The Lost Letter by Jillian Cantor

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

I’m not a big fan of historical fiction and if you go through my blog, you will see that I haven’t read very many books from this genre. I always feel a bit guilty about not widening my horizons so this time I chose a book that is not only part of the historical fiction genre but also the romance genre (which I also don’t delve into very much).

Austria, 1938.
Kristoff is a young apprentice to a master Jewish stamp engraver. However, when Kristallnacht occurs, Kristoff’s teacher disappears and it is up to Kristoff to deal with the Germans, who want him to engrave stamps for the Fuhrer and his army. With the help of his teacher’s fiery daughter, Elena, the stamps get made …. but for each stamp created for the Fuhrer comes another stamp for the Austrian resistance, along with forged papers to help Jewish Austrians escape. As Kristoff and Elena’s love for each other grows, they must find a way to keep each other safe before they get caught.

Los Angeles, 1989.
Katie Nelson is struggling with her life, as she goes through a divorce and deals with her father’s memory loss. As she cleans up her house, she comes across her father’s beloved stamp collection. When an appraiser, Benjamin, discovers an unusual World War II-era Austrian stamp placed on an old love letter, Katie finds herself intrigued. As she and Benjamin try to get to the bottom of this mystery, they are sent on a journey together that will uncover a story of passion and tragedy spanning decades and continents, behind the just fallen Berlin Wall.

This was a very well-written story and looked at a very different angle of the war than one I’ve previously read about. I’ve heard of Kristallnacht, of course, but this novel took an interesting perspective of it. Even though half of the story takes place during WWII, the emphasis was evenly divided between the relationship of Kristoff and Elena and the resistance effort. I also really liked the other narrative that was happening with Katie and her father’s stamp collection. I learned a lot about stamps and their significance that I was unaware of before this story, and that was a nice surprise. The romance aspect of this novel was really well done; it was believable and simple and touching. I quite enjoyed the read and got a bit emotional at the end, which is always a good sign. This is definitely a strong historical fiction novel with a well written romance angle!

Happy reading ~

Blood Oath by Melissa Lenhardt – Sawbones #2

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

Sawbones, the first book in this series, was one of my first forays into the Western genre. And I really liked it. The story was good, the theme was good, nothing felt overdone… it was just a great experience overall. It was with high hopes that I began to read this sequel… so here is my review:

After escaping danger, Laura Elliston and William Kindle are on the run — from the Army and from every bounty hunter after Laura. But the danger isn’t just from those pursuing them. Laura and Kindle can’t escape their past and are haunted by their secrets and trauma. Exhausted, scared, scarred and surrounded by enemies, neither realize the greatest danger is yet to come.

As usual, the author maintained that awesome grittiness that I have started to associate with the Western genre. Laura and Kindle do not get it easy at all in this novel! Every time they turn, there is some struggle or the other – but that’s what I like about this book series. The author does not shy away from difficult themes like the conflict between Natives and the “Westerners”, and the trauma from rape. The story was powerful because of the topics it covered and I think the author did a good job of addressing them. There is a lot more romance in this novel but I think that the chemistry between Laura and Kindle worked very well, so it was a success for me! I will say that this novel is more of a filler between the first book and what is to come; while this novel was interesting, it wasn’t really necessary. However, with all that being said, this is definitely a good Western book series and I cannot wait to see what happens to Laura and Kindle in the next installment!

Happy reading ~

Visions by Kelley Armstrong – Cainsville #2

It’s been a while since I read Omens by this author but I really enjoyed that foray into urban fantasy. I hadn’t planned on waiting so long to read the sequel but … life … happens. Anyways, I finally got around to it so here is my review:

In Omens, Olivia Taylor-Jones discovers that she is the daughter of notorious serial killers. She finds an ally in Gabriel Walsh, a selfish, morally ambiguous lawyer. Together, they were able to find a devious killer and partially cleared Olivia’s parents from their crimes. Their success, however, doesn’t last long. While Olivia continues to take refuge in Cainsville, Gabriel’s past comes back to haunt both of them.

When Olivia finds a dead woman in her car, dressed just like her, she is shocked. What makes it worse is that the body disappears before anyone else sees it. Olivia is convinced it’s another omen. But when she learns that a real young woman went missing just a few days ago, it makes Olivia question whether the body she saw was just a simple omen – or a message. Who would have left this kind of warning and why? As Olivia tries to uncover the truth, she finds herself in the crosshairs of old and powerful forces that have their own agenda and secrets.

