The Taster by V. S. Alexander


I used to be a huge fan of historical fiction novels. At one point, this was the only genre I would read from. But as time went on, I became more drawn to fantasy, science fiction, and mysteries. Now, it’s a rare thing for me to read a historical fiction story – but it is always an exciting experience. I was thrilled when I saw this book up on Netgalley and could not wait to start reading it…. so here is my review:

Synopsis (Goodreads): In early 1943, Magda Ritter’s parents send her to relatives in Bavaria, hoping to keep her safe from the Allied bombs strafing Berlin. Young German women are expected to do their duty–working for the Reich or marrying to produce strong, healthy children. After an interview with the civil service, Magda is assigned to the Berghof, Hitler’s mountain retreat. Only after weeks of training does she learn her assignment: she will be one of several young women tasting the Fuhrer’s food, offering herself in sacrifice to keep him from being poisoned.

Perched high in the Bavarian Alps, the Berghof seems worlds away from the realities of battle. Though terrified at first, Magda gradually becomes used to her dangerous occupation–though she knows better than to voice her misgivings about the war. But her love for a conspirator within the SS, and her growing awareness of the Reich’s atrocities, draw Magda into a plot that will test her wits and loyalty in a quest for safety, freedom, and ultimately, vengeance.

Review: While I think that this novel shows a very unique perspective of such a historical point in time, it failed to captivate me.

I really liked how the author gave readers an insightful look into Hitler’s lifestyle. We see the opulence of the food and the way many people consider Hitler to be a father figure, someone worth supporting and fighting for. The author doesn’t shy away from talking about the horrors that Hitler has inflicted on people, but the focus is very much on what it is like to be close to Hitler.

I actually have no problems in terms of the content, message, or intent of the story. In terms of these 3 aspects, the author did a great job.

But this wasn’t a story.

It was hard to connect with Magda, our protagonist. At no point did I feel sympathy for her – and I had plenty of opportunities to do so. Where the author lavishly described details of life in Germany, there was an omission in creating depth in his characters. The relationships that developed throughout the story were lackluster and didn’t have the right flow to it. While I could factually understand why there were people who did not agree with Hitler and wanted him to die, I could not feel the emotion behind those sentiments. Of course, it’s obvious that Hitler did bad things and deserved to be punished, but why don’t you make me feel it in my gut as I read about it from the characters who are seeing this cruel side of him?! I wanted more connection and more depth to the story and the characters. At times, it felt like I was being told and not shown things, and that led to this feeling that the story was just surface-deep and had nothing more beneath it.

Do I think this is an important topic to discuss and an interesting perspective to take? Yes. But it was far too factual, with more telling than showing and lacked a great deal of depth in terms of character development. For those reasons, I’m giving it a 2/5 stars.

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

Happy reading ~


All Things Bright and Strange by James Markert

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

Synopsis (Goodreads): In the wake of World War I in the small, Southern town of Bellhaven, South Carolina, the town folk believe they’ve found a little slice of heaven in a mysterious chapel in the woods. But they soon realize that evil can come in the most beautiful of forms.

The people of Bellhaven have always looked to Ellsworth Newberry for guidance, but after losing his wife and his future as a professional pitcher, he is moments away from testing his mortality once and for all. Until he finally takes notice of the changes in his town . . . and the cardinals that have returned.

Upon the discovery of a small chapel deep in the Bellhaven woods, healing seems to fall upon the townspeople, bringing peace after several years of mourning. But as they visit the “healing floor” more frequently, the people begin to turn on one another, and the unusually tolerant town becomes anything but.

The cracks between the natural and supernatural begin to widen, and tensions rise. Before the town crumbles, Ellsworth must pull himself from the brink of suicide, overcome his demons, and face the truth of who he was born to be by leading the town into the woods to face the evil threatening Bellhaven.

Review: I went into this novel with absolutely no idea on how I would feel about it. I emerged from it thinking that it was quite an interesting read.

