Thursday, September 16, 2021

Book Review: At Summer's End by Courtney Ellis

Pages: 368
Genre: Adult Historical Fiction
Pub. Date: August 10, 2021
Publisher: Berkley
Source: Publisher for review
My Rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars
Goodreads says, "When an ambitious female artist accepts an unexpected commission at a powerful earl's country estate in 1920s England, she finds his war-torn family crumbling under the weight of long-kept secrets. From debut author Courtney Ellis comes a captivating novel about finding the courage to heal after the ravages of war.  Alberta Preston accepts the commission of a lifetime when she receives an invitation from the Earl of Wakeford to spend a summer painting at His Lordship's country home, Castle Braemore. Bertie imagines her residence at the prodigious estate will finally enable her to embark on a professional career and prove her worth as an artist, regardless of her gender.  Upon her arrival, however, Bertie finds the opulent Braemore and its inhabitants diminished by the Great War. The earl has been living in isolation since returning from the trenches, locked away in his rooms and hiding battle scars behind a prosthetic mask. While his younger siblings eagerly welcome Bertie into their world, she soon sees chips in that world's gilded facade. As she and the earl develop an unexpected bond, Bertie becomes deeply entangled in the pain and secrets she discovers hidden within Castle Braemore and the hearts of its residents.  Threaded with hope, love, and loss, At Summer's End delivers a portrait of a noble family--and a world--changed forever by the war to end all wars."


WWI is over and England is recovering.  The world is very different now and Bertie Preston finds herself 28 years old and unmarried. For the time period, this isn't the norm, but Bertie doesn't care about society's rules. She strives to be independent and wants to support herself as an artist.  She gains some attention after winning an art competition and with that she is contacted by the Earl of Wakefield to pain his home, Castle Braemore.  This is exactly the type of job that Bertie has been hoping for and one that will hopefully help her make the move to London.  In order to paint Castle Braemore, she must move there for a short period of time and to make things even more awkward, the Earl thought Bertie was a man.  Despite this, she is determined to make the best of it, but with the Earl hiding in his rooms and the Castle a bit dismal, things aren't what she thought they would be. Thankfully, the Earl's siblings are excited for to be there. As time passes Bertie learns why the Earl, also known as Julian, spends most of his time in his room and how the war has impacted not only him, but also the estate.  The world is changing around Castle Braemore and the big question is are the inhabitants ready for it? At Summer's End by Courtney Ellis is a compelling historical debut that fans of Downton Abbey will enjoy.

I really liked Bertie right from the start of At Summer's End. I always love a determined, spunky, and unconventional heroine, especially when that isn't the norm for the time period.  I was excited for her to start her life as an artist and use the money to support her dreams in London. Once she arrives at Castle Braemore, things start to get a little more difficult than she initially thought. For starters, Julian, the Earl, doesn't really leave his rooms, so there's a Beauty and the Beast vibe to this novel.  Bertie can't help but wonder what happened to him at the war? Why won't he leave his rooms?  I am a big Beauty and the Beast fan, so I loved the similarities here.

The best part of At Summer's End is the setting. Ellis brought this time period to life very well and she made me feel like I was at Castle Braemore. The secrets that the Castle holds, including its residents, also adds the mystery and the atmosphere.  Fans evocative historical fiction will appreciate the setting of the atmospheric Castle, the lyrical descriptions, the conflicting social classes, as well as the changing times. Also, if you are looking for a historical romance, At Summer's End has one that doesn't disappoint.

So, if you love historical fiction, especially ones with a Downton Abbey vibe, give At Summer's End a try as summer comes to a close--now is the perfect time! 

Wednesday, September 15, 2021

Can't Wait Wednesday: The Wedding Veil

Can't Wait Wednesday is hosted by Wishful Endings and helps us spotlight upcoming releases we're eagerly anticipating!


The Wedding Veil by Kristy Woodson Harvey

Pub. Date: March 29, 2022

Goodreads says, "Four women. One family heirloom. A secret connection that will change their lives—and history as they know it.   Present Day: Julia Baxter’s wedding veil, bequeathed to her great-grandmother by a mysterious woman on a train in the 1930s, has passed through generations of her family as a symbol of a happy marriage. But on the morning of her wedding day, something tells her that even the veil’s good luck isn’t enough to make her marriage last forever. Overwhelmed and panicked, she escapes to the Virgin Islands to clear her head. Meanwhile, her grandmother Babs is also feeling shaken. Still grieving the death of her beloved husband, she decides to move out of the house they once shared and into a retirement community. Though she hopes it’s a new beginning, she does not expect to run into an old flame, dredging up the same complicated emotions she felt a lifetime ago. 1914: Socialite Edith Vanderbilt is struggling to manage the luxurious Biltmore Estate after the untimely death of her cherished husband. With 250 rooms to oversee and an entire village dependent on her family to stay afloat, Edith is determined to uphold the Vanderbilt legacy—and prepare her free-spirited daughter Cornelia to inherit it—in spite of her family’s deteriorating financial situation. But Cornelia has dreams of her own. Asheville, North Carolina has always been her safe haven away from the prying eyes of the press, but as she explores more of the rapidly changing world around her, she’s torn between upholding tradition and pursuing the exciting future that lies beyond Biltmore’s gilded gates. In the vein of Therese Anne Fowler’s A Well-Behaved Woman and Jennifer Robson’s The Gown, The Wedding Veil brings to vivid life a group of remarkable women forging their own paths—and explores the mystery of a national heirloom lost to time."