It took me a while to get into this novel because I couldn’t really remember what had happened. But after just a chapter or two, everything started to fall into place. It helped that the author provided recaps of important events from the first book to help set the tone for this novel. Again, we are thrown into a murder mystery that has some supernatural elements to it. I liked that the novel actually managed to answer some of the underlying questions that I had had from before. She also added a whole host of new elements that led to more questions. I will say that there is a whole new level of romance seen in this book that I was not expecting so …. readers be prepared! The dynamic between Olivia and Gabriel gets better in this novel and you really start to admire their witty friendship. One of the things that made me really happy about this novel is that the supernatural elements of the story were a lot more visible, even though it still maintained its main murder mystery plot; what drew me to the series in the first place was a promise of fantasy, and the author definitely delivered on that account. Overall, this is a novel filled with intrigue, supernatural forces, and an interesting murder mystery. If you liked Omens, you will definitely enjoy Visions!

Happy reading ~

Miranda and Caliban by Jacqueline Carey

The Tempest is one of my favorite plays by Shakespeare. Something about the story and the magic always captured my interest, and I relish any chance to get back into that world. It’s one of the reasons that I love reading retellings of it, and so I was glad to hear of this one. Here is my review:

Miranda is a lonely child, with only her father, some animals, and a few spirits to keep her company in the abandoned Moorish palace where she lives. Her father’s fascination with a terrible wailing spirit trapped in a pine tree has him constantly practicing his magic, an art that he refuses to explain or teach to Miranda. And then there is the presence of a wild boy, who leaves little gifts for Miranda on their doorstep but never tries to make contact. Miranda knows her father has great plans but his refusal to provide her with explanations means she is left with a great deal of questions about who she is and where she comes from. The wild boy Caliban is a lonely child, too: orphaned at a young age, he has had to fend for himself and has no language that he speaks. When Caliban is summonded and bound into slavery by Miranda’s father, he rages against his shackles…. and yet, he yearns for the the kindness and love he sees in Miranda’s eyes.

This is by far one of my favorite retellings of The Tempest. It is dark, rich in detail, and takes the time to pull apart the characters and show their depth. When Shakespeare first wrote this, it was branded as a comedy. However, after this rendition, it is really better seen as a tragic romance. I love how the author reimagined Caliban, a character that I had always pitied in the original work. I also loved the dark undertones to the story, and how Miranda’s father is shown to have some madness inside of him. I could not put this book down and I felt so drawn to the different characters and their interaction; the author really made the relationships come alive in this story. While the story’s general plot line doesn’t change, the additions in nuance and character building really give the story a different element, and renders this retelling unique. Overall, a wonderfully written novel that tugged at my heartstrings!

Happy reading ~

You Were Here by Gian Sardar

When I first began reading this novel, it was dragging. I almost gave up on this book within the first 30 pages, but others’ reviews on this book urged me to get past the 50-page mark because “that’s where it really gets good”. So I did. And they were right. Here’s my review:

Death has always been Abby Walters’s preoccupation. She’s 33 and eager to settle down with her boyfriend, but his avoidance of a commitment is making this difficult. And now, a recurring dream from her past returns: a nightmare of being buried alive. But this time, the dream reveals a name from her family’s past, prompting Abby to return home looking for answers. For the first time in 14 years, Abby is back in Minnesota where she reconnects with her high school crush who is now a police detective on the trail of a serial rapist. When Abby tries on her grandmother’s mesmerizing ring, she discovers a cryptic note hidden beneath the box’s velvet lining. What secret was her grandmother hiding? And could this be the key to what’s haunting Abby?

Like I mentioned earlier, the first 50 pages are a drag. It’s confusing because the chapters switch perspectives so you really have no idea what is going on. But after 50 pages, the story starts to come together and make sense. In reality, this is a novel that consists of 3 stories:

1. the story of the detective and the serial rapist,

2. the story of Claire, Eva, and William (from the past)

3. the story of Abby, trying to figure out this mystery and trying to figure out her life

The author masterfully links these 3 stories to create a novel that flows beautifully and tells a complex tale about love, loss, life, and regrets. The characters were drawn up wonderfully and were each unique. The mysteries in this novel kept me on my toes and made me continue flipping pages well into the night. There were times when I felt a bit overwhelmed by the sheer number of plot lines being thrown at me; I would get engrossed in one mystery only to be jerked out of it and placed into another one. However, it all resolved itself in the end and made for a satisfying novel. There were certain things that the author mentions but never really comes back to, and this would be my one criticism of the novel; I like for everything to be wrapped up nicely and having open-ended elements tend to bother me a bit. But in light of this remarkable story, I will forgive this! If you are looking for a deep and complex mystery, I would highly recommend this novel! Just make sure to give it 50 pages!

