‘The Cavendon Women’ by Barbara Taylor Bradford

tcw btbSTORY: The aristocratic Inghams have been served by the Swann family for centuries. The Cavendon Women follows these two families’ journeys from a weekend in the summer of 1926 through to the devastation of the financial crash of 1929.

It all begins on a summer weekend in July of 1926, when, for the first time in years, the Earl has planned a family weekend. Everyone is intrigued by the invitation, and everyone has their own reasons for accepting it. As the family members come together, secrets, problems, joys, and sorrows are revealed. And as old enemies come out of the shadows and the Swanns’ loyalty to the Inghams gets tested in ways none of them could have predicted, it is up to the Cavendon women to band together and bring their family into a new decade, and a new way of life.

Told with Barbara Taylor Bradford’s trademark attention to detail and passionate prose, The Cavendon Women will grip readers as they follow the beloved characters through times of triumph and turmoil.

REVIEW: Cavendon Hall, England – 1926

Cavendon Hall is now 175 years old and consists of over 180 rooms.  Charles Ingham, the Sixth Earl of Mowbray, is now head of the family.  A widower, he has one son and heir, Miles, and four grown daughters, Daphne, Dulcie, DeLacy, and Diedre.

For years and years, the Ingham family has been served by the Swann family and both families have always been true and faithful friends.  To this end, Charles Ingham has fallen in love with Charlotte Swann and plans to marry her.  His son, Miles, is estranged from his wife who left him and who never could conceive.  He is in love with Cecily Swann but cannot persuade his wife to give him a divorce.  The daughters all share beautiful blond hair and clear blue eyes.  Each of them has established their own lives and are happy.  The novel takes us through the daughters finding the man of their dreams.  Along the way, the family meets with pain and sorrow, yet manages to stick together and keep up their close family and their huge home.

The book spans the time from 1926 to the disastrous financial crash of 1929.  We get to know the members of the Ingham and Swann families and how their lives all intertwine.  The Cavendon women prove themselves to be very strong and able to keep their family together as they enter the new decade.

This book is a follow-on to the author’s first novel, “Cavendon Hall.”  I enjoyed that novel very much and truly looked forward to reading this new one.

Barbara Taylor Bradford is an author that does not disappoint.  I am sure that readers will enjoy reading about this time period and the vast changes that occurred then.

Connie for b2b

‘The Invention of Sarah Cummings’ by Olivia Newport

tiosc onSTORY: Sarah Cummings has one goal in life–to break into Chicago’s high society. Desperate to stop serving dinner and to start eating at society tables, Sarah alters cast-off gowns from the wealthy Banning women to create lustrous, flattering dresses of her own. On a whim at a chance meeting, she presents herself as Serena Cuthbert, weaving a fictitious past to go with her fictitious name.

But as she gets closer to Simon Tewell, the director of St. Andrew’s Orphanage, Sarah finds that she must choose between the life she has and the life she dreams of. Will she sacrifice love to continue her pretense? Or can Simon show her that sometimes you don’t have to pretend for dreams to come true?

Olivia Newport brings us back to Prairie Avenue to explore the place where class, social expectations, and romance come together. Readers will enjoy following the intrepid Sarah as she searches for true love in a world of illusions.

REVIEW: Sarah Cummings grew up in the St. Andrew’s Orphanage in Chicago.  Later, she got a job as a maid with the Banning family.  She is a very talented seamstress and has made over many dresses that have been passed down to her by her employer.  She dreams of being part of the Chicago social scene.  On her days off, she likes to dress up and explore the shops.

One day, Sarah happens to meet socialite Lillie Wagner in a hat shop.  Seeing her nice dress, Lillie assumes she is also a socialite.  When introducing herself, Sarah says she is Serena Cuthbert and tells a story of being the daughter of a wealthy couple who are now out of town.  Lillie and Sarah meet often for lunch or dinner and Sarah meets some of her society friends, one of whom is Brad, a handsome and dashing man working with the presidential campaign.

Trying to keep her two lives separate, Sarah works to get as much time off as possible from her job, often exchanging favors with another maid.  As she serves dinners in the Banning home, she is always afraid that she might meet up with someone that she has met at a society party under the guise of Serena.

