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REVIEW:  The Splendour Falls by Susanna Kearsley

REVIEW: The Splendour Falls by Susanna Kearsley

splendour-falls

Emily Braden couldn’t resist the invitation to join her charming but unreliable cousin, Harry, on a visit to the town of Chinon—where, according to legend, Queen Isabelle hid her treasured jewels during a
siege in the 13th century. But when Harry vanishes and Emily begins to search for him, she uncovers the mystery of a different Isabelle. A mystery that dates back to the German occupation during the Second
World War. As Emily explores the city, with its labyrinthine tunnels and ancient history, she’s drawn ever closer to the mysterious Isabelles and their long-kept secrets…

Dear Ms. Kearsley,

I know I’ve mentioned before how much your novels remind me – in a good way – of Mary Stewart’s mysteries of the 50s and 60s but they do and this one in particular did. English heroine goes on supposed care-free holiday in a foreign country only to find herself in the midst of something wrong that she can’t quite put her finger on. There might be a romance, or there might not depending on how the men of the novel are presented on any given page. Then Events Escalate and she finds herself battling for justice and perhaps even her life. Yep, it reminded me of those Stewart books.

I love how everything is there. The clues and hints needed to solve what is going on are provided as the story proceeds. As one character says, you only need to look at them from the right angle and – voice – everything slots into place and makes perfect sense. Of course one must arrange them correctly, and view them properly and understand them …. But at the end of the book all the pieces to the puzzle are there for which I thank you.

The details of Chinon are a delight to read. I can see myself wandering down the streets to the river, looking over the steep drop of the chateau wall, watching the sun rise and make the golden, white walls glow over the blue roofed town. I would especially enjoy a trip to the Chapelle of St Radegonde. How does one get permission to have the keys? And I would never make the mistake of complaining about the fact that people speak so much French there! Heaven help you but I hope you didn’t actually run into any Garland Whitakers during your time there. But a nice, leisurely 3 hour lunch in a quiet restaurant with a charming Frenchman? That I could do.

Since this is primarily a romance book site, I know readers will want to know, “But does Emily find romance?” Well, there were times I wondered that as I was reading the book. There are several potential men scattered along the way and I wavered back and forth about which one could or would be romantic interest and who was actually trying to kill her. Congratulations for keeping me guessing until almost the end of the novel. I would love to have got a bit more payoff at the end but the way Emily’s Special Someone charges to her rescue does say a lot for him.

This is a delightful, modern gothic mystery with a romance. It’s evocative of the time and place and people and filled with fascinating characters who come to life off the page. And a great cat. B

~Jayne

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REVIEW:  Being Sloane Jacobs by Lauren Morrill

REVIEW: Being Sloane Jacobs by Lauren Morrill

being-sloane-jacobs-lauren-morrill

Dear Ms. Morrill,

When I picked up your novel, I somehow managed to misinterpret the back cover copy. For some reason, I thought the two heroines were twins separated at birth who randomly meet and switch places. No, I have no idea why I had The Parent Trap stuck in my head. I quickly realized my mistake but kept reading anyway. I’m glad I made that choice.

Being Sloane Jacobs is about two girls who share the same name: Sloane Jacobs (surprise). Sloane Emily Jacobs is rich and privileged. She’s the daughter of a U.S. senator. She’s a former figure skater whose mother is pushing her to make a great comeback. By contrast, Sloane Devon Jacobs comes from a working class family that lives in Philadelphia. She loves ice hockey but has a bit of an anger management problem.

Both girls have things wrong with their families. Sloane Emily walked in on her father getting far too friendly, shall we say, with a member of his staff. Her father, of course, is doing everything he can to make sure she keeps what she witnessed a secret. After all, the political landscape thrives on scandal like this. Sloane Devon’s mother is an alcoholic who got sent away to rehab. She feels abandoned and a large of chunk of her anger on the ice stems from the displaced resentment towards her absent mother.

When Sloane Emily is sent to Canada for figure skating camp, she accidentally runs into Sloane Devon, who’s also been sent to the same city for ice hockey camp. A luggage mix-up due to their names gives them a ridiculous idea. Both of them want to pretend to be someone else for a while. Why not switch places?

I won’t lie and say Being Sloane Jacobs is a deep, meaningful book. It’s not. It’s fun and light. I found it very enjoyable, in no small part because both girls are athletes. There’s a charming scene where Sloane Emily and Sloane Devon compare “battle scars” from their physical exploits and it’s details like that, which stick in my head.

While Sloane Devon initially scoffed at figure skating, I like that she realized immediately it’s hardly a cakewalk and is far more than just looking pretty on the ice. There’s a part of me that’s a little disbelieving about her mindset. I mean, I’m not a figure skater. I can barely roller skate. But I can tell that is a hard sport. Not only do you need the grace and flexibility of a ballerina, you need the strength to generate enough speed to jump. Never mind landing without falling. It’s obvious the amount of physicality involved. But I guess I can accept her attitude. Sloane Devon is a tomboyish jock at the start of the book. If she’s used to the rough play of ice hockey, I suppose I can believe she’d think that about “girly” sport like ice skating.

On the other hand, I wish we’d spent more time with Sloane Emily learning the strategies involved in ice hockey and how she learned to play on a team. I imagine going from singles ice skating to a team sport is rather jarring. The novel tries to play it off as Sloane Emily trying to hide her lack of hockey knowledge and just sticking to the basics. But knowing “the basics” doesn’t automatically make you a great team member who knows strategy. Maybe I just don’t know the rules and gameplay of hockey well enough.

Both girls have their own love interests. The romantic subplots were nice enough but I felt that both boys were ciphers. They didn’t feel like fully fleshed out characters, especially when compared to the two heroines. I wasn’t sure I bought that Sloane Emily’s love interest had reformed from his player ways. How do we know that? Because he says so? Sloane Devon’s love interest had a better presented conflict but even so, he came off somewhat flat.

I will say the novel does require a heavy dose of suspension of disbelief. Sloane Emily and Sloane Devon are not twins. They just share the same name. Sloane Emily is the daughter of a prominent senator whose family is always plastered in magazines and newspapers. She used to be a competitive figure skater. It’s hard to believe both girls can just pass for each other with no one noticing for most of the book. Especially when they’re learning new to them sports at the same time. It worked for me but I had to actively not think about this detail.

Maybe my love of female athletes who love sports, or learn to love sports, is clouding my opinion but I liked this novel. I think it’s a good, fast read for anyone wanting fleshed out female lead characters who are both strong and flawed but in different ways, without one “type” being presented as better than the other. That said, the shallowly drawn supporting characters — especially the love interests — really detracted from the book. This is a case where I point to many things I enjoyed but can also say it’s missing that indefinable spark that boosts a novel from good to great. C+

My regards,
Jia

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