Book Review: Heartbreak Hotel (Alex Delaware #32) by Jonathan Kellerman

Published February 14th 2017 by Ballantine Books

About the book:

At nearly one hundred years old, Thalia Mars is a far cry from the patients that child psychologist Alex Delaware normally treats. But the charming, witty woman convinces Alex to meet with her in a suite at the Aventura, a luxury hotel with a checkered history.

What Thalia wants from Alex are answers to unsettling questions—about guilt, patterns of criminal behavior, victim selection. When Alex asks the reason for her morbid fascination, Thalia promises to tell all during their next session. But when he shows up the following morning, he is met with silence: Thalia is dead in her room.

When questions arise about how Thalia perished, Alex and homicide detective Milo Sturgis must peel back the layers of a fascinating but elusive woman’s life and embark on one of the most baffling investigations either of them has ever experienced. For Thalia Mars is a victim like no other, an enigma who harbored nearly a century of secrets and whose life and death draw those around her into a vortex of violence.

Heartbreak Hotel is classic Delaware and classic Kellerman. 

My thoughts:

The subject of human behavior has been the driving force of Alex Delaware series and Kellerman has made a name for himself. Like many others, his interest in psychology brings detective work to the forefront. Criminal Psychologists study the moral compass-or lack of-of the human mind. They strive to understand the motivations, reactions and actions of people who commit various levels of crimes.

Thirty-two books in a series is quite a feat to say the least. I appreciate and respect writers who take on the task of writing such stories. It cannot not be easy and there definitely is an art to the process. This particular genre’s depth is widely known. Some prefer to read about the subject without becoming too uncomfortable. While others want to read stories that delve deeper and darker into people’s behaviors. Kellerman’s stories are among the very few books in this genre that I began with when I was a younger reader.

I rather enjoyed the beginning of Heartbreak Hotel. With the brief yet cryptic conversation about psychopaths between Alex and Thalia that is meant to grab the reader’s attention. That in itself was nicely executed and absorbing. I liked Alex and Milo’s interviews and interactions with witnesses and suspects. Those scenes were entertaining to say the least.

Alex and Milo both likable and they work well together. Almost as they are conjoined. I guess that happens when you work closely with a person long enough. If you’ve read the other books in the series, you will know that Alex has seen far more than his fair share of tragedy that any person could fathom. How he maintains his cool is quite impressive. Alex’s every thought seems to be measured before uttering a word. To anyone. His principled and intellectual mind makes for an intriguing person but I found myself wanting more from him

While Kellerman takes us in-depth into human behavior, I felt the background story of the characters needed to be fleshed out and over half way through the book, I found it difficult to maintain my interest and remain objective. The mystery is captivating but you find the elements of the investigating and characters-in this case- Alex and Milo become all too formulaic. I swear I could almost predict what their next plan of action was going to be and what they would say next.

There was a time-several books back now-where I looked forward to reading an Alex Delaware story. But the main characters have become too comfortable in their roles. Perpetual dilly-dallying comes to mind when I read this book. Heartbreak Hotel is a vague remembrance of what was once a great series, in my opinion. I feel the series has long run its course for me to remain a fan.

Don’t allow my experience with this story sway you. Heartbreak Hotel is a good story for readers who want to stay safely in their comfort zone. No wrong in that. If you’ve never read the any of the books in the series, might I suggest you start with his earlier books?

I obtained a copy from the Publishers through NetGalley for an honest review.

Stephanie Hopkins

Book Review: The Witch of Willow Hall by Hester Fox

HARLEQUIN – Graydon House Books (U.S. & Canada)

Mystery & Thrillers | Women’s Fiction

Pub Date 02 Oct 2018 

Two centuries after the Salem witch trials, there’s still one witch left in Massachusetts. But she doesn’t even know it.

