The Electrical Menagerie, one-of-a-kind robotic roadshow, is bankrupt.
Sylvester Carthage, illusionist and engineer, has the eccentric imagination the Menagerie needs to succeed creatively -- but none of the people skills. Fast-talking Arbrook Huxley, meanwhile, has all the savvy the Menagerie needs to succeed commercially -- but none of the scruples.
To save their show, Carthage & Huxley risk everything in a royal talent competition, vying for the once-in-a-lifetime chance to perform for the Future Celestial Queen. In this stardust-and-spark-powered empire of floating islands and flying trains, The Electrical Menagerie's bid at fame and fortune means weathering the glamorous and cutthroat world of critics, high society, and rival magicians -- but with real conspiracy lurking beneath tabloid controversy, there's more at stake in this contest than the prize.
Behind the glittery haze of flash paper and mirrors, every competitor has something to hide... and it's the lies Carthage & Huxley tell each other that may cost them everything.
Oh my goodness. This book is amazing.
First off, can I just say this is one book that’s being marketed accurately? It’s described as The Greatest Showman as fantasy, and that is EXACTLY what it is. It has enough Greatest Showman vibes while also being its own unique story.
Second, LOOK AT THAT AWESOME COVER.
Next up--the characters. The dynamic between Carthage and Huxley is INCREDIBLE. Both of their characters are so interesting, in personalities, in reactions, their viewpoints (at one point, we got to see them both describe the same person and it was so neat to see the different way they saw things), and in backstories. Then when the two of them clash and work together, I just sit back and watch the show. Perfect.
All her side characters had their own personalities and motivations and were almost as interesting as Carthage and Huxley. (But not quite, which is exactly the job of a side character.)
The mystery plot is intriguing—I was kept guessing right up until the perfect moment when my stomach sank and I was like “oh no, Huxley don’t take the bait . . .”'
Speaking of intriguing, the worldbuilding! It’s a different kind of fantasy world and the little details sprinkled throughout the story helped me understand it perfectly and feel like I was really there. (Without being overwhelmed by all the new information or annoyed that it interrupted the story.)
The climax was AMAZING. I could not quit reading it. I actually had trouble getting stopped reading throughout the whole book.
The book is very clean. While it does include some material that you may not want to hand young kids (a murder, attempted murders and kidnappings, drinking), for tweens on up, this seems like it would be a really good family read.
The only imaginable negative is that book two hasn’t released yet and I can’t find a release date anywhere. :)
I have a feeling this will definitely be making my Top Ten for 2022. As soon as I finished reading it, I turned around and read it again, it was that good. Highly recommended for fantasy fans, Greatest Showman fans, and any fans in between! (If you read it, leave a comment below and please let me know! I’d love to discuss it with someone.)
(And maybe if enough of us ask, we’ll be able to find out about book two. :) )
Sometimes even pilots have to wing it.
In the high-flying, heady world of 1920s aviation, brash pilot Robert “Hitch” Hitchcock’s life does a barrel roll when a young woman in an old-fashioned ball gown falls from the clouds smack in front of his biplane. As fearless as she is peculiar, Jael immediately proves she’s game for just about anything, including wing-walking in his struggling airshow. In return for her help, she demands a ride back home . . . to the sky.
Hitch thinks she’s nuts—until he steers his plane into the midst of a bizarre storm and nearly crashes into a strange airship like none he’s ever run afoul of, an airship with the power to control the weather. Caught between a corrupt sheriff and dangerous new enemies from above, Hitch must take his last chance to gain forgiveness from his estranged family, deliver Jael safely home before she flies off with his freewheeling heart, and save his Nebraska hometown from storm-wielding sky pirates.
Cocky, funny, and full of heart, Storming is a jaunty historical adventure / dieselpunk mash-up that combines rip-roaring steampunk adventure and small-town charm with the thrill of futuristic possibilities.
I think it was the strong plot that really made this book shine.
This is a solid book. I never came across a scene or a character that I didn’t feel served a purpose, even if I didn’t know yet what that purpose was. Everything seemed perfectly timed—at all the right moments one of the (three) villains popped back up so we didn’t forget them or some other important character. Sometimes he would run into yet another problem, sometimes he would pull off a win.
While the story is not exceptionally fast-paced, it isn’t slow, either. It gives us the perfect amount of time to form the relationships we need with characters, and the action scenes we need to get our heart going. Each of the characters had a unique personality, even the side characters, and even the town itself.
