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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Tangled Ashes
Tangled Ashes, by Michele Phoenix, was an intriguing yet heartwarming tale of mystery, romance and, above all, faith.
Marshall Becker's struggles with alcoholism and controlling his temper are brought to a head in France, while restoring the historic castle of Lemorlaye. Meanwhile, the past literally comes calling as the restoration project is almost completed...
Published 22 months ago by A. Triplett

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21 of 23 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Isn't What I Hoped It Would Be
Following traumatic events and choosing to deal with their aftermath through alcohol, work, and reclusion, Becker's life has been slowly crumbling. The result is a life of anger and self-loathing. When a job takes him to France to work on the restoration of a Renaissance era castle, his friend (and work partner) hope the change of scenery will be just what Becker needs...
Published 22 months ago by Melissa


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21 of 23 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Isn't What I Hoped It Would Be, October 14, 2012
This review is from: Tangled Ashes (Paperback)
Following traumatic events and choosing to deal with their aftermath through alcohol, work, and reclusion, Becker's life has been slowly crumbling. The result is a life of anger and self-loathing. When a job takes him to France to work on the restoration of a Renaissance era castle, his friend (and work partner) hope the change of scenery will be just what Becker needs to get his life back on track. Shortly after he arrives, Becker meets Jade, his employer's nanny. Her outlook on life contrasts severely with his self-imposed exile and he soon finds himself questioning his tumultuous relationships and anger driven decisions.

As work progresses on the castle's restoration, mysterious events begin to occur. On several occasions, Becker suspects someone is searching the premises, but for what he has no idea. Could it be connected to the castle's Nazi history and the former residents who once gave birth to babies for the Reich? Heavy on details and with awkward pacing Tangled Ashes isn't exactly what I hoped it would be.

I should have (and really wanted to) love this story. It has numerous elements that I enjoy in novels--flawed characters, historical backdrop, mysterious occurrences, intriguing setting, and an unexpected ending. However, the execution is such that all the good things I like in a story are either overshadowed, underdeveloped, or irritating. I hate it when this happens because I realize that the root issue is my personal expectations and preferences are not the author's particular style or direction.

I was really looking forward to exploring the Lebensborn aspect of this novel and it is in fact the main reason I chose to read it. I had not read a book which dove into this topic and thought it an excellent backdrop for a story. While the events of World War II and the Lebensborn at the Meunier manor are central to the main plot, overall few pages are devoted to this aspect of the story. Most is provided through short flashback chapters interspersed throughout the rest of the book. This is by far my favorite part of Tangled Ashes and I wish at least twice as much time was spent fleshing out that story. It is an inventive, original tale that is the highlight of the book but is sadly given far too few pages.

The events occurring in the present are the primary focus of the novel. While the story is good, I didn't connect well with the main character, Becker. I liked the idea of his flawed personality, but unfortunately, he didn't have enough positive to balance out his irritants. Additionally, the root cause of his issues is revealed a little late in my opinion. So much time is spent setting him up as a struggling, angry character with a mysterious, traumatic past, that by the time his past is revealed he's already been portrayed as such an incredible jerk that it's hard to warm up to him. Also, following the big reveal, Becker's backstory is not really revisited making it feel like an isolated event rather than the ongoing source of his deteriorating life and poor choices. The end result is a character I wanted to like, but felt so overwhelmed by his inner, irrational, negative thoughts, I never could feel the appropriate amount of sympathy required to truly relate to his struggles.

I very much enjoyed Jade's character though I didn't interpret her correctly--or at least I don't think I did. In the closing pages, the dialog between her and Becker seems to indicate that I gave Jade way too much credit, leaving me feeling like I might have missed the `correct' interpretation of her character. In any case, I loved following her story and combined with her employer, the Fallon family, this part of the book really worked for me.

As previously stated, my main issues with Tangled Ashes are personal preferences. I like stories that show me how the characters feel and what motives their actions rather than the author tell me about them. Much of this story feels weighted by excessive details telling how the characters feel. Consequentially, the pacing feels very awkward at times. However, even with the details provided, I never felt immersed in the environment. A Renaissance-era castle once used by the Nazis is such a promising setting, but I could never visualize it. It's described in adequate detail, but it doesn't feel real and I did not feel like I was walking through the halls or across the lawn or up the grand staircase. Additionally, the mysterious, present-day occurrences are presented almost as an afterthought though they are central to bringing the whole story together. I realize all these issues are the result of a storytelling style that didn't work for me.

The ending for this book is really good though. I enjoy untidy endings and the open conclusion fits nicely into the overall story, letting the reader feel the unfinished nature of continuing life. While this book isn't what I was expecting, there are some very good parts to it. Given the intriguing and inventive premises, with some style adjustments to smooth out the pacing and creating Becker to be a more endearing character, Tangled Ashes could easily have been excellent.

