Viola Kingsley has suffered a lot in the three years since the death of the man she thought was her husband. True, there has been much happiness as well; she has gained friends, a son-in-law, grandchildren, and found real love from a family she wishes she could claim as her own. But she still feels isolated in her misery, unable to process and move past the horrific events that she has been forced to live through. So she runs. She meant to go straight home and hide out alone for a month or so, but fate had other plans.
Marcel Lamarr is a haunted man. After the death of his young wife, he took up a life of frivolity and womanizing, unable to look after his two young children for more than a few days at a time. Over the past seventeen years, he has hidden from his obligations in every way he knows how. Until he runs into Viola, the woman who spurned his love fourteen years earlier. He tries to leave her in peace but instead finds himself running away with her, fleeing their lives entirely. As Marcel and Viola find their true selves again, their lives start to creep back in, and a split moment’s decision might cost them everything they’ve ever wanted.
Mary Balogh does a wonderful job bringing Marcel and Viola to life in this fourth book of the Westcott series. Whereas I felt disconnected from everyone in the last installment, I felt the emotions acutely in this volume. Viola and Marcel’s problems run deep. This is not a simple miscommunication mix-up. They have both glimpsed happiness and had all they hold dear taken away from them in the blink of an eye. These are not wounds that can be healed through any of the common methods, and Balogh goes above and beyond to bring the characters to the roots of their problems.
I am thrilled that Viola’s book went so well, and I can’t wait to see how Elizabeth fares in the next installment, due out at the end of this month.
The Collector’s Apprentice takes readers into the whirling world of art collecting in the 1920s. Paulien Mertens is only nineteen when she meets the dashing George Everard, but when things mysteriously fall to pieces she finds herself exiled to Paris alone and nearly penniless. Drawing on her education and previous work in the art world, Paulien pieces together a new life as the assistant to Edwin Bradley, an up and coming American art collector who seeks to open a museum near Philadelphia. As she weaves her way through Parisian society, Paulien meets wonderful people like Gertrude Stein, Henri Matisse, and Zelda and Scott Fitzgerald. When George finally turns up, things are not as they seem, and Paulien is sent into a tailspin that nearly ruins everything she has built.
Shapiro’s new work tells the story of how one girl came back from the brink stronger, smarter, and braver than ever. It is part coming-of-age, part mystery, part heist novel. Paulien and George provide intriguing lenses through which we discover the events of the story. Indeed, all of the characters’s colorful descriptions paint a picture of Europe and America in the 1920s that is lush and many-layered. The plot thickens gradually, and the shocking finish does not disappoint.
I thoroughly enjoyed this foray into the art world and adored returning to 1920’s Paris, which, if you’ve read my reviews for Therese Anne Fowler’s Z: A Novel of Zelda Fitzgerald or Paula McLain’s The Paris Wife, you’ll know I have a bit of an obsession with. While it did not always grip me the way Z and The Paris Wife did, I simultaneously identified and sympathized with Shapiro’s characters, and her storytelling is top notch. The nuggets of information are there for you to guess the ending, though I must confess that I did not, which a refreshing turn of events! I would recommend The Collector’s Apprentice to anyone who enjoys a good historical coming-of-age story or enjoys con artists as main characters.
HHC Rating: 4.75 Stars
The Collector’s Apprentice hits shelves today, and Shapiro will be on tour through December promoting it. You can find the local stops on her tour schedule below, and find the book on Goodreads as well. A huge thanks to Brittani at Algonquin books for thinking of me when it came time for reviews and provided me with an e-ARC to read in exchange for my honest opinions. I loved it! But don’t just take my word for it. Here are some of the advanced praises for The Collector’s Apprentice:
“Shapiro delivers a clever and complex tale of art fraud, theft, scandal, murder, and revenge. [Her] portrayal of the 1920s art scene in Paris and Philadelphia is vibrant, and is populated by figures like Alice B. Toklas and Thornton Wilder; readers will be swept away by this thoroughly rewarding novel.”
