The Unquiet Grave by Sharyn McCrumb

I received this novel as an advanced copy from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

What drew me to this novel was that it was a historical fiction based on a real murder case. And let me tell you, this is a VERY unique murder case. Especially since the accusation was made by the murder victim! Anyways, let me not ruin all of the details. Here is my review:

Lakin, West Virginia, 1930
After a failed suicide, attorney James P. D. Gardner is placed in an insane asylum, where he is under the care of Dr. James Boozer. Dr. Boozer has just come out of medical school and is eager to try a new talking cure for insanity, instead of using the current treatments. As such, he encourages Gardner to talk about his experiences as the first black attorney to practice law in 19th-century West Virginia, where Gardner’s most memorable case was the one where he helped defend a white man on trial for the murder of his young bride. The interesting part? The prosecution based their testimony on a ghost.

Greenbrier, West Virginia, 1897
Zona Heaster has always known she is beautiful, but her willfulness and arrogance have caused many a heartache. Despite her mother’s warnings, Zona marries Erasmus Trout Shue, a handsome blacksmith new to the area. However, as soon as they married, Zona was whisked away and no one was able to come and see her at her new home. After weeks of silence, riders come to the Heasters’ place to tell them that their daughter Zona has died after an unfortunate tumble down the stairs. But Mary Jane Heaster, Zona’s mother, knows this is not an accident and she is determined to get justice for her daughter. A month after the funeral, she informs the county prosecutor that Zona’s ghost appeared to her, saying that she had been murdered. An autopsy, ordered by the reluctant prosecutor, confirms her claim.

It cannot be denied that the author has put in a lot of work to research every aspect of this case and present it from all sides. We read from Mary Jane’s perspective as she struggles to find justice for her daughter, even as her own husband refuses to help. We read from Gardner’s perspective as he recounts the investigation and his own impression of his client. While the case itself was interesting, I think that the writing was not executed as well as I might have liked. The beginning was very intriguing and had me hooked. However, the story started to drag on towards the middle until about the 90% mark of the book. I think this may have been because of the perspective of Mr. Gardner. Most of the information mentioned in that section was not very useful and could have been omitted. Maybe it would have been interesting to someone who wanted to know more about the historical scene at that point in time but for me, I just wanted to get into the crux of the matter, which was Zona’s case. The trial itself was interesting and the different facts that were brought up were also presented well. Overall, this was a novel that had a premise that I really enjoyed but was perhaps not executed as well as it could have been. I would give this a 2/5 stars.

Happy reading ~

 

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The French Girl by Lexie Elliot

Thank you to Penguin Random House and the First to Read program for this ARC in exchange for an honest review.

Every time I see a book with “Girl” in the title, it makes me cringe. There have been so many of them and I know there will be more still. And it’s not like they’re all amazing. But I always decide to give them a chance. Because it’s all about that “what if” scenario. What if this book is unlike the rest? What if this book is actually super awesome and I’m missing out by not reading it? It is this hypothetical train of thought that made me decide to take the plunge and try this book. So here is my review:

6 friends studying at Oxford were spending an idyllic week together in a French farmhouse. It was supposed to be the perfect summer – until they met Severine. For Kate Channing, Severine was an intruder, someone whose beauty undermined the close-knit group’s loyalties to each other. And after a huge fight on the last night of the holiday, Kate knew nothing would ever be the same. It was also the night that Severine disappeared.

Now, a decade later, the case is reopened when Severine’s body is found in the well behind the farmhouse. As Kate is questioned alongside her friends, she stands to lose everything she has worked so hard to achieve. Desperate to clear her name, she tries to remember exactly what happened all those years ago. But as she digs into the past, she finds her present days to be filled with paranoia and madness. No one can be trusted.

