A Tale of Two Hearts by Michelle Griep

BEF363C6-B678-490D-9C10-953AF88B38E3The month of December is like no other month of the year. The whole month is filled with parties, gifts, decorations everywhere, lots and lots of goodies, and Hallmark Christmas movies. December seems to be the only month when I am not only willing, but urgently seeking out Christmas movies. Hallmark has so many of the these movies I find myself craving. Movies with not a lot of depth – there is not a lot of deep thinking going on, movies where relationships happen unbelievably quickly, people always forgive each other and there is always a happy ending. Any other time of the year such a description would not have me wishing every day I could find the time to watch such a movie. In December though I can’t get enough and I enjoy every minute of it. 

While reading A Tale of Two Hearts by Michelle Griep I couldn’t help but compare it to a Hallmark Christmas movie. There was not a lot of depth, relationships happened unbelievably quickly, people forgave each other and of course there was a happy ending. Just like a Hallmark Christmas movie, I have to say I really enjoyed the experience. 

Set in London in 1853, Mina Scott is an Innkeeper’s daughter who loves to read, especially Charles Dickens. She wishes that her life could be as exciting as the characters she reads about. She dreams that someday William Barlow, a customer at the inn, will fall romantically in love with her, just like a plot in one of the books she reads. William’s uncle will soon be naming his heir. William has given his uncle the impression that he is married in hopes of securing the inheritance for himself. When his uncle invites him and his wife for a visit William asks Mina to be his pretend bride. I’m pretty sure I have seen a Christmas movie with just such a plot and just as I enjoyed the movie, I enjoyed this book. 

I loved the references to books written by Dickens. Mina loves reading just as much as I do and  she sees her favorite authors as much as celebrities as I do. Though we don’t get to know the characters really well I found them enjoyable. A Tale of Two Hearts is the second book in the Once Upon a Dickens Christmas series. Though there were a few characters that are mentioned that we met in 12 Days at Bleakly Manor, and a coin that first appears in that book which reappears in A Tale of Two Hearts it can be read without reading the first book, 12 Days at Bleakly Manor.

If you can’t get to a TV to watch a Hallmark Christmas movie A Tale of Two Hearts will fill your craving for unexplainable enjoyment. 

My copy of A Tale of Two Hearts was provided by the publisher via Netgalley in exchange for an honest review. Thanks!

Who Buries The Dead by C.S. Harris

EC653F51-1352-4A7D-B4CE-BAD64628AA4C The tenth book, Who Buries the Dead, in the Sebastian St. Cyr series by C.S. Harris is my favorite so far. And no, not because Jane Austen plays a part in the book, and no not because Sebastian’s cat who has been nameless, is named Mr. Darcy. 

Stanley Preston, a wealthy, socially ambitious West Indies plantation owner is discovered decapitated. Preston was a collector of historical artifacts and also had a wicked temper. Sebastian always fighting for justice seeks to discover who committed this horrific act. 

As with all the books in this series the historical elements are top notch, the descriptions of setting and place make it seem as if I am there. The characters are varied and intriguing. The mystery had me guessing until it was revealed. I loved this book so much because of the burden that Sebastian carries from his time in the war. For the decisions he must make as he wrestles with fighting for justice even if it puts his family in harm’s way. I feel for Sebastian and his search to discover who he is. There is also a heartbreaking event and the themes of redemption and fear. 

The Sebastian St. Cyr books pull me in. It is dangerous when I start a new one as I don’t want to do anything but read it. 

These books do need to be read in order.

12 Days At Bleakly Manor by Michelle Griep

95E37295-DF3F-41DE-A50A-694BD7118BF4 What happens when you combine Bleak House by Charles Dickens, And Then There Were None by Agatha Christie, Victorian Christmas traditions, and romance? You get 12 Days at Bleakly Manor by Michelle Griep. 

Seven guests are invited to Bleakly Manor. Each one is promised something if they stay for twelve days. I found the plot intriguing and the seven guests each had a quirky personality, which I loved. This is a short read and I really would have liked it to have been longer and gotten to know the characters better and seen them interact a bit more with each other. The ending also wraps up very quickly and neatly without much explanation. 

December is a busy month and sometimes its hard to delve into a big book so this would be a great read for those times when you want to read something with a Christmas theme that is short and simple and yet a fun read.

Murder in an English Village by Jessica Ellicott

D9F374AA-AF6B-4D8E-9917-6B6D36888E5E Murder in an English Village by Jessica Ellicott is a delightful story. It is the first in the Beryl and Edwina mystery series. The mystery, the death of a local girl, had me intrigued and kept my attention. I thought I knew how it was going to play out and while I was on the right trail, I was surprised. 