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…

Catching up:

This is the year for catching up on projects and chisel at my back-list of books that I either, need to write the review or read from my own shelves at home. Of course, with a few ARC’s thrown in. I read The Witch of Willow Hall by Hester Fox back in 2018 and I could have sworn, I wrote a review for it. Oops, it turns out-to my shame-I did not. No time like the present one might say.Thank goodness, I keep notes.

My thoughts:

These days, I normally I do my best to stay away from stories that involve witchcraft. That said, this story caught my attention for several reasons. The time period location, premise and book cover intrigued me. Interestingly enough, Lydia doesn’t realize she is a witch, even though things keep happening… Though, while reading this story, I began to realize that it’s not centered on witchcraft-thank goodness!

There are many intriguing aspects to the story, including, an atmospheric estate, mystery, romance, and good character development. Overall, great world-building and it had the creep vibe factor-which helped drive the story and kept one’s attention.

A fabulous Gothic story with all the right elements to entertain you!

Stephanie Hopkins

I obtained a copy of this book from the publishers through NetGalley.

Book Review: Veiled in Smoke by Jocelyn Green

(The Windy City Saga #1)

Paperback, 416 pagesPublished February 4th 2020 by Bethany House Publishers

Meg and Sylvie Townsend manage the family bookshop and care for their father, Stephen, a veteran still suffering in mind and spirit from his time as a POW during the Civil War. But when the Great Fire sweeps through Chicago’s business district, they lose much more than just their store.

The sisters become separated from their father, and after Meg burns her hands in an attempt to save a family heirloom, they make a harrowing escape from the flames with the help of Chicago Tribune reporter Nate Pierce. Once the smoke clears away, they reunite with Stephen, only to learn soon after that their family friend not only died during the fire–he was murdered. Even more shocking, Stephen is charged with the crime and committed to the Cook County Insane Asylum.

Though homeless, injured, and suddenly unemployed, Meg must not only gather the pieces of her shattered life, but prove her father’s innocence before the asylum truly drives him mad.

My thoughts:

I’ve heard of the Great Fire in Chicago during that period but I don’t believe or can’t remember if I’ve read an historical fiction story that takes place during that time. I was delighted to come across, Veiled in Smoke and I had not read any of Green’s stories beforehand. Needless to say, I was unfamiliar with her work and was eager to delve in her world-building.

I have to say, while the introduction of the characters in the beginning was intriguing, the build-up to the day of the fire felt rushed and lacked a certain substance. I started to have doubts about this book but rallied on. The story didn’t take off until the fire broke out. At that very moment, I felt a shift in the structure of the storytelling and became immensely captivated. The telling of the fire itself and was outstanding and so realistic, you are completely transported to time and place.

I enjoyed reading about Meg and Sylvie’ life during this tragic event and the author does a marvelous job at creating sisterly tension and, at times, unease in their relationship. She also shows their love for each other, for their father and others.

Although different in many ways, Meg with her artistic ability and Sylvia with her love of books and independent in thought, they are both intelligent and they didn’t give up, despite their daunting predicaments. There are many life lessons to be learned with their story.

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Stephen’s suffering from Soldiers Heart AKA PTSD from his time as a POW in Andersonville is heartbreaking, yet, eye opening to read about. The Prison camp is reported to have been the largest prison for holding Union soldiers and its conditions are heartbreaking to say the least.

Having said that, there is a topic about how Andersonville was portrayed that I felt needed to be addressed in the story and wasn’t. I felt the subject a bit one sided and conveniently left out to drive a particular narrative about the South. The soldiers weren’t suffering entirely at the fault of people in charge of running the camps. The guards weren’t in much better shape due to the lack of supplies for all. As the war raged on, throughout the south, there was great suffering of starvation, death due to food shortages, water pollution, lack of clothing, disease, increase violence among the civilians, particularly to the females, and lack medicines. While it is known that the north managed prisons differently, both Union and Confederate, really, suffered deficiencies. There was also Lincoln’s blockade of the southern states that played a huge role in this problem.

