Review: The Map of Salt and Stars by Jennifer Zeynab Joukhadar

My Rating: 4 / 5 stars

Verdict: Buy Borrow Bypass

Synopsis (from Goodreads):

This rich, moving, and lyrical debut novel is to Syria what The Kite Runner was to Afghanistan; the story of two girls living eight hundred years apart—a modern-day Syrian refugee seeking safety and a medieval adventurer apprenticed to a legendary mapmaker—places today’s headlines in the sweep of history, where the pain of exile and the triumph of courage echo again and again.

It is the summer of 2011, and Nour has just lost her father to cancer. Her mother, a cartographer who creates unusual, hand-painted maps, decides to move Nour and her sisters from New York City back to Syria to be closer to their family. But the country Nour’s mother once knew is changing, and it isn’t long before protests and shelling threaten their quiet Homs neighborhood. When a shell destroys Nour’s house and almost takes her life, she and her family are forced to choose: stay and risk more violence or flee as refugees across seven countries of the Middle East and North Africa in search of safety. As their journey becomes more and more challenging, Nour’s idea of home becomes a dream she struggles to remember and a hope she cannot live without.

More than eight hundred years earlier, Rawiya, sixteen and a widow’s daughter, knows she must do something to help her impoverished mother. Restless and longing to see the world, she leaves home to seek her fortune. Disguising herself as a boy named Rami, she becomes an apprentice to al-Idrisi, who has been commissioned by King Roger II of Sicily to create a map of the world. In his employ, Rawiya embarks on an epic journey across the Middle East and the north of Africa where she encounters ferocious mythical beasts, epic battles, and real historical figures.

A deep immersion into the richly varied cultures of the Middle East and North Africa, The Map of Salt and Stars follows the journeys of Nour and Rawiya as they travel along identical paths across the region eight hundred years apart, braving the unknown beside their companions as they are pulled by the promise of reaching home at last.

My Thoughts:

The two plot lines and time periods worked really well in this book. We spent enough time with each story to get to know the characters well and to feel invested in the overall plots. The parallels between the two stories well well crafted. Both Nour and Rawiya experience terror, heartache, love, and courage. I did prefer Nour’s present day storyline because of its relevance to the recent refugee crisis. Salt and Stars goes a long way toward detailing what a refugee might experience and the ways in which current aide systems are failing the very people they’re trying to support.

Nour was definitely my favorite character. I loved her honesty and her inner thoughts. Having suffered considerable loss, Nour speaks and thinks eloquently about grief, loss, and love. She holds stories, especially the stories her father taught her, very near and dear to her heart. Her relationships with her family felt very real to me, especially as someone who is also one of three daughters. These family dynamics felt genuine because love is beneath all of their interactions. It’s even clear that this family loved and misses their father, who also loved them, based on the ways in which they reflect upon their grief and try to find a new way forward.

Admittedly, I have not read many books about the Middle East, which was one of the reasons I did enjoy this book. Salt and Stars takes place in a few Middle Eastern countries and I learned a lot about different cultures, languages, and geographies. And with the two different plot lines, this book felt like an opening into a whole new world. One of which still exists and the other was like a window to the past. I loved that none of the characters looked like me and spoke different languages. Salt and Stars reads like a love letter to Syria and the wonderful people who call it home.

Wrap Up:

Overall, I really enjoyed this book! I found the story to be very compelling and engaging. And the writing is just so incredibly beautiful! This was a book that I thoroughly enjoyed reading and absolutely needed to finish. I didn’t cry like I thought I might, but I was very caught up in the high stakes plot and character decisions. I would highly recommend this book, especially if you love stories about families.

This book is…

lyrical

poignant

moving

beautiful

creative

Publisher: Touchstone

Genre: historical fiction

Page Count: 368

ISBN: 1501169033

Available here from IndieBound.

Have you read The Map of Salt and Stars? What book about refugees would you recommend?