Review title provided courtesy of Tyndale
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8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Great book for the Christian Reader, or not, November 6, 2012
This review is from: Tangled Ashes (Paperback)
This is the first book that I have read by Michele Phoenix. She is amazing writer. The way she forms her words is beautiful. The characters were great and the whole idea of the story was wonderful. I really loved how there was such a historical aspect to this book. The place is a real place, what happened there is real, and the fictional characters experienced things that happened to real people. I'm kinda a succor for that, especially when it comes to WWII. The book kind of dragged in the beginning, and I felt like the build up was a little slow though, and the whole issue with Becker was disjointed. I realize that sort of seems to fly in the face of what I said earlier, but trust me, she's an amazing writer none the less. The blending of the current with the past was really great and it definitely kept me cranking forward in the book to get to the next tidbit. I usually like my stuff wrapped up in a neat bow, and I was half pleased. I really wouldn't mind a sequel to this book if that's any indication to you.

Like I said, the book was well written and there was so much that I loved about it. There were things that I wish were different, but wouldn't we all about most books we read? But all in all it was a really good book and I would feel confident recommending this book to anyone that enjoys a little romance and mystery with a historical twist. And while, from reading the author's bio, there is obviously a serious faith behind her and this book, it is definitely not something that is jammed down your throat and I think anyone interested in faith or not would like this book and find it enjoyable to read
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7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Tangled Ashes - definitely have the Tangled part right, November 7, 2012
This review is from: Tangled Ashes (Paperback)
Tangled Ashes, a new novel by Michele Phoenix, is a Christian fiction novel published by Tyndale. This novel tells the story of a castle in Lamorlaye, France. The castle has its roots that date back to several hundred years, and this particular story touches on the history of the castle during World War II and the German occupation of France.

Marshall Becker, an American architect, has been put on a project of renovating the Lamorlaye castle. An alcoholic struggling with wanting to quit, Marshall finds himself drawn to Jade, nanny of the castle owner's children. Jade has her own demons that you don't find out about until much later in the story. Therese, an interior designer working on the castle project, also has her own little part in the story, as well as an old squatter named Jojo.

During the story, the castle has some suspicious happenings. Parts of the renovation destroyed, a fire, etc. Becker finds himself battling an impossible deadline for completing the work. While working on a portion of the stairs that needs redone, he finds himself having alcohol withdrawal shakes. He has to deal with the children annoying him, the nanny who scolds him for yelling at his workers (and the children when they interrupt his work), and his desire for alcohol.

All throughout the story, little by little, the WWII story is told until it all unfolds at the end of the novel.

My thoughts? The story is very well-written as far as grammar and syntax are concerned. I thoroughly enjoyed reading the historical part of the story and discovering how it related to the book's 21st century happenings. The plot for the historical account was much stronger than the plot for the modern story.

The historical part of the novel was in-depth and drew me in. I found myself wanting to skip the REAL story and just read the chapters devoted to the WWII parts of the story. It would've been a great historical novel in my opinion.

The 21st century part of story was very choppy, I felt. I couldn't get a good idea on what exactly the plot of the story was until I was in the last chapters of the book.

The characters weren't developed enough. They seemed very split-personality-like. One moment, I would like Becker and Jade, then the next minute I really didn't like their characters at all. Jade was a very stand-offish type of character--she wanted Becker to be a man and give up the alcohol, yet she didn't want to be his friend and try to listen to him when he needed to talk. The story gave special notice to why Becker drinks. At times, I thought maybe he would get to talk to Jade about it, that maybe she would lend an ear, but nothing was ever developed from his story of alcohol abuse. I'm not sure why the author even created a story for the excuse for his drinking, because nothing ever was mentioned again.

I didn't like the three main characters surrounded in the plot in the story. They all seemed very selfish and, frankly, emotionally volatile. The story has no good ending, which isn't a problem to me, but the ending seemed just thrown together. It just felt like the characters didn't learn anything. They started out the story with problems (bad attitudes, selfishness, hermit-like tendencies) and finished with those same problems.

I was very aggravated with this story. I felt like I'd wasted my time. However, if you enjoy a book that tells a story but there's no growth for the characters and no specific plot (instead, what seems like several little ones that could be developed and, I feel, exude promise), then you will enjoy this novel. It's definitely a different writing style than I typically enjoy.
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8 of 9 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars A tale of tattered lives and sadness, November 7, 2012
By 
This review is from: Tangled Ashes (Paperback)
This book has all the elements to be one of my favorites: flawed characters, mystery, historical context, twists ... yet, somehow I didn't love it, although I really wanted to. Perhaps, it was because there wasn't a strong plot or closure to tie things together. The book ended with the main characters still semi-lost and seeking without a true end in sight. I get that life isn't all about happy endings or even knowing how things end, but it felt like we were taken on a journey and although a secondary story was concluded, the primary story line just drifted off into the dark.