I can’t say for certain what the author’s intentions were regarding this topic, but nonetheless, I have to say, this particular part slightly vexed me somewhat because I see this premise often in historical fiction and in our education system. That said, and to be fair, the author does give an indication of how the union prisoners treated each other in Andersonville and quite possibly she is portraying how a union solder’s mindset-at the time-probably was due to trauma experienced to drive the stories narrative. Another consideration is that writing a historical story is far more difficult than it appears. You can’t please everyone.

Years after the war, Stephen still struggles with PTSD. Then when Stephen is charged with a serious crime, that took place during the fire, and taken to the Cook Cunty Insane Asylum, would be anyone’s undoing. In one instance, when he arrived to the asylum, they reduced him to a number, stripping his identity to make him less human.

From previously reading about asylums during that period, I had already known what they were like but reading Stephen’s experience made it all too real and affected me in such a way, that even now, I’m still outraged and sadden over the ill treatment of patients in those places. It is absolutely appalling how he was treated and the lack of respect he was given for his service during the war. Even before he was put in that place. His struggles are deeply felt.

Despite what I said about the prison camp topic, I must confess that this is one of the better stories written I’ve read that takes place during post-civil war in the 19th Century. I have noted many passages that I found to be inspiring and I feel deeply about many of the characters.

Green weaves a compelling story of a family’s fight for survival and healing. She gives us a well-constructed insight into the lives of the characters, Stephen’s mental state and trauma the fire caused the city and its’ people. Overall, there are many elements to the story that make it a noble read.

Veiled in Smoke will be placed among my go-to 19th Century Historical Fiction reads and I look forward to reading the next book in this saga.

Stephanie Hopkins

I obtained a copy from the publishers through NetGalley.

Side note: If you are a fan of Little Woman by Louisa May Alcott, most likely you will enjoy this story a great deal!  

Book Review: In the Garden of Spite by Camilla Bruce

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In the Garden of Spite is an intriguing 19th and early 20th century historical fiction story with true crime leanings. Belle, formally known as Brynhild, is a Norwegian whose troubles in her homeland lead her to America where she joins her older sister Nellie in Chicago for a better life. When Nellie meets her at the train station, she is greeted by a less than cheerful sister and soon realizes that life with Belle isn’t a bed of roses.

People began to whisper about Belle and their suspicions of her, and bodies are piling up but that didn’t stop men from flocking to her! Longing for a life away from the city and to live on a farm, Belle gets her wish and sure enough, things get a lot more interesting.

But who is Belle Gunness?

Yeah, you’re really going to get to know her well by reading this book.

In the beginning of the story, I felt empathy for Belle. She was abused badly-to say the least-by the farmer’s son she worked for. Her family life was dysfunctional, stark, poverty-stricken, abusive and cruel. The people in her community did not look kindly on her family. Not long into the story my feelings for Belle took a turn when the she crosses over the forbidden boundary in taking a life.

What are the traits of a female serial killer? If you don’t already know, I think it is safe to say, you’ll discover quite a few of them in this tale.

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Nellie observed troubling signs of Belle’s character when she was a child but never dreamed it would lead something so sinister. She can’t help but make excuses to herself to not take action. No one wants to think the worse of their kin.

As much as I tried to sympathize and understand Nellie’s inner turmoil, I struggled with the fact that when lives are being taken, she continued to be in a state of denial. Or was it fear? There are moments in life when you’ve got to stop making excuses for people. Murder would be one of them!

To make the story even more engrossing, Belle has a particular friend. His name is James Lee and they have a lot in common to say the least. It’s creepy how Belle and James discuss the killings so casually. Like it’s just a normal conversation about daily tasks and the like. It leaves you feeling quite unnerved yet morbidly fascinated. James is a bit of a mystery though. Other than being in Bella’s life, her support and a killer for hire, I often wondered how else he lived his life. Hmm…

The topic of serial killers’ is gruesome and some of the murder scenes in the book are a bit graphic, Bruce is careful not to delve too much into gory details in such a way, that it would be too disturbing to read. Her descriptions of the murderous acts, and Belle’s rationalizing the killings in her mind, gives you a clear picture of how truly wicked Belle is. Though Belle sees it differently. All she wants is a simple life, nice things, plenty of food on the table, a family that adores her and pig farm of her own. Is that too much to ask for?