Beryl and Edwina are two friends who are very different. Beryl is adventurous while Edwina likes to avoid anything that is unpleasant. I really loved their friendship. Though very different they each recognized the strengths in the other. Their friendship seemed true to life because they also got annoyed with each other at times. 

The story takes place in a small English village in the 1920’s. The author did a great job in describing this small village. Between the description of the village and other characters in the town, I wanted to be there. I loved the characters that live in this village. From the constable who will not admit to anything going on in her village, to the village gossip, the characters were fun and just what I would imagine for an English village.  The star of the village characters is probably Edwina’s dog Crumpet.

This is a fun, easy mystery. It is exactly what you would expect from a small English village set in 1920 and I can’t wait to read the next one. 

Nine Perfect Strangers by Liane Moriarty

65EF6625-03FE-417B-8268-343351E37EEC Nine Perfect Strangers by Liane Moriarty is a story of multiple characters who are either attending, or working at, Tranquillum House, a health resort. They each have a different reason for being there and you come to find that reason as the book unfolds. 

This was a well written, character driven book. I was sucked right into the story. The characters totally fascinated me. As some of the characters’ stories unraveled I was heart broken for them. Though, it was not an emotionally heavy read. 

The book is narrated by these multiple characters. Some characters get more narrating time than others and I did find that I wanted to hear more from some of them than I did. Often with books written with multiple narrators it is hard to get really invested in a character and feel like you really know them. I did miss that feeling of really knowing some of the characters but the storyline itself made up for it. 

Nine Perfect Strangers was not at all what I expected. It took turns that I was unprepared for and I loved every minute of it. 

This would make a great book to discuss with others. There are so many themes to delve deeper into like self-identity, empathy, searching, how you live life and what you do with it, how we have more in common with others than we think we do.

This was my first Liane Moriarty book and after reading Nine Perfect Strangers I am excited to read more by her. 

The Kinship of Secrets by Eugenia Kim

3B3E2DAB-5381-4F0E-8777-0FF77DC7851A Do you have a secret? If you had asked me that question before I read Kinship of Secrets I probably would have answered no. But, I now realize I do have secrets, in fact many. Things that I have seen no reason to share with others, things that I don’t really want others to know about me and my life, and many things that I have forgotten about. 

Author Eugenia Kim tackles the theme of secrets in her book The Kinship of Secrets. The story begins in 1948. Najin, her husband Calvin and one of their daughters, Miran, live in the United States. Their other daughter, Inja and Najin’s parents and brother live in Korea. The story follows the family members in Korea as their country is torn apart and the family in America trying to reunite with their daughter. The story spans about twenty five years as it follows mostly the lives of the daughters, Miran and Inja. 

I really enjoyed learning more about Korea and the time period right before the Korean War through the seventies. I learned not only about the history and a little about the politics, but also a lot about the Korean culture during this time period. I loved the theme of secrets and the power of secrets. I have never thought much about the secrets I keep and so I really enjoyed thinking more about them and why I keep them. This book also covers themes of identity, abandonment, and new cultures. 

While there was much I enjoyed about the book there were a few things that I struggled with. In the beginning of the story the two sisters are roughly 4 years old, one sister being about 10 months older then the other. The story is told in the perspective of these sisters in alternating chapters.  When they are four they did not talk or think as a four year old would. Age appropriate language, especially with children, seems to be a pet peeve of mine. The first half of the book is slow paced with not much action, which I have no problem with. But then the second half felt so rushed. At the very moment when I really felt like I would get to know the characters  it was rushed leaving me unsatisfied. I also felt like the author did a lot of telling me rather than showing me. I love a book that shows me and I leave coming away with something I figured out rather than the author telling me exactly what I should be getting out of the book. 

The Kinship of Secrets is a great book for learning more about Korea, especially right after World War II, for delving into learning new cultures and thinking more about secrets. If you are looking for a character driven book then this one might not be the one for you. 

My copy of The Kinship of Secrets was provided by the publisher via Netgalley in exchange for an honest review. Thanks!

Why Kings Confess by C.S. Harris

img_2803 Sebastian St. Cyr has dedicated himself to seeking justice for murder victims. In Why Kings Confess Sebastian seeks justice for a murdered Frenchman, Damion Pelletan, found dead along with a woman barely clinging to her life.

The Sebastian St. Cyr series follows in many ways a format. An unusual, usually gruesome murder, political scheming, many attacks on Sebastian, great characters, some romance, historical themes and setting that leave me learning more and more, and a writing style that I really enjoy. 