Happy reading ~

The Moon In The Palace by Weina Dai Randel

When I read the premise of this novel, it reminded me of one of the asian dramas that I love watching. I’m a sucker for historical dramas and this seemed right up my alley. I was excited because this novel is based on an actual historical figure, whom I know nothing about and I felt that this would be a really interesting way to learn about her. So here is my review:

As a concubine, it is imperative that one is able to capture the Emperor’s attention. Many paint their faces and style their hair attractively. Others present the Emperor with fantastic gifts. Still ore rely on their knowledge of seduction to draw his interest. But young Mei knows nothing of these womanly arts… and yet, she will give the Emperor a gift he will never forget. Mei’s intelligence and curiosity, while marking her as an outcast among the other concubines, impress the Emperor. But just as she is in a position to seduce the most powerful man in China, divided loyalties split the palace in two, culminating in a perilous battle that Mei can only hope to survive.

This novel was captivating in its richness and writing style. The author did a fantastic job of making the story come to life. Every little detail was accounted for, from the types of food that was eaten, to the customs and intricacies of court life. It really set the stage for the events that transpired in the book. I love reading about politics and hierarchies that exist within kingdoms, and this novel definitely did not disappoint in that aspect. There was always something intriguing going on, and this book kept me on my toes; I literally could not pull my eyes away. However, this novel did have its flaws. From the description of this novel, I expected Mei to be a great deal more cunning and intelligent. However, she is portrayed as extremely trusting and her ability to move up in the ranks is mostly attributed to luck and help from others. This was a disappointment to me, as I was really looking forward to seeing a battle of wits between the different concubines. There was a romance aspect in this novel that was interesting but fell a bit flat; I couldn’t really believe in the love between the two characters so I didn’t really care for the romance at all. While this novel gives off the impression that this book will be about Mei and her exploits, it’s really more about her observing things going on in the court and also mentioning some of the near-miss situations she is involved in. I cannot say that she ever actively did anything that made me applaud her bravery or intelligence. While I cannot speak for the historical accuracy of this novel due to my lack of knowledge, I will say that this novel was extremely interesting and had me hooked from page 1 despite the negative factors. I’m probably going to read the next book in this duology; I just hope that Mei becomes a stronger and smarter character in it!

Happy reading ~

The Chilbury Ladies’ Choir by Jennifer L. Ryan

What intrigued me about this book is that it was projected to be an uplifting novel that is set in the time of WWII. You don’t come across that often. Most historical fiction novels set during this time period are distressing, and focused on the horrors inflicted on people by the Nazis. While this novel doesn’t ignore these issues, it also doesn’t dampen the spirits and seeks to show that love and courage can be found in all forms. That was enough to get me interested in reading this novel!

As England enters WWII’s dark period, a spirited music professor named Primrose Trent arrives to the village of Chilbury. There, she decides to set up an all-women’s choir, which goes against the edict of the Vicar. Resurrecting themselves as “The Chilbury’s Ladies’ Choir”, the women of this small village use their voices and songs to bring hope to themselves and their community, as the war tears through their lives.

This was an enjoyable read that lived up to its reputation of being inspiring and uplifting. It is told from the perspective of many people in the village, through a medium of journals and letters and announcements. I quite liked that the author chose to do it this way rather than having a single narrator; it produced such a well-rounded story with a great deal of depth and charm. The author introduces us to a whole host of characters, each unique and equipped with different skills to deal with the changes that are happening in their lives because of the war. Each character was beautifully created with a perfect balance of skills and imperfections; it was a delight to watch them grow and change throughout the course of the novel and its events. Spoiled children mature and become selfless, righteous women learn to let go of prejudices, and ugly personalities reveal themselves. Each character has their own little subplot going on, and yet the author manages to tie everything together beautifully – and I can imagine that this must have been a very difficult task to orchestrate! The effect was wonderful, with a poignant, cohesive, charming story emerging. If my previous remarks haven’t been obvious enough, this novel is a character-driven story and it is done remarkably well. At various different time points, I felt a kinship with almost all of the characters. This is definitely one of my favorite books on WWII, and it shows the strength that women can have in uniting a community, facing their own internal fears, and being a source of comfort to those around them during times of distress.

Thank you to NetGalley, Blogging for Books, and Crown Publishing for the ARC in exchange for an honest review.

Happy reading ~

Nine Women, One Dress by Jane L. Rosen

You can tell based on my blog posts that I don’t read a lot of chick lit. I don’t have anything against the genre but I tend to always pick dystopian novels or mysteries or fantasies. Chick lit, while not being a genre that I avoid, isn’t one that I seek. However, after reading Sophie Kinsella’s latest book, My Not-So-Perfect Life, I wanted to see what else was out there in this genre. And that’s how I stumbled onto this novel.

Natalie is a salesgirl at Bloomingdale’s who is still heartbroken over her ex-boyfriend. Felicia has been quietly in love with her married boss for 20 years; now that he is a widower, she is looking for the chance to show him that she could make him happy. Andrea is a private detective who specializes on cheating husbands but is stumped by her latest case. For these 3 women and the rest of the characters in the novel, everything is about to change, thanks to the perfect dress: a little black number that everyone is dying to get their hands on.

