Author Interview, Review, & Exclusive Deleted Scene: “The Mozart Code” by Rachel McMillan

Author Interview, Review, & Exclusive Deleted Scene: “The Mozart Code” by Rachel McMillan

Welcome to my blog! I’m sharing a review today of a new historical romance from a beloved author: The Mozart Code by Rachel McMillan. She has graciously answered a few questions for my today AND provided an exclusive “deleted scene” from the novel, too! (If you’ve already read The Mozart Code and want to scroll down to the deleted scene, I won’t blame you a bit!)

The Mozart Code is a companion novel of sorts to The London Restoration. While it happens second in a timeline sequence, the books are standalones that feature two different couples, though you will see some overlap of familiar characters if you’ve read The London Restoration.

About the Book

No matter how you might try to hide in a war to escape your past, it is always close at hand.

Lady Sophia Huntington Villiers is no stranger to intrigue, as her work with Alan Turing’s Bombe Machines at Bletchley Park during the war attests. Now, as part of Simon Barre’s covert team in post-war Vienna, she uses her inimitable charm and code name Starling to infiltrate the world of relics: uncovering vital information that could tilt the stakes of the mounting Cold War. When several influential men charge her with finding the death mask of Mozart, Sophie wonders if there is more than the composer’s legacy at stake and finds herself drawn to potential answers in Prague.

Simon Barrington, the illegitimate heir of one of Sussex’s oldest estates, used the previous war to hide his insecurities about his past. Now, he uses his high breeding to gain access to all four allied quarters of the ruined city in an attempt to slow the fall of the Iron Curtain. He has been in love with Sophie Villiers since the moment he met her, and a marriage of convenience to save Simon’s estate has always kept her close. Until now, when Sophie’s mysterious client in Prague forces him to wonder if her allegiance to him—and their cause—is in question. Torn between his loyalty to his cause and his heart, Simon seeks answers about Sophie only to learn that everything he thought he knew about his involvement in both wars is based on a lie.

Goodreads | Amazon

Review

The Mozart Code is a thoughtful and engaging romance that intertwines secrets, loyalty, and intrigue in early cold war eastern Europe. While the relationship develops as a marriage of convenience with a strong foundation of friendship between Sophie and Simon, the true nuances of romance shine through in tiny moments between them when the reader realizes their insightful knowledge of each other — how in tune each is to the other’s emotions behind carefully constructed facades of bravery and class, and sometimes in the intimacy of a shared cigarette 😊.

Rachel McMillan’s authorial voice glistens with her unique way of painting the setting as an active character. In this case, the cities of Vienna and Prague in their post-WWII turmoil and beauty. Her lyrical style lends itself to the slow-burn romance unfolding between Simon and Sophie, as does the timeline of the novel with carefully placed, pointed flashbacks enlightening their backstories and heightening the tension of the present.

Major themes of love, sacrifice, and bravery play out in the lives of the characters. Loyalty, especially, is a strong element present in the recovery of Vienna and Prague, in the friendships of the leads with the Somervilles, in the ever-present threat of betrayal, and in the way loyalty looks a lot like love — even when Sophie tries to maintain her careful heart’s barricade. The use of names is also a clever part of Simon and Sophie’s progression, with the power of identity and names explored through assertion, class, endearment, heritage, and belonging.

The ROMANCE of the story is my favorite part, of course! Simon is a carefully guarded beta hero whose history with Sophie is bittersweet and endearing. As he grows through the events of the novel, he comes into his own in many ways, seeing beyond processing the world through a chess scenario. Sophie is tough and independent, and her growth comes through her opportunity to keep her word and her loyalty sacred to Simon alone. A slight switch in gender norms of emotional vulnerability plays out in their relationship, yet Simon remains the protective hero and Sophie the intelligent complement to his soul. I love the way Sophie loves Mozart and music! The title “Mozart Code” has special meaning between them and ties up all the ways they are intertwined and committed.

Thank you to the author/publisher for the early review copy. This is my honest review.

Thank you, Rachel, for taking to time to answer some behind-the-scenes questions about The Mozart Code and to share an exclusive deleted scene!

Can you tell us a little more about your hero and heroine’s personalities? Quirks or endearing qualities? 

They’re both playing at being something they’re not in some fashion— at least to the world at large.  When it comes to themselves they know each other so intimately that they can finish each other’s sentences but also have this amazing homing device that allows them to sense when the other is near. I just love that about them.   They’re both daft little bunnies desperate to keep their independence and so fearful of being hurt and yet the undercurrent of their relationship is just pure love.  Strong, earth-defying love. Sophie and Simon are each other’s worlds.   Simon I love because he’s this big nerd wrapped up in a Savile Row suit and gold-rimmed glasses and presenting the world a confident, dashing portrait whereas really, inside, he’s still a little boy forever trying to win love and approval.  I love how he sees the world as a chess board. From the very first chapter he is setting up his board and assembling all of the major players that will factor into his story.   He’s very kind at heart he just has a terrible way of showing vulnerability.    For Sophie, I love that she is forever convincing herself and us that she is this strong and capable woman  who doesn’t need love and doesn’t want Simon ( and she is—both strong and capable—)but she is absolutely mad for him and she just doesn’t realize it yet.   I love how Sophie always rushes to Simon’s defense and believes in him as far more than the illegitimate heir who is such a burden to his family.  The anger and frustration she shows on his behalf, to me, is one of the most amazing parts about her.  When she gives her loyalty to him that is far more powerful than most women declaring love. 

Setting is often another important “character” in your stories. What can you say about the settings included in The Mozart Code?

