Uncovering family secrets: Review of Shadows of Ladenbrooke Manor by Melanie Dobson

One of my favorite types of fiction is a story that blends past and present storylines, and though I’d never read anything by Melanie Dobson before, the premise of her new book, Shadows of Ladenbrooke Manor, was one I couldn’t pass up. (Disclaimer: I received a free copy of the book through Litfuse Publicity Group in exchange for my review.) ladenbrooke

In the book, Heather Toulson, an art restorer living in Portland, returns to her family cottage in the Cotswolds of England to pack up her family’s belongings after the death of her father. Heather’s life is full of strained and tense relationships, past and present, and her goal is to clean out the cottage and sell it as fast as possible and move on with her life. Her newly married daughter Ella joins her and as they sift through the contents, Heather uncovers questions about the older sister she never knew and the boy next door who died long ago.

The historical storyline, set in the 1950s and later, follows Maggie Doyle, Heather’s mum, through an unexpected circumstance and consequent marriage to Walter Doyle. Maggie’s daughter, Libby, is the sister Heather never knew, and though she loves butterflies, she does not interact with the rest of the world in the same way as others, except the boy next door, Oliver Croft, son of the Lord and Lady Croft of Ladenbrooke Manor.

There is a lot to sort out as the book starts out, but once it gets rolling, the plot unravels like a ball of string leading from one place to the next. For me, this book was a study in how to write about family secrets revealed across generations because the novel I’m working on contains similar themes. I enjoyed it as a story, as well. Dobson doesn’t reveal too much too soon, but partway through, readers gets a sense of what’s happening. I especially appreciated the themes of restoring what is broken in relationships.

And Dobson gives Libby a unique personality–something along the lines of the autism spectrum, which would have been undiagnosed in the 1950s. It was fascinating to consider how people would have viewed her and interacted with her.

If you’ve never read a dual timeline story, this is a good one to start with. And if you like family mysteries, you’ll enjoy the way secrets are uncovered.

More about the author

dobsonMelanie Dobson is the award-winning author of thirteen historical romance, suspense, and contemporary novels. Two of her novels won Carol Awards in 2011, and Love Finds You in Liberty, Indiana won Best Novel of Indiana in 2010. Melanie lives with her husband Jon and two daughters near Portland, Oregon.Find Melanie online: website, Twitter, Facebook

There’s a book for that (TV edition): About a Boy

A few summers ago, I found out some of my favorite classic movies were based on books. (It’s not unusual for books to become movies these days, but for some reason it surprised me about some older works.) That year, I blogged a short series reviewing the books I’d read. You can search for those under the category “there’s a book for that.” Or you can click on the individual reviews at the end of this post.

This year, my discovery has been that a bunch of TV shows I like are based on books. So, I set out to read the books that some of those shows are based on.

about a boyThe first, About a Boy by  Nick Hornby, was a movie, yes, but my husband and I have been enjoying the TV version (NBC) of this story as well. (I love Minnie Driver, and I’m super sad that the network apparently canceled the show abruptly in the spring. Boo!) I don’t remember much about the movie except for Hugh Grant (who forgets Hugh Grant?), which is why I’m opting to include this in my TV-from-books series. (And yes, the cover of this book is from the movie, but this is the one the library had for me to read.)

If you’re unfamiliar, the story is about Will Freeman, a pretty self-centered 30-something guy who lives off the royalties of a hit song. In the book, his father wrote the song. In the TV show, he wrote it. Either way, he’s used to a life of luxury and leisure that revolves around him. He can hardly stand to be around his friends who have children and he’s a womanizer who likes to party. Will’s life is about one thing: Will.

And then he invents a child to meet women at a single parents’ group, and then he meets Marcus, the eclectic 12-year-old son of the even more eclectic Fiona, and they reluctantly start to bond. Will’s relationship with Marcus begins to draw him out of his bubble and forces him to awkwardly and uncomfortably care about other people.

On the TV show, we see this develop bit by bit, and even when I think the show has gone too far in illustrating Will’s lifestyle, there’s usually a redeeming moment when his relationship with Marcus brings him back.

I enjoyed the book because it adds depth to the characters. And even though I think Will is incredibly selfish and lazy, I appreciate the theme that authentic relationships can change us.

Each week this month, I’ll be posting another review of a book that has become a TV show. Next week: Sidney Chambers and the Shadow of Death by James Runcie (Grantchester, PBS).

Interested in the books-to-movies I reviewed? Here’s the list and links:

Mary Poppins.

The Princess Bride.

The Wonderful Wizard of Oz.

Memoirs of an English Governess at the Siamese Court.

The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes.

