Death in Paris by Emilia Bernhard

Genre: Mystery
Publisher: Crooked Lane Books
Publication Date: October 2018

French financier Edgar Bowen drowned in a bowl of soup — literally. When his former girlfriend, American ex-pat Rachel Levis, overhears the details surrounding the strange death, she immediately suspects foul play, but the police rule it an accident.

With little more than a hunch, Rachel and her best friend, Magda, delve into the Parisian upper-class world determined to find out what really happened during Edgar’s last meal. As the suspect list grows, so do the number of deaths. With someone tying up loose ends, Rachel and Magda must uncover the truth without landing on a killer’s target list.

Emilia Bernhard’s debut, Death in Paris, offers a predictable and borderline comical tale in the vein of cozy mysteries. Expecting something along the lines of Agatha Christie’s And Then There Were None or Eric Keith’s Nine Man Murder, I instead encountered a slow-paced narrative that I struggled to get into. I could have easily skipped pages and missed nothing.

Rachel and Magda came across as bored busybodies in a foreign country with too much time on their hands. Their theories, though many times right in the end, felt like lucky guesses that they pulled out of nowhere. For the most part, I struggled to take them seriously. Even Rachel’s own husband, Alan, seemed to mostly indulge his wife. As is, Rachel and Magda don’t have what it takes to carry a series, their current success appearing more like a fluke.

Extensive telling versus showing, and the fact that the author reveals a lot of the details and accounts through conversations between characters after the events take place rather than in “real time,” ensured my placement as a spectator instead of experiencing the story for myself.

The setting, though picturesque and nice, could have been any generic European city, and the novel as a whole felt too implausible and required too much suspension of belief. Readers who enjoy cozy mysteries and slower stories might still like Death in Paris.

Review copy provided by publisher via NetGalley. Thanks

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Thirst of Steel (The Tox Files #3) by Ronie Kendig

Genre: Military Suspense
Publisher: Bethany House Publishers
Publication Date: July 2018

Cole and Haven have witnessed and endured the unimaginable since the fight against a centuries-old disease reunited them. Now they want nothing more than to start their life together, but the Arrow & Flame Order continues to advance more determined than ever.

On the hunt for the dismantled sword of Goliath believed to thirst for the blood of its enemies, the AFO will stop at nothing to accomplish its mission, including kidnapping Tzivia and Ram’s father. It is up to the Cole and the Wraith team to stop them, but shifting alliances and deadly secrets threaten to unravel the team and shatter Cole and Haven’s future before it begins.

WOW! Indiana Jones meets a Tom Clancy story with a touch of the supernatural in the conclusion to The Tox Files. High stakes and twists galore make Thirst of Steel an impossible to put down novel that leaves the reader reeling long after finishing. Ronie Kendig rakes her audience through the coals. I spent a good portion of the second half bawling. First, because I feared what might come, and then because my fears took place in the most shocking way imaginable. My heart hated the ending, but my head couldn’t argue its power. Days later, I still struggle to process everything that happened and choke up even as I write this.

A masterful storyteller, the author proves her metal creating nail-biting suspense and mind-bending events that leave one breathlessly suspended at the edge of his/her seat. Yet even beyond that, Kendig shines by expertly penning characters the reader becomes invested in, rooting and mourning for them as though of flesh and blood.

Kendig fans won’t want to miss this third and final installment in the series, and for anyone new to The Tox Files, I strongly suggest starting at the beginning. Could Thirst of Steel stand alone? Possibly, but a lot of depth would be missed.

Review copy provided by publisher via NetGalley. Thanks!

Rose in Three Quarter Time (The Vienna Trilogy #2) by Rachel McMillan

Genre: Romance
Publication Date: September 2018

Rose McNeil steadily scales the musical ranks at the Mozarteum in Salzburg. Her skill with the violin has landed her the first chair assignment with the Rainer Quartet under the direction of Oliver Thorne. But when her visa expires, she faces losing everything — her dream job, the city she’s come to love, and the growing friendship between her and Oliver.

The youngest conductor in the quartet’s illustrious history, Oliver Thorne had other aspirations, but a tragic accident destroyed his cello-playing career. Rose’s unparalleled talent inspires the British ex-pat to dream again, reviving hopes he believed long-buried. However, when her visa renewal is denied, he risks not only losing his first violinist, but the woman who has become increasingly dear to him.

Enter the plan: a marriage on ink and paper only. They will share name and rent, and flip a coin for the bed. She will play, he will conduct, and the rest of the orchestra will never know because fraternization between members is prohibited. However, one little complication exists — love. And marriage just might get in the way of feelings they desperately try to conceal.

Rachel McMillan composes another sweeping performance with Rose in Three Quarter Time. Loss, friendship, and love blend to form the perfect harmony in this tale of shattered dreams and the new hopes that take their place.

As someone who belongs to two countries but whose heart beats for yet another, I am amazed at how McMillan expertly extracts the essence of those emotions. Rose’s location, journey, struggles, and triumphs might be different, but I recognize the story because in many ways it is mine (sadly without an Oliver).