I really love Vienna, obviously and it is such an interesting counterpart to Prague. Because in the Kalter Krieg (Cold War) both were very close to falling behind the Iron Curtain — but only Prague did.  I also found they had other fascinating parallels that made me choose them as the two starring cities: one they both had close ties to Mozart because he lived and composed in both. Yet, Prague celebrated him in his lifetime and Vienna saw his early demise met with a Pauper’s grave.  Another interesting reason to pair them was the work of Anton Pilgram: one of the architects whose churches and designs are housed in both cities ( if you read The London Restoration, you know I am a nut about church architecture, lol). I am also quite in love with the themes of restitution and restoration and finding beauty in the rubble by being able to see (as my heroine Diana Somerville does), the prospect of what the city will be after it is made new.   Hitler forbade his pilots from bombing Prague whereas Vienna suffered a lot of bombing (especially near the very end of the war): so while Vienna is scarred, Prague was still intact— at least surfacely: we soon learn that there are a lot of Communist undercurrents and the Czech Republic would be under Communist rule after the events of The Mozart Code for almost half a century. 

But I am a lot like Diana in that I believe “each city had chosen human portals through which to whisper their secrets.” I am personally passionate about and  fascinated by Vienna and Prague so I really wanted to convey their romance and hardships to the reader. 

Are there any interesting historical tidbits you came across in your research you were not able to include in the story?

Anything to do with the churches! I really, really, really wanted to include so many more churches in both Vienna and Prague but I had to remind myself ( as did my editor), this is Sophie’s story not Diana’s.  Heck, Diana needed another book just for the churches here lol.  I also had to cut more about Mozart and the Mozart family. Readers may not realize I do five times as much research as funnels into the novel so that I can hopefully confidently relay that my characters are experts in these things. 

I also had to cut a lot of the Bletchley Park flashbacks: especially as Sophie worked with the Bombe machines and I did a TON of research on those machines so it was a shame to have them gone. 

What are you currently reading, OR what is the best book you’ve read lately?

I loved The Diamond Eye by Kate Quinn. I also read and loved an early copy of The Belle of Belgrave Square by Mimi Matthews because it is SUCH a Beauty and the Beast meets The Blue Castle type book and has some of my favourite tropes.  I reread The Viscount Who Loved Me by Julia Quinn to review for Austenprose ( it’s the book the most recent season of Bridgerton is based on). I love a tortured hero who just wants love and  a marriage of convenience so it was a fun re-read! I also am MADLY in love with the new Elizabeth Camden book Written on The Wind which I think is her best to date and her editor calls me “the patron saint” of that book and I think I am … I LOVE IT 

As readers enjoy this new release and are already eager for another novel from you (I’m talking about myself here, HAHA!), can you tell us what’s next for you?

True story: if I press ALT and TAB on my macbook there is always a Three Quarter Time novel in progress.  I really love writing those but alas the paying contracts have to come first. But I do hope to get (finally) Memory in Three Quarter Time finished someday!   I have a collaborative novel coming out in March 2023 with two authors—J’Nell Ciesielski and Aimie K. Runyan—for Harper Muse called  The Castle Keepers.  In this book, it is a Yorkshire castle set across three wars with three different romances. Aimie is doing The Boer War, J’Nell WWI and my romance is set just after WWII when the castle is commandeered as a retreat for soldiers suffering from shell shock.  There’s a cat named Sigmund Freud    

Next September I have a novel coming out that is as of yet untitled but that I call Pimpernel –and with good cause— it is a retelling of The Scarlet Pimpernel story set in Nazi Occupied Rouen and Paris and it features a daring adventure and a classic love story. I think you will all love Phineas and Marlena! 

Is there anything readers need to know to set up this “DELETED SCENE” from The Mozart Code?

One of the things I had to balance in writing The Mozart Code was making it a standalone story while still nodding to the established events of The London Restoration.  And the careful reader will remember that Simon got pneumonia and Sophie is clearly worried about him and Diana tries to coax her friend into admitting what she’s feeling but Sophie shrugs it off. We, of course, move on and Simon gets better because we see their world through Di’s eyes but I always knew what was going on beyond the surface there as I knew Simon and Sophie’s true relationship while writing that book. We just are seeing the same time period in Simon and Sophie’s viewpoint instead of Diana’s and so I had to cut this moment in flashback where Sophie sneaks out of her Bletchley boarding flat and goes to visit him.    I confess, it is not perfect or edited but I hope it gives you a glance of what I wanted to do with their relationship ☺

Connect with author Rachel McMillan: Website | Facebook | Twitter | Pinterest | Instagram | Goodreads

If Simon couldn’t be healthy, she would be strong for both of them, she determined. Later, as an air raid siren shrilled and a formation of planes took low over the fields and downs, she suspected that while others wires and radars were attuned to their spouses, their mothers and fathers, their brothers and sisters in times of constant peril, her frequency was leveled with Simon’s.  As it had been when she defended him in front of his father and brother. As it had been when she was briefly installed in the SOE.  As it would be while he was ill in hospital and she failed at keeping her emotions in a straight, rigid line.

But frequencies, like wires, could stretch and bend and snap leaving each recipient at the end of their wave vulnerable to the consequences of a terminated signal.    Sophie didn’t fancy being so disconnected from Simon.

So, later that night after she had listened to Diana yip on about the chess game she lost against Fisher Carne at the pub, Sophie took action. 

She tiptoed out of the house and locked the door quietly behind her.  It was past curfew and getting into the Park would take a not inconsiderable amount of care.  Fisher had left a note that Simon had been moved home from hospital to spend the last part of his convalescence.   He also told her that when he had been at Simon’s billet flat, he had been able to enter through a side door near the garden.

Sophie knocked softly.  She hated making him get out of bed when he was ill but she’d rather that than fall through the window and scare him half to death.

A moment later, the light flickered on to dispel the shadow of the narrow, stone path and the door creaked open. 

Simon was pale, thinner than usual and subsequently his blue eyes seemed wider as they bore out at her in the darkness.  He tied his robe.

“Let me in so you don’t catch your death…again.” She whispered.