When this novel began, I found it a bit boring because nothing really happened. However, I was very excited about the premise and was waiting for when things would speed up a bit. It didn’t take too long for the author to bring about the murder aspect of the story, which was good. I also liked all of the characters that the author introduced; while they were all flawed, they were well developed and easy to understand (for the most part). One thing I was really intrigued by was how Kate was constantly seeing Severine’s ghost. I definitely thought the author could have done more with it than she did, and when I got to the ending and nothing happened with those hallucinations, it made me quite disappointed. The author kept building up the tension, which I really enjoyed, delving into the different connections between all of the characters. It was very interesting how the author decided to portray the story and it captured my attention. But I felt like nothing was ever resolved. Nothing was ever revealed about what exactly happened that night. On top of that, the actual solving of the crime was very abrupt and rushed and didn’t give me any satisfaction at all. Everything ended up being so anti-climactic and that is really such a shame because it had all the works to be a good novel. Based on all of this, I would give it a 2/5 stars – and the 2 stars is because I liked the characters.

Happy reading ~

The Golden House by Salman Rushdie

I received this novel as an advanced copy from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

I’ve never read anything by Salman Rushdie but I’ve definitely heard of him. I’ve been really eager to read something of his but there are so many books to choose from! I was so happy to have been given this ARC and I couldn’t wait to read from this popular author! So here I go with my review:

When powerful real-estate tycoon Nero Golden and his 3 children arrive in America, the neighbours are abuzz. The family is quick to assume new identities, taking on “Roman” names, and moving into a grand mansion in Manhattan. Nero and his grown sons quickly establish themselves at the apex of New York society. We hear about their story from the perspective of René, an aspiring filmmaker who finds in the Goldens the perfect subject. René chronicles the undoing of the house of Golden: the obsession with money, the quarrel between siblings, the arrival of a beautiful woman, betrayal, and murder.

I really wanted to like this novel but I have to be honest: I did not enjoy it at all. It was very difficult to get through and I almost gave up multiple times. It starts off in a very boring way with nothing going on. That doesn’t stop the narrator from narrating everything in a very melodramatic way, which serves no purpose whatsoever. I really did not like the narrator at all; his voice tried to hard to mark its importance and there were just too many pop culture references for my liking. It’s clear that the author is a master in the art of making connections; his comparisons between the politics in the States and the happenings in the Golden family were apt and brilliant. However, getting to these moments was a challenge and it stopped impressing me after a time because of the way the author presented it. Maybe I’m not intelligent enough to appreciate the nuances and the arguments the author is trying to make … but at the end of the day, I didn’t enjoy reading this story. Overall, this was not the greatest novel I’ve read…. but I think I will give the author another chance to wow me!

Happy reading ~

Skullsworn by Brian Staveley

This novel is apparently a standalone that is linked to a previous series written by this author: The Chronicles of the Unhewn Throne. I’m really happy that the author created a book like this because getting into an epic or high fantasy series can be daunting at times, and I felt that this would kind of give me an idea of what I would be getting into if I did. So here is my review:

Pyrre Lakatur doesn’t like the word skullsworn. It fails to capture the faith and grace, the peace and beauty of her devotion to the God of Death. She is not, to her mind, an assassin, not a murderer–she is a priestess. At least, she will be once she passes her final trial. Pyrre has no qualms about killing people. Her trial gives her 10 days to kill 10 people, as depicted in an ancient song, which includes  “the one you love / who will not come again.” Pyrre has never been in love, doesn’t even know what love feels like. And that is her biggest worry: how can she complete her trial when she cannot even find someone she can love? If Pyrre fails to complete her test, then she will be given up to the god. And while Pyrre doesn’t fear death, she hates failing. So, with a month before her trials begin, she returns to the city of her birth in the hope of finding love… and ending it on the edge of her sword.