I do enjoy reading true crime stories because I’m interested in the human mind. One can imagine psychological thrillers are not easy to write or research for that matter. You really have to dig deep in the minds of psychopaths if you want to be true to the subject. A scary place to be for sure, though not all of them are murderers, of course.. This is the first book I’ve read by Bruce and I must say, this sub-genre is her niche-if you will. Despite the daunting premise, she definitely had me on edge throughout the book in a bizarre, entertaining sort-of way. She is a great story-teller and one heck of a writer.

Stephanie Hopkins

I obtained a copy of In the Garden of Spite from the publishers through NetGalley for an honest review.

Book Review: Mind of a Killer (Alec Lonsdale #1) by Simon Beaufort

In London 1882, a new reporter for the Pall Mall Gazette, Alec Londale, comes across a house fire, that is not uncommon in those times, approaches the scene to watch the firemen hard at work to prevent the fire from spreading to the other houses.  Looking around for someone to tell him who lives there and how the fire started, he approaches a woman, asking her questions. A body has been discovered. Alex begins to take notes and shortly after speaking with the first woman, another woman, who appears distraught, approaches him and ask him to meet her at a later date. She has information for him that can’t be shared at the scene. Alex is unobservant to her emotions and what she is saying or not saying. It is quite clear to him what she is and he dismisses her from his mind. Alex is young and is portrayed as a naive and green around the quills-if you will- about the ins and outs of being a reporter.

When the post-mortem on the fire victim comes back as something other than an accident, it isn’t long before a second body is found and this time the person’s throat is cut and then the bodies start to pile up.

Alex’s feisty female colleague, Hula Friederrichs is assigned to help him investigate the case. He isn’t happy about it but he needs all the help he can get! The further they investigate, they delve into the mystery and start to uncover a conspiracy so sinister, that it takes them to the upper classes of Victorian Society. The threat of their own lives become a reality as they get closer to the murder plot and they begin to question whom can they trust.

My fascination with the Victorian era’s class-based society, the stereotypes and double standards of the period, journalism, and the murder mystery genre prompted me to read this book. Those elements combined make for a gripping story. There is also the fact, I’m always curious how writers today portray the culture of the period.

Darwin’s theories are introduced in the story and taken to an unspeakable dark and evil height that will have you wondering how far will these people go to advance their objective. I don’t think I have ever been so thoroughly taken back by a theme that pushes the boundaries of this nature. In fact, it makes this story all too realistic and chilling.

Highly entertaining, and a thought-provoking read.

Stephanie Hopkins

I obtained a copy of Mind of a Killer from the publishers through NetGalley for an honest review.

Book Review: The Magdalen Girls by V.S. Alexander

Kindle Edition, 305 pagesPublished December 27th 2016 by Kensington

About the story:

Dublin, 1962. Within the gated grounds of the convent of The Sisters of the Holy Redemption lies one of the city’s Magdalen Laundries. Once places of refuge, the laundries have evolved into grim workhouses. Some inmates are “fallen” women—unwed mothers, prostitutes, or petty criminals. Most are ordinary girls whose only sin lies in being too pretty, too independent, or tempting the wrong man. Among them is sixteen-year-old Teagan Tiernan, sent by her family when her beauty provokes a lustful revelation from a young priest.

Teagan soon befriends Nora Craven, a new arrival who thought nothing could be worse than living in a squalid tenement flat. Stripped of their freedom and dignity, the girls are given new names and denied contact with the outside world. The Mother Superior, Sister Anne, who has secrets of her own, inflicts cruel, dehumanizing punishments—but always in the name of love. Finally, Nora and Teagan find an ally in the reclusive Lea, who helps them endure—and plot an escape. But as they will discover, the outside world has dangers too, especially for young women with soiled reputations.