Why Kings Confess does not stray from the usual format. Even though this is the ninth book in the series I did not find myself getting bored. Solving the murder is always great fun. Somehow I am always on the wrong trail. Somehow though Sebastian never is. I really enjoyed the historical elements in this book. I discovered that I really did not know much about the beginnings of the French Revolution and the things that were done to the royal family. The romance between Sebastian and Hero is as wonderful as always. Added to their romance a new romance begins to blossom between two other characters. The writing was as atmospheric as ever and often left me sighing in satisfaction.

I read four books in this series this month and yet I can’t get my hands on the next one soon enough. 

The Gold Pawn by L.A. Chandlar

D71A29B5-0A7A-41A3-ACC0-B1EE0D69A7DC What do you do with the choices that you are faced with? The choices that in the long run will dictate the kind of person you will be. Do you give into the anger, or walk away from it? These are questions that The Gold Pawn, the second book in the Art Deco mystery series, by L. A. Chandlar, deals with. 

The Gold Pawn follows where The Silver Gun left off. Lane continues to have dreams that seem to have something to do with the death of her parents. This time a gold pawn is appearing in those dreams. Lane and her friends, including the mayor of New York, Fiorello La Guardia, work to discover who the new leader of the Red Scroll is. Lane goes to the home of her childhood to uncover the mystery of her parents in hopes that the information will not only answer personal questions and concerns she has, but also provide clues to discover the identity of who Rex Ruby, the leader of the Red Scroll, left his empire to. Will Lane and her friends discover what they need before the new leader takes over?

I enjoyed the theme of choices we make. There are a couple of times when characters must make a choice and that choice leads them down the path of who they will be. Though it isn’t always as easy as one choice. Often we make a choice and realize that isn’t the path we want to go down and so we make a different kind of choice. I like how the author, Chandlar, shows that it isn’t always just one choice. 

This is a fun, easy, quick read that will keep you guessing until the end. I was pretty surprised by a couple of plot twists that were revealed. The characters and the writing has an easy going flow. I do think you should read The Silver Gun first as it sets up a lot about the past of most of the characters. If you are looking for a serious, darker mystery then this one probably isn’t for you. It has a very lighthearted, happy feel to it. 

Thanks to Kensington Publishing for providing my copy. 

What Darkness Brings by C.S. Harris

D19A4697-59AF-41AD-87CA-4E6D27AEB646 While reading What Darkness Brings I did something I never do. I flipped to the end. Which is a pretty big deal considering I like to experience a book with as little pre- knowledge as possible. I don’t even read the jacket and I read as few summaries as I can and try to forget the ones I do read. 

I hesitate to say to much. If you have not read this series and you wonder what would be so suspenseful that I would have to flip to the end to make sure everything is going to be ok, then you should start the series. I’m hesitant to say much for those who have started the series but just not to book eight yet. I don’t want to spoil the reading experience. 

This book contains all the things I have come to love about the series. A mystery which keeps me guessing to the end. An English history lesson, great atmospheric writing, characters that you come to love, or in some cases, hate. Relationships that are complicated. And finally, a lovely romance with many obstacles in its way. Oh yea, and the Hope diamond and a cat.

I hope I have convinced you to give this series a try.

When Maidens Mourn by C. S. Harris

18701FBE-B96A-4FB9-8CD9-47234F260389 I have always found King Arthur and Camelot fascinating. I was delighted that When Maidens Mourn, the seventh book in the Sebastian St. Cyr mystery series, by C.S. Harris, had a mystery based on Arthurian legends. 

Just days after Sebastian and Hero’s marriage Gabrielle Tennyson, a good friend of Hero’s, is discovered murdered. Gabrielle was causing an uproar among the male antiquaries with her identification of Camelot. Gabrielle’s two young cousins are found to be missing so we are left wondering if the murder has Arthurian links or family links. Yes, Tennyson links. What could make for a better mystery! King Arthur and Tennyson!

Once again I loved the atmosphere author Harris creates. I can picture every setting she describes from an atmospheric old moat to a grimy back alley.

In When Maidens Mourn Sebastian and Hero, having just been married, are still trying to figure out their place in this marriage and how this marriage, which began out of obligation, is going to work. I think they are both surprised to discover that they are developing feelings for the other and so are also trying to figure that out. They each have personal struggles as to what this marriage is going to mean and what they are going to have to let go of. I find their discoveries of each other so fun to watch. 

Harris pulls me in with the atmosphere she creates, with the history I learn and find myself engrossed with, and the characters and their relationships to one another. 

I’m off to read the next in the series!