Sarah’s sewing skills are called upon by the director of the Orphanage, Simon Tewell, so she agrees to give sewing lessons to some of the girls providing them with skills that will help them find a good job when they leave the Orphanage.

But when her two lives finally meet up and she is caught in her lie, Lillie is angry and hurt.  Brad’s attentions soon become more unwelcome and aggressive.  In the meantime, Simon Tewell is showing his admiration and more for her.  Which route in life will she choose?

This was a well-written novel with well-developed characters.  While I understood Sarah wanting more from life for herself, the lies she told to get there were bound to catch up to her.

Connie for b2b

‘Eight Hundred Grapes’ by Laura Dave

ehg ldSTORY: There are secrets you share, and secrets you hide…

Growing up on her family’s Sonoma vineyard, Georgia Ford learned some important secrets. The secret number of grapes it takes to make a bottle of wine: eight hundred. The secret ingredient in her mother’s lasagna: chocolate. The secret behind ending a fight: hold hands.

But just a week before her wedding, thirty-year-old Georgia discovers her beloved fiancé has been keeping a secret so explosive, it will change their lives forever.

Georgia does what she’s always done: she returns to the family vineyard, expecting the comfort of her long-married parents, and her brothers, and everything familiar. But it turns out her fiancé is not the only one who’s been keeping secrets…

REVIEW: Dan is a scientist who has always wanted to make wine.  So, he takes a big step of finding the perfect acreage in California and with the help of his wife, Jen, forms The Last Straw Vineyard.  Twin sons, Bobby and Finn, and a daughter, Georgia, grow up in the midst of the winery, becoming well-educated on the wine making process.  But for Georgia, it has always been a true love.

After Georgia graduated from law school, she works for some time in a law firm in Los Angeles.  There, she met Ben, an Englishman, to whom she is engaged and soon to marry.  Their plan is to move to London after the wedding which is to be held at the family winery.  But when Georgia is at her last wedding gown fitting, she sees Ben walking down the street with a beautiful woman and a little girl. Georgia runs out of the store to say hello to Ben.  But his look of guilt combined with the little girl calling him “Daddy” shocks her and sends her driving straight home to the winery.  As her brothers both live nearby, she hopes that being back in the bosom of her family will help her decide if she can go through with the marriage or not.

Hoping to find comfort, Georgia soon realizes that she may just have to “take a number.”  Her brother, Bobby, married and father to twin sons of his own is having marital problems, and her other brother, Finn, unmarried and running a bar, has his own problems as well.  Oh, but let’s not forget Mom and Dad. They are estranged and have just signed papers to sell the winery to a conglomerate that produces wines comparable to “Two Buck Chuck.”

With the last harvest season upon them, the family comes together to pitch in.  At the same time, souls are bared and problems are shared.

What a completely dysfunctional family and Georgia is the worst.  Back and forth on her decision to marry Ben:  yes, no, yes no.  Gah!  My head was spinning!  Yes, there is a bit of humor in the book but I simply found it one that did not appeal to me.  However, there are many people who have loved it.  So, give it a try and share your review.

Connie for b2b

‘Miss Prestwick’s Crusade’ by Anne Barbour

mpc abSTORY: Miss Helen Prestwick’s mission to prove her nephew is the legitimate heir to the Earldom of Camberwell hits a snag when she finds herself attracted to Edward Beresford…the current Earl of Camberwell!

REVIEW: Edward Beresford, the twelfth Earl of Camberwell, is unmarried and lives at Whitehouse Abbey with his aunt, the Dowager Countess of Camberwell, her daughter, Artemis, 18, and the Countess’s brother, Stamford Welladay.  Edward became the Earl when his nephew, Christopher, was killed in military action.

Miss Helen Prestwick and her duenna, Miss Barnstaple, have journeyed from Portugal with Helen’s 6-month-old nephew, William.  Helen’s sister, Beatrice, married Christopher and gave birth to William and died soon after.  Helen is heading to Whitehouse Abbey to meet Christopher’s family and introduce them to William Christopher Beresford, the real twelfth Earl of Camberwell.

When Edward and his family encounter Helen and William, they are shocked at her claim.  However, they all immediately fall in love with William and agree to let them stay at the Abbey until it can be proven whether William is indeed the true and legitimate heir.  The problem is that Beatrice must have hidden the marriage certificate that would prove that she had married Christopher.  However, they were married by an English minister who has since returned to England.  The next step is to find this man to attest to the fact that he did indeed marry Christopher and Beatrice.