She upped the intrigue by having three villains, and I couldn’t wait to see how Hitch was going to squirm his way out of that one.
Jael was my favorite by far. She was very different than what I had expected after reading the back cover copy. She shows courage even in the face of a world that abandoned her, a completely new culture, or a madman in a huge airship. But she also has a soft heart that naturally cares for those around her.
And don't forget the theme! It's the beating heart behind the strong plot.
Storming is a fabulous book to tackle over a break. Once that plot warms up, you won't be able to stop it from flying.
All Is Calm
It’s going to be an unexpectedly romantic Christmas at Bluebird Ranch.
Brendan Waddell has always considered Bluebird Ranch a little piece of heaven: an idyllic ranch that pairs abused children with abused horses, run by one of his Marine buddies. Now, it seems just the place to spend Christmas recovering from an on-the-job injury.
Lauren Everman first came to the ranch as a foster kid, but now knows it’s the perfect hideout. As the witness to a murder, Lauren needs somewhere to lie low. Her beauty immediately catches Brendan’s attention—but so does her secretive behavior. This Special Ops Intel man knows a woman on the run when he sees one. Can he trust her, or is she putting the ranch at risk? One thing is certain: he’s going to do everything he can to keep her safe so he can see what magic Christmas brings.
All Is Bright
A romantic Christmas wedding at Tidewater Inn gives Delilah’s unique gifts a chance to shine. But will her light be snuffed out before the bride and groom say “I do”?
As manager of the Tidewater Inn, Delilah Carter has been planning a spectacular Christmas wedding for her friend, Elin Summerall. But when Delilah’s car is forced off the road and into the ocean, she finally has to admit that the strange phone calls she’s been receiving lately may be more than just pranks.
Sheriff Tom Bourne has always had a soft spot for Delilah, and he’s determined to protect her. He hopes to win her heart by giving her the surprise gift of a lifetime . . . but first he has to make sure nothing happens to her before Christmas Day.
It’s the season of miracles. But will both Elin and Delilah get the ones they need this holiday season?
All is Calm
It’s hard to get a whole mystery into one novella. It felt like it moved a little fast to me, but that had nothing to do with the writing and everything to do with the amount of words she had to do it with. Lauren and Tonya’s relationship was very intriguing. And the villain blew me away—I could have never guessed.
However, on the romance side, everything seemed to happen a bit fast to be entirely plausible. I mean, Brendan hadn’t even met this girl before, and he knows she’s suspected of murder. So he falls in love with her within a couple days? Decides to believe her within a couple hours? It was probably condensed so it fit in the novella, but still had me a little unconvinced.
There really isn’t that much to do with Christmas in this novel. I guess I was just expecting something that really had Christmas vibes, instead of just a novel that happens to occur at Christmas.
One final note—if you haven’t read the Bluebird Ranch series, you may be lost on some connections. For instance, I thought the person who wound up being the villain (an original character to the novella) was just another random callback to the series until I reached the end.
All is Bright
As with All is Calm, it moved a bit fast simply due to the fact that it was a short story. The relationship in this one felt more natural, since Delilah and Tom had known each other for a while before the story opened. It didn’t feel as rushed or forced. While the villain wasn’t quite as out of the blue as the first one, it did make perfect sense and provided for a wild ride. It has a few more Christmas vibes than the first, but again, it seems more like a story that happens to occur around Christmas. If the setting had been moved to summer, not much would have changed. As with the first, if you haven’t read the Hope Beach series, you may be a little lost like I was.
All is Calm, All is Bright features two sweet novellas, that, while they probably won’t blow you away, still make for a perfect read under the Christmas lights, especially for fans of her earlier novels.
Last year, I started a bit of a tradition. I went back through all the books I read over 2020 and compiled my top ten favorites—the top ten best reads of the year. Why not do it again this year? So here you have them—the top ten best reads of 2021. (You can look up my reviews or watch for them coming in the next couple months.) I’ve arranged them in the order I read them, because ordering them in how “best” they are is impossible.
The Lost Girl of Astor Street by Stephanie Morrill—January 2021
I got this 20’s era mystery for Christmas last year and loved it. Piper is a spunky, smart heroine who actually uses her head. (I’m heading into a dangerous part of town? Might want to take an escort.) But what grabbed me and made it one of the best reads this year is the honest, raw look at grief that this book gave.