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Review: The Belles by Dhonielle Clayton

My Rating: 4 / 5 stars

Verdict: Buy Borrow Bypass

Synopsis (from Goodreads):

Camellia Beauregard is a Belle. In the opulent world of Orléans, Belles are revered, for they control Beauty, and Beauty is a commodity coveted above all else. In Orléans, the people are born gray, they are born damned, and only with the help of a Belle and her talents can they transform and be made beautiful.

But it’s not enough for Camellia to be just a Belle. She wants to be the favorite—the Belle chosen by the Queen of Orléans to live in the royal palace, to tend to the royal family and their court, to be recognized as the most talented Belle in the land. But once Camellia and her Belle sisters arrive at court, it becomes clear that being the favorite is not everything she always dreamed it would be. Behind the gilded palace walls live dark secrets, and Camellia soon learns that the very essence of her existence is a lie—that her powers are far greater, and could be more dangerous, than she ever imagined. And when the queen asks Camellia to risk her own life and help the ailing princess by using Belle powers in unintended ways, Camellia now faces an impossible decision.

With the future of Orléans and its people at stake, Camellia must decide—save herself and her sisters and the way of the Belles—or resuscitate the princess, risk her own life, and change the ways of her world forever.

My Thoughts:

I really enjoyed the premise of The Belles, and how Dhonielle Clayton blends our reality, fantasy, and folklore in order to craft this unique world. This book had a number of twists and turns that I never saw coming! I’m hopeful that Clayton can continue the suspense in future Belle books. The level of detail in this book is astonishing. Clayton takes the time to name exact shades and hues of colors used in clothing and beauty treatments. While this attention to detail certainly enhanced the richness of this fictional world, I sometimes found it distracting. I wanted Clayton to move slightly faster with the plot or a tumultuous scene and be spared every single detail. The pacing of The Belles ultimately led me to rate this book four stars instead of five. At over 400 pages, some of the details could surely have been spared.

This book is a wonderful reimagining of our society’s obsession with physical appearances and beauty. Clayton makes a number of jabs at forced unrealistic body modifications and the desire to look like someone else. Camellia, and presumably the other Belles but the reader is not privy to their inner thoughts, hesitates to alter someone’s appearance drastically or negatively. She believes that humans should look different from one another. In The Belles, the characters most obsessed with beauty are portrayed negatively, which again serves as a criticism of our culture. On the positive side, I loved that Clayton showcased a wide variety of hair colors and textures, skin tones, and facial features without privileging a specific look. This choice not only proves that diversity can be this easy, but also emphasizes that beauty is not one look only. Humans come in all shapes, sizes, and colors, and all of which are beautiful.

I really liked Camellia as a protagonist. And this may seem odd, but one of my favorite things about Camellia is that she always acts her age. By this, I mean that Clayton knows how a sixteen year old girl behaves. Despite the enormous pressure Camellia faces, we see her real age and self as she interacts with boys for the first time, learns to stand up for herself, and has lots of impulsive reactions. I also loved the strong female-female relationships showcased in this book. While not all of these relationships were positive, a number were. Camellia and Bree, her servant, are honest and trusting of one another. And Camellia has a beautiful sisterly relationship with her Belle sisters that feels realistic and heartfelt. Clayton clearly prioritized having well-defined characters, and it shows.

Wrap Up:

Overall, I really enjoyed this book! The Belles is a fun read that I would definitely recommend for some light weekend reading. I think this book serves as a great introduction to the as yet unpublished books in this series, and this one ends on a nice cliffhanger. This is a YA book, but I don’t think that should stop adults from reading The Belles!

This book is…

detailed

surprising

diverse

lengthy

a great first book for this series

Publisher: Disney-Hyperion

Genre: YA fantasy

Page Count: 440

ISBN: 1484728491

Available here from IndieBound.

Have you read The Belles? What YA fantasy book would you recommend?

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Review: Happiness by Heather Harpham

My Rating: 4 / 5 stars

Verdict: Buy Borrow Bypass

Synopsis (from Goodreads):

A shirt-grabbing, page-turning love story that follows a one-of-a-kind family through twists of fate that require nearly unimaginable choices.