While the striking locales and vivid descriptions call me, it is the authenticity of McMillan’s characters that captivates me. These aren’t suave models and movie stars with all the right words and moves. They are genuine — in the awkward, messy, and exquisitely imperfect kind of way. Their beauty doesn’t stem from flawless skin or a six-pack, but from their realism. They are you and me.

Rose in Three Quarter Time does not stumble into the pitfall of so many novellas. At no point does it feel rushed. Perfectly developed, I didn’t walk away feeling like I’d only experienced half of the story or, worse yet, survived a hurricane of events and feelings in its attempt to cram it all in. Of course, that’s not to say I wouldn’t have loved to spend more time with Rose and Oliver — just try saying goodbye to this pair and Parcheesi the cat! I definitely recommend this tale to romance fans.

Review copy provided by author. Thanks!

Troubled Waters (Montana Rescue #4) by Susan May Warren

Genre: Romance
Publisher: Revell
Publication Date: January 2018

Billionaire Ian Shaw’s life is crumbling fast. He’s had to liquidate his fortune, his niece Esme remains missing, and the woman he loves wants nothing to do with him.

Sierra Rose has loved Ian for years, but as long as Esme’s disappearance continues to consume him, there is no future for them as a couple. Of course, if he knew the truth, there probably wouldn’t be a hapily-ever-after anyway. Sierra knows where Esme hides and why, but a promise to the girl prevents her from revealing that fact to the uncle.

After the PEAK chopper is damaged and the rescue team lacks the funds to repair it, Ian and Sierra combine forces to host a fundraising event on his yacht. But what should have been three, fun-filled days turns into a nightmare when a rogue wave destroys the yacht, tossing the passengers overboard. Ian and Sierra find themselves stranded on a deserted island with nothing but each other, the land, and the hope of rescue to help them survive.

Susan May Warren’s Troubled Waters plunges readers into a non-stop, action-soaked tale. I have been chomping at the bit for Ian and Sierra’s story ever since the prequel. Their turn finally arrived leaving me with mixed feelings. Apparently, it is possible to have an intense, adrenaline-laden tale that drags. After all, what doesn’t happen to the characters? Fire, a rogue wave, lost at sea, hurricane, and more. It reached the point where it felt like a never-ending string of bad events that happened with little story and character development.

Despite my early fascination with Ian and Sierra’s romance, as the Montana Rescue series has progressed, I’ve found myself increasingly disappointed in Sierra. She toyed with another man’s feelings (Book 2), removed herself from Ian’s life blaming his obsession with finding his niece even though Sierra was more part of the problem than the solution. Not to mention that withholding the truth from Ian, especially considering the threat to Esme’s life, was not only unwise and dangerous, but no way to build a foundation for any sort of relationship. All in all, even though she had me firmly planted on her side early on in the series, it became increasingly hard to sympathize with her.

Though it was an okay read, it doesn’t rank amongst Warren’s best works. Having read the prequel and three books prior to Troubled Waters, I had no trouble keeping the characters straight or following the story. However, if you’re new to Montana Rescue, I recommend starting at the beginning. Otherwise, a lot will be missed and potentially lead to a confusing read.

Review copy provided by publisher via NetGalley. Thanks.

Before We Were Yours by Lisa Wingate

Genre: Drama
Publisher: Ballentine Books
Publication Date: June 2017

Memphis, 1939. Twelve-year-old Rill Foss lives aboard a river shantyboat with her parents and siblings. To the outside viewer, it might look like she doesn’t have much, but Rill has everything she needs. However, life as she knows it changes one night when her father must rush her pregnant mother to the hospital. While alone with her siblings, strangers arrive and yank the Foss kids from their home and toss them into a Tennessee Children’s Home Society orphanage. Despite false assurances that they will soon be reunited with their parents, the children soon discover the cruel truth. This forces Rill to fight to protect her siblings from a perilous and unknown world they can’t control.

South Carolina, present day. Born into affluence and prestige, Avery Stafford never dreamed her family tree could hide a scandalous history. But when a chance encounter with a senile woman stirs up questions, Avery works to track down her family’s long-held secrets — secrets that could destroy those she loves most or bring healing.

Heart-wrenching, riveting, and haunting, Before We Were Yours delivers an unforgettable tale that sticks long after the final page. Lisa Wingate pens a poignant and captivating tale of a disturbing time in history. Based on the real-life scandal of Georgia Tann, the director of an adoption organization that kidnapped and sold poor children to wealthy families, the story wrecks the reader while also proving impossible to set aside. Despite the hard topic, Wingate manages to weave a thread of hope throughout the tale.

Masterful storytelling, vivid settings, and raw, real characters ensured my total investment in the tale. I laughed, I cried, I suffered, I rejoiced, as I experienced the events right alongside the characters. Dual timeline stories are very rarely my cup of tea, and yet Wingate continually amazes and pulls me in with hers. For the romantics, though romance is not the dominant thread, a bit of a love story exists. I won’t give anything away, but he is amazing! I strongly recommend this novel.

Review copy provided by publisher via NetGalley. Thanks!