The English Wife by Lauren Willig

I saw this book and was immediately drawn by its beautiful cover. And after I read the premise of this story, I knew that I had to give it a shot. It has been so long since I’ve read a historical fiction novel, and this was the perfect chance for me to get back into the genre.

34945222Summary (Goodreads): Annabelle and Bayard Van Duyvil live a charmed life: he’s the scion of an old Knickerbocker family, she grew up in a Tudor manor in England, they had a whirlwind romance in London, they have three year old twins on whom they dote, and he’s recreated her family home on the banks of the Hudson and renamed it Illyria. Yes, there are rumors that she’s having an affair with the architect, but rumors are rumors and people will gossip. But then Bayard is found dead with a knife in his chest on the night of their Twelfth Night Ball, Annabelle goes missing, presumed drowned, and the papers go mad. Bay’s sister, Janie, forms an unlikely alliance with a reporter to uncover the truth, convinced that Bay would never have killed his wife, that it must be a third party, but the more she learns about her brother and his wife, the more everything she thought she knew about them starts to unravel. Who were her brother and his wife, really? And why did her brother die with the name George on his lips?

My Rating:   3 star

Review: This was a really interesting read and I quite enjoyed all that it had to offer!

I love the way the author blended multiple genres into one book. There was a great historical background that served as the perfect platform for this mystery story that explores the depth of love and romance and secrets in a marriage. Everything worked in harmony, and it was unexpected for me so I really enjoyed it!

I also loved that the story was told from 2 different points of view. One story took place in the past and was told from the perspective of Bayard’s wife. The other perspective is Janie’s as she tries to figure out what happened in the end. I loved both of these characters as they each struggled in their own unique ways and had very different personalities. Both the past and present story lines were interesting, but I found that the present was a bit slower in pacing and not as exciting. This was, however, necessary in order to build up the intrigue and the various plot twists, and to give the story depth.

There were quite a few twists and turns and a number of characters that were pretty mean and nasty, which I really liked. I love having characters that are easy to hate sometimes because it makes me want them to be the evil-doers at the end of the book. It certainly added to the intrigue and left me guessing as to who was responsible for the death of Bayard and his wife!

The romance in this novel was done superbly. I loved every single bit of romance in this novel and I wish I could expound on this but it would ruin the story. Suffice to say, this novel deals with some romance elements that are not usually seen in historical fiction books and it is done very well!

I actually loved the ending because it took me by surprise and wrapped things up smoothly while still leaving it slightly open-ended.

There are only a few points of criticism that I have. For one thing, there are too many names that sound similar. Georgie, George, Georgiana … it was easy for me to get very confused. I don’t think all of these names should have been utilized, and I definitely think the author could have simplified it. The other weird part about this book has to do with the ending and the character responsible for everything. The ending seemed at odds with their behaviour at earlier points in the book. While I liked that the author chose to pin it on this person, I wish that the author had made it make sense with the character’s behaviour early on – or at least not make it so at odds with the end!

Overall, I quite enjoyed the book and the various twists and turns it took. It was a great way for me to get that dose of historical fiction while reading about romance and mystery. I’m giving this a solid 3/5 stars and I’m looking forward to what else the author has in store!

Happy reading ~


The Italian Party by Christina Lynch [eARC Review]

Thank you to Netgalley and Simon and Schuster Canada for this eARC in exchange for my honest review.

Summary (Goodreads): Newly married, Scottie and Michael are seduced by Tuscany’s famous beauty. But the secrets they are keeping from each other force them beneath the splendid surface to a more complex view of ltaly, America and each other.

When Scottie’s Italian teacher–a teenager with secrets of his own–disappears, her search for him leads her to discover other, darker truths about herself, her husband and her country. Michael’s dedication to saving the world from communism crumbles as he begins to see that he is a pawn in a much different game. Driven apart by lies, Michael and Scottie must find their way through a maze of history, memory, hate and love to a new kind of complicated truth.

Review: I think this was one of those cases where the book just wasn’t a good fit for me.

The story itself was written quite well and had a ton of wry humor to it, which I really liked.

However, it was a little too political for me. I know, this sounds ridiculous, considering that this is a historical fiction but it just didn’t hold my attention. Maybe I would have enjoyed this book more if I had been in the mood for historical fiction, but I found it really hard to get through this book.

I’m not going to give this book a rating because I don’t think it would be fair since I really didn’t give it a full try. Maybe, I will come back to this book in the future. For now, I would recommend this book to anyone who likes historical fiction.

Happy reading ~

Burial Rites by Hannah Kent

After I read The Good People, I knew I wanted to find more books by this author and read them. Burial Rites was actually the author’s debut novel, and it is based on a true event. I love a good historical story and I love Kent writes her books so I was eager to jump into her work! Here is my review:

Summary (Goodreads): Set against Iceland’s stark landscape, Hannah Kent brings to vivid life the story of Agnes, who, charged with the brutal murder of her former master, is sent to an isolated farm to await execution.

Horrified at the prospect of housing a convicted murderer, the family at first avoids Agnes. Only Tóti, a priest Agnes has mysteriously chosen to be her spiritual guardian, seeks to understand her. But as Agnes’s death looms, the farmer’s wife and their daughters learn there is another side to the sensational story they’ve heard.

Riveting and rich with lyricism, Burial Rites evokes a dramatic existence in a distant time and place, and asks the question, how can one woman hope to endure when her life depends upon the stories told by others?

Review: This book does not disappoint. It is bleak, it is beautiful, it is everything I hoped for and more.

Be warned, this is not a story for the faint of heart. There is no happiness in this story. There is a lot of heartbreak packed into this book and you need to be prepared for that before reading.

