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 ~

Advertisements

The History of Bees by Maja Lunde

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

When I heard that this novel was being compared to Station Eleven, I knew I had to give it a shot. Station Eleven was a book I absolutely adored so I was hoping I would enjoy this one just as much. Here is my review:

England, 1853: William gave up on his research in order to be a seed merchant and provide for his family. What he didn’t account for was the melancholy that would take over him and prevent him from doing anything. But when he stumbles upon a book that rekindles his passion in biology, he decides to set out and build a new type of beehive, one that will bring fame and honour to him and his children.

United States, 2007: George is a beekeeper who loves his traditional farming methods, and is opposing the tide of modern farming. But he is getting older every day and knows he can’t keep up with modern innovation. His only hope is in his son, Tom.

China, 2098: Now that the bees have disappeared, hundreds of workers must hand-pollinate. Tao has been doing this arduous task for years, trying to save enough money so that she and her husband can have another child, while also trying to educate her young son so that he can aspire for more in his life. When Tao’s young son is taken away by authorities after a tragic accident, she sets off on a dangerous journey to find out what happened to him.

Going into this book, I knew that it was a slow-burner that would take time to develop intrigue. I actually knew nothing about bees or pollination or the vital role that they play in our world, so I thought that was extremely interesting. The author really takes this environmental issue and beautifully connects it across 3 different generations and 3 very different groups of people. Each story was unique but presented the same content: parent-child relationships and how they are affected by parents’ expectations or hopes for their child. I thought that the author did an amazing job in portraying this relationship in each of the stories. However, I found it hard to get into the story itself. This was mainly due to the fact that the characters didn’t invoke any emotion from me. I didn’t feel invested in them and found it hard to make a connection with them. I also found that while the topics that the novel addresses were important, the author never reached the core of anything; it just felt like some depth was missing. So while this is a very interesting story told from 3 very different perspectives, it didn’t give me the overall effect I was looking for, which is why I’m giving this a 3/5 stars.

Happy reading ~

 

The House by Simon Lelic

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

I was very excited to read this thriller because its premise seemed to hint at a haunted house type of story. And I’m a sucker for anything to do with houses with a past. I was super happy to receive an ARC but because of my vacation, I wasn’t able to get to it until now. Anyways, here is my review:

What if your perfect home turned out to be the scene of the perfect crime? When Jack and Syd find the perfect house, they can’t wait to put in an offer. They never thought they would get it – but they did. They moved in, excited to make it their forever home. When they made a gruesome discovery in the attic, they decide to ignore it. They’re willing to put anything in the past so that they can continue to live in their dream home. But that was a mistake. Because someone was murdered right outside their back door. And now the police are watching them…

So the story is written for the most part as journal entries between Syd and Jack. They are recalling the events that led them to a certain point in the novel. At first, I found this a cool concept. They keep hinting at some bad thing that happened to them, and every time they hinted at it, I became more eager to find out what it was. It was also weird/interesting how they responded to each others’ entries. However, that was probably the only thing I really enjoyed about the story. The themes that this story revolved around were sad but common ones in this genre so I wasn’t really blown away by anything. I also found the plot to be a tad bit predictable. I never felt connected to the characters, and I pretty much lost interest around the 30% mark. I kept reading because I didn’t find the writing style terrible and I just wanted to make sure that my predictions were correct (and they were). There was a lot of hype around this book, and quite a few people liked it. However, I wasn’t one of them. This really wasn’t much of a thriller for me. And the house didn’t play as much of a central role as I had hoped. This novel gets 2/5 stars from me, and only because I liked the writing style.

