Saturday, March 16, 2024

Review: Speculations in Sin by Jennifer Ashley

Speculations in Sin by Jennifer Ashley
Series: Below Stairs Mysteries, Book 7
Publisher: Berkley
Genre: Historical Mystery 
Speculations in Sin cover
ISBN: 9780593549919
Source: Publisher
Buy it here: Amazon | B&N | Kobo | Audible
Jennifer Ashley Reading Order

Kat Holloway is distressed to learn that Samuel Millburn, husband of the woman who looks after her daughter, has been accused of embezzling funds from the bank where he works as a clerk. The accusation is absurd, and Samuel’s wife fears that her husband will not only lose his post but be imprisoned. Kat vows to uncover the truth.

When she discovers the bank is involved in shockingly murky business dealings, Kat realizes she’s treading in dangerous waters. She turns to her confidante and handsome suitor, Daniel McAdam, for help. To exonerate Samuel, Kat and Daniel may have to expose the unseemly financial dealings of prominent aristocrats and government officials, and even those working to bring down the royal family. Kat will risk everything to protect the man who has sacrificed so much for her daughter, even if it means endangering herself and the friends she has come to love.

Cook Kat Holloway is back sleuthing again when her best friend’s husband is accused of embezzlement. Speculations in Sin takes Kat into the unfamiliar world of finance, a place where reputation is worth its weight in gold and where a man like Sam Millburn can be tossed to the wolves for an institution to save face. Sam is not only Kat’s friend – he and his wife opened their home to Kat’s daughter, so this case is deeply personal.

Kat is walking a tightrope as ever, balancing her position and duties with amateur sleuthing, her relationship with her daughter, and her slowly developing romance with Daniel McAdam. Daniel is by Kat’s side every step of the way, as are her friends. I loved watching Kat among the friends she has made, from Lady Cynthia to Tess and beyond. These connections are integral to the story and the worldbuilding. They are also what interested me the most about the story. As much as I enjoy Jennifer Ashley’s writing, I will say that the mystery didn’t grab my attention this time around. It wasn’t complex enough to carry the story and seemed to drag, taking the book down with it. The resolution, while somewhat satisfying, didn’t wow me like I had hoped. All in all, this was just an OK entry into the Below Stairs series. Any time spent with Kat and company is enjoyable, but Speculations in Sin had a lackluster mystery that didn’t live up to the previous installments.

FTC Disclosure: I received this book for free from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

Sunday, March 3, 2024

Review: Once Persuaded, Twice Shy by Melodie Edwards

Once Persuaded, Twice Shy: A Modern Reimagining of Persuasion by Melodie Edwards
Publisher: Berkley
Genre: Contemporary Romance 
Once Persuaded Twice Shy cover
ISBN: 9780593440797
Release Date: February 27, 2024
Source: Publisher
Buy it here: Amazon | B&N | Kobo | Audible

When Anne Elliott broke up with Ben Wentworth, it seemed like the right thing to do…but now, eight years later, she’s not so sure.

In her scenic hometown of Niagara-on-the-Lake, Anne is comfortable focusing on her successful career: filling her late mother’s shoes as town councilor and executive director of her theater company. She certainly keeps busy as the all-around wrangler of eccentric locals, self-centered family members, elaborate festivals, and the occasional attacking goose. But the more she tries to convince herself that her life is fine as is, the more it all feels like a show—and not nearly as good as the ones put on by her theater company. She’s the always responsible Anne, always taken for granted and cleaning up after other people, and the memories of happier times with Ben Wentworth still haunt her.

So when the nearby Kellynch Winery is bought by Ben’s aunt and uncle, Anne’s world is set ablaze as her old flame crashes back into her life—and it’s clear he hasn’t forgiven her for breaking his heart. A joint project between the winery and Anne’s theater forces both Ben and Anne to confront their complicated history, and as they spend more time together, Anne can’t help but wonder if there might be hope for their future after all.

Melodie Edwards puts a fresh spin on a Jane Austen classic in Once Persuaded, Twice Shy. Edwards brings Anne and Wentworth to the modern era but keeps the original spirit alive in this story, and I was absolutely delighted.

Anne is all business all the time, having stepped into her late mother’s shoes seamlessly and taken on the role of town counselor and theater director. Between narcissistic family members, a sweet but loose cannon assistant, dramatic actors, demanding townspeople, and a chaotic neutral (possibly chaotic evil) goose, Anne’s time is constantly in demand. Then the new owners of her former home – Kellynch Winery – come to the theater and bring the past back to haunt her. The Fairchilds’ nephew is none other than Ben Wentworth, the man Anne dumped eight years ago after being persuaded he was a bad match.

If you’re familiar with Persuasion, you’ll see all of the high points of that novel reimagined in a new way. If you’ve never read Austen’s novel, don’t worry – you won’t be lost. Edwards makes this story and its characters stand on their own. I adored the romantic angst as Anne’s reunion with Ben makes her face the past and deal with the breakup she pushed out of mind for years. Anne has become someone she doesn’t entirely recognize and it was great to see her come into her own over the course of the story. Her hurt and loss over Ben are feelings she has to contend with as well, as is the jealousy at seeing him now successful, powerful, and seemingly indifferent to her. Though the story is told from Anne’s point of view, you can easily read Ben’s emotions like you can in the original. Edwards truly captures the heart of Persuasion in Once Persuaded, Twice Shy and her skill ensures I will definitely be on the lookout for more of her work.

FTC Disclosure: I received this book for free from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.