The Mermaid by Christina Henry

With the success of the movie The Greatest Showman, which is about the famous P. T. Barnum, it comes with no surprise that I was super excited to find out that someone had written a book featuring him. I had already read a previous work of Christina Henry’s before called  Lost Boy , which was absolutely amazing so I knew I had to give this one a go! Here is my review:

36358268Summary (Goodreads): Once there was a mermaid who longed to know of more than her ocean home and her people. One day a fisherman trapped her in his net but couldn’t bear to keep her. But his eyes were lonely and caught her more surely than the net, and so she evoked a magic that allowed her to walk upon the shore. The mermaid, Amelia, became his wife, and they lived on a cliff above the ocean for ever so many years, until one day the fisherman rowed out to sea and did not return.
P. T. Barnum was looking for marvelous attractions for his American Museum, and he’d heard a rumor of a mermaid who lived on a cliff by the sea. He wanted to make his fortune, and an attraction like Amelia was just the ticket.

Amelia agreed to play the mermaid for Barnum, and she believes she can leave any time she likes. But Barnum has never given up a money-making scheme in his life, and he’s determined to hold on to his mermaid.

 


Review:

The first thing I want to start by saying is that this novel is very different from her other work. If you are expecting a dark retelling of the Little Mermaid, then you would be completely off the mark. While this novel features a mythical creature, there is no connection to any other tales about the mermaid and this novel would be better classified as a historical fiction than a true fantasy story.

BUT IT WAS STILL FREAKING AMAZING!

I loved that this story was more focused on the mermaid and her experiences interacting with humans. The personality created for her was absolutely amazing –  relatable and foreign at the same time. As she interacts with human beings, we see how she forms her opinions about them and it is such an interesting experience to see how someone alien to our species views us. I had never considered this perspective, and I’m really glad that the author allowed for this opportunity. I also loved seeing how the mermaid herself changed because of her interactions, developing more human emotions and desires.

I also adored the prose. It was so haunting and lyrical and moving. The descriptions that the author created were so vivid that I really felt like I was right there experiencing it. An to me, that is a mark of true talent. There was never a moment where I felt myself getting bored or losing connection to the story or to the characters. There was just so much depth to everything and it made this story feel very engaging, even when not much was actually happening in the story.

If there is anything I could nitpick about, it would be that I wanted the tension to develop a bit stronger in the story. There really wasn’t much of a buildup and it detracted a little from that final climactic moment in the story.

Overall, this was a very good novel that was deeply engaging. Although it wasn’t the dark fantasy retelling I had thought it would be, I enjoyed the historical aspects of the story and the amazing characterization. For those reasons, I’m giving this a solid 4/5 stars, and I cannot wait to see what else this author will create!

4 star

Happy reading ~

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Mary B: An Untold Story of Pride and Prejudice by Katherine J. Chen

I love Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen. It was one of the first classic novels I had ever read and I thought it was so witty and lovely. I love rereading it, and watching movie adaptations of it, so of course when I heard about this book, I knew I had to give it a go!

36505861Summary (Goodreads): What is to be done with Mary Bennet? She possesses neither the beauty of her eldest sister, Jane, nor the high-spirited charm of Lizzy. Even compared to her frivolous younger siblings, Kitty and Lydia, Mary knows she is lacking in the ways that matter for single, not-so-well-to-do women in nineteenth-century England who must secure their futures through the finding of a husband. As her sisters wed, one by one, Mary pictures herself growing old, a spinster with no estate to run or children to mind, dependent on the charity of others. At least she has the silent rebellion and secret pleasures of reading and writing to keep her company.

But even her fictional creations are no match for the scandal, tragedy, and romance that eventually visit Mary’s own life. In Mary B, readers are transported beyond the center of the ballroom to discover that wallflowers are sometimes the most intriguing guests at the party. Beneath Mary’s plain appearance and bookish demeanor simmers an inner life brimming with passion, humor, and imagination–and a voice that demands to be heard.


Review: 

If I’m honest, one of the reasons I was so intrigued by this novel was because I actually could not remember Mary’s character. I knew she was one of the Bennet sisters but she had such a minor role in the story that I had completely passed over her. I was so intrigued by how the author would shape her personality and show how she was affected by the marriages of her sisters.

There were some positives to this story…. but also some negatives.

The author really made an effort to have the story start off from where Pride and Prejudice began. I really liked that the story went beyond the events of the original novel and into a future that readers had always speculated about. I also appreciated the effort taken to maintain the same language usage as in the original novel.

There were quite a lot of mentions about how plain Mary was in terms of her looks and behaviour. Usually, I am not a fan of repetitive themes but it worked well in the story because it reinforced the idea of why people never really gave Mary a proper shot.

But here’s where the positives end.

While I was excited to see how this author interpreted Pride and Prejudice, I thought there were quite a few flaws. For one thing, there were quite a few discrepancies between this story and the original. I won’t go into the details but there were enough to affect the quality of the story. I also didn’t think that any of Mary’s romantic ventures were developed properly. There was a lack of elevation to it, making it seem very cheap and cringey. She may not have been the most beautiful or poised Bennet sister, but that doesn’t mean that her romance should be any less.

I was also very disappointed in the way other characters in the book were portrayed. The Colonel Fitzwilliam described in this novel was quite different than in the original and I found it hard to wrap my head around this new persona. I was also very disappointed with how the author portrayed Lizzie. She was (and continues to be) my favourite character from Pride and Prejudice and I don’t think the author was really fair in her depiction of her. Call me biased, but I don’t think there were any signs of Lizzie being cruel or selfish in the original, and yet the author in this novel decided to portray her as such. It was so disconcerting and unbelievable for me to read about this “new” Lizzie, who did not resemble the original Lizzie Bennet.

I think that the author tried to do something very interesting and unique here. While I appreciate her efforts in bringing alive a character that was hidden in the background, I do not think that it was executed too well. For those reasons, I’m giving this a 2/5 stars.

2 star

Happy reading ~

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

35355159

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 ~