This was a really cute book, told from various different perspectives. Some characters only had one chapter, whereas others had their stories progress throughout the novel. Either way, this novel showed that it was more than just about a dress. The dress was the connecting factor but through it all, we get a deeper glimpse into the character’s personality, their past, their hopes and dreams for the future. It was a sweet novel, the kind of book you want to curl up with on a nice day, the kind of story that puts a smile on your face. As a chick lit, this novel definitely delivered!

Happy reading ~

The Girl Who Knew Too Much by Amanda Quick

My friend recommended I try a book by Amanda Quick, an author whose work I have never read. I was happy to get the opportunity to read this novel through the First to Read program created by Penguin Random House so thank you to the author and publishers for giving me the opportunity!

If you are looking for privacy, then you should go to the exclusive Burning Cove Hotel, situated in an idyllic small town. All the Hollywood moguls and stars go to this glamorous and private hotel, as it gives them the luxury they need without the torrent of reporters. But that all changes when reporter Irene Glasson finds herself staring at the body of a beautiful actress at the bottom of the hotel pool. Irene was promised an exclusive interview with said actress – and now that she’s dead, suspicions are on Irene. In order to find out who was behind the actress’s death, Irene teams up with Oliver Ward, a once-famous magician-turned-owner of the Burning Cove Hotel. Oliver’s desire to determine the truth is in order to save his hotel’s reputation, even if it means working with Irene, a woman who just moved to LA and seems to have no past. With Oliver’s help, Irene soon sees the danger lurking behind the glamorous paradise of Burning Cove. Now she just has to make sure that the secrets don’t drag her and Oliver down…

With a synopsis like this, I was expecting to see Hollywood glamour and pizzazz. Instead, I got a bland story. The mystery was an interesting idea but the writing style didn’t really carry it. I didn’t find myself interested in the interactions between Oliver and Irene, and there were times when the dialogue just bored me to tears. As I kept reading, it just felt as if the author was trying to infuse the novel with a kind of sleek allure… but for me, it just seemed to plod on. There was nothing that made this novel pop, there was no spark. So while the concept behind this story was interesting, the execution failed to make it a worthwhile read. I’m still going to try reading more books by this author; hopefully the next book I choose will be more suitable to my tastes!

Happy reading ~

The Night Mark by Tiffany Reisz

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

Although I’ve been meaning to get a lot of reading done this week, I have literally had no time. I’ve had so many deadlines for my classes and experiments to conduct in my lab that I have just been exhausted. I promise to make more time this weekend, however, and get as much reading done as possible!

Ever since her husband and soulmate passed away, Faye has been an empty shell of herself. She remarried and tried to have children, only to be trapped in a loveless marriage and have failed miscarriages. Finally, Faye decides to stop this charade and get a divorce, to which her husband agrees. With only her car and a few dollars to her name, Faye leaves to make a fresh start in Beaufort, South Carolina, where she has been commissioned to photograph historic buildings. She quickly falls in love with the town and its beautiful, haunting lighthouse. But upon a visit to the lighthouse, Faye falls into the water … and emerges in 1921 to a body that is not her own – and into the arms of a man who looks identical to Will.

I don’t typically read romance novels. But this one, with its allusions to time travel, were too interesting to pass up. This is my first time reading anything by this author, but all of her other books have received stellar reviews, which made me feel quite hopeful when beginning this one.

So, let me start by saying that the romance angle was pretty spot-on. The interactions between the main characters was believable and deep. You could feel the depth of Faye’s despair when she was battling her depression, and you could feel the rise in hope when she emerged in 1921. I wish the novel had spent more time showing how she falls in love with Will’s look-alike because I wanted to savor their chemistry more!

There was some mystery as to why Faye’s fate was connected with the lighthouse. Unfortunately, that wasn’t really answered. I wish it had been; it would have added some more complexity to this story. One thing I didn’t like was the awkwardness of Faye’s time travel; every time she travelled back to her original time, it felt abrupt and pointless. It’s not like the time she spent in her own world was spent productively; she didn’t really do any digging or research into the history or “magic” behind the lighthouse.  There are quite a few references to religion, which I don’t necessarily like but that didn’t really bother me. My general thoughts on the plot were that it was predictable and uninteresting.

The author created a story with a sweet romance and some paranormal happenings. The main focus in this story is about hope and fate, and it was well-written. However, there is no real plot or mystery to it, and if you are looking for something with more of a body, then this is not the novel for you. Overall, it was a pleasant romance to read that will put a smile on your face.

Happy reading ~