Happy reading ~

See What I Have Done by Sarah Schmidt

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

When I saw this novel on NetGalley, I knew I had to have it as an ARC. The story of Lizzie Borden is such an intriguing mystery, and I’ve always been fascinated by it. I really wanted to know how the author would go about presenting it and so, I was really happy to have received the ARC! Here is my review:

On the morning of August 4, 1892, Lizzie Borden calls out to her maid: Someone’s killed Father. The brutal ax-murder of Andrew and Abby Borden in their home in Fall River, Massachusetts, leaves little evidence and many unanswered questions. No one knows what to make of this: who would ever want to harm the respected Bordens? But there is a much darker story lurking beneath the surface and it becomes increasingly clear that the Bordens were not your typical family. Andrew Borden had an explosive temper, the stepmother was spiteful and moody in nature, and the two spinster sisters were stuck in the middle of it all. As the police continue to investigate, Emma tries to comfort Lizzie, whose memories of that morning are fragmented. Lizzie is an unreliable witness at best, as her story keeps changing every time she tells it. As the perspectives switch from Lizzie, to Emma, to the housemaid Bridget, and to the enigmatic stranger Benjamin, the events of that fateful day are revealed.

I had really high hopes for this novel but unfortunately, it didn’t live up to all of my expectations. While I don’t think this was a bad book, it had quite a few flaws that made it an unremarkable read for me. For one thing, I found it very difficult to characterize Lizzie. She is clearly an adult but the way she speaks and acts is very childlike. If the author’s attempt was to make Lizzie creepy, well, it worked. But it also made it very confusing because I just couldn’t understand what went on in her mind. Perhaps the author was hinting that Lizzie might not be a fully-developed adult in terms of her mental acuity, in which case this characterization works. But it just didn’t work for me. Now, the author did a really great job of portraying how different the family dynamics were in the Borden residence compared to most other Victorian families. I mean, the fact that there are 2 spinster daughters was in itself unusual as families back then were very eager to wed eligible daughters. The controlling demeanour of the father and the stepmother’s attitude were also interesting details that the author put into the story. I think my favorite character in the entire story was Bridget – because she was the only sane person! At many points in the story, I found it an uphill battle to continue pushing through. There were certain details that I really found boring or unnecessary and some perspectives just weren’t that interesting to me. However, as the second half of the book progressed, I will admit that the author dialed up the tension and my intrigue came back. I quite liked the way the author ended the story, as it went along with my own thoughts about this case. Overall, this novel was an interesting retelling of the Borden murders but the characters felt off and some parts of the novel dragged on. I would give this a 2.5/5 stars!

Happy reading ~

Someone You Love Is Gone by Gurjinder Basran

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

I don’t often read emotional stories. But when I do, you can believe that I become a hot mess. This novel made my heart ache so many times that I didn’t know if I would be able to finish it. But I’m glad I did because it was a very thought-provoking story. Here is my review:

When Simran’s mother dies, Simran finds her world crash down around her. As she tries to make sense of the grief she feels, she sees her marriage disintegrate in front of her eyes and faces estrangement from her own daughter. As the days go by, Simran is haunted by memories and her mother’s ghost. As her life starts to fall apart, Simran must confront one of her most painful memories – when her parents sent her younger brother away. As the past starts flooding in, she wonders what could have caused her parents to send away their only son. Now, facedAs the past comes flooding back, she wonders what could compel her parents to turn their backs on their only son. Now with her mother gone, Simran must find the answers to these painful questions in order to finally put her ghosts to rest.

This book looks at grief in a multitude of ways. Not only does it focus on the actual moment of loss, it also depicts the stages and transitions one makes in the days that follow. It is a long and painful journey, and the reader feels every emotion that the main character does. As someone who has been fortunate enough to not have experienced the loss of a loved one, this was an eye-opening journey. There are so many nuances, so many elements to this state of being that I would never have thought possible. And the author allows each one to manifest itself and be understood by the reader. I really liked that the author flitted back in time and even delved into Simran’s mother’s past. This novel showed me the different ways people deal with grief, and how some accept and move on while others struggle to do so. This story is powerful even though it has a quiet voice, as it makes the reader aware of the strength it takes to carry grief in your heart and yet, continue to live life. I’m so glad that I had the chance to review this ARC and would recommend this book to anyone looking for a thought-provoking story.