Veiled in Smoke by Jocelyn Green—March 2021
I got this book for my birthday and was amazed at how much it drew me in. All the characters were so well-developed. But Meg and Sylvie’s dynamic and tension as sisters (and the tension with their father as well) was what made this one of the best reads of 2021. And it was that tension that made it impossible for me to put it down.
The Nature of a Lady by Roseanna M. White—May 2021
This was one of my most anticipated reads of 2021. As soon as it came out, I was at the mailbox eagerly awaiting my preordered copy. It did not disappoint! I had never heard of the Scilly Islands, and what could be better than a treasure hunt? The characters all lived up to the unique voices she sets up in all her novels. I’m especially excited to see the next book focuses on my personal favorite character, Sheridan. But what made it one of the best reads of 2021 was how it touched me with its message—that everyone is known by someone far bigger than them, that everyone belongs.
The Paris Dressmaker by Kristy Cambron—June 2021
This was a surprise best from 2021. Our library (where I volunteer) got it, and, having just come off her session at the Story Embers Engaging Plot Summit, I quickly processed it and snatched it up. (No self-serving motive in processing that one . . . ) I’ll admit—it confused the heck out of me. She has essentially four plotlines running at once—two in the present and two in the past. So the whole story doesn’t really come together until the last page—at which point, I promptly went back to read it again. The plot is brilliant, as are the characters. My only complaint? She killed my favorite character. :(
Shadow by Kara Swanson—July 2021
Another anticipated read for 2021! The first novel in the duology, Dust, made my Best of 2020 list, and since then, I’ve been awaiting the next one. (That ending, Kara! Why?) I honestly think Shadow might be better than Dust (but of course, you have to read Dust to have any idea what’s going on). The magic system is so creative and vibrant, and characters old and new exploded onto the page. But what made this one a best for 2021 was the theme. It came very close to some things I was experiencing this summer and showed me the light in the shadows.
The Lines Between Us by Amy Lynn Green—September 2021
You guessed it—I’d been looking forward to this one, too, after her debut novel made my Best of 2020 list. The style and characters in this one were very unique to the style and characters of her debut. It was a wonderful novel with a dash of mystery mixed in. What made this one a Best of 2021 was how she presented all viewpoints equally. The novel deals with the conscientious objectors on one hand and the women’s army corps on the other. She showed the good people and the bad people of EVERY side. One of the most equal representing books I’ve ever read.
Numbers 7, 8, and 9
If I Run Trilogy (If I Run, If I’m Found, If I Live) by Terri Blackstock—October 2021
(REVIEW COMING SOON)
This one had been recommended to me many times, but I finally read it this year. And. Couldn’t. Stop. Reading. It. It’s a contemporary suspense, unlike the historical and fantasy I normally read. Her protagonist, Casey, is both sweet and smart, but it was Dylan that stole the stage for me. What made this one a Best of 2021 is not only the brilliant plot (and it was BRILLIANT) but the sensitive portrayal of mental illness and PTSD. I hope someday I can handle deep and needed topics in my own novels in the same way.
The Last Sin Eater by Francine Rivers—November 2021
(REVIEW COMING SOON)
This book was given to me by a friend, and I honestly didn’t know what I would think of it. I’d never read Francine Rivers and was not familiar with this book. It honestly was a hard and heavy book to read. I haven’t been that angry at a character’s parents in a long time. (I’m referring to both Cadi and Fagan’s parents by the way.) These kids truly went through horrible things. That being said, I honestly did like Fagan better than I did Cadi. This is also a very explicit Christian book (long Christian messages/monologues, long passages of Scripture in the novel, etc.). And yet, it was done in a way that didn’t feel preachy, forced, or awkward, despite the large amount of content in there. Those two things are what made this a Best of 2021 read.
Anchor in the Storm by Sarah Sundin—April 2021
Alright, this addition is going to make this list eleven, but we’ll just only count If I Run as two. And don’t feel bad, Anchor in the Storm—it’s not your fault that you were up against Shadow and The Paris Dressmaker this year. While scrolling through my reviews, I realized I’d forgotten to list this gem of a book. What made this book a Best of 2021 was Lillian Avery. I related a lot to her struggle of not wanting to be seen as weak. Add on to that the realistic portrayal of anxiety, PTSD, and disabilities and a mystery plot involving a drug ring within the Navy? Count me in.