I really liked the premise of this book and the way events unfolded in this town. The story is told entirely from Ellsworth’s point of view, and he is quite a character. I think the author tries really hard to make him complex, but at times, it was a bit forced. Nevertheless, I was intrigued by Ellsworth and really liked him. There were many different characters who were introduced to the story, and it could be quite confusing to keep them all straight. However, all of the characters had backstories and vices that helped the reader make a connection with them. I did think that everyone’s constant positive regard for Ellsworth was a tad overbearing, but it makes sense in terms of the story.

I really liked the way that the story progressed. We start off with the emergence of this chapel, which has always been present, yet the people of this town have been unaware of it. But once they become aware, they cannot help but visit, enticed by the messages it gives them. Soon, however, it becomes apparent that this chapel is not a blessing – rather, it is curse. The frenzy that developed throughout this story was fantastic, and I really enjoyed every minute of the book…. until we got to the final climax. That’s when I felt disappointment. After all this amazing build up and tension and intrigue, the climax felt lackluster.

Even though the ending was not as great as I had hoped, the story itself was interesting and I enjoyed most of it. I wasn’t expecting it to make references to faith (totally missed out that it was labelled as Christian fiction) but the author made it work in the story. I would give this a 3/5 stars.

Happy reading ~

Carnegie’s Maid by Marie Benedict

I received this novel as an advance copy from the publisher via Netgalley in exchange for my honest review.

I don’t read much historical fiction. But I really enjoyed reading Marie Benedict’s The Other Einstein. I love how the author focuses the attention on the female character instead of the popular male historical figure. I wanted to see how she would write this story, and I was very excited to get a review copy of this novel. Here is my opinion:

Synopsis (Goodreads): In the industrial 1860s at the dawn of the Carnegie empire, Irish immigrant Clara Kelly finds herself in desperate circumstances. Looking for a way out, she seeks employment as a lady’s maid in the home of the prominent businessman Andrew Carnegie. Soon, the bond between Clara and her employer deepens into love. But when Clara goes missing, Carnegie’s search for her unearths secrets and revelations that lay the foundation for his lasting legacy. With captivating insight and stunning heart, Carnegie’s Maid tells the story of one lost woman who may have spurred Andrew Carnegie’s transformation from ruthless industrialist into the world’s first true philanthropist.

Review: This was a very interesting take on what made Andrew Carnegie the philanthropist he is known as today. I like the idea that Clara Kelly, a maid desperate to help her family survive, was able to influence Andrew Carnegie. However, I don’t think it was portrayed in a believable manner.

For one thing, Clara has no real knowledge of business. Now, that doesn’t mean she can’t come up with any original ideas. However, I wasn’t as pleased with the way this came about. I wanted a little more time to see Clara grow in her expertise, or to show her shrewd mind. I didn’t see that ability in her and so, it was hard for me to imagine that she was able to come up with the creative ideas that she did.

I also found Clara to be a lot more bland than I would have liked. I wanted some spunk and some tenacity in her. It made it hard to connect with her as a reader. However, the other characters were portrayed beautifully. I especially loved Mrs. Carnegie, Andrew Carnegie’s mother. She was very shrewd and her moments of social ineptitude were endearing. In fact, I would have loved to hear the story from her perspective, and see from her eyes as all her hard work is reflected through the success of her son.

I really liked the way that the author set up the historic scene, including the style of fashion and the different levels of decorum that are displayed at various levels of the social hierarchy.  However, I wish the language had been simpler. What I mean is that certain sentence structures seemed awkward and could have been worded in a simpler and more effective way; I don’t like to have to reread sentences multiple times in order to understand an inconsequential detail.

Overall, I actually quite liked this historical fiction story. I liked learning more about the empire that Andrew Carnegie was trying to build, and I liked the idea that a simple maid could have influenced him so much. However, I wish that Clara had been a stronger character because her pivotal role seemed quite forced. In fact, I would have preferred to see the story from Mrs. Carnegie’s perspective over hers! I’m going to give this novel a 2.5/5 stars (rounded to 3), but I look forward to reading more by this author!