Happiness begins with a charming courtship between hopelessly attracted opposites: Heather, a world-roaming California girl, and Brian, an intellectual, homebody writer, kind and slyly funny, but loath to leave his Upper West Side studio. Their magical interlude ends, full stop, when Heather becomes pregnant – Brian is sure he loves her, only he doesn’t want kids. Heather returns to California to deliver their daughter alone, buoyed by family and friends. Mere hours after Gracie’s arrival, Heather’s bliss is interrupted when a nurse wakes her, “Get dressed, your baby is in trouble.”

This is not how Heather had imagined new motherhood – alone, heartsick, an unexpectedly solo caretaker of a baby who smelled “like sliced apples and salted pretzels” but might be perilously ill. Brian reappears as Gracie’s condition grows dire; together Heather and Brian have to decide what they are willing to risk to ensure their girl sees adulthood.

The grace and humor that ripple through Harpham’s writing transform the dross of heartbreak and parental fears into a clear-eyed, warm-hearted view of the world. Profoundly moving and subtly written, Happiness radiates in many directions – new, romantic love; gratitude for a beautiful, inscrutable world; deep, abiding friendship; the passion a parent has for a child; and the many unlikely ways to build a family. Ultimately it’s a story about love and happiness, in their many crooked configurations.

My Thoughts:

I’m grateful that Heather Harpham chose to write her experiences and share them in a book as a way for others to attempt to understand what she went through. I recently read an article on LitHub about the importance and power of ‘regular person memoirs’, or, essentially, someone going through something that many other people do. While having a sick child is not the most commonplace experience, it’s certainly more common than we’d like to think. It was astonishing to read about Gracie’s childhood and how her illness impacted her family.

Harpham’s writing style is simple, straightforward, and also meaningful. She writes eloquently about loss, motherhood, growing up, love, and family. I appreciate that she does not shy away from these difficult experiences. Instead, Harpham leans into them in order to better understand what happened. The title and subtitle of this book are spot on and make even more sense as the story progresses. Happiness is not always as straightforward as one might think. Instead, we must find our own ways to be happy and to find moments of happiness within more trying times. And as for the ‘crooked little road to semi-ever after’? I think it suggests that nothing is permanent and life does not always trod along as we’d expect. But despite life’s twists and turns, we can still find happiness.

Wrap Up:

Overall, I really enjoyed this book! I am amazed that Harpham was able to recount her experiences for others to read. She does so with grace, humility, and love. I read this book as an act of love for her family, through good times and bad. This is a pretty quick read and I would definitely recommend it. I think it would be a great choice for book clubs!

This book is…

moving

lyrical

well-written

heartwarming

engaging

Publisher: Henry Holt and Co.

Genre: memoir

Page Count: 320

ISBN: 1250131561

Available here from IndieBound.

Have you read Happiness? What memoirs would you recommend?

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Review: The Cruelest Month by Louise Penny

My Rating: 4 / 5 stars

Verdict: Buy Borrow Bypass

Synopsis (from Goodreads):

Welcome to Three Pines, where the cruelest month is about to deliver on its threat. It’s spring in the tiny, forgotten village; buds are on the trees and the first flowers are struggling through the newly thawed earth. But not everything is meant to return to life. . .

When some villagers decide to celebrate Easter with a séance at the Old Hadley House, they are hoping to rid the town of its evil—until one of their party dies of fright. Was this a natural death, or was the victim somehow helped along? Brilliant, compassionate Chief Inspector Armand Gamache of the Sûreté du Québec is called to investigate, in a case that will force him to face his own ghosts as well as those of a seemingly idyllic town where relationships are far more dangerous than they seem.

My Thoughts:

The murder mystery in this book was really intriguing. This story kicks off with all things haunted and spooky as the central characters attempt a séance in an old house. I thought this was a fun twist on the ‘scared to death’ saying. Penny writes mysteries similarly to Agatha Christie. While reading the story, it’s impossible to predict the murderer. But once everything is revealed, it feels like the answer was right in front of you the whole time! I can assure you that this murder’s solution is quite surprising. There are lots of great plot twists in this story which keeps this book moving along nicely.