And there you have it! What about you? What were your best reads of 2021? Have you read
any of these books? What did you think of them?
If you want to see more “Best of” books, read the 2020 installment here (https://racheljleitch.weebly.com/rachels-reads/top-10-reads-of-2020), or click the “Best of” category in the sidebar!
Siblings forge new paths and find love in three stories filled with the wonder of Christmas.
Turn back the clock to a different time, listen to Bing Crosby sing of sleigh bells in the snow, as the realities of America’s involvement in the Second World War change the lives of the Turner family in Lafayette, Indiana.
In Cara Putman’s White Christmas, Abigail Turner is holding down the Home Front as a college student and a part-time employee at a one-of-a-kind candy shop. Loss of a beau to the war has Abigail skittish about romantic entanglements—until a hard-working young man with a serious problem needs her help.
Abigail’s brother Pete is a fighter pilot hero returned from the European Theater in Sarah Sundin’s I’ll Be Home for Christmas, trying to recapture the hope and peace his time at war has eroded. But when he encounters a precocious little girl in need of Pete’s friendship, can he convince her widowed mother that he’s no longer the bully she once knew?
In Tricia Goyer’s Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas, Meredith Turner, “Merry” to those who know her best, is using her skills as a combat nurse on the frontline in the Netherlands. Halfway around the world from home, Merry never expects to face her deepest betrayal head on, but that’s precisely what God has in mind to redeem her broken heart.
The Turner family believes in God’s providence during such a tumultuous time. Can they absorb the miracle of Christ’s birth and His plan for a future?
Cara Putman starts the collection off well. I was a little confused by Abigail at the beginning—in the first chapter, she seemed to be the shy fearful type, but in the next one, she was talking it up with a random guy she met on the bus. First chapters are hard, though, and those two facets of her personality were an interesting clash. While we often hear that Jackson felt responsible for his father’s death, we never hear just what happened, which made it hard for me to discern why he felt guilty. I loved the inclusion of the candy shop—it was a fascinating piece of history that lent some serious Christmas vibes to the story. And lastly, while I love Abigail wanting to be a lawyer, and believe there should be females thinking of the future in historical fiction, I did have to wonder if that was even an idea that crossed anyone’s mind in the 1940’s. It was a nice inclusion all the same, and the little mystery to this book definitely kept me turning pages.
I’ll Be Home For Christmas
I love Sarah Sundin’s writing, and this one did not disappoint. The characters all have distinct personalities and voices, the humor is brilliant, and her word images are, too. I love how after the big disagreement, both Pete and Grace had to sacrifice to make it up to each other. They didn’t just come back, say they were sorry, and cry a little and all was good. The backstories of both characters were solid.
Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas
Tricia Goyer takes us out of the Christmas vibes of Lafayette, Indiana and into the nursing battles of the Netherlands. The glimpse inside an army hospital is sad, but intriguing as well. The “identity reveal” (and you’ll know what that means when you get there) wasn’t really a surprise for me—I knew who he was from page one. I understood how Merry and Daaf’s misunderstanding came about, though, and saw the logic on both sides. Merry and Nancy's friendship goes deeper than many of the other friendships in the collection and is well developed. A sweet story about finding Christmas even in the dark.
This book nailed Christmas vibes in the atmosphere as well as the feel of the forties through the little details (like what going to see a movie was like, or getting a soda at the candy shop). All the novellas contain strong family and friend characters, each uniquely developed for their role in the novella (or if they were in all three, staying true to the other novellas). Honestly, the idea of a novella collection based on Christmas songs is just too cool.
This is another of my favorites and a collection of sweet stories that I return to each Christmas.
*This review is part of my series of favorite Christmas reads. Click the Christmas category on the sidebar to see the rest.*
An overworked attorney’s grandmother will stop at nothing to find her a date for Christmas in this heartwarming holiday love story about finding what really matters in life.
As a first-year law associate, Sydney Batson knows she will be updating her resume by New Year’s if she loses her current case. So when her grandmother gets inexplicably ill while Sydney is in court, she arranges for a cab to take her grandmother to the clinic.
The last thing cab driver Finn Parrish wants is to be saddled with a wheelchair-bound old lady with dementia. But because Miss Callie reminds him of his own mother, whom he failed miserably in her last days, he can’t say no when she keeps calling him for rides. Once a successful gourmet chef, Finn’s biggest concern now is paying his rent, but half the time Callie doesn’t remember to pay him. And as she starts to feel better, she leads him on wild-goose chases to find a Christmas date for her granddaughter.