Happy reading ~

The Sorceress and the Postgraduate by Clive Heritage-Tilley

I saw the premise of this novel and immediately wanted to read it. First of all, anything with witches and magic will sound appealing to me. The second is that this novel is tied to historical events and figures, which made it even more interesting. It had everything I wanted to read about so I decided to give it a shot. Here is my review:

Synopsis (Goodreads): When an Oxford University student decides to steal an intriguing object from the Pitt Rivers Museum to further his studies, he gets more than he bargained for.

It’s 1497 and Albrecht Durer produces the four witches engraving. But there were really five women, not four, and they were sorceresses. All five were condemned to death, but it was decided that the youngest English girl, Constance, should be saved and the four sorceresses cast a spell to suspend her in time.

What ensues is a captivating story as the student with the help of his new assistant embark on an adventure of magic and mystery, in search for secrets locked in the history of time.

Review: Well, this book did not live up to my expectations in any way. This novel could really have been a great read but it ended up really letting me down.

One thing that was really disappointing was that there was not much focus on the historical aspect. There were maybe just a handful or less references to historical figures or time points, and while this was definitely appreciated by me, it just wasn’t enough. If you are going to brand a story by saying it is historical fiction, it needs to be a lot more historical than this!

One of my biggest issues was with the lack of proper development with the story. Things are pretty much just told to the reader rather than shown. We are told what happened to lead to the 4 sorceresses saving Constance. We are told by Constance about her relationship with Albrecht Durer. We are told what led the Oxford student to steal the object. All of these things (and many more) could have been shown if the author had lengthened the story to include the relevant events. It was also disconcerting how quickly Constance adjusted to the modern day. For someone trapped in a bottle, she adapted way too quickly to her surroundings. There was no trace of an antiquated style of speaking, no shock from seeing all the new inventions around, just the enthusiasm that a tourist would show when traveling to a new country. Even the thoughts and feelings of the Oxford student who discovered her lacked strong development, and seemed to be very … childish.

The writing style of this novel was really not up to my standards. It read like the musings of a teenager rather than work that has been shown to an editor. It was all very childish and if I had been a preteen, I would have enjoyed this. But there was no indication that this book was meant for a younger audience, and if I’m to judge it as an adult book, it falls way off the mark there.

Believe me when I say that I really wanted to enjoy this book. However, the childish writing and lack of proper development of the story was something I could not get past. I have to give this a 1/5 stars.

I received this advance reader copy from NetGalley in exchange for my honest review.

Happy reading ~

In Case I Go by Angie Abdou

I always love it when I decide to read a book on a whim and find myself loving the story. That’s what happened here. I saw this sitting on the shelf of my local library and the synopsis, while sparse, was interesting enough that I decided to give it a shot.

Synopsis: 10-year-old Eli and his parents have returned to their family home in Coalton, a small mountain town. The parents, Nicholas and Lucy, hope that by escaping their hectic city lives, they will restore calm and stability to their marriage, but they find that once charming Coalton is no longer the remote idyll they remembered. Development of a high-end subdivision has disturbed a historic graveyard, drawing negative press from national media. While Nicholas works long hours at the local coal mine and Lucy battles loneliness and depression, Eli must make his own way in this town.

Eli is not like other young boys. His birth was complicated, making him more fragile than other children his age. His parents have raised him more like an adult than a kid, making him more perceptive – but also more reclusive. When Eli moves to Coalton, he meets Mary. And while everyone tells him Mary is mute, she speaks to Eli. She calls Eli by his full name, Elijah, the name he inherited from an ancestor who was famous in Coalton.

Eli’s encounters with Mary are not like that between children, between friends. There is a hidden anger in Mary’s eyes, and her words are not always kind. And with each encounter, Eli starts to have visions of a time before this one. Eli stops being himself – and starts having memories of Elijah, his ancestor. And Elijah has sinned.

