Sunday, June 7, 2015

Review: "Shadows of Ladenbrooke Manor" by Melanie Dobson

Rating: 3.5 Stars

Review: "Shadows of Ladenbrooke Manor" is filled with mysteries and tangles of deceit.  Melanie Dobson creates a plot with three generations of layers to sort through.  Dobson definitely thought outside-of-the box when writing "Shadows of Ladenbrooke Manor." There isn't much that is predictable or ordinary in the plot. Amid the quaint cottages and country lanes of England, Dobson weaves a story shadowed with darkness and pain.  Stories of the past slowly unfold in the present for Heather Toulson, who uncovers shocking revelations about her family and shares some of her own.

The novel started a bit slow, especially in the present day scenes. There were some detailed passages about art restoration that I skimmed, but the pace picked up within several chapters. Secrets and lies are continuously present and create an engaging, yet heavy read. There is a pattern of deceit that emerges among all three generations, and the results are thought-provoking. They can also be disturbing.  This is especially true of Libby's role in the novel. Through Libby, Dobson sheds light on the stigma attached to children who were deemed "abnormal" by society in the 1950's and 1960's. As a reader, I couldn't understand Libby's decisions, which made me feel like an outsider. I was left feeling sympathetic to her character and very perplexed by certain interactions between Libby and other characters. The history of the Doyle family is plagued by painful twists, which could have been avoided through truth. It seems a bit unrealistic that each woman would follow such similar life paths, and the plot almost sounds like a soap opera when you tell someone all of the details. Regardless, it is easy to keep turning the pages while seeking resolution.

It would be unrealistic to end "Shadows of Ladenbrooke Manor" with complete and perfect closure. There are broken hearts that cannot be mended and relationships that cannot be fully repaired.  Dobson gives readers a hopeful conclusion for Heather and her family, finally on the mend, thanks to lessons learned from long buried secrets.

I received a complimentary copy of this book from Howard Books through Net Galley. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions expressed above are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.

Summary from Howard Books: When Heather Toulson returns to her parents’ 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. What she uncovers will change everything she thought she knew about her family’s history.

Award-winning author Melanie Dobson seamlessly weaves the past and present together, fluidly unraveling the decades-old mystery and reveals how the characters are connected in shocking ways. 

Set in a charming world of thatched cottages, lush gardens, and lovely summer evenings, this romantic and historical mystery brings to light the secrets and heartaches that have divided a family for generations.

Review: "Irish Meadows" by Susan Anne Mason

Rating: 3.5 Stars

Review: "Irish Meadows" is the first in the "Courage to Dream" series by Susan Anne Mason.  The series title is definitely more compelling than the rather generic book title, and is reflective of the novels theme's of strength and following one's heart. Brianna and Colleen O'Leary certainly need fortitude to forge their own paths and overcome their father's overbearing nature. Mr. O'Leary is insensitive, demanding, and completely exasperating. As unlikable as his character can be, he is a symbol of anything that holds us backs from pursuing our dreams.  I think that dreamers, like me, will take away encouragement from the pages of "Irish Meadows," and that makes the read worthwhile.

"Irish Meadows" is an enjoyable and quick read.  I like the overall message of the novel, but ultimately feel like I missed out on a true connection to the characters. Mason tells the stories of both Brianna and Colleen, switching perspectives between the two sisters and their suitors. The changes in scenes and perspectives keep the plot from dragging, but also makes the flow feel choppy.  When I started reading, I expected Colleen to be a secondary character whose story would continue in the second novel.  I soon learned that she would share the spotlight with Brianna. Colleen undergoes significant personality changes, but the transition is quite sudden. She and her suitor have backstories strong enough to fill the pages of their own book. Both Colleen's and Brianna's stories are significant and interesting, but perhaps would prove even stronger told separately.

Readers looking for just one love story will find two romances playing out with plenty of tension within the pages. Susan Ann Mason promises a revisit to the O'Leary clan in 2016, with the release of the second novel in the series.

I received a complimentary copy of this book from Bethany House through Net Galley. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions expressed above are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.

Summary from Bethany House: 

1911, Long Island, New York 

Faced With an Uncertain Future, Sometimes All You Have Left Is the Courage to Dream

Brianna and Colleen O'Leary know their Irish immigrant father expects them to marry well. Recently he's put even more pressure on them, insinuating that the very future of their Long Island horse farm, Irish Meadows, rests in their ability to land prosperous husbands. Both girls, however, have different visions for their futures.

Brianna, a quiet girl with a quick mind, dreams of attending college. Vivacious Colleen, meanwhile, is happy to marry--as long as her father's choice meets her exacting standards of the ideal groom. When former stable hand Gilbert Whelan returns from business school and distant relative Rylan Montgomery visits Long Island during his seminary training, the two men quickly complicate everyone's plans. 

As the farm slips ever closer to ruin, James O'Leary grows more desperate. It will take every ounce of courage for both sisters to avoid being pawns in their father's machinations and instead follow their hearts. And even if they do, will they inevitably find their dreams too distant to reach?


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