I am a big fan of Kristy Woodson Harvey's novels, so this one is a must-read for me. What do you guys think? 


Tuesday, September 14, 2021

Book Review: We Are the Brennans by Tracey Lange

Pages: 288
Genre: Adult Fiction
Pub. Date: August 3, 2021
Publisher: Celadon
Source: Personal Copy
My Rating: 4.5 out of 5 stars 

Goodreads says, "When twenty-nine-year-old Sunday Brennan wakes up in a Los Angeles hospital, bruised and battered after a drunk driving accident she caused, she swallows her pride and goes home to her family in New York. But it's not easy. She deserted them all—and her high school sweetheart—five years before with little explanation, and they've got questions.   Sunday is determined to rebuild her life back on the east coast, even if it does mean tiptoeing around resentful brothers and an ex-fiancĂ©. The longer she stays, however, the more she realizes they need her just as much as she needs them. When a dangerous man from her past brings her family's pub business to the brink of financial ruin, the only way to protect them is to upend all their secrets—secrets that have damaged the family for generations and will threaten everything they know about their lives. In the aftermath, the Brennan family is forced to confront painful mistakes—and ultimately find a way forward, together."


Sunday Brennan left her home in New York years ago. She was running from her past along with her boisterous Irish Catholic family; she was determined to not face it and leave it behind.  The Brennan family are a town staple; they own the local pub, the patriarch is a well known contractor, and everyone knows the Brennan kids, especially former sports star, Denny. From the outside, it appears to the community that the Brennans have it all. A successful family business, a booming Irish pub, a loving family, and a beautiful home.  However, when you examine the family closer, things aren't as they appear.  Sunday, the only female Brennan offspring, never got over something from her past and ran to Los Angeles under the guise of a job opportunity. This took everyone by surprise, especially her longtime boyfriend-turned fiance, Kale.  Kale isn't just some boyfriend though. He grew up with the Brennans; he is practically a Brennan himself and even has a place at the dining room table.  He and Sunday had plans to marry one day and to this day, he doesn't understand why she up and left him without even so much as an explanation.  However, one fateful night, Sunday finds herself in a drunk driving accident in Los Angeles and her emergency contact is her older brother, Denny. After he comes out to help her, he convinces her to move back home for a bit. Once Sunday does, she she knows she has to face all the secrets she has been hiding for years and eventually face Kale, who still holds her heart.  We Are the Brennans by Tracey Lange is such a moving debut. I absolutely loved the characters and was completely invested in this family saga. It's one of my favorite books of the year!

Sunday is an interesting character in We Are the Brennans. Readers don't know what she is running from at first, but slowly Lange divulges information as to why she left so abruptly. While I don't always agree with her decisions, I could empathize with her.  Sunday needs people in her life who talk about their feelings, who can share their personal stories, and that's not what she will find at the Brennan household. The Brennans lack the skills to communicate effectively and they are all holding secrets. They come from a good place, but the lack of communication has caused some major trauma.  For example, Sunday is clearly in love with Kale and has been for years. So, why did she leave? Why didn't she explain to Kale why she left? And more importantly, which Brennan knows the truth surrounding Sunday's departure?

The other Brennans: Denny, Jackie, Shane, and Mick are fantastically done. Lange excels at character development. As I was reading We Are the Brennans, I felt like I was watching a movie unfold before me and I wasn't drawn to one character over another; somehow Lange was able to make each Brennan capture my heart. Mick is the patriarch and is a complex character. He knows that old age is robbing him of his memory and his ability to "get the job done." He wants very much to rule to roost, but it's Denny that truly runs the show and the family pub.  He keeps everyone in line, but the problem is, he is in over his head. His marriage is suffering, his plans for a new pub are going awry, not to mention he has serious money issues.  Then there's Jackie who is on probation, but a thoughtful and creative good guy, and the youngest, Shane, who is a handful as he is intellectually disabled. It's a lot for Denny to keep together.   Lastly, even though the Brennan matriarch, Maura, has been dead for years, she still plays an important role in the family and her presence hovers over the family, which is an interesting touch by Lange.