This book is really hard to categorize; it’s like a cross between a ghost story and historical fiction, mixed in with some magical realism. And it works beautifully.

The story is haunting in its prose and in the way it takes the present and blends it with the past. It speaks about regrets and how one’s sins can carry forward. There are so many layers to peel back with this story, and I love how it was steeped in facts about the Aboriginal community. In fact, the author did a fantastic job of representing this community and the hardships they have faced, which I really appreciated. There is an emphasis on the idea that the past cannot just stay buried and hidden; the truth will out, and we must pay for our consequences. This concept was stressed throughout the story and it is one we should all keep in mind. The story itself was extremely engaging, and I wanted to know more about Eli’s transformation – and whether he would ever be himself again. This is a book that I know I will recommend to many people because it is beautiful, emotional, and deserves to be read. 5/5 stars from me.

Happy reading ~

White Tears by Hari Kunzru

I had no idea what to expect when I got into this novel. But after reading it, I can honestly say that it has defied any expectations I might have had. Here is my review:

Seth is awkward and shy. Carter is the heir to one of America’s top fortunes. They really should never have become friends. But they have one thing in common: an obsession with music. Seth is desperate to record every sound he can, in an attempt to create something different. Carter is fixated on blues music from the past. When Seth accidentally records an unknown singer in a park, Carter sends it out over the Internet, claiming it’s a long lost 1920s blues recording by a musician called Charlie Shaw. When an old collector contacts them to say that their fake record and their fake bluesman are actually real, the two young white men, accompanied by Carter’s troubled sister Leonie, spiral down into the heart of the nation’s darkness, encountering a suppressed history of greed, envy, revenge, and exploitation.

This novel tries to be a lot of things. It tries to be a ghost story, a murder mystery, a story about race and exploitation. It ends up just being confusing. The story is told entirely from Seth’s point of view, and he really does make for a great voice; his blandness works to his advantage. Even though the novel isn’t actually divided into two parts, my reading experience has divided it into the first half, where things made sense, and the second half, where things were just a mess. The first half was great. It’s all about how Carter and Seth strike up their unlikely friendship, how Carter has this obsession and the money to carry on with it, how Seth is caught up in it all. There’s a lot of talk about blues and jazz, music that I really don’t listen to, but I’ve come to appreciate by reading this novel. In terms of music appreciation, this novel really does a great job. It’s well researched and nicely documented here. The transition between the first half and the second half is really interesting: the story flits from past to present. I actually quite liked the transition, but I was expecting that the chapters recalling the past would explain to me what was happening in the present … and it didn’t. And then the story becomes a mess. There’s a ghost and there are chapters told from perspectives that may not be Seth’s but I don’t know whose voice is telling the story. I found myself getting more and more confused, and hoping that the next chapter would clarify things. By the end, I finally figured everything out. But the whole experience of the second half was like I was on drugs; everything was happening in a very surreal and uncomfortable way and I couldn’t get a handle on it. Whimsical is one thing, but this… this was a whole new beast. I liked the writing style, I liked the different issues the author was trying to cover, but I wish some of the voices had been a bit clearer. I’m still perplexed about my overall feelings for this novel. Because of the great writing style and the fast pace and the different issues covered in this novel, I’m giving it a 3/5 stars. My rating would have been higher if the author had tightened things up a bit and explained things better near the end. But readers be warned: this is not your typical book and you might either love it or hate it … or feel caught in between like me.