Told with candor, compassion, and vivid historical detail, The Magdalen Girls is a masterfully written novel of life within the era’s notorious institutions—and an inspiring story of friendship, hope, and unyielding courage. 

A few of my thoughts:

Recently I discovered that my family has ancestry in Dublin Ireland and this book came to my mind. Strange how the mind works. I requested, “The Magdalen Girls” to review some time ago and to be honest, I’m not sure why I chose it because it wasn’t a subject, I was ready-mentally-to look in-depth. The Catholic Church has an extremely dark history and I don’t believe their theology/doctrine is entirely in line with the Holy Bible.

The story introduces three young girls, Teagan, Nora and Lea. Leading up to the moment Teagan and Nora were cast out of their homes and into the “care” of The Sister of the Holy Redemption. The cruelty of Mother Ann and the Nuns who carries out her orders is a clear reflection of the abuse, neglect, death, exploitation and forced, cruel hard labor that are not the teachings of Christ. These young girls’ situation there and of the others, lay heavily on my mind.

There are two priest that are front and center to Teagan’s “down fall”. Father Mark and Father Matthew. In short, I found Father Matthew not living up to his higher responsibility that God has commanded and instead he seceded the position to a mostly matriarchal attitude that was counterproductive to Christian life. His inability to counsel Father Mark and do right by the situation at hand really reflects my opinion above. They laid full responsibility of Mark’s sin on Teagan. That is not Christ like.

My main focus of this review is Tegan’s downfall because of the bold example the author shows of how the Priests influence its congregation and community. My focus on Teagan’s story- in no way- diminishes the others girls experience in that toxic environment.

I would have liked to have read a better build-up of the girl’s life before they entered, The Sister of the Holy Redemption. Other than that, it was a powerful premise, though a sad one.

Was there redemption in the story for the girls? That is for you to find out by reading the story.

I rated this book three stars and obtained a galley copy from the publishers through NetGalley.

Stephanie Hopkins

Book Review: The Paris Library by Janet Skeslien Charles

Paris, 1939: Young and ambitious Odile Souchet has it all: her handsome police officer beau and a dream job at the American Library in Paris. When the Nazis march into Paris, Odile stands to lose everything she holds dear, including her beloved library. Together with her fellow librarians, Odile joins the Resistance with the best weapons she has: books. But when the war finally ends, instead of freedom, Odile tastes the bitter sting of unspeakable betrayal.

Montana, 1983: Lily is a lonely teenager looking for adventure in small-town Montana. Her interest is piqued by her solitary, elderly neighbor. As Lily uncovers more about her neighbor’s mysterious past, she finds that they share a love of language, the same longings, and the same intense jealousy, never suspecting that a dark secret from the past connects them.

A powerful novel that explores the consequences of our choices and the relationships that make us who we are—family, friends, and favorite authors—The Paris Library shows that extraordinary heroism can sometimes be found in the quietest of places.

My thoughts:

“Libraries are lungs, […] books the fresh air breathed in to keep the heart beating, to keep the brain imagining, to keep hope alive.” ― Janet Skeslien Charles, The Paris Library

The Paris Library is truly an unforgettable story. My favorite books are usually told in dual timelines. This story is without a doubt, my new favorite. If you are a lover of books and libraries, you must read, The Paris Library. I was completely spirited with abounding emotions. I laughed, cried, cheered, was enraged at injustice, and was thoroughly in my element with the librarians. I wanted-so much-to have tea with them and discuss literature and humanity. I wanted to be in their world surrounded with so many wonderful stories.

Not all is wonderful because of the war and personal struggles. That is what happens in life and this story portrays that in such a way, you realize that we all can learn from each other. Even so, it carries the narrative to great heights, shows you how deeply impacted the librarians were during the dark time of Word War II, and the lengths they went to keep reading alive.  