Pieces of history put on display: Review of Maggie Bright by Tracy Groot

Last summer I read a book by Tracy Groot about the Confederate prison camp for Yankees, Andersonville, and I was not the same when I finished. There are certain authors who, when I read their compelling stories of actual historical events, make me angry that I never learned these things in history class.

maggie brightHer latest book, Maggie Bright, gave me the same reaction. (Disclaimer: I received a free copy of the book through the Tyndale Blog Network in exchange for my review.)

In all fairness to history teachers everywhere, there is only so much of history that can be covered in a semester or a year. How do you choose what’s important? So, I’m all the more grateful to writers of historical fiction who bring little-known stories into a place of greater prominence.

Maggie Bright tells the story of the evacuation of Dunkirk in 1940. How the British army was surrounded on the shores of France and bombarded–literally–on the beaches and in the Channel as they tried to retreat. And how civilian sailors came to the aid of the British navy to evacuate the troops, at the risk of their own lives.

It’s the kind of story that gives me goosebumps, as any good story of sacrifice and a banding together of a group of citizens usually does. Maggie Bright is a fictional boat that answers the call.

The book is a great work of fiction in that Groot wastes no pages with long backstory or explanation. Readers are dropped right into the story and have to figure out how these storylines are connected. There is Clare Childs, owner of the Maggie Bright, who is set on figuring out what a thief was after when he broke into her boat-turned-bed-and-breakfast. And there is Jamie Elliott, who is tasked with escorting a mentally damaged captain who quotes Milton from the interior of France to Dunkirk. The latter part reminded me of Band of Brothers at times as these soldiers made their way to the coast with the hope of rescue.

Groot creates colorful and memorable characters through dialogue and mannerisms. The Milton angle on the captain was both amusing and challenging. And the American illustrator Murray Vance, who shows up in England to bail his friend out of jail, sticks out among the more refined British characters.

I loved everything about this book. If you’re a fan of World War II fiction, this is a must-read. It’s unlike any other story from that era I’ve read.


The one thing I can’t do with a Jody Hedlund book: Review of Hearts Made Whole

If you pay attention to and read the book reviews on this blog, you already know about my deep affection for Jody Hedlund as a writer. Her books are some of the ones I turn to when I’m in need of a guaranteed good story. Like comfort food, they always offer satisfaction.

hearts made wholeShe has a new book out this month–Hearts Made Whole–and no matter when I start reading or what else is going on in my life, there is one thing I just can’t do with one of her books–stop reading! (Disclaimer: I received a free copy of the book in exchange for my review through Litfuse Publicity Group.)

I can’t do it! My house could be a mess, the kids in need of dinner, chaos reigning all around me and still my nose is stuck in a Jody Hedlund book as I turn page after page to see what will happen to my new friends, er, the characters in the book.

Though I have trouble picking a favorite book she’s written, Hearts Made Whole is in the running for that title because of Ryan Chambers, a broken Civil War veteran who comes to take the job of lightkeeper in Grosse Point, Michigan, and Caroline Taylor, the woman who has been running the light since the death of her father.

Ryan’s struggles with addiction to pain medication and alcohol to numb the pain of his war injury and the demons in his head about past mistakes are heartbreakingly real. And Caroline’s struggle to assert herself as competent in a man’s world is surprisingly modern for a story set just about the Civil War. His desire to change and make amends, her desire to use her gifts to care for her family–well, let’s just say that that theme hits a little close to home.

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Hedlund’s stories always teach me something about history, and if you’re a fan of lighthouses, Hearts Made Whole is the second in a series of books she’s writing about Michigan’s lighthouses. It took me a while to catch on that there is a connection from this book to the first in the series, Love Unexpected, and it made me look forward to book three and the tie-in I’m hoping will be there. If you have not read the first book, though, don’t let it stop you from reading this one. (You can also read the novella that precedes the series for free on Kindle.)

And now for some details about how the author is celebrating the release!

Don’t miss Jody Hedlund’s new book, Hearts Made Whole, a story of loss, forgiveness, hope, and true love set in 1865 Michigan. When Ryan’s failings endanger others, he and Caroline realize he’s in no shape to run the lighthouse, but he’s unwilling to let anyone close enough to help. Can Caroline forgive the hurting man who costs her the role she loves?

Celebrate the release of Hearts Made Whole by entering to win an Afternoon at the Beach prize pack and RSVPing to Jody’s June 23rd author chat party!

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One grand prize winner will receive:

One second-place winner will receive:

One third-place winner will receive:

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Enter today by clicking the icon below. But hurry, the giveaway ends on June 23rd.Winner will be announced June 23rd at Jody’s Facebook partyRSVP here!