The Cruelest Month introduced us to a few new Three Pines residents, which was nicely timed to shake up the cast a bit. While I always enjoy Penny’s writing style, this book struck me as even more lyrical than the previous ones. I enjoyed her musings on the themes of spring, rebirth, and resurrection. Penny did a great job of tying these themes in with the mystery solution and resolution of some other plot points. The ending of this story is difficult to discuss without spoiling everything, but rest assured that The Cruelest Month wraps up this trilogy quite nicely, while still providing room for this series to grow.

Wrap Up:

Overall, I really enjoyed this book! I loved that this mystery resolved some of the broader plot points that occurred in the previous two books in the series. I still enjoy this series and would highly recommend this book. Is there a mystery series you’d recommend?

This book is…

lyrical

memorable

thought provoking

surprising

charming

Publisher: Minotaur Books

Genre: mystery

Page Count: 311

ISBN: 0312573502

Available here from IndieBound.

Have you read any of Louise Penny’s books? What were you reading this weekend?

I am an affiliate with IndieBound and as such, receive a tiny commission should you choose to click through any of the above links and purchase the book(s). Thank you for supporting A Word is Power!

Review: The English Wife by Lauren Willig

My Rating: 4 / 5 stars

Verdict: Buy Borrow Bypass

Synopsis (from 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 Thoughts:

I loved the initial premise of this book. I’m a big fan of mystery novels, and really enjoyed the beginning of The English Wife, in which one half of a married couple is found dead and the other half is missing. This plot is difficult to discuss without giving anything away, but I found the story to be extremely compelling and creative. There were quite a few plot twists and I can honestly say I never saw them coming. Lauren Willig uses flashbacks brilliantly in this story. Through these flashbacks we learn just enough at a time to keep the plot moving forward without answering every single question.

The characters in this story were incredibly diverse in terms of temperament, but certainly not in terms of race. Bayard and Annabelle make a great pair and play off each other nicely. My favorite character, though, was Bayard’s sister, Janie. I loved her tenacity, her intelligence, and took great pleasure in reading her character development. Per any mystery novel this one has lots of murder suspects, which always makes for fun reading. This book definitely has plenty of characters to love, hate, and to love to hate.

A few notes follow here about the ending, and I promise I won’t spoil it!

This story does not completely wrap up in the end. While some plot points are resolved, one or two are left up in the air. I’m not sure if Willig intended this solely so the reader can make up their own mind, or if a sequel is expected. Usually, I’m not a fan of ambiguous endings. I prefer to know what happened. But Willig did a nice job of tying enough loose ends and leaving a little bit unsaid in case there is a sequel.

Wrap Up:

Overall, I really enjoyed this book! I read much of Willig’s series, The Pink Carnation, but this was the first non-Carnation book of hers that I’ve read. I love that Willig writes complex characters, complicated plots, and romance on the side. I thought this book was a very fun read and I would definitely recommend this book, especially for historical fiction fans.

This book is…

surprising

engaging

full of twists and turns

unputdownable

satisfying

Publisher: St. Martin’s Press

Genre: mystery

Page Count: 376

ISBN: 1250056276

Available here from IndieBound.

Have you read any of Lauren Willig’s books? What other mystery would you recommend?

I am an affiliate with IndieBound and as such, receive a tiny commission should you choose to click through any of the above links and purchase the book(s). Thank you for supporting A Word is Power!

Review: A Fatal Grace by Louise Penny

My Rating: 4 / 5 stars

Verdict: Buy Borrow Bypass

Synopsis (from Goodreads):

Welcome to winter in Three Pines, a picturesque village in Quebec, where the villagers are preparing for a traditional country Christmas, and someone is preparing for murder.