Helen has an extensive background in identifying and repairing artwork.  As the Abbey is rich in exquisite pieces of art, Helen agrees to fill her time cataloging the art and making any repairs as needed.  It may take some time to find the minister and she prefers to stay busy.

Edward and Helen spend time together and as they get to know one another better, they find themselves attracted to each other.  Yet Helen is hiding a dark secret.  When some objects d’art go missing, some assume that Helen may have stolen them.  But did she or is there someone else with a greedy heart?

This started out as a good story but it tended to slow down and the “hot one minute, cold the next” interactions between Helen and Edward became somewhat wearing.  However, I would certainly not be against reading more novels by this author.

Connie for b2b

‘Daisy’s Dilemma’ by Anne Stenhouse

dd asSTORY: Lady Daisy should be ecstatic when her brother, the earl, allows Mr. John Brent to propose. She’s been plotting their marriage for two years. However, she is surprised to find herself underwhelmed and blames their distant cousin, Reuben, for unsettling her.

Reuben Longreach wonders whether the earl understands the first thing about Daisy’s nature and her need for a life with more drama than the Season allows. It’s abundantly clear to him that Daisy and John are not suited, but the minx accepts his proposal nonetheless.

Meanwhile, Daisy hatches a plan to attach Reuben to her beautiful, beleaguered Scots cousin, Elspeth. Little does she know that Elspeth is the focus of a more sinister plot that threatens Daisy too.

Will Reuben be able to thwart the forces surrounding Daisy before she is irretrievably tied to John? Will Daisy find the maturity to recognise her dilemma may be of her own making before it’s too late?

REVIEW: London 1822

Miss Daisy Longreach has just accepted Mr. John Brent’s request for her hand in marriage.  She and her widowed mother are living with her brother, Tobias, who is soon to be married himself.  John Brent does not have a fortune but feels he can care for and support Daisy and his three sisters as well.  Having just been in a fight where another man was killed he is recovering from his injuries.  It appears that this man had planned to abduct Daisy to steal and sell the family tiara.

Daisy’s cousin, Reuben, is a wealthy young man who has grown up with Daisy and knows her quite well. He is convinced that John Brent is not the man for her.  Daisy feels as though she has made the right decision, however, she enjoys being with Reuben.  Both of them are just realizing that they have an attraction to each other.

Daisy’s aunt, Beatrice, has come to visit with her daughter, Elspeth.  Beatrice is an opinionated woman who irritates everyone.  She is always eavesdropping on conversations and being just a royal pain.  She treats poor Elspeth very badly by putting her down and not allowing her to dress nicely.  Daisy decides to take matters in her own hands and convinces her brother, Tobias, to supply the funds to get some new dresses for Elspeth.

But behind the scenes, danger lurks and it seems that Aunt Beatrice is right in the middle of it.  What could be going on, who could be hurt and why?

I admit that this was a very difficult book for me to read.  I felt as though I had walked into the middle of a movie and even reread most of the book to try and piece all the characters together.  I have enjoyed this author in the past but, I just cannot say that I enjoyed this novel.

Connie for b2b

‘Shadows of Ladenbrooke Manor’ by Melanie Dobson

solm mdSTORY: When Heather Toulson returns to her parent’s cottage in the English countryside, she uncovers long-hidden secrets about her family history and stumbles onto the truth about a sixty-year-old murder.

Libby, a free spirit who can’t be tamed by her parents, finds solace with her neighbor Oliver, the son of Lord Croft of Ladenbrooke Manor. Libby finds herself pregnant and alone when her father kicks her out and Oliver mysteriously drowns in a nearby river. Though theories spread across the English countryside, no one is ever held responsible for Oliver’s death.

Sixty years later, Heather Toulson, returning to her family’s cottage in the shadows of Ladenbrooke Manor, is filled with mixed emotions. She’s mourning her father’s passing but can’t let go of the anger and resentment over their strained relationship. Adding to her confusion, Heather has an uneasy reunion with her first love, all while sorting through her family’s belongings left behind in the cottage.

As Heather digs, she finds a mysterious journal that belonged to a woman she never knew and it contains clues that lead to the truth about mysterious drowning decades ago. What she uncovers will change everything she thought she knew about her family’s history.