I’m a sucker for stories with assassins. It’s what really drew me to this book. The author created a beautiful background and a wonderful setting. Everything was thought through and described wonderfully. I loved learning about the Dombang’s and the old gods and the new gods. I really liked Ru Lun Lac, the man Pyrre is trying to fall in love with; he was cunning and harsh and hard to read. I also liked all of the minor characters in the story. In fact, the only character I didn’t like was Pyrre. I felt as if her personality didn’t have the fire I wanted. Yes, she was this cool badass who kills like nobody else, but she didn’t really pique my interest. The other thing I didn’t like was the actual chemistry between Pyrre and Ru Lun Lac…. because there was none. It was just weird and I didn’t understand what was really going on between them. I actually loved reading about Pyrre’s backstory and that was what I wanted to keep reading about; I felt like if I understood more about what her childhood was like and her connection with old gods was, I would like her better. I didn’t like the ending of the story. I’m not going to tell you what it was but it was disappointing for me. Overall, this novel was not what I was expecting. Yes, I got the gore and violence and awesome story-building that I wanted. But I didn’t like the main character that much and the ending wasn’t up to my expectations. I will, however, give the actual series a chance because the world itself is too awesome to pass up on. 2.5 stars rounded up to 3!

Happy reading ~

The Space Between Words by Michele Phoenix

I received this novel as an advanced copy from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

I’ve never read Christian fiction. It’s not like I go out of my way to avoid it but I generally try to stay away from any books that focus on any religion. However, I thought this novel had an intriguing premise and I wanted to give this genre a chance. So here is my review:

When Jessica regains consciousness in a French hospital on the day after the Paris attacks, all she wants to do is run away. But her best friend Patrick urges her to reconsider her decision. Reluctantly, she agrees to continue with the trip they had planned before the tragedy. During a stop at a county flea market, Jessica discovers an antique sewing kit that contains a faded document. As new friends help her to translate the archaic French in the papers, they uncover the story of Adeline Baillard, a young woman who had been condemned for practicing her faith centuries ago. Adeline and her community had been decimated by the Huguenot persecution. But the documents showed that there were those who had managed to escape the brutality, including Adeline’s siblings. Determined to learn the fate of the Baillard’s, Jessica retraces their journey from France to England, spurred by a need she doesn’t understand. Could this stranger who lived three hundred years before hold the key to Jessica’s survival?

I was quite surprised to find that I really enjoyed this novel. It definitely went beyond my expectations and I loved that the author had a historical aspect for this story. I really knew nothing about the Huguenots until this novel, so that was a huge revelation for me. It is always a sad thing to hear about people being persecuted for their beliefs, and the fact that this still happens to this day is just terrible. I liked how Jessica goes on this journey to understand the Baillard’s continual belief in their faith, while also figuring out what happened to them. Jessica became invested in finding out their truth, and so I as the reader became invested in it, too. I always love reading about documents that start a journey, and this one was no exception! In fact, I think the author did a great job of making the journey progress the way that it did. As expected from a novel in this genre, there is a focus on faith and religion, but it is really quite mild and it is presented in a way where people of all different religions can enjoy and appreciate the message. I will admit that I was more intrigued by the historical aspect than what Jessica was going through, but the author did a good job of showing how PTSD can traumatize a person and shake their identity. Overall, this was a really solid novel, with good writing and a good journey!

Happy reading ~

A Dangerous Woman From Nowhere by Kris Radish

I received this novel as an advanced copy from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

My journey into the Western genre has been quite recent. While I usually stick to fantasy or thrillers or sci-fi as my go-to genres, I like to change it up a bit and I’ve found that Western novels are quite interesting! I also liked that this novel featured a badass protagonist who goes off to save her husband – instead of it being the other way around. So with all that in mind, I decided to read this book. Here is my review:

Briar Logan has always felt more comfortable alone. It was just a way of life for her, after having survived a terrible childhood, near starvation, and the harsh western frontier. But just as things are starting to look better for her, Briar’s husband is kidnapped by lawless gold miners. Desperate to save her husband, she is forced to accept the help of a damaged young man and a notorious female horse trainer. As they face thieves, whiskey runners, and dangerous men, the unlikely trio must form an alliance in order to survive – and get what they want. 