The main character Becker has a past that he's trying to deal with and chooses alcohol as his healing balm of choice. He's fighting a battle using his own powers and fighting against God's light. I wish there was more redemption in his side of the story.

Many other characters were also weaved throughout the story: Marie & Elise's tale from World War II; Theresa & JoJo; Jade and the Fallon family.

I guess my main disappointment with the book is that it was dark and ended without much hope or happiness. I know sometimes reality can be bleak and sad, yet when I read I'd prefer to be left with a faint glimmer of light and this book didn't supply it.

-----------------------

I received this book free of charge from Handlebar Marketing in exchange for my honest review.
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9 of 11 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars There Is No Phoenix, November 3, 2012
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This review is from: Tangled Ashes (Paperback)
A chateau in France during World War Two that is used for the Nazi Lebensborn program...
A baby rescued...
An American company hired in present day to rehab the 'haunted' chateau...
A man in need of redemption...
A woman who seems out of place caring for other people's children...

The premise has so much promise. The story begins in an intriguing way with the viewpoint of a sixteen year old French girl, Marie, who works for the Nazis at the chateau to provide for her family. Gradually, she realizes what is going on, especially since her friend and co-worker is caught up in it.

Juxtaposed with the World War Two story is a modern story about an American company rehabbing the chateau to serve as a high end hotel and restaurant. The American in charge of the rehab, a man named Becker, has been sent to accomplish the job by his partner as an alternative to alcohol intervention therapy. A mysterious Frenchwoman designer irritates Becker, but facilitates the process of the rehab project. Another Frenchwoman, the lovely Jade, cares for the property owner/developer's children and begins to minister to Becker as well as a mysterious man who lives on the fringes of the property.

Unfortunately, Becker never becomes likable or truly redeems himself. The bulk of the modern story is about his tortured relationships, his victim mentality and his ongoing and unsuccessful battle against alcoholism. Even the character of Jade unravels. Then, the promised mystery from the Nazis in France during World War Two, also delivers only sadness and despair in its resolution.

Spoiler alert.
When I reached the end of the book, I felt cheated. I had put up with all the anger and failure and depression and fear of the characters, and at the end of the book all I got was more anger and fear and depression. The World War Two story ends badly. And then, when Becker abandons Jade, who is fighting cancer, to go home and get alcohol treatment, I wanted to strangle him - and the author - for stringing me along. I know people with horrible life problems and I don't enjoy being pulled down into their misery. The book only hints at the saving grace of God, but never manifests it. The book, like Jade's church, is "holding to a form of godliness, although they have denied its power. Have nothing to do with them." (2 Timothy 3:5)
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7 of 9 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Tangled Ashes, Tattered Lives, November 2, 2012
This review is from: Tangled Ashes (Paperback)
I have written many reviews, but after I had read this novel and then put it down again, I had nothing to say. This author used her tools well: vocabulary, similes, metaphors, and sentence construction--everything that comprises a good novel. That should have been enough, and for the publisher it was. But, for me something essential was missing. For some reason, nothing made the novel memorable.

I grasped for a reason, any reason, or some way to begin writing. I could place the novel into a genre and draw on the classics; that usually works for me. Perhaps I could call it a tale of two cities, one in the United States, one in France. No, this novel really only had one location: a castle in a small French town.

Perhaps I could call it a tale of two lovers. No, there was no sensual love, only attraction and friendship. Perhaps it was historical fiction. The portion of the novel that took place in Vichy France was the best, but unfortunately it was also the smallest part of the book. Maybe it's the tale of a place: the castle where most of the action happens. No, the castle was merely the stage for the drama that ensued.

Who was the principal actor in this drama? The one who had most of the page time? That would be Marshall, the architect hired to restore the castle. Or was it the one who was the most interesting: Marie the French girl working for the Nazis when the castle was used as a lebensborn, a birthing place for Aryan babies? Or maybe it was Jade the nanny for the castle owner's children, or Therese the interior decorator, or even the one who was most damaged, Jojo the hermit who lived on the castle grounds. That's the primary cast of characters and you can take your pick. They all have secrets which are eventually revealed. In fact, there were so many secrets that the novel became a competition to discover whose secret was most noteworthy. This novel failed to move me, perhaps because the protagonist himself was never moved and simply seemed an actor on his castle stage.

Unveiling: A Novel [Paperback] Unveiling by Suzanne M. Wolfe is another novel centered on a restoration, this time of a Triptych, a painting in three parts, located in Italy. Both Unveiling and Tangled Ashes were penned by writers who deftly manipulated the English language. Never a misplaced metaphor or simile, I would call both these books well-written. However, Unveiling was a compelling story of a damaged protagonist with enough demons of her own to fill a novel. The restoration of the painting mirrored the restoration of her life.