He stepped back and she joined him.  He turned on a few lights and was winded with the movement. 

“Sit down.” She grabbed his arm and led him to the sofa. Once he was seated, she grabbed a quilt draped over a neighbouring chair and tucked it up over his shoulders.  “Oh Simon, what a mess.” 

“Villiers…” his voice was a little raspy. “What are you doing here?”

Sophie smoothed his unkempt hair from his forehead. “Who is taking care of you?”

“I’m feeling much better.” He shivered and winnowed down in the blanket.

“I can see that. You look dismal, Simon.  I’ll make tea.” 

He waved his hand in the direction of the kettle and cooktop and Sophie started to work, aware that Simon’s gaze was on her slightest movement.   

“I can wrangle a Tetley’s bag into a pot.” 

“I didn’t say anything.” Simon whispered.

“You were thinking it.”

Several moments later she ensured Simon’s hand was wrapped around the steaming mug.  She took her own mug to the arm chair, stirring the liquid– not out of preference –but occupation for her fingers. 

“You must be bored out of your tree.” She observed after a long moment. 

Simon blew on the tea and slowly raised the mug to his cracked lips. “I’ve a lot on my mind.”

“Do you?”

“I thought I was going to die.”

“Pshaw.  People don’t die from pneumonia.”
“Yes they do.” He wheezed. “All the time.”

“Well, you are not people.”

“If my landlady finds you here.”

“It’ll besmirch my reputation.” Sophie waved a hand.  She watched Simon take a slow sip. Then she looked around the tidy but compact flat, her eyes settling on a decanter on the side table near the wireless. “Ah!” She rose and strolled toward it. She opened the lid and smelled. “Here…” she turned to Simon. “Give me your mug.” She poured a liberal splash of brandy into each of their tea mugs. 

“Are you sure…?” Simon began.

“Medicinal.” Sophie said.

Simon’s eyelashes fluttered over his cheekbones.

“Villiers.”

“Yes, Simon.”

“If I don’t…”

“Oh Lord. I didn’t risk my spotless reputation to hear you profess anything.” Sophie sipped her brandy-laced tea. “So don’t profess anything.” She studied Simon’s modest but comfortable surroundings: mahogany wood, lace curtains, neatly lined books and a few gold-garnished picture frames.  He was going to say something. Something that might hold the word she told him never to say and she steadied herself to prepare for it. 

“Villers…”

“Simon.”

“I’ve had a lot of time to think about what happens after this war.”

This war. Tut tut. I’ve had enough war.”

“Villiers…”

“Simon.”

He coughed through his smile. “It’s like we’re a vaudeville routine.” Simon sipped tea. Stretched. “If I survive…”

“Do not bore me, Simon Barrington. You know very well you are going to survive or else they wouldn’t have sent you home.”

“Home?” he lifted the quilt demonstratively. “Is that where I am? Anyhow, Villiers, 

if I don’t survive…”

“You’re fine.” It rolled easily off of her tongue. She had used it in a long line of syllables to convince herself time and again since he was in hospital.  

“Then I need you to know…”

Don’t say it. Don’t say it.  Don’t tell me.  Don’t loop those letters together.  Don’t make me frightened of you when you are at your weakest.

“You’re fine.”

Review: “Meet Me in the Margins” by Melissa Ferguson

I have been on a historical fiction binge lately, so I decided to change it up by reading Melissa Ferguson’s latest romcom novel! Thanks for stopping by to check out my review of Meet Me in the Margins, a standalone novel.

About the Book

Savannah Cade is a low-level editor at Pennington Publishing, a prestigious publisher producing only the highest of highbrow titles. And while editing the latest edition of The Anthology of Medieval Didactic Poetry may be her day job, she has two secrets she’s hiding.

One: She’s writing a romance novel.

Two: She’s discovered the Book Nook—a secret room in the publishing house where she finds inspiration for her “lowbrow” hobby.

After leaving her manuscript behind one afternoon, she returns to the nook only to discover someone has written notes in the margins. Savannah’s first response to the criticism is defensive, but events transpire that force her to admit that she needs the help of this shadowy editor after all. As the notes take a turn for the romantic, and as Savannah’s madcap life gets more complicated than ever, she uses the process of elimination to identify her mysterious editor—only to discover that what she truly wants and what she should want just might not be the same. Melissa Ferguson’s latest—a love letter to books, readers, and romance—will leave fans laughing out loud and swooning in the same breath

Goodreads | Amazon

Review

Meet Me In the Margins is a FUN romcom with a good balance of emotional depth — you might even say it is a blend of comedy and women’s fiction. I appreciate the humor Melissa Ferguson always brings to her stories with her unique voice. Her heroines are always relatable and her stories bring out the comedy and sentiments of everyday life.

Some hilarious situations with a Valentine’s Day trip to the courthouse, quirky authors, and a witty dart game are a few things that made me laugh in this story. As Savannah edits her own novel, tongue-in-cheek moments about writing and romance add fun to the story. Through all of the lighthearted moments, though, is an underlying story and growing experience for Savannah herself, enlightening her of insecurities and her own worth. I have to admit, I did NOT like her family for a good portion of the novel. But through some key friendships, and especially with the compassion and encouragement of the hero, Savannah comes into her own in her family and career roles.

While some have compared elements of this novel to the classic “You’ve Got Mail”, I think the note-exchanging elements are presented in their own way (not like the movie at all), and the subsequent friendship that blooms “in the margins” as a result is something I was rooting for! Plus, there’s a strong representation of the publishing industry as a backdrop to the story, which will appeal to book and story lovers alike.

Thank you to the publisher and Netgalley for the review copy. This is my honest review.

