The castle stole the show: Review of Tangled Ashes by Michele Phoenix

I have a thing for castles. Maybe it was the college semester I spent here or all the fairytales I read as a kid. Whatever the reason, I like castles and manor houses and vicariously traveling to places I might not see for a very long time, if ever.

In Tangled Ashes, author Michele Phoenix takes us on a trip to northern France–Lamorlaye, to be exact–where a Renaissance-era castle is in need of renovations. A wealthy British entrepreneur has plans to turn the aging château into a hotel, and American architect Marshall “Beck” Becker is the man for the job.

Beck is an interesting character who brings with him more baggage than would fit on a jumbo jet. We know he’s battling some demons from the past and his chosen weapon is alcohol. A brilliant and talented artist and architect, Beck’s personal life cripples his professional life. Entering into the mix is Jade, the nanny of the castle owner’s children. She consistently lets Beck have a piece of her mind and challenges his beliefs about his past and his present coping methods. Woven into the present-day story is the account of two young girls working at a Nazi-occupied manor near the castle in the 1940s, toward the latter end of World War II. The stories converge as secrets are uncovered.

Tangled Ashes was an enjoyable read, though I was slightly disappointed by the ending. I’m a happy ending, tie-it-all-up-with-a-pretty-bow kind of girl, most of the time, and that’s not exactly how this book ends. It’s appropriate for this story, though, because Beck is battling an alcohol addiction, and from what I’ve learned about addiction, there’s nothing pretty or tidy about it. So to end the book in any other way would have been misleading and unrealistic. Along those same lines, Beck disappointed me in his many failings. You want to root for the guy, but he’s so messed up, he fails again and again. I wanted to give up on him. Maybe that says something about my expectations for people. Thank God, He doesn’t give up on us, and Beck heads toward that conclusion as he’s confronted with the God he’s been trying to cut out of his life.

I had a minor issue with Beck’s spiritual transformation as the author implied that the traditions of the liturgical church were inadequate for bringing about change and true spirituality. I don’t know if it was intentional or a byproduct of her involvement with an evangelical church her parents helped found in Lamorlaye, but it didn’t sit well with me. I would hate for someone to walk away from this book thinking the ancient Christian traditions and liturgies were useless. I have been learning otherwise, of late, but that’s a different story for another day.

Jade has her own issues, but she’s a good complement to Beck’s brash and aggressive behavior. The castle, however, is the star, and I have a feeling that words and pictures don’t do it justice. At least, not in its heyday. View Phoenix’s photo album here. The castle could use some love. Makes me wish I had lots of money and a good reason to move to France.

Overall, I liked the book. Phoenix grew up in France, in the shadow of the Lamorlaye castle, and I’m glad she took the time and effort to write a story that shares her experience in that part of the world.

Check out the first chapter here.

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In exchange for my review, I received a free copy of Tangled Ashes from the publisher.

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