One of the driving forces in We Are the Brennans is Kale and Sunday's love story. I am an absolute sucker for a friends-to-something more romance, so I was completely caught up in their story. Lange provides readers  flashbacks that highlight important moments in their relationship and I found their love story so very compelling. All the while, I was wondering what the heck went wrong? Because Sunday is in Los Angeles avoiding her family, and Kale has clearly moved on. Cue my heart breaking!

We Are the Brennans also examines how secrets, shame, and guilt play out in a family.  I thought it was so well done.  Each Brennan holds a secret for a variety of reasons and some of the secrets will eventually come to the surface.  The best part about We Are the Brennans is the fact that I didn't care that none of the characters were perfect or made good decisions. I loved them anyway and I was rooting for them despite their downfalls. 

Needless to say, I thoroughly enjoyed We Are the Brennans. If you love a good family saga, you will enjoy this outstanding debut. So, have you read We Are the Brennans? If so, let me know your thoughts in the comments below. 

Friday, September 10, 2021

Book Review: The Glorious Guinness Girls by Emily Hourican

Pages: 416
Genre: Adult Historical Fiction
Pub. Date: May 4, 2021
Publisher: Grand Central Publishing
Source: Publisher for review
My Rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars

Goodreads says, "From London to Ireland during the 1920s, this glorious, gripping, and richly textured story takes us to the heart of the remarkable real-life story of the Guinness Girls—perfect for fans of Downton Abbey and Julian Fellowes' Belgravia.  Descendants of the founder of the Guinness beer empire, they were the toast of 1920s high society, darlings of the press, with not a care in the world. But Felicity knows better. Sent to live with them as a child because her mother could no longer care for her, she grows up as the sisters’ companion. Both an outsider and a part of the family, she witnesses the complex lives upstairs and downstairs, sees the compromises and sacrifices beneath the glamorous surface. Then, at a party one summer’s evening, something happens that sends shock waves through the entire household.  Inspired by a remarkable true story and fascinating real events, The Glorious Guinness Girls  is an unforgettable novel about the haves and have-nots, one that will make you ask if where you find yourself is where you truly belong."


Felicity, otherwise known as Fliss, is sent away to live with the Guinness girls as her mother can no longer care for her.  She is to be a companion to the three famous Guinness sisters.  As the years go by, Fliss is reminded that she technically isn't one of them, but she isn't exactly like the downstairs help either.  Where does she fit in? Being in their world means she is privy to all the high society functions, the gossip, and what it means to grow up with the world at your fingertips.  On the other hand, her brother, Hughie, is a big proponent of the Irish Free State. He reminds Fliss that there's change coming and the lifestyle that the Guinness family is accustomed to will soon be a distant memory.  In fact, it's Hughie who brings this to the Guinness sisters' attention and challenges their way of thinking. The Glorious Guinness Girls by Emily Hourican is an interesting glimpse into the real-life Guinness sisters and I recommend it to fans of Downton Abbey.

Admittingly, I did not know much about the Guinness sisters before reading The Glorious Guinness Girls. I was surprised by how interesting their lives were. There's Aileen, Maureen, and Oonagh who are shining stars in the high society social scene. Each sister brings something different to the table. The one thing I liked about the story was how it was told from the perspective of Fliss, so we really got to understand things from an outside point of view. Even though the Guinness girls lived in the lap of luxury, just outside their gates there's so much turmoil.  

Speaking of Fliss, she is a compelling character in The Glorious Guinness Girls.  At first, she feels like an outsider. Can you blame her? Their world is so much different than hers, but as time goes on, she figures out her place and becomes an important person in the sisters' lives including her brother, Hughie, who reminds them that so much is going on outside of their palatial mansion. Hughie gets involved in the politics in Ireland and it will forever impact Fliss and the Guinness sisters.

My one issue with The Glorious Guinness Girls was the pacing. The middle of story was very slow at times and not much happened to really set this book apart from the other historical novels I've read this summer.  However, the setting of Ireland on the brink on the brink of independence really was the best part. I also appreciated learning more about the Guinness girls and their legacy. 

Have you read The Glorious Guinness Girls? Do you enjoy historical fiction? Let me know in the comments below. 


Wednesday, September 8, 2021

Best Books of the Summer


And that's a wrap on my 10th Annual Summer Kickoff.  I can't believe it has been ten years! This year was another great one with so many amazing beach reads. I've narrowed it down to my absolute favorites of the summer.  Be sure to let me know what you think and share with me your favorites in the comments below


 Best Beach Reads of 2021:


People We Meet on Vacation by Emily Henry




Malibu Rising by Taylor Jenkins Reid




The Invisible Husband of Frick Island by Colleen Oakley




Last Summer at Golden Hotel by Elyssa Friedland





Under the Southern Sky by Kristy Woodson Harvey 

The Last Thing He Told Me by Laura Dave




We Are the Brennans by Tracey Lange (Review to come)

Golden Girl by Elin Hilderbrand

So, what were your favorite books of the summer? Did you read any of my favorites? Let me know in the comments below.


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