Tangled Ashes' Marshall also carried sufficient angst to fill a novel, but his movements were muddled by the other characters' complex lives. Marshall rarely seemed to act on his own or out of his own desires. He was pushed into the job by his partner. He was prodded into resolving his alcohol problem by Jade. Jojo pressed him to rescue Therese from the fire. And when his job ended, Marshall left France unchanged, his life unresolved. And he didn't seem to have a care or regret about leaving: no promises to write, or call, or visit in the future.

Maybe that's my problem with this novel. Perhaps I simply didn't care enough about Marshall. I should have cared because I glimpsed myself in Marshall. Marshall retreated from people and tried to maintain a distance and so have I. Marshall had trouble communicating with children; so do I. Marshall focused on the job at hand to the exclusion of all as, as I do. But unlike me, Marshall seemed at one moment obsessed, at the next ambivalent toward his work, just as he was both obsessed and ambivalent toward Jade. Maybe it was his equivocation that kept me from caring about him. Even when Marshall participated in two rescues late in the story, I didn't care. He was only acting the part scripted for him. I didn't like Jane Austen's Emma. Jane Austen, herself, described Emma as the character no one would like but the author. Only Tangled Ashes' author could care enough about Marshall to like or dislike him. It's the author's job to make me care about her protagonist and this author failed.

I was provided a free review copy of Tangled Ashes by the publisher for the purpose of this review.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Tangled Ashes, October 9, 2012
By 
A. Triplett (Chicago, IL USA) - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)   
This review is from: Tangled Ashes (Paperback)
Tangled Ashes, by Michele Phoenix, was an intriguing yet heartwarming tale of mystery, romance and, above all, faith.
Marshall Becker's struggles with alcoholism and controlling his temper are brought to a head in France, while restoring the historic castle of Lemorlaye. Meanwhile, the past literally comes calling as the restoration project is almost completed.
Phoenix did an excellent job of laying out the story and interweaving both past and present timelines, while keeping the reader enthralled. When I was reading the present-day narrative, I wanted to see what was happening next in the past timeline and vice-versa.
While this isn't a book I would necessarily pull off the shelf at first glance, my husband and I are currently contemplating renovating a historical home so thought it would be interesting. I delved into it and quickly became engrossed in, not only the renovation saga, but the story as a whole.
Phoenix is a new author to me but I will definitely be picking up her other novels. I just love discovering new storytellers!
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Mystery, History and Romance all wrapped up in one, November 27, 2009
This review is from: Tangled Ashes (Paperback)
Michele keeps expanding her repetoire! She's written another page-turner. This time there's a mystery waiting to be uncovered. Admidst the sadness of a dark chapter of history, there is the hope of lives changed. You'll love the characters!
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6 of 8 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Poignant Story, December 2, 2009
This review is from: Tangled Ashes (Paperback)
I am a reader who lived through those dark days of World War 2, so I found this book to be a tale that carried me back to sixty years ago, and to the terrible inhumanities and misguided loyalties that the Nazi regime fostered. It is amazing that a young woman who was not part of that period in history has been able to write so understandingly and lucidly about it. She has managed to recreate the anguish of her characters so that these people come to life in a way that captivates the reader. It is truly a 'can't put it down' book. I have read Michele's first two novels, and it is evident that she improves with the birth of each new book. This one shows maturity and depth and I look forward to her future efforts in the literary field.

Mary-Lou Sheeler
B.A. (English)
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Interesting Read, June 22, 2013
This review is from: Tangled Ashes (Kindle Edition)
This is two stories within one. The two stories center around an old French castle, which holds within its walls the memories of a Nazi birthing center. The modern-day characters are fresh and intriguing, though the male, Mr. Becker, is a rather gruff and unlikeable character at first. Gradually I learned to feel concern for him, putting myself in his shoes. Jade, the female main character, is a bit blunt, but caring. Becker's job is to restore the old castle, and he specifically focuses on carving the wooden bannisters. His old hurts haunt him and instill fear and anger in him, and he tries to still the raging longing for alcoholic drink. Jade's job is to be a nanny to the boss's twins, who are average, cute children. She also cooks and cleans in the castle, the children in tow. Gradually Becker has feelings for Jade, but they are conflicted, and the romance is limited. The Christian message is limited, as well, but does come about slowly, if not entirely clearly. There are various pieces that come together in a climax, from an old man called Jojo, night wanderings, sickness, and the history of the old chateau. A good read for those who enjoy learning about personal struggles and history, with a little mystery thrown in.
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Tangled Ashes
Tangled Ashes by Michèle Phoenix (Paperback - September 21, 2012)
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