Review + Blog Tour: “The Ice Swan” by J’Nell Ciesielski

Welcome to my stop on the blog tour for J’Nell Ciesielski’s new novel, The Ice Swan! It combines a WWI setting with aspects of the Russian Revolution in a historical romance. Read on for more about the book, my review, and a giveaway courtesy of HFVBT tours and the publisher.

About the Book

The Ice Swan by J’nell Ciesielski

The Ice Swan Cover

Publication Date: July 6, 2021
Thomas Nelson
eBook & Paperback; 400 pages

Genre: Historical Romance

Amid the violent last days of the glittering Russian monarchy, a princess on the run finds her heart where she least expects it.

1917, Petrograd. Fleeing the murderous flames of the Russian Revolution, Princess Svetlana Dalsky hopes to find safety in Paris with her mother and sister. But the city is buckling under the weight of the Great War, and the Bolsheviks will not rest until they have erased every Russian aristocrat from memory. Svetlana and her family are forced into hiding in Paris’s underbelly, with little to their name but the jewels they sewed into their corsets before their terrifying escape.

Born the second son of a Scottish duke, the only title Wynn MacCallan cares for is that of surgeon. Putting his talents with a scalpel to good use in the hospitals in Paris, Wynn pushes the boundaries of medical science to give his patients the best care possible. After treating Svetlana for a minor injury, he is pulled into a world of decaying imperial glitter. Intrigued by this mysterious, cold, and beautiful woman, Wynn follows Svetlana to an underground Russian club where drink, dance, and questionable dealings collide on bubbles of vodka.

Out of money and options, Svetlana agrees to a marriage of convenience with the handsome and brilliant Wynn, who will protect her and pay off her family’s debts. It’s the right thing for a good man to do, but Wynn cannot help but hope the marriage will turn into one of true affection. When Wynn’s life takes an unexpected turn, so does Svetlana’s—and soon Paris becomes as dangerous as Petrograd. And as the Bolsheviks chase them to Scotland and beyond, Wynn and Svetlana begin to wonder if they will ever be able to outrun the love they are beginning to feel for one another.

The Ice Swan is a ray of light in the middle of a Europe that was sinking into darkness. Ciesielski’s talent for storytelling from the heart is a feast for the readers’ eyes.” —Mario Escobar, international bestselling author of Remember Me and Children of the Stars

Goodreads | Amazon | Barnes and Noble | IndieBound

With a passion for heart-stopping adventure and sweeping love stories, J’nell Ciesielski weaves fresh takes into romances of times gone by. When not creating dashing heroes and daring heroines, she can be found dreaming of Scotland, indulging in chocolate of any kind, or watching old black and white movies. Winner of the Romance Through the Ages Award and the Maggie Award, she is a Florida native who now lives in Virginia with her husband, daughter, and lazy beagle.

Learn more at www.jnellciesielski.com. You can also find J’nell on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, Instagram, and Goodreads.

Review

The Ice Swan is a complex story with hints of intrigue and risk set during a tumultuous time in history with a beautiful romance at its core. Author J’Nell Ciesielski sets the bar high for excellence in the genre!

Every aspect of this novel is well paced and meticulously imparted, from the culture and heritage of Svetlana, the secrets and intrigue of the Russian underground, the challenge of an Army hospital and techniques at wartime, the brilliantly depicted settings, to the bright themes of trust, grace, and belonging. The secondary characters are sometimes endearing, funny, annoying, or weasel-y as appropriate, making the contrasting worlds of Wynn and Svetlana come to life with a bit of humor and reality.

The romance between Wynn and Svetlana is one for the reader to fall headlong into. Theirs is a melding of cultures with a slow burn marriage of convenience, allll things I love in a historical romance. J’Nell’s skillful wordsmithing depicts the comforting touches and embraces just as satisfyingly for this romance reader’s heart as the moments of spark and attraction. The magnetism between Wynn and Svetlana is unmistakable from their first meeting, and the way they compliment one another in intelligence and encourage each other (even through a bit of pride and stubbornness on both parts!) is my favorite part of their dynamic.

Fans of Rachel McMillan, Kate Breslin, and Amanda Dykes will appreciate Ciesielski’s romantic prose and thought-provoking storytelling. I have a greater understanding of Russian history in the early 20th century and a new respect for the beginnings of cardiology thanks to the detailed research and history included in this story! Not mention a new fondness for the name Wynn :). This is the second novel I’ve read by J’Nell Ciesielski and I’m eager to read more soon.

Thank you the the publisher and HFVBT tours for the review copy. This is my honest review.

Blog Tour Schedule

Tuesday, July 6
Review at Rachelle Loves Books

Wednesday, July 7
Review at Crystal’s Library
Review at Gwendalyn’s Books

Thursday, July 8
Review at Nursebookie
Review at The Lit Bitch
Review at McCombs on Main

Friday, July 9
Review at Two Bookish Babes

Monday, July 12
Review at Pursuing Stacie
Review at The Caffeinated Bibliophile

Tuesday, July 13
Review at Wishful Endings
Interview at Books & Benches

Wednesday, July 14
Review at Novels Alive

Thursday, July 15
Review at The Green Mockingbird

Friday, July 16
Review at Amy’s Booket List
Review at Read Review Rejoice

Sunday, July 18
Review at Reader_ceygo

Monday, July 19
Review at Bookworlder
Interview at Reader_ceygo

Tuesday, July 20
Review at A Darn Good Read
Review at Niki Loves to Read

Enter to win a paperback copy of The Ice Swan by J’nell Ciesielski! We have 5 copies up for grabs!The giveaway is open to US residents only and ends on July 20th. You must be 18 or older to enter.

Click Here to enter the GIVEAWAY via Gleam!

Review: “Plot Twist” by Bethany Turner

Fans of romcoms (of the book or film variety) will want to take note: Plot Twist by Bethany Turner is not to be missed! Read on for more about the novel and my thoughts on this cute story.