Happy reading ~

 

Burntown by Jennifer McMahon

I love weird stories. The wackier, the better. It’s one of the reasons I love Joan Aiken’s Wolves Chronicles series. While I’ve never heard of this author before this book, I read that she had a reputation for coming up with wild stories. So I decided to get started with this one. Here is my review:

Eva grew up watching her father, Miles, invent strange and wonderful things in the small workshop behind their house on the river that runs through their old mill town. But the most important invention that Miles every made came from the mind of Thomas Edison: a machine that lets you talk to the dead. The bluepritns for this machine has been passed down to Miles and he’s been using it to protect his family. But one night, when a fierce storm is raging and there is the threat of a flood, the machine comes to life and delivers a single message: you’re in terrible danger. The next thing Eva knows, she is waking up by the river and only her mother is there. Her father and brother are dead, the house is gone, and there is an evil man out to get them. Eva changes her name to Necco and tries to forget about her past as she and her mother live life off the grid. But when her mother dies and her boyfriend is murdered, Necco is convinced that her past is catching up to her. What really happened that night? As Necco tries to discover the truth, she connects with 2 other women who are on their own desperate quests. And as the trio follow the clues, they discover that sometimes it’s the smallest towns that hold the strangest secrets.

Before this novel, I would never have thought that so many mismatched parts could come together to create a cohesive and interesting story. But they did. And I loved every minute of it. There is a paranormal aspect, with visions and psychic abilities and machines that let you communicate with the dead. There is a mystery element where people keep dying but you don’t know why. There’s a thriller aspect where the main character is being hunted by a man wearing a chicken skin mask. In all, it’s a crazy mess. But it worked on so many levels. There was not a single boring moment in this story. And the author managed to run so many different storylines at the same time! There are 3 main female characters and they each got their moment in the spotlight, which I really loved. The way it all got tied in was unexpected but it worked with the weirdness of the premise. I’m still shocked by how everything was put together … but I definitely enjoyed this read! This is not a traditional book in any way so I would recommend this to people who enjoy crazy stories with super interesting and zany plots! I can’t wait to read more by this author!

Hapyp reading ~

The House At the Edge of Night by Catherine Banner

I was very eager to read this book, not only because of its hype, but also because I thought it was an interesting way to go about telling a historical story. So let me just get right to the chase:

Castellamare is an island far enough away from the mainland to be forgotten, but not far enough to escape from the world’s troubles. On the island is a café called the House at the Edge of Night, where everyone in the community comes to gossip. Amedeo Esposito owns this place and it has helped him make a home for himself and his family. As the story follows the lives of the Esposito family and the islanders who live on Castellamare, we see how the people – and Castellamare – itself are transformed by both world wars and a great recession.

Let me start by saying that this novel is very eloquently written. It has beautiful descriptions and very complex characters that it is easy to become caught up in their world. I loved the way that the author described the island; it made you feel like you were a part of the island community as you were reading. However, I found the novel to be a tad bit boring. There were too many characters, and the story meandered away from the central family to describe details that I really didn’t care about. While there were interesting points, it took a lot of effort to focus and get to those areas. Because of that, I didn’t have the best experience reading the novel. However, I would definitely not discourage others from reading this book; it has a ton of raving reviews on Goodreads so this may just be a one-off situation where the book and I didn’t match. If you like descriptive historical fiction, then definitely add this to your TBR list.

Happy reading ~

The Misfortune of Marion Palm by Emily Culliton

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

What attracted me to this novel was its unique idea: it’s rare to see a female embezzler, especially one who is a homemaker. I wanted to know how the author would go about telling this story, so here is my review:

Marion Palm prefers not to think of herself as a thief but rather “a woman who embezzles.” She has managed to embezzle $180,000 from her daughters’ private school, which she has used to pay for expensive vacations and renovations to her home. But when Marion discovers that the school is facing an audit, she pulls piles of cash from her basement hiding place and runs away, leaving her family to deal with the mess. As baffled detectives, and confused school board members start asking questions, Marion’s husband and children must navigate their new life without Marion.

