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 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 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 ~

Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Seek by Anthony O’Neill

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

I really like when authors take a classic story and put their own spin on it, or try to add onto it. The problem is this is not always successful. Sometimes, it can be amazing but other times, the attempt fails miserably. It’s a hit-or-miss situation… but I’m always game to try it out! I was super happy to have received this ARC, and here is my review:

It has been 7 years since Edward Hyde died, when one day a stylish gentleman arrives claiming to be Dr. Henry Jekyll. Only Mr. Utterson, Jekyll’s faithful laywer and confidant knows that this man is an imposter – because only Utterson knows that Jekyll was Hyde. But as the imposter goes around charming all of Jekyll’s friends and reclaiming his estate, Utterson finds himself the only challenger. And as the bodies of others who really knew Jekyll start piling up, Utterson is left fearing for his life … and questioning his own sanity.

So I liked the concept here. But this one leans more towards a miss than a hit for me. The author jumps right into the story, and I really liked that because it immediately sets up the stage. For those who have never read the original class, fear not! The author gives enough hints that the reader can piece the whole thing together. The reason that this novel didn’t work for me was because it felt very rushed. Utterson’s panic and conviction are realistically portrayed but the madness of his behaviour and the flurry of events that occurred were sometimes hard to follow. It didn’t allow the story to develop deeply enough. I wish that the author had slowed down, had made Utterson talk to the imposter a few more times, so that we could have also believed that the imposter might not be Jekyll. I didn’t really have any impression whatsoever of the fake Jekyll because there were so few scenes that involved him! There was also other characters that were introduced but then they faded away, and it just made it a very confusing read. I also didn’t really like the ending, as it made the novel a moot point. At the end of the day, this novel showed that the original never really needed a sequel. While I appreciate the author’s efforts, it just didn’t work for me.

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 ~

Now I Rise by Kiersten White – Conqueror’s Saga #2

When I read And I Darken, I immediately fell in love with the unique protagonist. Lada is like no other in her ferocity and determination. The author stays true to her vicious nature and I loved that the author never made that aspect of Lada go away. It was no surprise then that I would be anxiously waiting for the sequel. So here is my review:

Lada Dracul is only after one thing: Wallachia. And she will do anything to get there. Filled with rage, she storms the countryside with her loyal men, terrorizing all those who defy her. But brute force isn’t working as well as it should. What Lada needs is her younger brother, Radu. But she left him – and Mehmed – behind. What Lada has yet to discover is that Mehmed has sent Radu to Constantinople – as a spy. Mehmed wants to control the city, and Radu would do anything for Mehmed. Radu longs for Lada’s confidence and bravery – but for the first time in his life, he rejects her unexpected plea for help. As nations crumble, the Dracul siblings must decide if they will make the ultimate sacrifice to fulfill their destinies.

I didn’t think the story could get any better – but it did. I loved everything about this book but let me try to break it into components. First off, I loved Lada (as usual). She maintained her ferocity, but also realized that she needed to change her style at times. She had her own unique way of deciding to govern her people, one that was influenced by her time with the Ottomans as well as by her memories of her father. She grows as an individual and the reader gets to see her vulnerable side (but not for too long!) This is the one character that does not require a man to complete her, or help her fulfill her goals and that is what I love about her. I’ve always been fascinated with the historical figure Vlad the Impaler but I never thought anyone would be able to reimagine him as a female. I’m happy to say that the author has succeeded! The next amazing thing about this novel is that the author made Radu a more prominent character. Before, he had been overshadowed by Lada, but in this novel he had his own moments. He also grew and changed as events unfolded. He became wiser, and struggled with himself at times. Was he my favorite character? No. But that doesn’t mean that he wasn’t well developed. In fact, he was an amazingly developed character, and the author kept him true to his original personality. What I actually liked about this novel was that Mehmed took the back seat. I was worried that this second novel would be more of a love triangle than a story filled with action and warfare, but I needn’t have worried. There was a ton of bloodshed and cunning in this story, enough to keep me satisfied. The story had a lot of twists and turns and it forced the reader to pay attention to all of the details (not that I had to be forced!) Overall it was a very compelling read and I really could not put the book down. And that ending? Well, it was fantastic and I cannot wait for what the author has in store for the Dracul siblings! Definitely a 5/5 stars from me!

Happy reading ~

The Devil’s Bible by Dana Chamblee Carpenter – Bohemian Gospel #2

I loved Bohemian Gospel so much that I really wanted to read the sequel. I needed to know what would happen to Mouse, who was a character that I had really grown to love. Anyways, here is my review:

The Devil’s Bible. Once considered an eighth wonder of the world, the ancient book is shrouded in mystery. No one knows who wrote it or where it was written. Even dry-boned scholars whisper about the secrets hidden in the book: How it calls to the power-hungry. How it drives people mad. How it was written in the shadows by the hand of the devil himself. But the only person who knows the truth is Mouse. And she is desperate to keep it hidden. Now, she goes by Emma Nicholas and has refashioned herself into a college professor. But when forces threaten to expose her real identity, she is forced to go on the run. She unexpectedly finds hope in a stranger’s kindness, hope that she can win this game of souls. But will hope be enough to win this battle between good and evil?

I really enjoyed reading this sequel, especially knowing that The Devil’s Bible actually exists in real life. The story that began with Mouse in Bohemian Gospel was taken to new heights here, as the tale flits from past to present to explain how things ended up the way they are now. The past revolves around the actual creation of the Bible, and how she became influenced by her father – who had his own ideas on what should be in this book. The present takes us to Mouse’s current life as Emma Nicholas and how her new identity falls apart when her father and his “people” find her. While I enjoyed the story, I will say that I preferred the prequel. Perhaps it was because the prequel dealt more with Mouse’s discovery of her abilities and origins whereas this novel was more of an internal conflict on how Mouse can save those she cares about. However, the story was still gripping and exciting and the conclusion left room for (hopefully) another book to be added to the series. If you are looking for an interesting spin on something historic with supernatural and fantasy elements, then this is a novel you definitely want to check out. Just make sure you read the prequel first!

Happy 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 ~

Burning Girls by Veronica Schanoes

I haven’t read a novella in a long time but this one seemed very interesting so I decided to leave off of my longer novels in lieu for this novella.

The story follows a young Jewish girl whose mother is a healer and witch. When it is discovered that the girl also carries this power, her grandmother begins to educate her in the ways of a witch. However, it is a dangerous practice, especially as Poland becomes increasingly hostile. When a demon plagues her family, it is up to this young girl to protect those she loves.

When I first read this premise, I thought it would be more fantasy based but this story ended up being so much more. This was such a refreshing and poignant novella and I really loved every minute of it. The main character is cheeky and practical and just such a unique and amazing protagonist, who really makes you connect with her struggles. This story portrays the struggle of a Jewish family as they try to find peace from persecution, only to discover horror in their new home. I can’t say more without spoiling this story but I really think this novella is one that everyone should read so please do yourself a favour and check out this amazing story!

Happy reading ~