Happy reading ~

Soulless by Gail Carriger – Parasol Protectorate #1

Going into this novel, I had no idea what to expect. All I knew was that the premise contained all of my favorite things: supernatural beings, the Victorian era, and a feisty heroine. That was enough to intrigue me and give this book a shot. After reading it, I am so glad I did. Here is my review:

Alexia Tarabotti is laboring under a great many social tribulations. First, she has no soul. Second, she’s a spinster whose father is both Italian and dead. Third, she was rudely attacked by a vampire, breaking all standards of social etiquette. Unfortunately, Alexia accidentally kills the vampire while protecting herself – and the appalling Lord Maccon (loud, messy, gorgeous, and werewolf) is sent by Queen Victoria to investigate. News on this vampire’s death leads to an investigation that reveals that unexpected vampires are appearing and expected vampires are disappearing. And everyone seems to believe that Alexia is somehow involved. Can she figure out what is actually happening to London’s high society? Will her soulless ability to negate supernatural powers prove useful or just plain embarrassing? Finally, who is the real enemy?

To define this book by one genre would be doing it an injustice because it is such a mashup! You’ve got steampunk, Victorian social etiquette, comedy, romance, and of course, supernatural/paranormal fantasy. I loved this eclectic mix of themes because it added so much variety to the story! I absolutely adored Alexia. She is funny, and inquisitive, and everything I wanted her to be! She adheres to Victorian etiquette standards only when it suits her and her independent thinking gets her into a great deal of trouble. I love that the author always keeps her in the center of the action and never makes her rely on men to fix things for her. I also loved her romance with Lord Maccon, which I had guessed would happen right from the start; it is VERY believable and not exactly pg-13 (so I would advise younger teenagers to not read this book). The story itself was intriguing, with witty humor thrown in every now and then. I liked the mystery and the action, and the different supernatural beings who were involved. If anything, I wish the organization of the different societies had been given more details, as that would have given me a better understanding of this world that Alexia lives in. I had a great reading experience with this novel because I just found it to be so funny and interesting that I couldn’t put it down. I’m giving it a 5/5 stars for being weird and funny and everything else in between!

Happy reading ~

The Wages of Sin by Kaite Welsh

I heard about this book when it first came out in March and added it to by TBR list. I really liked the idea of reading from the perspective of a female medical student from the 1890s, a very unheard of phenomenon back in the day. I also just love a good historical murder mystery. Here is my review:

Leaving behind London society after a scandal, Sarah Gilchrist has joined the University of Edinburgh’s medical school. This is the first year that the university has admitted women and Sarah is determined to become a doctor, despite the misgivings of her family and society. However, there are many barriers at the school itself: professors who refuse to teach their new pupils, male students determined to force out their female counterparts, and her female peers who will do anything to avoid being associated with a fallen woman. Desperate to get some training, Sarah begins to volunteer at the St. Giles’ Infirmary for Women, a charitable hospital for those who have nowhere else to go. Sarah enjoys her time volunteering there, even when the environment is grim. But when Lucy, one of Sarah’s patients, turns up in the university dissecting room as a battered corpse, Sarah finds herself drawn into a murky underworld of bribery, brothels, and body snatchers. Sarah is determined to find out what happened to Lucy and bring those responsible for her death to justice. But as she searches for answers, Sarah comes closer and closer to uncovering one of Edinburgh’s most lucrative trades, and, in doing so, puts her own life at risk…

I quite enjoyed this novel, with its fierce heroine! This is a well paced novel with a great deal of suspense and mystery that kept me enthralled from start to finish. I thought the author had done a great job in researching details of life in the 1890s, especially in terms of the rights (or lack thereof) for women, the cultural norms of the times, and the medical procedures that were popular at the time. There were times, I will admit, where I grew weary of Sarah’s constant complaints about the injustices women faced. It’s not that this wasn’t relevant or important; however, there came a time when the point had been made and I just wanted the story to move along. That being said, the mystery itself was interesting. There were many different clues and avenues that the story took to get to its conclusion, and I quite liked all of these twists and turns. I thought the mystery was well planned out and executed and the conclusion was enjoyable. However, character development was another weak point in this novel: while some of the other characters showed growth throughout the story, Sarah did not. This feeling of lack of growth might have been because of her constant complaints but it just felt like Sarah remained the same throughout the novel, and I would have liked to see her change through her experiences. Overall, this was a compelling and engaging read that I really enjoyed, with a good amount of historical detail and a strong heroine. I’ve heard that there will be a sequel to this novel, and I look forward to reading it when it comes out (February 2019)! I’m giving this a solid 4/5 stars!