When Finn meets Sydney, he’s quite certain she’s never needed help finding a date. Does Miss Callie have an ulterior motive, or is this just a mission driven by delusions? He’s willing to do whatever he can to help fulfill Callie’s Christmas wish. He just never expected to be a vital part of it.
If you take a look around my reads, you’ve probably noticed I don’t read a lot of contemporary. I can’t put my finger on why, but despite all the brilliant books in the genre, it never held much appeal for me. I’ve tried multiple books only to get bored a few chapters in.
But not with Catching Christmas.
This book took me about two days to read. I read it over 2019 and then again this year. I honestly want some film company to pick this one up and make it a Christmas movie so I can watch it and read it every year.
This book is definitely a detour from Terri Blackstock’s usual style, but that doesn’t slow it down at all.
And as I reread it this year, I realized so much of what kept me in it were the characters.
People. How do you not love Finn?! He’s so gruff and sarcastic, and yet he can’t turn down an elderly lady (who has dementia and probably won’t pay him when he really needs money) who needs a cab ride. He gets mad and yells at her daughter over an answering machine for leaving her by herself—because he cares for this lady he just met that much. And he feels his regret of the past very deeply. While Sydney was a great character herself, Finn was who sold the book for me.
The book also rocks the tension and stakes. The further this ridiculous predicament went—Callie having Finn drive her around to try and hunt down a boyfriend for Sydney—the more I wanted to see just how it all settles out.
But don’t think it’s all fun and games here. Part of the sweet element of this book is definitely a bittersweet note. Even in that, the author realistically depicted grief and regret.
I can literally think of nothing negative about this book. I guess that it’s so short? But if it were any longer, maybe it wouldn’t work so well.
This sweet book is one of my favorite Christmas reads and one I’ll read every year. Now if you know of a film company in need of their next Christmas film, let me know, I could help with that.
Against the backdrop of the 1893 World’s Fair, a new kind of crime comes to Gilded Age Chicago . . . and a lonely young woman is always at risk.
Back on the farm in Wisconsin, Rosalind’s plan had seemed logical: Move to Chicago. Get hired on at Sloane House, one of the most gilded mansions of Chicago. Discover what transpired while her sister worked as a maid there―and follow the clues to why she disappeared.
Now, as a live-in housemaid to the Sloanes, Rosalind realizes her plan had been woefully simple-minded.
She was ignorant of the hard, hidden life of a servant in a big, prominent house; of the divide between the Sloane family and the people who served them; and most of all, she had never imagined so many people could live in such proximity and keep such dark secrets.
Yet, while Sloane House is daunting, the streets of Chicago are downright dangerous. But when Rosalind accepts the friendship of Reid Armstrong, the handsome young heir to a Chicago silver fortune, she becomes an accidental rival to Veronica Sloane.
As Rosalind continues to disguise her kinship to the missing maid―and struggles to appease her jealous mistress―she probes the dark secrets of Sloane House and comes ever closer to uncovering her sister’s mysterious fate. A fate that everyone in the house seems to know . . . but which no one dares to name.
The Victorian vibes of the novel were great. And there were so many red herrings in the mystery. It kept me guessing every direction I turned. I was annoyed with the characters I was supposed to be annoyed with—and others that I knew I should be annoyed with turned out to have interesting facets. When all was said and done, I truly did not expect the culprit. The resolution of the story also actually showed the culprit’s family dealing with the fallout—a rarity.
However, some scenes got repetitive really fast. (I see this happen in my own writing a lot.) Scene: Rosalind talks to a member of the staff who warns her not to look for her sister. Next scene: Rosalind talks to somebody new who warns her not to look for her sister. Next scene: Rosalind talks to somebody different who warns her not to look for her sister.
While the culprit did surprised me, the answer to Miranda’s disappearance did not.
Nothing much stood out about Rosalind. She could have been any other female character in any other book. The whole story revolved around her finding herself and ultimately realizing that she was a stronger, braver person than before. Except she really wasn’t—she just had Reid there to save the day for her.
Also, her pouring her whole life story—including her secret identity and her sister’s disappearance—to a guy whom she’s never met before? A little sketchy.