“Dazzling and seductive, The Collector’s Apprentice is a tour de force—an exhilarating tale of shifting identities, desire, and intrigue set between 1920s Paris and Philadelphia. Shapiro is a master at melding historical and fictional characters to bring the past alive on the page, and in The Collector’s Apprentice she has forged an exquisite, multilayered story that maps the cogent and singular fire of a young woman’s ambition and the risks she will take for the sake of art.”
—Dawn Tripp, bestselling author of Georgia
“I was engrossed in every twist and turn in this compulsively captivating page-turner, all the way until its astonishing denouement. Shapiro has done it again!”
—Thrity Umrigar, bestselling author of The Space Between Us
B. A. Shapiro is the New York Times bestselling author of The Muralist and The Art Forger, which won the New England Book Award for Fiction and the Boston Authors Society Award for Fiction, among other honors. Her books have been selected as Community Reads in numerous cities and have been translated into over ten languages. Shapiro has taught sociology at Tufts University and creative writing at Northeastern University. She divides her time between Boston and Florida along with her husband, Dan, and their dog, Sagan. Her website is www.bashapirobooks.com.
The Collector’s Apprentice Press Tour
Stops in New England
Tuesday, October 16 — 7:00pm
279 Harvard St.
Brookline, MA 02446
Wednesday, October 17 — 7:00pm
9 College St.
South Hadley, MA 01075
Thursday, October 18 — 6:00pm
4869 Main Street
Manchester Center, VT 05255
Friday, October 19 — 7:00pm
82 Central St
Wellesley, MA 02482
Wednesday, November 7 — 7:00pm
RJ Julia Booksellers
768 Boston Post Rd
Madison, CT 06443
Thursday, November 8 — 7:00pm
273 Congress St.
Portland, ME 04101
Tuesday, November 20 — 7:00pm
Point Street Reading Series
71 Richmond St, 2nd Floor
Providence, RI 02903
Monday, November 26 — 3:00pm
432 Route 6A
East Sandwich, MA 02537
Tuesday, November 27 — 7:00pm
An Unlikely Story
111 South Street
Plainville, MA 02762
Wednesday, November 28 — 7:00pm
Savoy Bookshop & Café
10 Canal St.
Westerly, RI 02891
Thursday, November 29 — 7:00pm
79 Leonard St
Belmont, MA 02478
–Author Bio, Advanced Blurbs, and tour dates courtesy of Michael McKenzie and Brittani Hilles at Algonquin Books.
Struggling writer Lena London is handed the opportunity of a lifetime when her best friend sets her up with a job as the assistant and ghostwriter to her favorite author of all time, Camilla Graham. As an added bonus, Lena gets to live in Camilla’s beautiful Gothic home overlooking the quiet town of Blue Lake, Indiana.
No town stays quiet for long, however, when you write mysteries and have an alleged murderer for a next door neighbor. Before long, a body appears on the lake shore near Camilla’s home and the ladies become embroiled in solving the case before the wrong person ends up behind bars.
Full disclosure, this story takes place in the autumn, which just makes the scenery that much more wonderful. The rich mix of scenery, characters, and plot make this a delightful read that sucks you in from the first chapter.
Lena is lovely and has just the right amount of admiration for her esteemed new boss. I identify with Lena. She loves books. She has a degree in writing. She is in her middle twenties and trying to find her place in the world amid the ever shifting relationships between parents, friends, bosses, and significant others. I just wish I had a few good looking romantic options in my life – because a cozy mystery wouldn’t be a cozy mystery without a dash of romance, am I right?
A Dark and Stormy Murder has plenty of layers. There is the book that Lena and Camilla are writing, the mystery of Sam West’s missing wife, the body on the beach, the various budding relationships between characters, and Lena’s attempts to settle into her new hometown. I love everything about this book, and I can’t wait to read more in the Writer’s Apprentice Mysteries series!