No one liked CC de Poitiers. Not her quiet husband, not her spineless lover, not her pathetic daughter—and certainly none of the residents of Three Pines. CC de Poitiers managed to alienate everyone, right up until the moment of her death.

When Chief Inspector Armand Gamache, of the Sûreté du Québec, is called to investigate, he quickly realizes he’s dealing with someone quite extraordinary. CC de Poitiers was electrocuted in the middle of a frozen lake, in front of the entire village, as she watched the annual curling tournament. And yet no one saw anything. Who could have been insane enough to try such a macabre method of murder—or brilliant enough to succeed?

With his trademark compassion and courage, Gamache digs beneath the idyllic surface of village life to find the dangerous secrets long buried there. For a Quebec winter is not only staggeringly beautiful but deadly, and the people of Three Pines know better than to reveal too much of themselves. But other dangers are becoming clear to Gamache. As a bitter wind blows into the village, something even more chilling is coming for Gamache himself.

My Thoughts:

The mystery in this book is incredible. Penny does a fantastic job of blending two seemingly disparate cases, keeping the reader guessing for a long time. CC’s death is all at once shocking and fascinating. With a cunning plot to rival Agatha Christie, you’ll never guess just how CC was electrocuted during an outdoor curling match! I also really enjoyed the clues that Penny slowly and methodically presents to Gamache and the reader. What I love about Penny’s writing is that she provides enough clues to the reader that they could put two and two together on their own, but the solution is always just out of reach until the conclusion.

Penny paints small town life with such a loving and yet also critical brush. This town and the detective force each have so much to offer, but neither world is perfect. Secrets abound everywhere. Penny hinted at secrets that Gamache and a few other characters hide in her first book, but secrecy really kicked into gear in this second book. We learn more about Gamache’s backstory in this book, which really speaks volumes as to who he is as a person. I’m also curious to learn more about a few of the other detectives, as it seems that some people are not quite what they seem.

One of my favorite things in Penny’s writing is her characters. Every single character we meet, both on the detective force and those residing in Three Pines, is memorable, quirky, and human. Many of these characters are extremely set in their ways, which makes for contrasting personalities all over the place. I especially love that Gamache prioritizes listening in his investigations. This choice leads to interesting conversations with his fellow detectives and the townspeople. There is so much to be said for listening and understanding, particularly during a murder investigation. This component reminds me of an Agatha Christie novel, in which the investigators had to rely on intuition and conversations to solve a case.

Wrap Up:

Overall, I really enjoyed this novel. I’ve quickly become a huge fan of Louise Penny and you can expect to see me reading the rest of this mystery series. I thought this second part was very well done and it was refreshing to be reunited with so many characters from the first book, Still Life. I’m definitely excited to see where this story goes from here! I would highly recommend this book, and if you haven’t read any Louise Penny, be sure to read my review of Still Life here.

This book is…

shocking

slow-burning

enticing

insightful

charming

Publisher: Minotaur Books

Genre: mystery

Page Count: 313

ISBN: 0312541163

Available here from IndieBound.

Have you read A Fatal Grace? What mystery series would you recommend?

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Review: Erotic Stories for Punjabi Widows by Balli Kaur Jaswal

My Rating: 4 / 5 stars

Verdict: Buy Borrow Bypass

Synopsis (from Goodreads):

Every woman has a secret life . . .

Nikki lives in cosmopolitan West London, where she tends bar at the local pub. The daughter of Indian immigrants, she’s spent most of her twenty-odd years distancing herself from the traditional Sikh community of her childhood, preferring a more independent (that is, Western) life. When her father’s death leaves the family financially strapped, Nikki, a law school dropout, impulsively takes a job teaching a “creative writing” course at the community center in the beating heart of London’s close-knit Punjabi community.

Because of a miscommunication, the proper Sikh widows who show up are expecting to learn basic English literacy, not the art of short-story writing. When one of the widows finds a book of sexy stories in English and shares it with the class, Nikki realizes that beneath their white dupattas, her students have a wealth of fantasies and memories. Eager to liberate these modest women, she teaches them how to express their untold stories, unleashing creativity of the most unexpected—and exciting—kind.