When I began this novel, I thought it would for sure be one of those cases where I’m rooting for the criminal aka Marion. This novel was being sold as “wildly entertaining” which I interpreted as humorous. However, it was not. The novel started off interestingly enough, with Marion deserting her kids in a store. The novel is told from various perspectives: that of Marion, that of her husband, that of each of her kids, the detective assigned her case, and also that of some board members. While I admit that the story and the characters are quirky, this novel was a lot darker than I had expected. I had no sympathy for Marion or for her husband, as they were both quite despicable characters with no consideration for their children. I liked the children and they were the ones I sympathized with the most; they were innocents caught up in something that they didn’t deserve. I think my issue with this novel was that I couldn’t connect with the main character. She just seemed so distant and while I could understand her behaviour and motivations, I couldn’t feel the things she did and that made the story fall a little flat for me. This is a novel that cynical people who like dark humor would enjoy. While I enjoy dark humor, it wasn’t what I was expecting and that may be the reason I didn’t love this novel. Nevertheless, I’m giving this book a 3/5 stars from me!

Happy reading ~

The Wildling Sisters by Eve Chase

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

I had previously read Black Rabbit Hall by this author but I hadn’t liked it as much as I had wanted to. The atmosphere was great but the story just didn’t work for me. However, I am always willing to give multiple chances so I was very excited to receive this ARC! Here is my review:

When 15-year-old Margot and her 3 sisters arrive at Applecote Manor in 1959, they were expecting a nice vacation in the quiet English countryside. Instead, they find their aunt and uncle still shrouded in grief over the disappearance of their daughter Audrey. As the sisters’ bond falls apart by the presence of 2 handsome neighbours, Margot finds herself drawn to the life Audrey left behind. When the summer takes a deadly turn, the girls must band together to protect each other from harm.

50 years later, Jesse is desperate to move her family into Applecote Manor, in order to escape their London home, where signs of her widower husband’s previous wife surround her. Applecote Manor is exactly the change that Jesse – and the family – need. But soon, things begin to fall apart, as Jesse finds herself isolated in this sprawling home, and at odds with her 15-year-old stepdaughter.

Compared to Black Rabbit Hall, this was much more up my alley! This novel has got a beautiful gothic atmosphere and a very interesting dual storyline that had me hooked from the start. There were a lot of positive things that the author did with this novel that really made me appreciate the story! Each character was unique and had their own distinct voice and character, which was really awesome to see. These characters were complex and each evoked a different response from me throughout the novel. I’m not going to lie, I was definitely more interested in the storyline taking place in the past; it was the one most surrounded by mystery and intrigue! I liked how the author weaved between Margot’s story and Jesse’s story… I only wish there had been more of that! Overall, this was a very well-written story with an amazing gothic feel and a solid double storyline!

Happy reading ~

Persons Unknown by Susie Steiner

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

I wasn’t aware that this novel was part of a series but decided to read it as a standalone. Luckily, this novel doesn’t necessarily require one to read the previous book to understand what’s going on, so I was able to focus on the story and writing. Here is my review:

Even though Detective Manon Bradshaw is five months pregnant, she is still determined to focus on her career, where she is stuck in a cold case corridor – the price she paid for a transfer back to Cambridgeshire. Manon tries to look at this positively; after all, this gives her time to raise her adopted son Fly Dent and prepare herself for the new baby.  But when a wealthy businessman is found stabbed, Manon can’t help but get involved. The victim is a banker from London – who was once in a relationship with Manon’s sister, Ellie, and is the father of Ellie’s son. As the case begins to circle in on Manon’s family, she finds herself pitted against her colleagues and friends. Can Manon separate what she knows about the people she loves from the suspicion hanging over them?

For me, this novel was just okay. I was hoping for something sarcastic with some high stakes drama. However, that wasn’t really what was delivered. To those who, like me, haven’t read the previous book in this series, it would probably be good to have read it before reading this one; it would give the reader a better connection with the characters in the story. For me, it was hard to connect with the main characters and they ended up not mattering to me, which really sucked. The story was told from various different perspectives, which I really enjoyed because it made me keep guessing on how everything would tie in together. This novel had a really slow start that made it a bit of a chore to stick through, and for the most part, it felt like Manon’s personal life took precedence over the murder itself. However, when the story finally took off, it was pretty intriguing. I’m not sure I really liked the way everything ended… it just didn’t feel that satisfying to me. Overall, this was an interesting mystery but it felt lackluster to me. There was too much of a focus on the main character’s personal life and the solving of the mystery itself didn’t have the energy that I would have liked. This may be more enjoyable for fans of Missing, Presumed, the first book in this series.

Happy reading ~