HHC Rating: 5 Stars.
Other Books In This Series:
Book #2 – Murder in Dark Blue(Review coming in September!)
Book #3 – A Dark and Twisting Path
Book #4 – Death Waits in the Dark
The fallout from the death of the Earl of Riverdale continues in the third installment of the Westcott series. Alexander Westcott, the nephew of the late Earl, has struggled since his own father’s death to bring the family estate up to scratch. With the death of his uncle and the discovery of his half-cousin Anna, Alexander’s young cousin Harry is declared illegitimate, and the family title falls on Alexander’s already heavy shoulders. Not one to give up on the people who rely on him, Alexander resigns himself to attending the marriage market that is the London season in order to catch himself a rich wife to help defray the costs of fixing up two family estates.
Wren Heyden has been a recluse for almost as long as she can remember. Abused and abandoned, she found a loving home with her aunt and uncle in the country. With their passing, however, she is alone in the great house with the servants. All she has is her uncle’s glass company and the estate she grew up in – and lots and lots of money. But all she wants is marriage. At nearly thirty, she decides to buy herself a husband. After researching and meeting with all of the eligible bachelors in the neighborhood, she settles on Alexander. But he will only have her if she agrees to a ‘real’ courtship, which includes meeting his family, attending events, and going back to the one place she hoped to never set foot again: London.
I quite enjoyed this book. The conflict of Wren’s veils and her mostly closed-off nature with her wants and desires was fascinating. Alexander, by contrast, was less developed in this, his own book, than in the others. I almost forgot the story was taking place in the Westcott universe except that one or the other or the pair would bring up money and the earldom. This book was mostly about Wren, to be honest. Alexander felt like a vehicle through which we accessed the Westcott family – how Wren got to know them and became one of them, rather than how Alexander hit a home run on the curveball that was dealt him with the death of his uncle. I loved the peek into what Elizabeth, Abby, and Harry were up to, but I really needed more from Alexander. I felt like we only scratched the surface of him as a person.
***trigger warnings for child abuse in this one***
HHC Rating: 3.75 Stars
Other reviews in this series:
Book #1 – Someone to Love
Book #2 – Someone to Hold
Book #4 – Someone to Care Book #5 – Someone to Trust
Book #6 – TBA
Book #7 – TBA
Book #8 – TBA
Camille Westcott had everything – a title, a fiance, a loving family… but when her parents’ marriage is suddenly found to be bigamous, Camille loses everything. Her fiance forces her to call off the wedding. She is deemed a bastard and is no longer welcome in the polite society that only days before she had been sought after to indulge in. She is not even her father’s eldest child. Stunned and heartbroken, Camille flees to her grandmother’s home in Bath with her mother and her sister, where she shuts her self away from any society that might be willing to accept her. After months spent coming to terms with being a middle child of insignificant means, she finds that her frustration with her half-sister Anna haunts her every waking moment. Too scarred still to seek out Anna’s guidance, Camille does the next best thing. She signs up to take on her half-sister’s old job as the teacher at the orphanage where Anna grew up. Exploring her half-sister’s world, Camille is finally able to see life through Anna’s eyes, live in Anna’s shoes, and maybe, just maybe even find love in the places Anna never looked.
Joel Cunningham grew up an orphan. He’s always lived in the same place, teaching art alongside his best friend, Anna. When Anna suddenly finds out her true heritage and leaves for the big city, Joel is crushed. Reading her letters, he hopes for her return until her words turn to those of love for someone else. His daily existence becomes lonely and tiresome despite the children he loves and teaches. Still harboring a sore heart, Joel is outraged when Camille takes on the teaching position that was once Anna’s. The two troubled souls find that their mutual frustration with the ripple effect of Anna’s true parentage binds them together in strange ways, and after a night of unbridled feelings, the blossoming friendship between them turns into something else altogether, just to be thrown into chaos again when Joel receives a strange letter of his own.