About the Book

An aspiring screenwriter has a chance encounter with an actor who could be the man of her dreams. Over the next ten years, she’ll write the story . . . but will he end up being the star?

February 4, 2003, promises to be a typical day for Olivia Ross—a greeting card writer whose passion project is a screenplay of her own. But after she and a handsome actor have a magical meet-cute in a coffee shop, they make a spontaneous pact: in ten years, after they’ve found the success they’re just sure they’re going to achieve, they’ll return to the coffeehouse to partner up and make a film together. The only problem? Olivia neglected to get the stranger’s name. But she doesn’t forget his face—or the date.

For the next ten years, every February 4 is marked with coincidences and ironies for Olivia. As men come and go and return to her life, she continues to write, but still wonders about the guy from the coffee shop—the nameless actor she’s almost certain has turned out to be Hamish MacDougal, now a famous A-lister and Hollywood leading man.

But a lot can happen in ten years, and while waiting for the curtain to rise on her fate, the true story of Olivia’s life is being written—and if she’s not careful, she’ll completely miss the real-life romantic comedy playing out right before her eyes.

Goodreads | Amazon

Review

Bethany Turner’s romcoms are always fresh and brimming with pop culture. Plot Twist offers the same zest and smart plotting, but with celebrity references amped up thanks to the the LA setting and culture. This story is especially unique with its timeline and take on romance yet full of beloved tropes and one of the BEST roommate relationships I’ve come across in a while. And the hero, y’all. He’s unexpected and lovable and quite the surprise!

Plot Twist and Films
These movies all have a connection to Plot Twist 😉

I absolutely laughed and highlighted my way through this novel. The celebrity name dropping and movie references make my heart happy, particularly as a movie buff. Its setting and cast of characters are a natural springboard for Hollywood happenings. And the way the actor Hamish MacDougal resembles real-life actor Gerard Butler is uncanny 😉 and hilarious.

Plot Twist is simultaneously a unique romcom and a story that harkens back to classic and beloved romcom tropes through its wry moments of spontaneity and over the top IRONY. It has, to name a few, meet cute(s) (yes, plural), a bachelorette auction, celebrity sightings, a Hallmark-like greeting card company, dreaded exes showing up at the most inopportune times, and a bff relationship to envy.

The timeline works for the story, checking in with Olivia and friends every February 4th for ten years, and is in favor of the character development. While it could feel abrupt, Turner takes her time with each “day” and builds complexity by catching up events of the past year and showing another crazy day in Olivia’s life. Olivia learns to how to be comfortable in her own skin. along the way, and she learns to appreciate the heroes in her life who come and go — and one hero, in particular, who is there for her all along.

My very favorite part of this story is the BFF relationship Olivia has with her roommate, Fiona. Fiona is pivotal to the plot in many ways. While the romance and zany comedy are a huge part of the story, my takeaway is that a relationship like Olivia and Fiona’s is as important in life as a HEA (happily ever after).

Thanks to the publisher for the review copy. This is my honest review.

Audiobook Review: “Dearest Josephine” by Caroline George

I’m reviewing an endearing novel today by Caroline George, Dearest Josephine. It falls within the YA (young adult) genre, though I think it would appeal to all ages and lovers of story — especially those who enjoy Regency fiction.

About the Book

Caroline George sweeps readers up into two different time periods with an unexpected love story that prompts us to reimagine what it means to be present with the people we love.

2020: Chocolate and Earl Grey tea can’t fix Josie De Clare’s horrible year. She mourned the death of her father and suffered a teen-life crisis, which delayed her university plans. But when her father’s will reveals a family-owned property in Northern England, Josie leaves London to find clarity at the secluded manor house. While exploring the estate, she discovers two-hundred-year-old love letters written by an elusive novelist, all addressed to someone named Josephine. And then she discovers a novel in which it seems like she’s the heroine…

1820: Novelist Elias Roch loves a woman he can never be with. Born the bastard son to a nobleman and cast out from society, Elias seeks refuge in his mind with the quirky heroine who draws him into a fantasy world of scandal, betrayal, and unconditional love. Convinced she’s his soulmate, Elias writes letters to her, all of which divulge the tragedy and trials of his personal life.

As fiction blurs into reality, Josie and Elias must decide: How does one live if love can’t wait? Separated by two hundred years, they fight against time to find each other in a story of her, him, and the novel written by the man who loves her.

Goodreads | Amazon

Review

Dearest Josephine is a completely unique reading experience blending epistolary correspondence in contemporary times and the Regency era, along with a serialized novel interspersed throughout. All three concepts are intricately tied together and unite themes of hope, longing, LOVE, and acceptance.

My favorite part of reading this novel is how it respects and acknowledges the power of story and a reader’s connection to fictional characters. I experienced this connection to the story personally and through the character Josie’s eyes as she discovered the serialized novel and its mysterious ties to her life. Twists, turns, and unpredictable surprises lay ahead for Josie and the reader.

With the slightest hints of mystery and an absolutely endearing cast of characters, everything from modern humor, a nosy knitting club, society and setting of the Regency era, and layers of friendship and connection are depicted vibrantly and with skill. I’m looking forward to whatever Caroline George pens next, and I dearly hope she returns to the YA genre again!

I listened to the audiobook version of this novel and was delighted with the accents of the characters and unique audio cues for instant messages. ❤

Thank you to the publisher and Netgalley for the review copy. This is my honest review.

Review + Blog Tour: “The Vanishing at Loxby Manor” by Abigail Wilson

Welcome to my stop on the blog tour for Abigail Wilson’s upcoming release, The Vanishing at Loxby Manor! It’s an exciting Regency mystery with romance and suspense. Read on for more about the story, my review, and an opportunity to enter a giveaway!

The Vanishing at Loxby Manor by Abigail Wilson

Publication Date: January 26, 2021
Thomas Nelson
Paperback & eBook; 336 pages

Genre: Historical Fiction/Romance/Regency

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.

