The Light at Wyndcliff (The Cornwall Novels #3) by Sarah E. Ladd

Genre: Romance, Historical Fiction
Publisher: Thomas Nelson
Publication Date: October 2020

Evelyn Bray grew up along the rugged coast of Cornwall where she lives with her grandfather, a previously wealthy landowner in reduced circumstances who now serves as steward of the Wyndcliff Estate. Haunted by her father’s death and her mother’s abandonment, Evelyn has built a sheltered but comfortable existence. That is until a ship dashes against the rocky shoreline, and everything she believed she knew begins to unravel.

At only twenty-two, Liam Twethewey has inherited the somewhat neglected Wyndcliff Estate. However, his grand plans to restore it to its former glory encounter resistance from unforeseen sources as whispers of smuggling and illegal activities surface.

United by the distressing events surrounding the shipwreck, Evelyn and Liam discover more than just shadows lurking from the dark crags and corners of the estate.

Breathtaking yet unforgiving landscapes, secrets as jagged as the cliffs, and characters who aren’t all that they appear, The Light at Wyndcliff hints at a captivating Regency-era romance with gothic flare. However, Sarah E. Ladd never fully delivers upon her promise. The protagonists who are separately intriguing fell flat as anything more than barely friends. Evelyn and Liam lacked chemistry, probably due to the fact that, while they did spend time in the vicinity of each other’s presence, we rarely saw them get to know the other on a deeper level. Their relationship felt forced and a product of their roles as protagonists more than a natural and intrinsic part of them.

The Light at Wyndcliff advanced at a slow pace and never took off for me. I reached the end of the book still waiting for the story to actually begin. Nonetheless, the author painted a gorgeous setting and delivered otherwise solid writing, so I will probably give another one of her novels a try in case it was an issue of a specific tale not connecting with a specific reader. Fans of Regency tales and grand, isolated estates could enjoy this book.

Review copy provided by publisher via NetGalley. Thank you!

Her Perfect Life by Hank Phillippi Ryan

Genre: Mystery, Suspense, Thriller
Publisher: Forge Books
Publication Date: September 2021

On the outside, television reporter Lily Atwood has it all, fame, wealth, looks, and an equally perfect daughter she would do anything for. On the inside, she conceals a dark secret that would shatter the perfect facade she has built.

For months, an anonymous source has fed her tips, exposing society’s deepest secrets and giving Lily news-breaking stories. But now, the sights have turned. The source is revealing things about her own life that no one should know and threatening to expose her.

Her Perfect Life plunges readers into an intense, twisty page-turner. Hank Phillippi Ryan brilliantly utilizes the unreliable narrator to the novel’s advantage. Alternating between Lily and her producer’s POV (point of view), each woman has vastly different perceptions of themselves and each other which left me questioning which one, if either, was the truth. I often didn’t know whether to like or dislike them, but I always needed to know what would happen next, making the book hard to put down. With an additional group of characters who aren’t always what they seem, I was kept guessing until the last page. Even when I figured out several of the secrets, shocking twists still awaited me at the end. I love it when an author manages to surprise me!

A story of deceit, appearances, and consequences, Ryan shows that the “perfect life” is rarely what it’s cracked up to be. The truth has a way of finding the light. Fast-paced and intriguing, I recommend Her Perfect Life to readers who enjoy suspense and matching wits with the author.

Review copy provided by publisher via NetGalley. Thanks!

Beyond the Tides (Prince Edward Island Shores) by Liz Johnson

Genre: Romance
Publisher: Revell
Publication Date: August 2021

Meg Whitaker loves teaching and has no interest in managing a lobster-fishing company, not when she can’t even get close to the water without getting seasick. But when her father announces plans to sell the family business to the person who a decade ago shattered her dreams of a scholarship to an Ivy League school, Meg vows to do whatever it takes to keep the small fleet from falling into Oliver’s hands — even if it means getting back on a boat.

Oliver Ross has long regretted his actions in high school. Devastated by his father’s abandonment, he lashed out against the unfortunate person who happened to be within his reach, and it cost Meg her dreams. However, the chance to own a reputable fishing fleet on Prince Edward Island is no small feat and an opportunity he doesn’t intend to let pass without a fight.

The solution? Mr. Whitaker insists that Meg and Oliver join forces for one season at the end of which he will select the best one to take over after his retirement. Though less than thrilled, Meg sets out to prove she has what it takes to inherit the business while Oliver is determined to show her he’s not the person she remembers.

A story about family, forgiveness, and second chances, Liz Johnson transports her readers back to the breathtaking island just off the Canadian coast. Stuck in a dry spell in which everything I read failed to capture me, Beyond the Tides gripped me and refused to let go. The setting, the characters, the writing, everything ensured that I was in for the duration, reading it within twenty-four hours.

With a lesser author, Meg could have come across as vindictive and Oliver as a class-A jerk, but they didn’t. The protagonists were flawed, complex, and downright relatable. I connected with both, became invested in their stories, and rooted for them almost from the get-go.