I quite enjoyed this book. It was interesting to see how Anna flitted in and out of the narrative, sometimes in person, but mostly in the thoughts and hearts of Camille, Joel, and the other occupants of the orphanage. The character building was all there. In fact, the majority of the plot was internal struggles that Camille and Joel had to overcome in order to open their hearts to new opportunities. Watching them grow and mature and understand their new roles in the world was fascinating. That being said, so much of the plot was internal struggle that not a lot actually happened on the outside. Watching the more secondary characters be confused about the developing romance was real and true to the plot, which only made it better in my book.
HHC Rating: 4 Stars
Other reviews in this series:
Book #1 – Someone to Love
Book #3 – Someone to Wed
Book #4 – Someone to Care Book #5 – Someone to Trust
Book #6 – TBA
Book #7 – TBA
Book #8 – TBA
It’s already MAY, but I had such a hard time choosing between the 56 books I managed to read last year. I am SO PROUD of that number. I worked hard for it. I figured that now is as good a time as any to share them with you because maybe you’ll want to pick them up over the summer. People read then, right?
In an effort to shorten the judging process that got me to this point, I decided to only nominate books that I read for the first time, and to exclude all re-reads from this contest. In no particular order, here are the top 10 books I read in 2017.
1 – Grace, Not Perfection – Emily Ley
This book changed my life. I read it while I was nannying for my baby cousin, so even the more maternal bits really hit home. Whether you are young and virtually single like me, or raising a bunch of munchkins, or just living your best life, this book will help you make it even better. I can’t wait to pick up Emily’s second book, A Simplified Life, this year.
2 – The Diviners – Libba Bray
1920s New York City + strange magical abilities + teens sleuthing to stop a supernatural serial killer? SIGN ME UP. This is one of those books that you pick up at the library because of the cool cover and then run away with it once you finish reading the blurb because it’s so cool. And even at a whopping 500+ pages it just flies by because the writing is just that good. I’m saving my reviews of this series for October. Look out for it then!
3 – A Novel Bookstore – Laurence Cossé
Let me just say… WOW. This birth-of-a-bookstore/mystery novel about the fictional The Good Novel bookstore in Paris and its founders blew me away. A tiny bit slow in some places, but the intertwining narratives of the founders, reviewers, and their loved ones was wonderfully written and lovingly translated from the original French.
4 – A Gathering of Shadows – V. E. Schwab
This whole series is wonderful. I’ve never read anything like the Shades of Magic trilogy, and I am so SO excited that Schwab will be blessing us with a spinoff sequel trilogy, as well as a prequel comic book. Of the trilogy, the second novel was my favorite, and the cover art especially drew me in. The character development is just expert level here, and I can’t wait to get my hands on more of Schwab’s work.
5 – Uprooted – Naomi Novik
This book. THIS. BOOK. I haven’t read a story like this since I picked up the actual Grimm’s Fairytales. The plot is phenomenal, the characters aren’t perfect, or entirely lovable or hateable, and the forest. is. alive.
Uprooted gets a lot of hate for the romance aspect of it, but I think it was handled really well and people need to get used to the idea that semi-immortal beings need love too. You don’t hear people complaining about Bella and Edward being together because Edward is like 900 years older than her, do you? So don’t come at me about Agnieszka’s romance. It’s as healthy a love as she is going to get in these crazy times.
6 – Elantris – Brandon Sanderson
An arranged marriage alliance + a religious war + a mysterious plague that only effects the god-like people of Elantris? Trust me when I say the roughly 600 pages are worth it. I haven’t read worldbuilding like this since Robert Jordan’s The Wheel of Time saga — which makes sense if you think about it because Jordan chose Sanderson to finish his work when he was passing.