This is a very detailed novel that focuses on Briar and is told from her perspective. We learn about her and her relationship with her husband and other loved ones through flashbacks. The language is poetic, and Briar is definitely a strong female character. However, I didn’t really enjoy the story. It moved a lot slower than I had expected and it was hard to tell what this novel was: was it a love story? was it more of action? It felt more like a mashup of 2 novels than one independent story. I also found that the poetic language and the flashbacks impeded my reading experience and detracted from the plot. The other characters were interesting but not so much that I felt drawn or connected to them. While I appreciate the author’s attempt to showcase a strong female as the lead, the rest of the story didn’t work for me. For those reasons, I’m giving it a 2/5 stars.

Happy reading ~

The Salt Line by Holly Goddard Jones

Thank you to Penguin Random House and the First to Read program for this ARC in exchange for an honest review.

I love dystopian novels and anything that is really full of creepy crawlies. This novel seemed like the perfect fit for me so I was super excited to read it! Here is my review:

In an unspecified future, the United States’ borders have receded behind a salt line, which is a ring of scorched earth to protect citizens from ticks that carry disease. Those that live within the zone are safe but are controlled by this common fear. Few have any real reason to leave the safe zone … except for the adrenaline junkies who are willing to pay a hefty price in order to enjoy what is left of nature. Among the latest expedition are a popstar and his girlfriend, Edie; tech giant, Wes; and Marta, a simple housewife. Once they leave the safe zone, the group are at the mercy of deadly ticks – and in the center of a murderous plot. They become captives in Ruby City, a community made up of outer-zone survivors. As alliances and friendships shift, the hostages must decide how far they are willing to go to get back to safety.

I really wanted to like this novel but I found I couldn’t get into it at all, and I had to add it to my DNF pile. While the story seemed interesting in its premise, I just couldn’t get interested enough to pursue this novel. The pacing was quite slow and that made it a bit harder for me to read because I really wanted to get to the good bits as fast as possible. I also didn’t feel any real connection with any of the characters; they just didn’t have enough for me to feel that emotional tug. I don’t really want to write too much on this review since I haven’t fully read the novel and others who have finished it would have a better idea on it, but for me, this novel gets a 2/5 stars.

Happy reading ~

The Templar Brotherhood by James Becker

Thank you to Penguin Random House and the First to Read program for this ARC in exchange for an honest review.

I don’t know why I keep having this habit of reading books that are part of a series. But sometimes, I just see a synopsis that I can’t resist and I feel this NEED to request it. And then when I get my request approved, I HAVE to read it, and I don’t have the time to read the previous books in the series. But sometimes, I find that when I really like one of the books, I end up wanting to start the series properly. So with that kind of optimism, I began reading this novel… here is my review:

Robin Hessop and David Mallory barely escaped with their lives when dealing with a deadly cult. Now, they continue to try to unlock the truth behind a 700 year old conspiracy – the power behind the Templars. Infiltrating the group’s vast archives, Jessop and Mallory discover something unusual: a sacred mission that is hinted at in an ancient Templar passport. The mission hints at the transportation of a treasure, something that is invaluable. As the pair sifts through centuries of clues, they come face-to-face with a secret that could shake Christendom as we know it – and put their lives in danger.

So the author does a good job of explaining things such that it isn’t 100% necessary to have read the other books in order to understand what is going on. However, I would still say that this novel is best enjoyed as part of the series so that you can really get into the plot and feel a good connection with the characters. It was something that I had difficulty with because I didn’t really understand the interaction between Robin and David. There were also some other characters that were part of this story that kind of confused me; their actions and feelings didn’t make sense to me given their role in this story. However, I chalked it up to the fact that I don’t have the necessary background. It is clear when reading this novel that the author has done a great deal of research and really knows his Templar material! While this information is intriguing, at times it was overwhelming and unnecessary. It’s also not the most action-packed story I have ever read; the first 50+ pages were them simply trying to decode a document and it took a loooong time. While this may be accurate in its portrayal of the process, it makes for slow reading. The story does pick up after a while, and it was pretty interesting, but again, there were so many details thrown at you that it can be hard to keep it all straight. Overall, this was an interesting story but it is best enjoyed if you have read the previous books in the series. It had a bit too much detail and not enough character work for my liking, so for that reason, I’m giving this a 2/5 stars.