Happy reading ~

The Final Book: Gods by SW Hammond

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

This book has been long overdue on my TBR list; I mean, it was published in June and I just got to it now. However, I was really excited to read this novel because of its connections to mythology. I love mythology and I’m always interested to see how authors will take stories and characters that we already know and incorporate them into a brand-new story. Here is my review:

In the beginning there was love. The Goddess of Life in an elated romance with a beloved mortal. Her sister killed him. Their combined actions ripping a hole in destiny and plagued mankind with an age of unprecedented corruption, vicious holy wars, and religious absolution.

Though long forgotten by the mortals they serve, Zeus and his Pantheon continue to foster and protect mankind which is tearing itself apart—but even God isn’t infallible. After failed diplomacy, the King of the Gods is left with no choice but to take the persona of a modern man—the famed genetic scientist Dr. Hork. In an effort to preserve the future by reshaping the past, Dr. Hork uses Project Genesis—the transfer of consciousness—to send subjects back in time. However, not without devastating failures. Subjects of the experiment wreak havoc upon humanity until a familiar character is reborn to correct the course.

Reincarnated and ready to fulfill his true destiny, Joshua Bach is the catalyst the Gods have been waiting for—and Dr. Hork’s final beacon of salvation. Ferociously idealistic, the free-spirited young man struggles to come-of-age in a time and society ruled by money and corruption. Under the wing of the Gods, Josh rediscovers his purpose, along with a love that can only be considered timeless.

I’m not going to give a rating for this book because I don’t think it would be fair (or accurate). This was a case where the book just did not work for me and I wasn’t able to finish the novel. The story started off interestingly enough but I couldn’t get into it and I felt like there was a lot going on for me. I think that the author actually did a really good job of taking the Greek mythological character and maintaining their personalities, even including little details. I think the reason this novel didn’t work for me was because there was just a lot going on. From cloning to theology, this book talks about everything. For me, that was a bit too much to handle. However, I want to mention here that this novel has gotten great reviews on Goodreads, reviews that will probably be more accurate. If you like Greek mythology and are looking for something deep and out of the norm, then this is the novel for you!

Happy reading `

A Secret History of Witches by Louisa Morgan

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

Grandmére Ursule was one of the most powerful witches in her family. But when she dies trying to save the life of her tribe, her magic seems to have died with her. Even so, her daughters do their best to keep the Old Faith, practicing the spells and rites that have been a part of their family for generations. Then one day, Ursule’s young granddaughter steps into the circle, and magic flows anew. The story traverses 5 generations of witches, from early 19th century Brittany to London during WWII as they fight the battles of their time, deciding how far they are willing to go to protect their family, their heritage, and ultimately, their futures.

I really wanted to love this novel but I didn’t. The book is broken down into multiple parts such that each witch from the next generation gets her own story. I love the idea of magic being passed down from mother to daughter but I think that is where the problem of this novel lay: for each generation, the story from the previous generation must be recounted, and the same reactions from the newest witch are described, and it just starts to become repetitive. It’s hard to break from that cycle when it is that very cycle that is being described in the novel. I think that out of all of the witches that were described, there was only one that was truly different from the rest. While I get that the same traits and powers will run in the family, the personalities of the different witches were too similar for my taste. And as I mentioned, the concept was interesting in the beginning but the story itself was too cyclic and repetitive to maintain my interest. The author did put a valiant effort in trying to tie in different historical events to change things up between generations, but the scenarios remained the same. I also wish there had been more supernatural elements; I would have loved to read about the different spells and things that they learned and the reasons why they did certain rituals. For me, there was just not enough of a unique story and so, I’m giving this a 2/5 stars.

Happy reading ~