As more women are drawn to the class, Nikki warns her students to keep their work secret from the Brotherhood, a group of highly conservative young men who have appointed themselves the community’s “moral police.” But when the widows’ gossip offers shocking insights into the death of a young wife—a modern woman like Nikki—and some of the class erotica is shared among friends, it sparks a scandal that threatens them all.

My Thoughts:

I was pleasantly surprised at how many layers the plot contains. Yes, Nikki is teaching a story sharing class, but this book also tackles arranged marriages, grief, immigration, love, cultural divides, and a mystery. I found that this book was a little slow to start, but really picked up about halfway through. I loved that snippets of the erotic stories were included in the text! This was a really fun choice that really grounds the reader within the story and connects them with the characters.

I really enjoyed Nikki as a protagonist. Her character felt very real and relatable to me as she struggled to discover what to do for a career and how to balance her more traditional family with her preferred modern life. Kulwinder had the most interesting character journey, though. Initially, she comes across as very closed minded and distant. But as more and more of her backstory is revealed and she finally comes to terms with certain elements of her life, Kulwinder relearns how to feel joy, hope, and pleasure. The women in this story learn how to fight for themselves and stand up for what they believe is right.

I was really excited to pick up this book, not only because of its unusual subject matter, but because this story focuses on an Indian immigrant community. Stories like these aren’t usually pushed to the forefront and I enjoyed learning about so many different kinds of Indian foods, customs, and beliefs. This book was really eye opening. I also loved that this book really featured women of all kinds, and by that I mean that they had wants, needs, and dreams of their own. These women were kind, vindictive, nurturing, and sexy. These women were allowed to fit into as many boxes as they saw fit, rather than be defined by any predetermined labels.

Wrap Up:

Overall, I really enjoyed this book! I discovered this book because it’s the March pick for Reese Witherspoon’s book club. This was a really fun read and a quick one, too. It’s a great book to read in public as the title is so eye catching! I would definitely recommend this book, especially if you enjoy stories about family life and intergenerational stories.

This book is…

surprising

heartwarming

funny

sexy

enlightening

Publisher: William Morrow

Genre: fiction

Page Count: 320

ISBN: 0062645110

Available here from IndieBound.

Have you read Erotic Stories for Punjabi Widows? Would you have the courage to share an erotic story in a class?

I am an affiliate with IndieBound and as such, receive a tiny commission should you choose to click through any of the above links and purchase the book(s). Thank you for supporting A Word is Power!

Review: See What I Have Done by Sarah Schmidt

My Rating: 4 / 5 stars

Verdict: Buy Borrow Bypass

Synopsis (from Goodreads):

In this riveting debut novel, See What I Have Done, Sarah Schmidt recasts one of the most fascinating murder cases of all time into an intimate story of a volatile household and a family devoid of love.

On the morning of August 4, 1892, Lizzie Borden calls out to her maid: Someone’s killed Father. The brutal ax-murder of Andrew and Abby Borden in their home in Fall River, Massachusetts, leaves little evidence and many unanswered questions. While neighbors struggle to understand why anyone would want to harm the respected Bordens, those close to the family have a different tale to tell—of a father with an explosive temper; a spiteful stepmother; and two spinster sisters, with a bond even stronger than blood, desperate for their independence.

As the police search for clues, Emma comforts an increasingly distraught Lizzie whose memories of that morning flash in scattered fragments. Had she been in the barn or the pear arbor to escape the stifling heat of the house? When did she last speak to her stepmother? Were they really gone and would everything be better now? Shifting among the perspectives of the unreliable Lizzie, her older sister Emma, the housemaid Bridget, and the enigmatic stranger Benjamin, the events of that fateful day are slowly revealed through a high-wire feat of storytelling.