Happy reading ~

 

Small Admissions by Amy Poeppel

From its description, this novel sounded really interesting and quirky. And I’m all about quirky! I decided just to give it a go, so here is my review:

When grad student Kate Pearson’s handsome French boyfriend dumps her, she goes down in flames. All her confidence and ambition goes away, and all she wants to do is sit and mope and do nothing. Her sister and her friends do everything they can to get her out of bed but it seems like nothing will get Kate back into the real world. Miraculously, a disastrous interview leads to a position in the admissions department at the prestigious Hudson Day School. Kate is thrust into her job, where she has to interview all types of children for a position at the school. And then she has to deal with the parents who simply refuse to take no for an answer. She soon realizes that there is no room – or time – for self-pity during admissions season. As Kate tries her best to figure out how to make sense of her new job, her sister and friends find themselves going over and beyond in their efforts to keep Kate on her feet. Never mind that Kate seems to be doing perfectly well on her own without any of their interference…

While I’m all about quirkiness, this story was not doing it for me. I don’t think it had to do with the story itself. It was more that I really did not like the main character. Here’s the thing, I don’t mind characters that are a little bit bumbling or caught up in their own world. But Kate is a whole different story. Maybe it’s because I am an older sister and identified more with the character of Angela (Kate’s sister), but I found Kate exasperating. She literally did nothing to help herself, and made everyone else do things for her. I understand that an undergraduate degree does not always lead to the job in the area you want, and doesn’t always give you the skills you need to transition into something else … but you have to have some basic common sense! How do you not know how to dress for an interview or even how TO interview?! I get it, she was despondent and depressed … but it just irked me how she was so confused about everything in life, and literally knows NOTHING about how the world works. Where have you been living for so long, under a rock?! Sorry, I usually don’t get so ramped up but it just got too much, so much so that I couldn’t really enjoy the story, which was actually kind of funny. There are quite a few people who did enjoy this novel so I might be just an anomaly, but this book really did not work for me. I’m going to have to give this one a 1/5 stars.

Happy reading ~

The Rules of Magic by Alice Hoffman

I received this novel as an advanced copy from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

I’ve only read one other book by Alice Hoffman, but I really loved it. So I was super excited for the chance to read this one! This novel is a prequel to Practical Magic, which I have not read before and which the reader does not have to have read in order to understand what is happening in this story. But let me get on with my review:

For the Owens family, love is a curse that began in 1620, when Maria Owens was charged with witchery for loving the wrong man. Even though it has been hundreds of years, and there have been many changes in the world, Susanna Owens knows that her 3 children are talented – and dangerous. There’s Franny, perpetually grumpy but with an ability to communicate with animals; Jet, who is beautiful and kind, with the ability to read others’ thoughts; and Vincent, charismatic and addictive, with a penchant for getting into trouble. Knowing all this, Susanna has set down rules for her children: no walking in the moonlight, no red shoes, no wearing black, no cats, no crows, no candles, no books about magic. And most importantly, never, ever, fall in love. But when her children visit their Aunt Isabelle, they uncover family secrets and begin to understand the truth of who they really are. And when they come back home to New York City, each sibling sets off on a risky journey to escape the family curse.

If you think this is just a story about spells and potions, then you would be wrong. This is about so much more than just magic. It’s about families filled with regret, it’s about gaining the courage to live life to the fullest, and it is about daring to love and dream and LIVE. As usual, the author has written a beautiful story about family and love and loss, with gorgeous prose. I really could not stop myself from turning the pages. Every character has been wonderfully created, and it is so easy to feel connected to them; I felt truly invested in their lives and their pursuit for happiness. This novel had me so emotional; I was literally sobbing at times because I could feel their emotions so deeply. One thing is for sure: I am DEFINITELY going to read Practical Magic. If you have never read a book by Alice Hoffman, I urge you to do so ASAP because she is such a talented author and everything she writes is amazing! I’m just glad she’s written as many books as she has, because now I have more books to enjoy!

Happy reading ~