Amazon | Barnes and Noble | IndieBound

Praise for The Vanishing at Loxby Manor

“Vanishing at Loxby Manor cleverly combines Regency romance with Gothic intrigue, and the result is a suspenseful, thoroughly entertaining read. Charming and lovely.”—Tasha Alexander, New York Times bestselling author of In the Shadow of Vesuvius

“Like each of Wilson’s novels, The Vanishing at Loxby Manor drew me in from the start and didn’t let go. From the heartfelt characters to the twists that kept me guessing, I relished each turn of the page. Wilson is a master at historical mystery, and I cannot wait for her next story.”—Lindsay Harrel, author of The Joy of Falling

“Abigail Wilson’s latest Gothic romance hits the notes readers have come to expect from her talented pen: romance, shadows and intrigue and a brilliantly executed atmosphere. She is a master at her craft and a rare stand-out in a popular genre.”—Rachel McMillan, author of The London Restoration

“Weaving a shadow of mystery among the gilded countryside of Regency England, Wilson’s tale of love lost, buried shame, and secret societies is a delicious blend of romance and intrigue. Splash in gorgeous historical Regency details, and murder brewing around every stone, and readers will be burning through the pages until the riveting end.”—J’nell Ciesielski, author of The Socialite

“A gothic romance that is filled with great characters and a mystery that unfolds chapter by chapter. A perfect blend of mystery, family relationships, lost years, and star-crossed love. Be warned, you won’t be able to walk away from these characters.”—Cara Putman, award-winning author of Flight Risk

Review

The Vanishing at Loxby Manor is another excellent Regency mystery from Abigail Wilson! With first person narration instantly pulling me into the story and adding to the suspense, I was delightfully surprised and guessing until the very end. Charity is a likable and complex heroine whose view of the world has been shaped by her past friendship with the Cavanaghs and her experiences abroad. As she navigates the mystery of her friend’s disappearance, a second chance at life — and romance! — unfolds.

The Regency era comes to life under Wilson’s command. I especially enjoyed the rural setting and requisite elements of the time: references to duels, a ball, strolls in the garden, drawing room banter, and midnight horseback rides. The compelling cast and exciting mystery propel the story into further layers of complexity as Charity must decide where to turn and who to trust next.

Along with the wonderfully executed second chance romance, themes of survival and hope anchor the story and main couple. I appreciate how this story acknowledges life as ever-changing with focus best fixed on the future instead of the shadows of the past. I recommend this book for anyone who likes their Regency or Austen with a hefty dose of mystery and suspense, or fans of inspirational romance and well done first person POV.

Thank you to HFVBT and the publisher for the review copy. This is my honest review.

About the Author

Abigail Wilson combines her passion for Regency England with intrigue and adventure to pen historical mysteries with a heart. A registered nurse, chai tea addict, and mother of two crazy kids, Abigail fills her spare time hiking the national parks, attending her daughter’s gymnastic meets, and curling up with a great book. In 2017, Abigail won WisRWA’s Fab Five contest and in 2016, ACFW’s First Impressions contest as well as placing as a 2017 finalist in the Daphne du Maurier Award for Excellence in Mystery/Suspense.

She is a cum laude graduate of the University of Texas at Austin and currently lives in Dripping Springs, Texas, with her husband and children.

Website | Facebook | Twitter | Instagram | Goodreads

Blog Tour Schedule

Tuesday, January 19
Review at Chicks, Rogues and Scandals

Wednesday, January 20
Review at Pursuing Stacie

Thursday, January 21
Review at Gwendalyn’s Books

Friday, January 22
Review at The Green Mockingbird

Monday, January 25
Review at Jorie Loves A Story
Review at Library of Clean Reads

Tuesday, January 26
Guest Post at Novels Alive

Wednesday, January 27
Review at Books, Cooks, Looks

Thursday, January 28
Review at Read Review Rejoice

Friday, January 29
Review at Heidi Reads
Review at View from the Birdhouse

Saturday, January 30
Review at Nursebookie

Monday, February 1
Review at The Caffeinated Bibliophile

Tuesday, February 2
Review at Amy’s Booket List

Wednesday, February 3
Review at Passages to the Past

Thursday, February 4
Review at Hallie Reads
Review at Bitch Bookshelf

Friday, February 5
Review at The Lit Bitch
Interview at Books & Benches

Giveaway

Enter to win a copy of The Vanishing at Loxby Manor by Abigail Wilson! Five copies are up for grabs!

The giveaway is open to the US only and ends on February 5th. You must be 18 or older to enter.

Click HERE to enter the giveaway!

Review + Blog Tour: “Beauty Among Ruins” by J’nell Ciesielski

Beauty Among Ruins is the first novel I’ve read by J’nell Ciesielski, and I am very impressed! I want to go back and read her backlist now 😉

Join me today in celebrating her upcoming novel release with a blog tour and a chance to win a paperback copy in a giveaway at the bottom of this post!

Beauty Among Ruins

Publication Date: January 12, 2021
Thomas Nelson
Paperback, eBook, & Audiobook

Genre: Historical Fiction/Romance/Scottish

In Ciesielski’s latest sweeping romance, an American heiress finds herself in Scotland amid the fallout of the Great War, and a wounded Scottish laird comes face-to-face with his past and a woman he never could have expected.

American socialite Lily Durham is known for enjoying one moment to the next, with little regard for the consequences of her actions. But just as she is banished overseas to England as a “cure” for her frivolous ways, the Great War breaks out and wreaks havoc. She joins her cousin in nursing the wounded at a convalescent home deep in the wilds of Scotland at a crumbling castle where its laird is less than welcoming.

