A vibrant manor tale with a striking protagonist who is a bit too perfect.

THE CROWN FOR CASTLEWOOD MANOR

MY AMERICAN ALMOST ROYAL COUSIN SERIES

A California heiress with a doctorate heads to her ancestral home in this debut novel.

Gemma Alexandra Lancaster Phillips has recently finished her doctoral dissertation but is hesitant to accept a professorship, wondering if there’s something more she can do. After catching her boyfriend, Michael West, kissing another woman shortly after graduation, the Malibu-based daughter of famous actress Jillian Phillips—and an American-born descendant of British royalty—receives an invitation to help her cousin Evan Lancaster, the eighth marquess of Kentshire. Evan must ready Cherrywood Hall, the family home in England, for a life-changing competition. The winner will serve as the location for a major new television series, Castlewood Manor, which will lead to a significant boost for Cherrywood Hall’s vineyard and outreach opportunities to the local community. Gemma soon fits right in, putting her doctorate to use in digging up family history in the form of hidden diaries and wardrobes; falling head over heels for Evan’s best friend and business partner, Kyle Williams; and feeling a special connection to Pippa, her dead great-great-aunt, who saved Cherrywood Hall from ruin in the early 20th century and whose glamorous, renegade spirit is still present in every corner of the estate. Unfortunately, the fun is soon tinged with mystery as competing estate owners begin dying under strange circumstances—everything from sudden car accidents to tea-party strychnine poisoning—and Gemma sets out to save Cherrywood Hall once and for all. In this lucid series opener, Barton isn’t sparing with delicious details about the beautiful family estate, Pippa’s extensive and gorgeous collection of dresses, and the countless meals and teas prepared by the resident butler for Gemma and her friends and family. Fans of TV shows like Downton Abbey will no doubt be drawn in by the “everything old is new again” escapist fantasy of Gemma’s vivid and entertaining adventures in bucolic England. But Gemma never displays any faults or vulnerabilities. She’s tall, blond, and stunning as well as wealthy, intelligent, and charming, and nearly everyone falls in love with her on first meeting. If Gemma were a little less perfect and a little more relatable, the story would be more effective and enjoyable.

A vibrant manor tale with a striking protagonist who is a bit too perfect.

Pub Date: Feb. 12, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-984195-82-1

Page Count: 292

Publisher: CreateSpace

Review Posted Online: Oct. 22, 2020

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A tasty, if not always tasteful, tale of supernatural mayhem that fans of King and Crichton alike will enjoy.

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DEVOLUTION

Are we not men? We are—well, ask Bigfoot, as Brooks does in this delightful yarn, following on his bestseller World War Z (2006).

A zombie apocalypse is one thing. A volcanic eruption is quite another, for, as the journalist who does a framing voice-over narration for Brooks’ latest puts it, when Mount Rainier popped its cork, “it was the psychological aspect, the hyperbole-fueled hysteria that had ended up killing the most people.” Maybe, but the sasquatches whom the volcano displaced contributed to the statistics, too, if only out of self-defense. Brooks places the epicenter of the Bigfoot war in a high-tech hideaway populated by the kind of people you might find in a Jurassic Park franchise: the schmo who doesn’t know how to do much of anything but tries anyway, the well-intentioned bleeding heart, the know-it-all intellectual who turns out to know the wrong things, the immigrant with a tough backstory and an instinct for survival. Indeed, the novel does double duty as a survival manual, packed full of good advice—for instance, try not to get wounded, for “injury turns you from a giver to a taker. Taking up our resources, our time to care for you.” Brooks presents a case for making room for Bigfoot in the world while peppering his narrative with timely social criticism about bad behavior on the human side of the conflict: The explosion of Rainier might have been better forecast had the president not slashed the budget of the U.S. Geological Survey, leading to “immediate suspension of the National Volcano Early Warning System,” and there’s always someone around looking to monetize the natural disaster and the sasquatch-y onslaught that follows. Brooks is a pro at building suspense even if it plays out in some rather spectacularly yucky episodes, one involving a short spear that takes its name from “the sucking sound of pulling it out of the dead man’s heart and lungs.” Grossness aside, it puts you right there on the scene.

A tasty, if not always tasteful, tale of supernatural mayhem that fans of King and Crichton alike will enjoy.

Pub Date: June 16, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-9848-2678-7

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Del Rey/Ballantine

Review Posted Online: Feb. 10, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2020

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Densely plotted and replete with incident if you can overlook the insufferable narrator.

WIN

Memo to fans who’ve longed for Windsor Horne Lockwood III, the moneyed, omnicompetent buddy of sports agent Myron Bolitar, to snag a starring role of his own: Beware what you wish for.

Nothing would connect privileged Win with the murder of the reclusive tenant of an exclusive Upper West Side building if the police hadn’t found a painting inside Ry Strauss’ apartment—a Vermeer belonging to Win’s family that was stolen long ago while on loan to Haverford College—along with a monogrammed suitcase belonging to Win himself. The two discoveries tie Win not only to the murder, but to the Jane Street Six, a group of student activists Strauss led even longer ago. The Six’s most notoriously subversive action, the bombing of an empty building in 1973, left several innocents accidentally dead and the law determined to track down the perps. But except for Vanessa Hogan, whom Billy Rowan tearfully visited soon after the bombing to beg her forgiveness for his role in bringing about the death of her son, no one’s seen hide nor hair of the Six ever since. The roots of the outrage go even deeper for Win, whose uncle, Aldrich Powers Lockwood, was killed and whose cousin, Patricia, to whom he’d given that suitcase, was one of 10 women kidnapped, imprisoned, and raped in an unsolved crime. These meaty complications are duly unfolded, and gobs of cash thrown at them, by the ludicrously preening, self-infatuated Win, who announces, “It’s good to be me,” and “I can be charming when I want to be.” As if.

Densely plotted and replete with incident if you can overlook the insufferable narrator.

Pub Date: March 16, 2021

ISBN: 978-1-5387-4821-3

Page Count: 384

Publisher: Grand Central Publishing

Review Posted Online: Dec. 15, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2021

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