REVIEW: Clevedon, England

When Margaret (Maggie) Emerson finds herself pregnant and deserted by Elliot, a foreign sailor, she accepts the proposal of Walter Doyle, editor of the local newspaper. When her pregnancy begins to show right away, many of the local gossips figure she was pregnant before she got married.  When her daughter is, Libby, is born, she is a tiny baby so Maggie convinces Walter that she is premature.

Walter loves his job writing for the newspaper, but Maggie finally persuades him to move somewhere else because she is afraid he will find out that she was pregnant when he married her.  He gets a job as a postman and she gets a job as housekeeper to the family at Ladenbrooke Manor and the family lives in a house adjacent to the Manor grounds.

As Libby starts to grow, it is obvious that things are not as they should be with her.  She will not do her school work nor will she stay off the grounds of the Manor as requested by the owners.  Her happiness is found in watching and later, painting, butterflies.  I guess she is what someone might then have called a fey child.  However, today, we would know that she has a form of autism.  She soon gains the attention of the son of the Manor and a relationship develops.  When she becomes pregnant by him, her family hides the pregnancy and she gives birth to a girl she names Heather.  Even though Libby nurses the baby, her attention span is not good enough to care for Heather properly, so Maggie says she is Heather’s mother.

The story then jumps to Heather who is a divorced woman living in Portland Oregon and the mother of a girl who has just gotten married.  When after the death of her parents Heather arrives at their home to clean it out to prepare it for sale, many secrets come to light that have been hidden for many years.  She meets up with a man she once loved when she was a girl and their relationship soon rekindles.

There are so many secrets and twists and turns in this novel that the reader will not want to put it down. I was completely enthralled and enjoyed it immensely.

Connie for b2b

Complimentary copy provided by the publisher

‘The Knockoff’ by Lucy Sykes and Jo Plazza

tk ls jpSTORY: When Imogen returns to work at Glossy after six months away, she can barely recognize her own magazine. Eve, fresh out of Harvard Business School, has fired “the gray hairs,” put the managing editor in a supply closet, stopped using the landlines, and hired a bevy of manicured and questionably attired underlings who text and tweet their way through meetings.

Imogen, darling of the fashion world, may have Alexander Wang and Diane von Furstenberg on speed dial, but she can’t tell Facebook from Foursquare and once got her iPhone stuck in Japanese for two days. Under Eve’s reign, Glossy is rapidly becoming a digital sweatshop—hackathons rage all night, girls who sleep get fired, and “fun” means mandatory, company-wide coordinated dances to Beyoncé.

Wildly out of her depth, Imogen faces a choice—pack up her Smythson notebooks and quit, or channel her inner geek and take on Eve to save both the magazine and her career.

REVIEW: Imogen Tate is a 40-year-old woman just returning to work after having been on sick leave from her job for six months.  She is editor in chief of “Glossy” magazine and a very dynamic and well-respected woman in the fashion industry.  She is immediately met with her younger assistant, Eve, who had left some time ago to complete an MBA program at Harvard.  It appears that Eve has been rehired, placed in charge of the office and has made some very major changes.  There will no longer be physical magazines published.  Instead, it will all be online.

Her idea is to use the idea of “pop-up” advertising to get people to buy items.  Imogen’s head is spinning as she’s listening to this new-to-her style of using social media sites for doing business.  In addition, Eve has instituted a policy where she wants her employees working constantly.  She doesn’t need sleep so why should anyone else?  Imogen is determined to try to move over to this way of doing business but it a real struggle for her.

Eve proves herself to be an evil, hateful young woman hellbent on making the employees’ lives miserable.  Imogen works hard to keep up but finds that Eve’s back-stabbing ways are getting to be more than she can handle.

Will she be able to stay the course?  What about the other employees and the fate of “Glossy” itself?

Do come and watch Eve in action.  You thought the devil in “The Devil Wears Prada” was bad.  You haven’t seen anything yet.

I admit that my head was swimming as I was trying to keep up with all the social media sites and the technical terminology myself.  But, I did learn a few things.  I think that readers are really going to enjoy this novel and learn a lot from it.  No, not just technology things, but life lessons on how to be a real person.

Connie for b2b