Alec MacGregor has given his entire life to preserving his home of Kinclavoch Castle, but mounting debts force him to sell off his family history bit by bit. Labeled a coward for not joining his countrymen in the trenches due to an old injury, he opens his home to the Tommies to make recompense while he keeps to the shadows. But his preference for the shadows is shattered when a new American nurse comes streaming into the castle on a burst of light.

Lily and Alec are thrown together when a series of mysterious events threatens to ruin the future of Kinclavoch. Can they put aside their differences to find the culprit before it’s too late, or will their greatest distraction be falling in love?

‘A Scottish lord and an American socialite discover love during WWI in this gorgeous historical romance from Ciesielski (The Socialite)…The undercurrent of mystery and Ciesielski’s unflinching approach to the harsh realities of wartime only enhance the love story. Readers are sure to be impressed.’ –Publishers Weekly

Available for Pre-Order

Amazon | Barnes and Noble | IndieBound

About the Author

J'nell Ciesielski

With a passion for heart-stopping adventure and sweeping love stories, J’nell Ciesielski weaves fresh takes into romances of times gone by. When not creating dashing heroes and daring heroines, she can be found dreaming of Scotland, indulging in chocolate of any kind, or watching old black and white movies. Winner of the Romance Through the Ages Award and the Maggie Award, she is a Florida native who now lives in Virginia with her husband, daughter, and lazy beagle.

Learn more at www.jnellciesielski.com. You can also find J’nell on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, Instagram, and Goodreads.

Review

Beauty Among Ruins is an exquisite romance set against the perils of war and loss. With deep themes of sacrifice and longing, J’nell Ciesielski’s style transports the reader to the idyllic Scottish Lowlands and stirs a longing for tradition.

Through Alec and Lily’s eyes, the struggles of recovering WWI soldiers are spotlighted with the noble sacrifices nurses and homeowners offered to house the convalescing men. A mystery with more than one suspected character, combined with a plot to smear the laird’s name and weigh on his guilt, all deftly intertwines with the day to day work of providing physical and mental care. I was happy to see Lily’s steadfastness and growth through circumstances she did not initially choose.

The romance in this story is one of my new favorites! With subtle hints of beauty and the beast vibes, Alec’s initial brooding and distance disguise a poetic heart that answers Lily’s in a beautiful way. They are wonderful compliments to each other. And when he speaks Gaelic to her, BE STILL MY HEART.

With a full cast of characters that lend a sense of place and family camaraderie to the story, Beauty Among Ruins is a historical drama not to be missed by fans of Scottish settings, WWI homefront stories, or poignant romance.

Thank you to the publisher for the review copy. This is my honest review.

Blog Tour Schedule

Wednesday, January 6
Review at Pursuing Stacie

Thursday, January 7
Review at Read Review Rejoice

Friday, January 8
Review at The Green Mockingbird

Saturday, January 9
Review at Reading is My Remedy

Monday, January 11
Review at Jorie Loves A Story

Tuesday, January 12
Interview at Books & Benches

Wednesday, January 13
Review at Chicks, Rogues and Scandals

Thursday, January 14
Excerpt at Heidi Reads

Friday, January 15
Review at The Lit Bitch
Review at Amy’s Booket List

Saturday, January 16
Review at Nursebookie

Monday, January 18
Review at Books, Cooks, Looks

Tuesday, January 19
Guest Post at Novels Alive

Wednesday, January 20
Review at Novels Alive

Thursday, January 21
Review at Hallie Reads

Friday, January 22
Review at Gwendalyn’s Books

Giveaway

We have 5 paperback copies of Beauty Among Ruins up for grabs!

The giveaway is open to the US only and ends on January 22nd. You must be 18 or older to enter.

Enter the Giveaway here!

Beauty Among Ruins_Blog Tour Banner

Audiobook Review: “The Cul-de-Sac War” by Melissa Ferguson

Melissa Ferguson’s sophomore novel, The Cul-de-Sac War, is as cute and intriguing as its name implies. It’s a contemporary romcom I highly recommend for fans of the genre!

About the Book

All’s fair in love and prank wars.

Bree Leake doesn’t want to be tied down. She’s had more jobs than she can count, and she plans to move as soon as the curtains fall on her less-than-minor stage role at The Barter—the oldest live performance theater in the US. But just when it’s time to move on again, Bree’s parents make her an offer: hold steady for a full year, and they will give her the one thing she’s always wanted—her grandmother’s house. Her dreams are coming true . . . until life at the theater throws her some curve balls.

And then there’s Chip McBride—her handsome and infuriating next-door neighbor.

Chip just might be the only person whose stubborn streak can match Bree’s. She would move heaven and earth to have him off her cul-de-sac and out of her life, but according to the bargain she’s struck, she can’t move out of her house and away from the man who’s making her life miserable. So begins Bree’s obsessive new mission: to drive Chip out of the neighborhood—and fast.

Bree isn’t the only one who’s a tad competitive, and Chip is more than willing to fight fire with fire. But as their pranks escalate, the line between love and hate starts to blur—and their heated rivalry threatens to take a hilarious, heartwarming, and romantic new turn.

Goodreads | Amazon

Review

The Cul-de-Sac War is truly a LAUGH OUT LOUD romcom! I listened to the audiobook and loved every second. I love the pranks and antics of Chip and Bree, their delightful frenemies-to-enemies-to-romance journey, and the little bits of realistic heart-truths in this story. Most of all, I loved the way I couldn’t predict what crazy thing would happen next or how much I would be surprised by the way it comes together. I especially like how it’s centered on two people who have no idea that each is the answer to the friendship and encouragement they are seeking.