I actually leaned about a few authors and books I am not familiar with and want to read them because of the people’s experience with them in this book.

The author’s style of writing appealed to me and there are countless of passages that I marked so that I can make a record of them in my journal. That is how much this story affected me.

Stories like this are what brings us together and forever changes our impressions on life and humanity.

A must read!

I rated this book five stars and obtained a copy of this book from the publishers for an honest review.

Stephanie Hopkins

Book Review: The Sun Down Motel by Simone St. James

The secrets lurking in a rundown roadside motel ensnare a young woman, just as they did her aunt thirty-five years before, in this new atmospheric suspense novel from the national bestselling and award-winning author of The Broken Girls.

Upstate NY, 1982. Every small town like Fell, New York, has a place like the Sun Down Motel. Some customers are from out of town, passing through on their way to someplace better. Some are locals, trying to hide their secrets. Viv Delaney works as the night clerk to pay for her move to New York City. But something isn’t right at the Sun Down, and before long she’s determined to uncover all of the secrets hidden…

My thoughts:

Simone St. James is among my favorite suspense writers and when I spotted this book on NetGalley, I might have almost fell out of my desk chair. I was overjoyed! I must confess I read the story last year and for whatever reason I failed to write a review. I do remember having a few issues with it and I couldn’t remember some details of the story. This prompted me to read the story again for a fresh start.

St. James is brilliant at setting the stage for a creepy story! Reading Sun Down Motel definitely gives one pause about staying in a road side motel! The location and the people of the story are intriguing and you do sympathize with their troubles. Like the first time reading the book, the second time around, I still had trouble with some parts that were dragging. I felt there were too much detail in the telling and not enough showing. Maybe that is just me.

Viv and Carly’s story were so similar that at times, I became confused who I was reading about. Maybe it was because of the lapse of time when I wasn’t reading the story? Not so much the second time around.

There was a scene in the story where I guessed what happened to Viv. It actually was a small detail and I was actually surprised to pick up on it. Towards the climax the story started to weaken and I was really disappointed in the ending. It fell completely flat in my opinion.

Don’t allow my thoughts on Sun Down Motel sway you from not reading this story. It is a good premise, atmospheric and over all I enjoyed it.

I’ve rated this story three stars and I obtained a galley copy from the publishers through NetGalley.

Stephanie Hopkins

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Book Review: The Vines by Shelley Nolden

About the book:

Pub Date 23 Mar 2021

In the shadows of New York City lies forbidden North Brother Island, where the remains of a shuttered hospital hide the haunting memories of century-old quarantines and human experiments. The ruins conceal the scarred and beautiful Cora, imprisoned by contagions and the doctors who torment her. When Finn, a young urban explorer, arrives on the island and glimpses an enigmatic beauty through the foliage, intrigue turns to obsession as he seeks to uncover her past—and his own family’s dark secrets. By unraveling these mysteries, will he be able to save Cora? Will Cora meet the same tragic ending as the thousands who’ve already perished on the island?

The Vines intertwines North Brother Island’s horrific and elusive history with a captivating tale of love, betrayal, survival, and loss.

My thoughts:

If I remember correctly it was last year when I discovered North Brother Island. A documentary of the Island popped up on my YouTube feed. I watched it and learned a few details about its history and thought-at the time-I would love to read a fiction story that included the history elements. Low and behold, writer Shelley Nolden wrote a dual time-line story that takes place on the mysterious Island.

I must admit I was briefly hesitant at first to read the book based on the story’s topic of contagions. It’s not that I lacked interest in that subject but because of our current world-wide state of a pandemic. I thought it might be too sensitive of a story to read at the moment. However, my curiosity had gotten the better of me and I changed my mind.