The wealthy man's son always taking advantage of maids trope also didn't catch my attention. This seems to be a very tired-out trope in historical romances.
The book had some really random info-dumps in really weird places. While they didn’t ruin the book for me, they could have been solved with some thought and editing. For instance, one chapter ended and the next began with, “Reid’s brother died when he was young.” While this was important to know, we got some random pages that didn’t really fit in the narrative—nothing had triggered Reid thinking of this. Then we jerked back to Reid in the ballroom somewhere. Add on to this one lonely scene from a side character's point of view which seemed put there only to set her up for the second book.
Secrets of Sloane House is a fantastic mystery, but slowed down just a bit by lack of character depth and a few scenes of clunky writing. Still, it was the perfect low-key read for a fall evening.
Could Following the Opportunity of a Lifetime Cost Them the Love of Their Lives?
One of the many immigrants struggling to survive in 1850s New York, Elise Neumann knows she must take action to care for her younger sisters. She finds a glimmer of hope when the New York Children's Aid Society starts sending skilled workers to burgeoning towns out west. But the promise of the society's orphan trains is not all that it seems.
Born into elite New York society, Thornton Quincy possesses everything except the ability to step out from his brother's shadow. When their ailing father puts forth a unique challenge to determine who will inherit his railroad-building empire, Thornton finally sees his chance. The conditions to win? Be the first to build a sustainable community along the Illinois Central Railroad and find a suitable wife.
Thrown together against all odds, Elise and Thornton couldn't be from more different worlds. The spark that ignites between them is undeniable, but how can they let it grow when that means forfeiting everything they've been working toward?
I loved Thornton right away. His first chapters nailed it. I related so much to him wanting approval like his brother receives.
While I didn’t like Elise as much, I did relate to her trying to protect and take care of her siblings.
While both he and Elise developed negative traits that made them unlikeable at times (see below), maybe that was the whole point. None of those negative traits stuck around until the end. They overcame them in the course of the story. They became better people. And isn’t that what life is?
The tension was brilliant. By instituting the bet between Thornton and this brother, it kept me turning pages even through slower sections. The concept felt fresh and unique.
Reinhold was fantastic as the other corner of the love triangle. He was supportive even when Elise didn’t reciprocate his feelings. We need more characters like that. While Thornton had me rooting for him, I have to admit, there were a couple times when Thornton was being obsessed and creepy that I wondered if Reinhold was a better option. I'm hoping Reinhold appears in the next book in the series.
At time, both main characters were extremely unlikeable. Elise was very wishy-washy and a bit on the weepy side. Characters repeatedly called her strong and independent, but she didn’t really think or act that way (especially not in the beginning).
Thornton was obsessed and selfish. And the way he kept sneaking up to Elise and touching her? I think it was supposed to be romantic, but it was really just super creepy, especially since Elise was not consenting to this action.
None of these traits were set up in the first act and just blasted onto the page somewhere in the second act (unless I missed the set up). It was a bit of a jolt.
I really, really disliked Marianne. She drove me insane. She was constantly weeping and whining and throwing herself at this guy. And then lied to him and about him. And then when she got in trouble for it, had the nerve to weep and whine some more about her misfortune. Maybe this will be developed more in the second book and she will be made more likeable, but she really didn’t add a whole lot to the current plot, especially since most of her story was summed up in Reinhold telling Elise about her letters. While I want Reinhold to appear in the next one, I really hope for his sake and mine that he doesn't get paired up with Marianne.
With You Always isn’t a perfect book. Neither are its characters. But that’s part of the intrigue and beauty of this book.
For fans of bestselling WWII fiction comes a powerful novel from Lynn Austin about three women whose lives are instantly changed when the Nazis invade the neutral Netherlands, forcing each into a complicated dance of choice and consequence.
Lena is a wife and mother who farms alongside her husband in the tranquil countryside. Her faith has always been her compass, but can she remain steadfast when the questions grow increasingly complex and the answers could mean the difference between life and death?
Lena’s daughter Ans has recently moved to the bustling city of Leiden, filled with romantic notions of a new job and a young Dutch police officer. But when she is drawn into Resistance work, her idealism collides with the dangerous reality that comes with fighting the enemy.
Miriam is a young Jewish violinist who immigrated for the safety she thought Holland would offer. She finds love in her new country, but as her family settles in Leiden, the events that follow will test them in ways she could never have imagined.
