Badlands by Melissa Lenhardt – Sawbones #3

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

This was a long time coming. I remember reading the second novel in this series and wanting to get started on this one right away … but life (and other books on my TBR list) got in the way. However, I’ve finally done it and I’m ready to review:

Just when Laura thought things were going to get better, her worst fears have been realized: she is separated from Kindle and is once again on the run. She can’t go back to New York without risking death, and it is almost certain that Kindle will be tried and hanged. The only person Laura has as an ally is a woman that she cannot trust. Will Laura be able to survive? Or is it finally time for her to face her past?

This was a really good conclusion to an interesting series. In this concluding novel, the story was focused almost entirely on Laura, which I really enjoyed. Kindle, while always present, took a backseat in this story and it actually worked for the better. This novel had 2 female protagonists (including Laura) and I really liked reading about how they fought and worked with each other throughout the course of the story. Again, the author did a great job maintaining the historical setting of the novel. All of the open ends were tied up really nice with this book. After all the negative things that occur in this novel, it still ended on a positive note, which I was happy about. This was definitely a successful Western historical fiction series and I would recommend to anyone who is a fan of this genre!

Happy reading ~

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 ~

The Bird and the Sword by Amy Harmon

After reading such a fantastic YA fantasy novel (I’m referring to The Bird and the Nightingale – if you haven’t read it already, GO READ IT!), I decided to read something else in the genre. This novel has been on my TBR list for a while because its premise just sounded so interesting! Here is my review:

Swallow, Daughter, pull them in, those words that sit upon your lips. Lock them deep inside your soul, hide them ‘til they’ve time to grow. Close your mouth upon the power, curse not, cure not, ‘til the hour. You won’t speak and you won’t tell, you won’t call on heav’n or hell. You will learn and you will thrive. Silence, Daughter. Stay alive.

The day my mother was killed, she bound my fate to my father’s: if I died, he would, too. Then she foretold that the king would trade his soul and lose his son to the sky. My father wants the throne for himself and is waiting for the chance to make his claim. But all I want is to be free. But I am a prisoner of my mother’s curse and my father’s ambition. I cannot speak or make a sword, and I have no talent to charm or fight. In a land purged of enchantment, love might be the only magic left.

I left the blurb in first-person because the entire novel is from the perspective of Lark, the main character. I knew that any novel I read after The Bear and the Nightingale would have a tough time impressing me, but this novel completely missed the mark for me. I did not like Lark’s character. After reading about Vasya, I was eager to read about another strong female with magical abilities. Instead, I got someone very weak who developed powers but no spine. There was a lot of focus on the romance in this novel, but it was a romance that made me feel very uncomfortable. I don’t consider things like “it is your duty to please me” and “I will put a son inside of you” as being romantic or sweet. This is a relationship that is very much about power and control, and it makes Lark even more weak than she already is. However, I really liked the plot of the story and the writing style. The story was good enough for me to want to keep reading past the cringe-y points and get into the real action. The writing was beautiful and lyrical and engaging. Overall, I have very mixed feelings about this novel. I didn’t like the characters or the romance, but I enjoyed the story and the writing style. For those reasons, I’m giving this novel a 2.5/5 stars.

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 ~

New Boy by Tracy Chevalier – Hogarth Shakespeare

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

When I first requested this novel, it was because I really enjoyed reading Tracy Chevalier’s earlier work. Imagine my delight when I discovered that this novel is part of the Hogarth Shakespeare series! So far, I’ve loved every book that has been part of the Hogarth concept, so I was very excited to give this novel a shot!

Osei Kokote has not had it easy. The son of a diplomat, it is his first day at his fifth new school in as many years. He knows that in order to survive his first day, he needs to find an ally, and he is lucky enough to find a friend in Dee, the most popular girl in school. For her part, Dee genuinely seems to like Osei and soon their budding relationship takes flight. But there is one person who is not happy to see this and is determined to wreak havoc on this friendship between the black boy and the golden girl. BBy the end of the day, the school and its key players – teachers and pupils alike – will never be the same again.