The writing is absolutely gorgeous. I rarely praise writing style because I don’t usually pay attention to it, unless it’s really bad or really good. Here, the writing goes beyond just “really good” – it’s fantastic. The way the reader is able to coax out the emotions through the recounting of events is just phenomenal, and everything that is described can be imagined so vividly by the reader. I loved that the story shifted perspectives because it let us see how everyone was affected by Agnes.

What makes the writing even more sublime is the way the author manages to capture the lifestyle of 19th Iceland. The depictions were so evocative that I felt like I was right there, watching the story unfold with my own eyes.

Even though it is clear from the get-go what Agnes’s fate will be at the end, I was still holding my breath as the novel progressed. As Agnes tells her side of the story, little by little, we as readers become close to her. I hadn’t realized how much Agnes had moved me until I had reached the end and was in tears – and I rarely get teary.

I wish my review could properly reflect my emotions about the book and the absolutely amazing qualities of the story. But I’m not that talented. Suffice to say, this book blew me away and is absolutely worth reading. I’m giving it a full 5 stars!

Happy reading ~

The Vanishing by Sophia Tobin

Thank you to Simon and Schuster and Edelweiss for this eARC in exchange for my honest review.

I don’t have much of a preamble for why I chose this book. It sounded creepy and I love creepy and gothic stories. Sometimes, that’s all a bookworm really needs!

36415770Summary (Goodreads): On top of the Yorkshire Moors, in an isolated spot carved out of a barren landscape, lies White Windows, a house of shadows and secrets. Here lives Marcus Twentyman, a hard-drinking but sensitive man, and his sister, the brisk widow, Hester.

When runaway Annaleigh first meets the Twentymans, their offer of employment and lodging seems a blessing. Only later does she discover the truth. But by then she is already in the middle of a web of darkness and intrigue, where murder seems the only possible means of escape…

Review: I really wanted to love this book. Sadly, that was not to be. There were just too many issues in this novel for me to enjoy reading it. Also, trigger warning for rape; it wasn’t as graphic as in other books but it is uncomfortable and I wanted to mention it straight away.

First of all, the story was just … weird. It didn’t really have a plot. Things happened, for sure, but they lacked that deeper motive. It just felt like events and interactions were cobbled together so that there could be a story; there was nothing to tie everything together.

The novel also moves at a very awkward pace. On the one hand, it is slow because it takes a long time for anything to actually happen. However, the actual relationships between the different characters developed too quickly for it to be believable. In fact, I was shocked to see just how soon characters developed feelings (negative and positive) for each other; there was no build up to any of it, so it all fell very flat for me.

I also didn’t like any of the characters. They were all so flat and portrayed in a stereotypical way. It was hard to connect with any of them, including the protagonist – and the story is told from her perspective! Their motives, their behaviours, nothing was properly explained or developed and this just made the story fall apart even more for me.

The only thing I liked about this book is the writing itself. It was fairly easy to read, even though there were occasional slips into more modern ways of talking.

Overall, this book just did not work for me. It was a matter of development; neither the plot nor the characters were well-developed so the entire story just couldn’t stand up. I have to give this book a 1/5 stars.

Happy reading ~


The Golden Hairpin by Qinghan Cece

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

I saw that this novel took place in Ancient China, and that grabbed my attention right away. I love books that take place in different historical settings, especially ones I’m unfamiliar with, as it gives me the chance to learn something new. I’m also a huge fan of historical Asian dramas so I love reading books that take me back to a previous era! I was a little hesitant when I found out that this was a translated work but I felt that the essence of the story would be able to come through. Here is my review:

37660359Summary (Goodreads): In ancient China, history, vengeance, and murder collide for a female sleuth.

At thirteen, investigative prodigy Huang Zixia had already proved herself by aiding her father in solving confounding crimes. At seventeen, she’s on the run, accused of murdering her family to escape an arranged marriage. Driven by a single-minded pursuit, she must use her skills to unmask the real killer…and clear her name.

But when Huang Zixia seeks the help of Li Shubai, the Prince of Kui, her life and freedom are bargained: agree to go undercover as his eunuch to stop a serial killer and to undo a curse that threatens to destroy the Prince’s life.

Huang Zixia’s skills are soon tested when Li Shubai’s betrothed vanishes. With a distinctively exquisite golden hairpin as her only clue, Huang Zixia investigates—and discovers that she isn’t the only one in the guarded kingdom with a dangerous secret.

Review: This is a story that delivers what it promises: a strong female character with a penchant for getting into difficult situations. This wasn’t a perfect book but it had many positives to it.

I really liked this story. It had a great blend of history with mystery. Huang Zixia is certainly a smart heroine, and I felt that her personality shone through even as it was restrained by her cultural setting. I loved how much detail was given to the historical backdrop of the story as it gave me a glimpse of what life might have been like in Ancient China (albeit with some liberties taken for the sake of making this an exciting tale)! I found myself really enjoying the way the story unfolded, with all of the different clues coming together. There were times when I found it a little confusing to keep track of all of the characters and their relationships, but that was to be expected when many of the characters had similar surnames.

My one qualm with this novel was the language. Now, I don’t know if this is a criticism to be aimed at the writer or the translator, but the language of the novel seemed at times to be at odds with the historical setting of the book. Many of the phrases used in this book were too modern to work, and it really took away from the story.

Overall, I think this was an interesting story with a great blend of history and mystery. I only wish that the language of the novel had been more fitting for the setting of the story. I really liked the characters and the flow of the story. I would recommend this to fans of historical fiction and mystery, and I’m giving this a 3/5 stars!

Happy reading ~

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 ~