The Nazi invasion propels these women onto paths that cross in unexpected, sometimes-heartbreaking ways. Yet the story that unfolds illuminates the surprising endurance of the human spirit and the power of faith and love to carry us through.
Ans was my favorite character and plotline in this book. At first, I didn’t think I would like her—the “rebellious” teenager who wants to see more of the world has been so overdone and isn’t that true to life, I’m finding. But as the book went on, she developed into a sympathetic character. I loved that her plotline didn’t end with pat answers, that it changed it up a little bit. She struggled with real questions in very real ways and found real answers.
Lena was my second favorite. Because who can’t relate to wanting control when everything is nose-diving?
Miriam was my least favorite. Her story was just something that happens in so many novels. Girl meets guy, they fall in love, get married, have a baby, are separated for some reason, and spend the rest of the book crying and searching for each other. That being said, I loved the connection of her violin. And the emotion she worked through while giving her child up was very real and raw, giving a good glimpse into what mothers of the time actually would have been feeling.
The prologue did exactly its job! It makes you want to figure out how the characters got there, but doesn’t give away how it ends.
I also loved the inclusion of Ans’ friend who is fighting depression. It is a topic that needs addressed more in fiction and often gets glossed over or sensationalized in historical fiction.
The book felt a little detached from the characters sometimes. This may have been just part of the writing voice of this one, but I would have liked to get inside the heads of the characters some more.
There were also some of the spies that worked with Lena that I would have loved to know more about. In fact, the ending seemed a tad bit on the rushed side. But there were also three plotlines to be closed up and only a few pages to do it in. Honestly, the author did fantastic juggling those three plotlines.
Chasing Shadows is definitely worth a read. While it doesn’t dive into the characters’ heads too much, it does provide a realistic glimpse into what life in the time was like.
A story of second chances and secrets, this mysterious Regency romance will transport you to 19th-century England as one young lady reunites with her childhood love to find his missing sister.
Her friend is missing.
After five years abroad, Charity Halliwell finally returns to Loxby Manor, the home of dear friends—and her lost love. No longer a young girl, she is now haunted by a painful secret and the demise of her dreams. Instead of the healing and happiness she hopes to find, she encounters a darkness lurking in the shadows of the once-familiar house. When her friend, Seline, disappears the very night of her arrival, Charity is determined to uncover the truth.
Her only hope is the man who broke her heart.
Branded a coward, Piers Cavanaugh has lived the last five years as an outcast far from his family home. When his sister presumably elopes with a stable hand, Piers joins forces with an unlikely partner—the one woman he thought he’d never see again. Together they launch an investigation that leads to strange nightly meetings in the ruins of an old abbey and disturbing whispers of a secret organization. The more they learn, the more desperate the situation becomes.
The house seems determined to keep its secrets.
As they struggle to piece together the clues, Charity and Piers also endeavor to rebuild their friendship. One cryptic letter changed everything between them. To find happiness they will have to overcome the grief and shame keeping them apart. But first they must discover why Seline vanished and confront the growing fear that she may never return.
Settle in, because once you start The Vanishing at Loxby Manor, you won’t be able to put it down.
I rolled my eyes a bit when I first met Charity. Here we go. Another “traumatized” female character who jumps at every shadow and bursts into tears.
But Charity wasn’t like that. Yes, she was slow to trust, and could get spooked easily. But it was realistic—it actually took into consideration what actual people who have been through her kind of trauma are like, and recognized that there are as many reactions to trauma as there are personalities and people. While the author acknowledged the struggle this brought Charity, she also gave Charity her strengths, too.
This mystery was so well done. I had no idea who had done it. Everyone could have been suspects. (And they were until proven otherwise.) Good characters had dark sides. Bad characters had good sides. It also had a very interesting premise—the idea of the secret societies that did, in fact, exist in that time period is rarely, if ever, explored in historical fiction.
Selina’s mother was an especially intriguing character to me. One moment, she ruthlessly defended her family’s “honor” with no thought to her children. The next, she was coming to confide in Charity. And the next she was almost motherly. Very much a three-dimensional character and an interesting addition to the story.
The back cover is a bit misleading when it says Piers broke her heart. He really didn't--the trauma Charity faced separated the two of them.
All in all, a clever Regency mystery that takes a very specific form of trauma and handles it sympathetically.
Hi there! Rachel again. Check out this section for book reviews and cover reveals of some of my favorites!