The Shakespeare play that served as inspiration for this novel is Othello, which is one of the few works by Shakespeare that I actually don’t like too much. I’ve never been a fan of tragedies, especially ones that deal with the whole concept of misunderstandings. I was quite impressed by the originality of this novel, in taking a serious adult tragedy like Othello and transplanting it into a Washington school playground. It reminded me of my cringe-worthy days in elementary school, struggling to fit in with my peers, facing the social hierarchy that was constantly shifting, and dealing with betrayals and crushes. The author did a great job of giving each character a unique voice and exploring the playground politics in a serious tone that went beyond the surface. This novel speaks at length on the issue of race in an unusual setting that is really just a microcosm of our own society; it both surprised and delighted me to see this concept work out as well as it did! Was this novel a complete success? No. It had its flaws and the ending, while tragic, was a bit too dramatic for the setting the author was trying to maintain. However, this is still a powerful rendition of Othello, and I appreciate its uniqueness. Overall, an interesting novel!

Happy reading ~

Shadows of the Dead by Jim Eldridge – DCI Stark #2

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

London, 1921. Lord Johnny Fairfax has just been discovered dead in his study, along with another victim: an American man who was visiting Fairfax unexpectedly. For DCI Paul Stark, this case is more personal than just a heinous crime: he’s currently in a relationship with the former Lady Fairfax, Lady Amelia. And she is one of the top suspects. However, Lord Fairfax had his fair share of enemies, which means the suspect pool is large. And nobody knows who the American is and what his connection is to Lord Fairfax. As Stark digs deeper, he uncovers evidence of a shocking conspiracy that could mean doom for the British Establishment.

When I first read this novel, I was unaware that it was the second book in a series. However, that wasn’t too much of an issue as the author provided enough detail about everything that I didn’t feel like I missed out on much. This was an interesting historical mystery in that it involved more detail than many historical fiction novels I’ve read. There was a lot of name-dropping of historical figures, which at first was cool but eventually got tedious, especially since they weren’t always that important for the story. I also found that this book was more about DCI Stark’s private life than the mystery itself, which isn’t always a bad thing, but in this case, it made me lose interest in the story. So while the novel had an intriguing plot and was well-written, it just didn’t do it for me. I’d give this a 3/5 stars and recommend this to someone who is really interested in historical fiction (like… REALLY interested)!

Happy reading ~

A High Mortality of Doves by Kate Ellis

It’s been a while since I’ve read a classic historical fiction crime novel. I’ve heard about this author’s work but I’ve never had the pleasure of reading anything by her, so I thought this would be a good time to accomplish both goals. Here is my review:

It’s 1919 and the village of Wenfield is still trying to recuperate from 4 terrible years of war, as it comes to terms with the loss of so many men. The last thing this place needs is the brutal murder of a young woman. When Myrtle Bligh is found stabbed to death in the woodland, with her mouth slit to accommodate a dead dove, everyone is horrified by the nature of the crime. During the war, Myrtle spent time as a volunteer nurse with Flora Winsmore, the daughter of the local daughter; along with other volunteers, the girls cared for wounded soldiers at the nearby big house, Tarney Court. After 2 more women are murdered and left in the same circumstances, the village calls in Inspector Albert Lincoln from London, a man who is also suffering from the aftermaths of war. With rumours of a ghostly soldier with a painted face being spotted near the scene of the murders, the village is thrown into a state of panic – and with the killer still on the loose, who will be the next to die at the hands of this vicious soldier?

This was definitely an interesting novel. The author did a good job of creating a realistic impression of the historical time period, replete with examples of the social issues and prejudices that were prevalent in those days. The writing style was interesting, flitting between different characters. Flora had her own designated chapters that read more like diary entries, and Albert’s chapters were in 3rd perspective. At first, I didn’t really enjoy this style but it stopped mattering as I focused more on the story. The plot was intriguing and there were many avenues of investigation that the author explored. The ending definitely took me aback, as I wasn’t suspecting this direction; however, it wasn’t satisfactory for me and felt more like the author chose to do this just to add a thrill element. In other words, it wasn’t as well thought out as it could have been. The relationship between the two main characters was also not something I enjoyed; I don’t usually like novels where infidelity is accepted and I also felt as if the romance was not too well developed. Overall, a nice historical fiction with an interesting crime twist. This novel didn’t wow me but it wasn’t terrible, so I would give this a 3/5 stars.

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 ~