By Author: The Last Train to Key West,
My Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
 
 
Goodreads says,  "In 1934, a luxury cruise becomes a fight for survival as two women’s pasts collide on a round-trip voyage from New York to Havana in New York Times bestselling author Chanel Cleeton's page-turning new novel inspired by the true story of the SS Morro Castle. New York heiress Catherine Dohan seemingly has it all. There’s only one problem. It’s a lie. As soon as the Morro Castle leaves port, Catherine’s past returns with a vengeance and threatens her life. Joining forces with a charismatic jewel thief, Catherine must discover who wants her dead—and why. Elena Palacio is a dead woman. Or so everyone thinks. After a devastating betrayal left her penniless and on the run, Elena’s journey on the Morro Castle is her last hope. Steeped in secrecy and a burning desire for revenge, her return to Havana is a chance to right the wrong that has been done to her—and her prey is on the ship. As danger swirls aboard the Morro Castle and their fates intertwine, Elena and Catherine must risk everything to see justice served once and for all."

 

 

 

It's the 1930s and Catherine Dohan, an heiress, is aboard the SS Morro Castle en route to Havana with her fiancé, Raymond. The luxury ship is beautiful, but things start to go south. Someone aboard the ship tries to kill Catherine and thankfully, she turns the gun on her killer. Meanwhile, another passenger, Harry, is watching this unfold and then helps her deal with the man. Catherine is hiding many secrets, so now she is worried who is out to get her? Is she being targeted and why? To complicate matters further, the more time she spends with Harry, the more she can't deny the mutual attraction; plus, Harry warns Catherine of Raymond. He isn't who he says he is! Also, on board is Elena, who hopes to be reunited with family in Havana. She has plans when the ship returns to New York City as many are wanting to escape Batista's government in Cuba. Chanel Cleeton's The Cuban Heiress has it all for a historical beach read. The setting of a cruise ship is perfect for summertime reading and the suspense had me flipping the pages.

I thought Cleeton did a great job bringing the SS Morro Castle to life. Upon its arrival in Havana, I wanted a mojito stat! Cleeton not only brought Cuba to life well, she also gave readers an interesting lesson in Cuban history. I did not know anything about the SS Morro Castle tragedy going into The Cuban Heiress, so I was really blown away by it. I always appreciate a story based on real-life events that often are forgotten. Lastly, I really enjoyed the secrets aboard the ship, the mystery surrounding Catherine, and the dangers that lurked around every corner. It was all very atmospheric! Fans of Cleeton won't be disappointed by this one.


So, are you a fan of Renee Rosen and/or Chanel Cleeton? Have you read these books? Let me know your thoughts in the comments below.

 

 
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