So many aspects of this novel line up to result in such perfection. A short list:

  • the cast of supporting characters: Bree’s off-the-grid obsessed roommate, her matchmaking obsessed parents, and Chip’s pretentious family, just to name a few.
  • relatable humor: Subarus. Duct tape and home remodeling.
  • quaint-but-still-real-life setting: just go Google The Barter!
  • random farm animals: I’ll leave this comment a mystery until you read it for yourself 😉
  • a dog named Russell: so prolific, he deserves his own category. His Slim Jim obsession is award-worthy.
  • finding purpose in life: a major theme here!
  • a surprising, heart-tugging story thread with Bree’s family — and the way Chip relates

Thank you to the publisher for the review copy. This is my honest review.

Review: “The Fifth Avenue Story Society” by Rachel Hauck

I’m sharing a review today of one of the best stories I’ve read this year! The Fifth Avenue Story Society by Rachel Hauck is a contemporary inspirational story of redemption, hope, friendship, and restoration.

About the Book

An invitation to join The Fifth Avenue Story Society gives five New York strangers a chance to rewrite their own stories.

Executive assistant Lexa is eager for a much-deserved promotion, but her boss is determined to keep her underemployed.

Literature professor Jett is dealing with a broken heart, as well as a nagging suspicion his literary idol, Gordon Phipps Roth, might be a fraud.

Uber driver Chuck just wants a second chance with his kids.

Aging widower Ed is eager to write the true story of his incredible marriage.

Coral, queen of the cosmetics industry, has broken her engagement and is on the verge of losing her great grandmother’s multimillion-dollar empire.

When all five New Yorkers receive an anonymous, mysterious invitation to the Fifth Avenue Story Society, they suspect they’re victims of a practical joke. No one knows who sent the invitations or why. No one has heard of the literary society. And no one is prepared to bear their deepest secrets to a roomful of strangers.

Yet curiosity and loneliness bring them back week after week to the old library. And it’s there they discover the stories of their hearts, and the kind of friendship and love that heals their souls.

Goodreads | Amazon

Review

I have enjoyed Rachel Hauck’s style of writing enchanting, modern-day fairytales with the slightest hints of supernatural threads. She balances believable situations and characters living out a fateful God-orchestrated situation. I particularly liked The Fifth Avenue Story Society for its unique faith thread which lends to a general market appeal outside of the inspirational genre.

This is one of those rare types of books where I became less aware I was reading a novel and instead fell headlong into the story, especially its vivid depiction of NYC. The multiple points of view tie together wonderfully and always transition cleanly, never feeling confusing or too much. While I enjoyed all of them, I really liked the main romantic couple and their arc of redemption.

While I expected The Fifth Avenue Story Society to be a literature-centric story in some ways, I was pleasantly surprised to see the story society concept taken much deeper. I LOVED this novel and will be counting it as one of my favorites by Hauck!

Thank you to the publisher for the review copy. This is my honest review.

Book Spotlight: “Remember Me” by Mario Escobar

remember me blog tour banner

Welcome to my stop on the HFVBT tour for Remember Me by Mario Escobar! Check out the details of this new novel and enter the giveaway before you go. This story sounds SO interesting! It’s on my TBR!

About the Book

Remember Me: A Spanish Civil War Novel
by Mario Escobar

remember me cover

Publication Date: September 15, 2020
Thomas Nelson
Paperback & eBook; 384 pages

Genre: Historical Fiction

 

 

Amid the shadows of war, one family faces an impossible choice that will change their lives forever.

Madrid, 1934. Though the Spanish Civil War has not yet begun, the streets of Madrid have become dangerous for thirteen-year-old Marco Alcalde and his younger sisters, Isabel and Ana. When Marco’s parents align themselves against General Franco and his fascist regime, they have no inkling that their ideals will endanger them and everyone they love—nor do they predict the violence that is to come.

When the Mexican government promises protection to the imperiled children of Spain, the Alcaldes do what they believe is best: send their children, unaccompanied, across the ocean to the city of Morelia—a place they’ve never seen or imagined. Marco promises to look after his sisters in Mexico until their family can be reunited in Spain, but what ensues is a harrowing journey and a series of heartbreaking events. As the growing children work to care for themselves and each other, they feel their sense of home, family, and identity slipping further and further away. And as their memories of Spain fade and the news from abroad grows more grim, they begin to wonder if they will ever see their parents again or the glittering streets of the home they once loved.

Based upon the true stories of the Children of Morelia, Mario Escobar’s Remember Me—now available for the first time in English—explores the agony of war and paints a poignant portrait of one family’s sacrificial love and endurance.

Amazon | Barnes and Noble | IndieBound


Mario Escobar Golderos has a degree in History, with an advanced studies diploma in Modern History. He has written numerous books and articles about the Inquisition, the Protestant Reformation, and religious sects. He is the executive director of an NGO and directs the magazine Nueva historia para el debate, in addition to being a contributing columnist in various publications. Passionate about history and its mysteries, Escobar has delved into the depths of church history, the different sectarian groups that have struggled therein, and the discovery and colonization of the Americas. He specializes in the lives of unorthodox Spaniards and Americans.

Website | Facebook | Twitter | Goodreads

Blog Tour Schedule

Tuesday, September 15
Review at Nursebookie
Review at WTF Are You Reading?

Wednesday, September 16
Review at Amy’s Booket List
Feature at Let Them Read Books

Friday, September 18
Review at 100 Pages a Day

Saturday, September 19
Feature at The Green Mockingbird

Monday, September 21
Feature at The Lit Bitch
Feature at I’m All About Books

Wednesday, September 23
Review at Passages to the Past

Friday, September 25
Review at View from the Birdhouse

Saturday, September 26
Feature at Bookworlder

Sunday, September 27
Review at Reading is My Remedy

Monday, September 28
Review at Hallie Reads

Tuesday, September 29
Feature at What Is That Book About

During the Blog Tour, we are giving away 5 copies of Remember Me by Mario Escobar! To enter, please use the Gleam form below.

The giveaway is open to US residents only and ends on September 29th. You must be 18 or older to enter.

Enter the Giveaway for Remember Me