7 – M Train – Patti Smith
I’ve never read a memoir written by a musician before, and let me tell you, this was delightful. Patti Smith is not just a musician, poet, and author, but also a mother, wife, icon, and member of a former mysterious society. This memoir is written mostly stream-of-consciousness style, but that only adds to the magic of the words. From writing in coffee shops (like I am now), to traveling the globe, to singing in cafeterias at midnight, M Train is sure to inspire you to write more of your own work and see the everyday magic around you.
8 – Disenchanted: The Trials of Cinderella – Megan Morrison
It’s no secret that I adored the first Tyme novel by Morrison, Grounded: The Adventures of Rapunzel, but Disenchanted did me one better if that’s possible. “Cinderella” comes from a family of fashion. Her new stepmother is a trial, but she probably means well. The private school she goes to is full of rich and royal brats, most of whom will grow up to work in the family business: that is, fashion. The entire Blue Kingdom runs on fashion. But not everyone loves it. Ella knows which families use sweatshop labor, and sets out to bring. them. down. Even if it means ruining her chances with the cute but cursed prince in the process. I can’t wait for the third installment (involving the Frog Prince!), due out in the next year.
9 – In Other Lands – Sarah Rees Brennan
If you’ve been reading fantasy your entire life and wondering why tropes are what they are — the guy gets the girl, everyone loves the hero, the maidens need rescuing, etc. etc… LOOK NO FURTHER. Brennan turns every single trope on its head and it’s flawless. Not only does everyone hate Elliot, he doesn’t even get the girl, or get to save the world, or have a touching reunion with his parents. Nope. Elliot gets shipped off to a school in a war zone in a magical land because his teacher doesn’t like him, and spends most of his time in the library wishing he could meet mermaids despite everyone telling him how dangerous they are. Elliot is not a hero, and he certainly doesn’t like the would-be hero, Luke Sunborn, with the beautiful golden locks. Nope. Not one bit.
10 – Lois Lane: Fallout – Gwenda Bond
I didn’t even know I needed a series about Lois before Clark until I saw Bond’s book on the shelf, and now I need her to be consulted with on anything and everything to do with Superman and Lois Lane that is ever created in the future. I have always loved Lois, but never before have I gotten the chance to really get to know her. Now that the military brat has settled in one place for the first time, attending a Metropolis high school and interning at The Daily Planet, she has a bit of free time on her hands, and a lot of bad guys to take down. Now if only she could convince her online crush SmallvilleGuy to meet in person.
Lady Soraya and Commander Jiaan have formed a tentative alliance with the multifaceted Kavi. The young commander will direct the army, the last remaining deghass will navigate alliances, and the peddler will rouse the people and forge the first Farsalan sword to be made of watersteel – the same formula the Hrum have been using to decimate the Farsalan resistance. Together, they are Sorahb reborn, and only together can they hope to defeat the Hrum nation before their time runs out.
The final installment in The Farsala Trilogybrings all the pieces together. Although it still moves a little slowly, there is a lot of ground to be covered, opinions and allies that must be shifted into just the right places – almost like a chess match – before Sorahb can fulfill the destiny he was created for. The combination of magic, wit, strategy, and weaponry was very cool to watch. Every step in the trio’s plan to take back their homeland was inspiring to watch and filled me with pride. Jiaan, Soraya, and Kavi have developed so much since Fall of a Kingdom and it was truly a pleasure to see them shine in their big moments.
This story is not without its losses, as no war goes without casualties, and the losses are steep, both in the present day and in Sorahb’s time. But the making of a legend is no easy feat, and Hilari Bell succeeded wonderfully in her endeavor to lift the curtain on the ‘real’ story of Sorahb and the rise of Farsala.
Overall, this book touched my soul. I can’t resist an underdog story. Given how the first two books went, however, I think this entire series would read better as a compilation – all three books bound together – because of where the endings occur. It would make more sense if they were sections of one book than each as a stand-alone. Just thinking about our heroic trio makes me a little weepy with pride, but there is so much world-building and background to be shared given the story of Sorahb, that it can be disheartening to finish a book and feel lost. I think a compilation would alleviate this issue.