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One author I turn to when I need a guaranteed good read: Review of A Worthy Pursuit by Karen Witemeyer

A note about book reviews: Generally I post them on Wednesdays only, but I’m adding in a few extra ones here and there in June and July. Maybe you’ll find a fun summer read!

a worthy pursuitSome people have comfort food; I have comfort authors. (Okay, I have comfort food, too.) During a recent multi-day stretch of solo parenting while my husband was away, I read two books by two favorite authors because I needed the comfort of a well-written, entertaining, inspirational romance. One of the authors guaranteed to provide that for me is Karen Witemeyer and her new book A Worthy Pursuit is worth picking up. (Disclaimer: I received a free e-copy of the book from Bethany House Publishers in exchange for my review.)

Witemeyer creatively places her heroine and hero in situations that cause conflict and stand in the way of their feelings. In this one, Stone Hammond is a tracker sent to find the woman who kidnapped the granddaughter of his wealthy client. He’s the best in the business and the clues lead him to the Texas homestead of Charlotte Atherton, the girl’s former teacher. Charlotte claims she was acting as the girl’s legal guardian and produces paperwork to prove it, placing Stone in the position of wondering if he’s trusted the wrong person in this circumstance. When danger threatens Charlotte and her charges, Stone vows to protect them. Both of them have to decide if it’s worth the risk to trust.

Though it’s an inspirational romance set in the 1800s Texas frontier, Witemeyer rarely casts her heroines as damsels in distress. They are strong women capable of taking care of themselves and making decisions but who find themselves in situations where they need the help of a good man. Charlotte is fiesty and independent but scared to trust. Stone is as hard as his name sounds when he’s in pursuit of his prey but fiercely determined to protect the innocent and win the heart of this woman.

Danger and romance combine for a story I could hardly step away from. Another solid story from Witemeyer and just what I needed for the mood I was in.

For reviews on other Witemeyer books I’ve read, check out these:

An emotional journey: Review of The Art of Losing Yourself by Katie Ganshert

Two things I can count on when I read a novel by Katie Ganshert: deeply developed characters and gut-wrenching conflict. The Art of Losing Yourself has the former in half-sisters Carmen and Gracie, who are unexpectedly “reunited” when 17-year-old Gracie runs away from home to find refuge in the only place that brought her joy. And it’s full of the latter. (Disclaimer: I received a free copy of the book from the publisher through the Blogging for Books program.)losing yourself

One of Ganshert’s strengths in her books is addressing issues that are neither simple nor sweet. (Her previous books have contained themes of griefwidowhood, and brokenness.) In this book, Gracie has an alcoholic mother and has basically raised herself for a lot of years. She’s a troubled teen who doesn’t always make the best decisions. And Carmen, though her life looks outwardly perfect, has suffered infertility and her marriage is breaking because of it. There are deep emotions from both of these women, scenes where I could almost hear the shouting and ones that left me in tears because of the words that weren’t said.

Ganshert writes this book from the first-person point of view of both characters, which was a hard shift for my brain to make sometimes but I still enjoyed the perspective. I loved the dialogue between characters and the turns of phrase Ganshert uses to describe feelings and situations. Gracie’s POV was believable for a teenager, and Carmen’s was accurate for a woman whose outward appearance is a mask for her inward turmoil.

It’s the kind of complex story I’ve come to appreciate from Ganshert. Not a straight-up romance full of fluff but a book about all kinds of relationships: with God, others and self.

If you’ve known the devastation of infertility, you might be able to relate to Carmen’s character, but if the wounds are still fresh, maybe save this one for another time.

Fairy tales are for grown-ups, too: Review of The Huntress of Thornbeck Forest by Melanie Dickerson

I didn’t know this about Melanie Dickerson when I first started reading her books, but apparently they are classified as “young adult.” As a not-so-young adult, I’ve enjoyed every previous book of hers, and the latest is no exception. Fairy tales for adults are a THING and Dickerson is a master storyteller. (Disclaimer: I received a free copy of the book from the publishers through the Booklook Bloggers program.)

huntressThe Huntress of Thornbeck Forest has it all–adventure, romance, intrigue–in a Medieval setting with nods to classic tales like Swan Lake and Robin Hood. The story of Odette and Jorgen is thrilling and heartbreaking, full of the typical trials of a good romantic tale.

I found elements of the story a bit predictable, but that didn’t detract from the story. I look forward to each of Dickerson’s next releases as soon as I’m finished with the newest one. Her next effort is a Rapunzel retelling. I hope she never runs out of fairy tales to retell.

This is the second book I’ve read recently with a female Robin Hood type lead character, and I love that there are strong women starring in fairy tales.