Sunday, December 1, 2019

Review: The Painted Castle

I picked up The Painted Castle by Kristy Cambron because former RWA Librarian of the Year, Robin Bradford, tweeted about it. As part of her work as a Collection Development Librarian, Robin will regularly tweet about books she comes across in the course of her Day Job.  This was one of them, and she hooked me with the mention of "a lost painting of Queen Victoria."  We had it at work, and in no big hurry, I stuck myself on the wait list for the ebook copy.

I should mention that this book is published by Thomas Nelson (which is owned by Harpercollins).  For those of you who don't know publishers, Thomas Nelson publishes Christian books.  Outside of an epilogue where the God mentions get pretty heavy - this book is extremely light on the religious elements.  Like, seriously, the author could have wiped out a couple of sentences prior to the epilogue and this could have been published by plain ol' Harpercollins.  It's also more romantic elements than romance, but readers get three happy endings and some hot smooching action in the present-day story line so if you dig historical romance? You might dig this.

Keira Foley is an art historian whose career flamed out in New York. She's come home to Dublin to work in her family's pub, lick her wounds, and try to convince her overprotective brother, Cormac, that really, she's OK.  That's where Emory Scott finds her, a disreputable character and rumored art thief (although he was never charged).  He offers her a job at a rundown East Suffolk manner house, Parham Hill, where a walled off library and a long-lost portrait of Queen Victoria has been discovered.  At first Keira resists, but then her curiosity gets the better of her. Because of course it does.

As a young girl, Elizabeth Meade witnessed her father's murder and has vowed vengeance on the man responsible.  But it's 1843, and with she and her mother on shaky financial footing, only an advantageous match with do.  When Elizabeth meets her betrothed, the man her mother has brokered a deal with, she realizes that she's one step closer to closure on her father's murder and vengeance will soon be hers - she just needs to finish putting the puzzle pieces together first.

At the height of World War II, Amelia Woods is the mistress of Parham Hill, a young war widow watching over the estate's beekeeping operation and refugee children from London and Germany.  When her house is commandeered by American soldiers stationed at a neighboring airfield she finds her heart thawing to a dashing American pilot with his own pain and secrets.

This story is told over three alternating time periods, which is a tricky endeavor to pull off.  Unfortunately, I didn't always find it successful.  The long lost painting loosely ties together the three stories but....it's loose.  It felt, at times, like the author was writing three separate stories and crammed them all into one book.  The painting doesn't have enough secrets and isn't featured prominently enough in all the stories.  In the end, I think the story would have been better served if the history of Parham Hill estate had served as the focal point.  The long lost painting angle implies mystery and...there's just not a ton of mystery to be had.  Great history? A nice feel?  Yes.  A mystery?  Not so much.  And it's not helped much by the resolution of the 1843 storyline - with the bit about Elizabeth's murdered father never being fully fleshed out to my satisfaction.

But, it's still a pretty interesting historical fiction piece even though I wanted the threads tying all three storylines together to be stronger.  And you have a romantic couple in each story, all get their happy endings - and really, that's pretty awesome.  It's also a inspirational fiction book where I didn't feel like the characters were neutered.  Oh sure, there's no sex - but there's tension, "feelings" and some good smooching action, so it left me the romance reader pretty satisfied.

I'm not sorry I read this, but I didn't feel like the parts came together into a fully formed whole.  It's the third book in a series (the first two books feature Keira's brothers) and it's doubtful I'll go back for their stories, but I certainly would read this author again.  So I'm counting it a success.

Final Grade = B-

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