My Thoughts:

I was only barely aware of the infamous Lizzie Borden and the unsolved murders of her father and step-mother. And when I say barely aware, that last sentence was pretty much all I knew. See What I Have Done does a great job of providing information about this case and the details of the Borden family’s life. Sarah Schmidt is not offering brand new facts or hypotheses about the investigation, but is instead how things might have transpired on that fateful day. Schmidt does an excellent job of keeping the reader on edge throughout and always unsure of whom to trust. I love that this book alternates perspectives of some of the key players, and with an additional invented character. This choice offers lots of insight between the characters and we learn so much more about everyone’s past. Despite the ambiguity of this case, you’ll finish this book with your own opinion of whether or not Lizzie Borden murdered her parents.

I would just like to start by saying that Lizzie Borden was a horrible person. Regardless of her potential involvement with the murders, she was mean, vindictive, and greedy with everyone else she met. I do enjoy reading stories featuring unlikeable women characters, but Lizzie Borden certainly takes the cake. I really loved reading about her sister, Emma, and the family maid/servant, Bridget. Their perspectives shed considerable light on Lizzie’s nature and context for her emotional responses after the murders. I was especially struck by Emma’s waffling between her need to flee her stifling family and her long ago promise to take care of Lizzie. This struggle felt extremely real to me and I thought Emma and Lizzie’s dynamic was very sisterly.

I also think it’s worth noting here that this book is creepy. It’s certainly not horror, but Schmidt does not shy away from depicting gruesome and bodily scenes with intense detail. She describes smells, tastes, and feelings with eerie precision, and I could see this book being too much to handle for some. Personally, I thought these writing choices added atmosphere to this story and really set the tone for the disturbing nature of these murders.

Wrap Up:

Overall, I really enjoyed this book. I discovered it because it was nominated for the longlist for the Women’s Prize for Fiction, which is a UK prize. You can read the rest of the longlist here. Despite being over 300 pages, this book is incredibly readable and impossible to put down. This is definitely a one or two sitting read! I highly recommend this book, especially if you enjoy true crime and more gruesome murders.

This book is…

eerie

nerve wracking

full of twists and turns

shocking

disturbing

Publisher: Atlantic Monthly Press

Genre: fiction

Page Count: 328

ISBN: 0802126596

Available here from IndieBound.

Have you read See What I Have Done? What do you think about the infamous Lizzie Borden case?

I am an affiliate with IndieBound and as such, receive a tiny commission should you choose to click through any of the above links and purchase the book(s). Thank you for supporting A Word is Power!

Review: The Duchess Deal by Tessa Dare

My Rating: 4 / 5 stars

Verdict: Buy Borrow Bypass

Synopsis (from Goodreads):

When girl meets Duke, their marriage breaks all the rules…

Since his return from war, the Duke of Ashbury’s to-do list has been short and anything but sweet: brooding, glowering, menacing London ne’er-do-wells by night. Now there’s a new item on the list. He needs an heir—which means he needs a wife. When Emma Gladstone, a vicar’s daughter turned seamstress, appears in his library wearing a wedding gown, he decides on the spot that she’ll do.

His terms are simple:

– They will be husband and wife by night only.

– No lights, no kissing.

– No questions about his battle scars.

– Last, and most importantly… Once she’s pregnant with his heir, they need never share a bed again.

But Emma is no pushover. She has a few rules of her own:

– They will have dinner together every evening.

– With conversation.

– And unlimited teasing.

– Last, and most importantly… Once she’s seen the man beneath the scars, he can’t stop her from falling in love…

My Thoughts:

Even though it’s cheesy, this story really gets off on the right foot with its unusual meet-cute. It felt a bit like the pilot episode of Friends, when Ross whines, “I just want to be married again,” and in walks Rachel in a wedding gown! From there, Tessa Dare really capitalizes on surprises, charm, and witty banter. I was pleasantly surprised at the amount of intrigue, mayhem, and plots occurred in this story! Both protagonists are allowed to state their desires and learn to work with one another, not against the other. I thought this story had some fun twists on the “bodice ripper” genre, especially with Ashbury’s perfunctory rules about sex. It was wonderful to watch Ashbury and Emma tear down one another’s walls and fall in love.