Johnson masterfully brought the tale to life, guaranteeing that I experienced everything as though right there with the characters. Sometimes too well. As someone who has dealt with motion sickness her entire life, I had to keep reminding myself that I was firmly planted on my bed or couch and not really feeling queasy. Thankfully, her vivid portrayal translated to other areas as well. I could hear the sounds of the boat on the water, smell the fish-laden brine, and see the beautiful coastal town for myself. Born and raised by the sea but landlocked the past three plus years, this couldn’t have made me happier.

I loved the Prince Edward Island Dreams series, and Beyond the Tides promises to be the start of an equally captivating new series,. I recommend this book to fans of romances with depth and magical backdrops.

Review copy provided by publisher via NetGalley. Thanks!

A Midnight Dance by Joanna Davidson Politano

Genre: Romance, Historical Fiction
Publisher: Revell
Publication Date: September 2021

Ella Blythe knows all too well that theater and romance don’t mix — at least not romances with happy endings. Regardless, she hopes that someday her story will turn out differently and look nothing like the tragic legend surrounding the Ghost of Craven Street Theater that haunts the halls. But the harder she works to hold her place in the shrinking ballet, competing against dancers who have years of formal training unlike her, the more her life resembles that of the dead ballerina. As she attempts to catch the eye of the principal dancer Philippe while avoiding notorious flirt Jack, Ella fears that some fates cannot be escaped.

An evocative story where nothing is what it seems, A Midnight Dance is simultaneously haunting and captivating. An atmospheric read that drags readers into the tragic depths of the theater, Joanna Davidson Politano pens a story brimming with unpredictable twists and turns. For every one thing I figured out there were three more I didn’t see coming. The end came too soon and not fast enough as I devoured the story, hungry to uncover the hidden truths and know the fate of the characters who burrowed themselves deeply in my heart.

This is one of those reviews I don’t want to write because anything I say won’t do the story justice. The characters are complex and brilliantly composed. They are prime examples of the truth behind cliches such as not judging by appearances. Every time I felt certain I had a character pegged and knew whether s/he was to be trusted or not, rooted for or not, Politano would go and knock all my assumptions upside down. Then she’d go on to do it a few more times.

The setting, masterfully penned, doesn’t lay flat on the page. It comes to life immersing the reader in the darkness and beauty of the theater. The sights, the emotions, and the story stick long after reading the final word. I strongly recommend A Midnight Dance to fans of ballet, Victorian mysteries, and unforgettable novels.

Review copy provided by publisher via NetGalley. Thanks!

Say Goodbye by Karen Rose

Genre: Romance, Suspense, Mystery
Publisher: Berkley
Publication Date: August 2021

For decades, Eden has controlled, abused, and terrorized its members, but the cult’s days are numbered. FBI Special Agent Tom Hunter is determined of that. With the number of founding elders diminishing and Pastor’s surrogate son seeming to have an agenda all of his own, Tom believes their best shot at bringing them to justice has arrived. But while weakened, Eden remains no less dangerous.

When his best friend, Liza Berkley, insists on utilizing her ex-Army combat medic skills to help crack the case, she becomes an immediate target. Tom suddenly finds himself walking a tight line between his duty to his country and to his heart.

Say Goodbye brings readers to the moment they’ve been waiting for throughout the Sacramento series — Eden’s reckoning. Karen Rose plunges her audience in the deep end and keeps them treading water until the last page. Like Tom, Liza, Gideon, Mercy, and the rest of the gang, the reader feels the suffocating uncertainty and fear of knowing they’re in an enemy’s crosshairs, but not knowing when they’ll strike.

Out of the various leads, Tom is my least favorite. He spent the first fourth of the book struggling to hold back his more-than-platonic feelings for his best friend, fearing the truth would ruin their friendship. When Liza in her straightforward, take-no-prisoners attitude finally brings everything out into the open, Tom freaks out. He spends the next fourth of the book not admitting his feelings because he suddenly doesn’t want to be disloyal to his deceased ex-fiancé. The switch didn’t jibe and came across more as a ploy to prolong the angst because it was too soon for the protagonists to get together.

The novel delivers lots of action and turns, which I look for in suspense. Rose masterfully crafts fast-paced scenes, intriguing characters, and a story that has me wanting to know how everything will conclude. Unfortunately, the novel dragged out too long, making Say Goodbye good rather than unputdownable. The plot didn’t have enough to carry the book through 640 pages, and the events often led in circles rather than forward. I’d speed through portions of the story before it became repetitive, and I’d set it aside several days before returning.

As with all of the author’s books, readers should be prepared for strong language and bedroom scenes — the latter can be easily skipped. Say Goodbye includes potential triggers such as physical and sexual abuse, including to minors.

I recommend the Sacramento series to suspense fans who enjoy plenty of action and don’t mind taking the long way around.

Review copy provided by publisher via NetGalley. Thanks!