When I opened to the first page on my Kindle, it wasn’t long before I became fully absorbed in the story. Finn Gettler arrives-more like sneaks-to North Brother Island and becomes immediately intrigued with the nature reclaiming the Island. He soon comes in contact with Cora. A woman who is not only trapped on the Island but, unknown to him , a prisoner of his family.

Cora is a fascinating woman and I enjoyed how the author developed her character as the story unfolded. Her experiences and circumstance had me connecting dots about real life, past and present, medical science I’ve often thought about.

When I discovered Finn’s last name is, “Gettler,” it struck a chord. I had heard of that name before but couldn’t remember where. I delved in little research and I was stunned at what I discovered to say the least! Nolden brilliantly balances real people and events into her story.

I experienced countless emotions reading this book. Many of them were sorrowful and feelings of anger on behalf of what was happening to Cora. The other emotions, I felt strongly, were for the absolute lack of humanity of a few of the characters. What makes this story good, yet all too disturbing, is the relevancy of the subject contagions and the evil that exists in this world.

There were moments I felt a few scenes were boggled down by just a little too much detail but overall, it was a worthwhile read. I’m looking forward to reading the next book in this series!

I’ve rated this story four stars and obtained a galley copy from the publishers through NetGalley.

Stephanie Hopkins

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Book Review: The Venice Sketchbook by Rhys Bowen

About the book:

Expected publication: April 13th 2021 by Lake Union Publishing

Caroline Grant is struggling to accept the end of her marriage when she receives an unexpected bequest. Her beloved great-aunt Lettie leaves her a sketchbook, three keys, and a final whisper…Venice. Caroline’s quest: to scatter Juliet “Lettie” Browning’s ashes in the city she loved and to unlock the mysteries stored away for more than sixty years.

It’s 1938 when art teacher Juliet Browning arrives in romantic Venice. For her students, it’s a wealth of history, art, and beauty. For Juliet, it’s poignant memories and a chance to reconnect with Leonardo Da Rossi, the man she loves whose future is already determined by his noble family. However star-crossed, nothing can come between them. Until the threat of war closes in on Venice and they’re forced to fight, survive, and protect a secret that will bind them forever.

Key by key, Lettie’s life of impossible love, loss, and courage unfolds. It’s one that Caroline can now make right again as her own journey of self-discovery begins. 

My thoughts:

When we hear of Venice, we think of, art, music, festivals, food, religion, beautiful architecture and the Grand Canal. In the late 1930’s there was a war looming but many of the people of Venice thought surely with their rich culture, and Mussolini’s pact with Germany, they wouldn’t be affected

Juliet “Lettie” Browning, an English woman, is a woman of strength and courage. The life she experienced and saw during her stay in Venice were during uncertain times. Her will to behave uprightly puts her in many dangers but her resilience is an example to us all. I will say at times I felt that she might be too perfect to be true but those thoughts didn’t take away my admiration of kindness towards others.

I enjoyed reading about the people Juliet met and formed relationships with in Venice. They are such extraordinary people in their own unique ways, you begin to feel kinship to them. The author’s character development is superb.

As an artist I appreciate the author’s focus on much of the arts in Venice. Reading about the people’s love and their understanding and importance of art brought richness to the story. There was a scene where Juliet was taking an art class and her professor, in so many words, talked about forgetting everything she learned and turn the objects, she was drawing, into one design. Bravo!

With dual time-lines, Caroline’s story intertwines perfectly with Juliet’s and find yourself fully immersed in their lives. I know this may sound like a cliché but I truly did not want the story to end. In fact, there are several character’s in the book that I would love to read more about their back story.

There were previous comments from me stating that I was burned out on Word War II stories but when I saw this one, I knew that I had to read it. Bowen does a marvelous undertaking in portraying the Venice culture and spirit of the people. I was not disappointed one bit and I highly recommend this story.

I’ve rated this book five stars and obtained a galley copy from the publishers through NetGalley. My opinions and thoughts of the story are my own.

Stephanie Hopkins