Ashbury and Emma are a delightful pair! I appreciated that Ashbury, who is quite the brooding romantic hero, is given very real reasons for his grouchy demeanor. I loved reading about Ashbury’s attempts to keep his growing affection for Emma in check and his determination to stay away from prying eyes. And then Emma somehow manages to be courageous, determined, and kind-hearted all at the same time. I found her backstory to be believable and heartbreaking, and all I wanted was for her to be happy. And when Ashbury and Emma are happy together? Fireworks appear.

Wrap Up:

Overall, I really enjoyed this book! This was a charming read from start to finish. You’ll be grinning like an idiot and chuckling to yourself the whole way through! This is also a very quick read and is a great book to pick up over the weekend or in between heavier and more emotional stories. I would highly recommend this book, especially if you’re looking for a good place to start with historical romance.

This book is…

laugh out loud funny

a quick read

witty

endearing

sexy

Publisher: Avon

Genre: romance

Page Count: 271

ISBN: 006269720X

Available here from Book Depository.

Have you read The Duchess Deal? What romance novel would you recommend?

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Review: Still Life by Louise Penny

My Rating: 4 / 5 stars

Verdict: Buy Borrow Bypass

Synopsis (from Goodreads):

Chief Inspector Armand Gamache of the Sûreté du Québec and his team of investigators are called in to the scene of a suspicious death in a rural village south of Montréal and yet a world away. Jane Neal, a long-time resident of Three Pines, has been found dead in the woods. The locals are certain it’s a tragic hunting accident and nothing more but Gamache smells something foul this holiday season…and is soon certain that Jane died at the hands of someone much more sinister than a careless bowhunter.

With this award-winning first novel, Louise Penny introduces an engaging hero in Inspector Gamache, who commands his forces–and this series–with power, ingenuity, and charm.

My Thoughts:

This is a slow moving mystery but also a very engaging one. It moves so quietly and with key clues coming at just the right times, that this book is impossible to put down. The mystery itself is quite compelling, as it’s unclear as to whether or not this death was an accident. There are a number of red herrings, which quickly tricks the reader into suspecting everyone. I was pleasantly surprised at how much the solution depended on how well the villagers knew one another. Ultimately, Gamache puts all the pieces together himself, but he is still very dependent on what he learns from the people who know one another so well.

I really enjoyed getting to know Chief Inspector Gamache. He reminds me a bit of Agatha Christie’s famous detective Poirot in that both men are set in their ways, excellent at observing people, and determined to follow their instincts. Gamache is a charming man and I enjoyed reading his attempts to interact with the curious townspeople to solve the murder. The other villagers behave exactly the way I expect they would in a quirky small village. Everyone knows everything about everyone and it was remarkable to read about their devastation when a beloved resident is found dead. The singular character I did not enjoy was Agent Yvette Nichol, who gets her first crack at a homicide case with Gamache. I found Nichol to be shockingly idiotic and rude, although she did provide an excellent foil for Gamache. I’m curious to see if she’ll appear in subsequent novels.

Interestingly, I learned a lot about the dynamics between the French and the British living in Canada. I was not aware that there was a long and difficult past between the two groups and that the British often felt oppressed. I hope Penny continues to explore this tension within the rest of this series. With regards to other representation, there was a singular black woman and one gay couple in the village. But that was it. It was great to read about so many women in this story, including working as detectives, coroners, and lawyers. But the amount of diversity could definitely increase. I realize that this story takes place in a small Canadian village, but as it’s fiction, this story could easily better represent the Canadian population. I hope that this improves this series.

Wrap Up:

Overall, I really enjoyed this book! Louise Penny had been on my TBR list for such a long time and I’m so glad I finally picked this up. Now is actually a great time to start reading Penny, as she has quite a few books out now that your reading list will be easily filled! This is a very engrossing read and I read almost the entire book in one sitting. I loved it so much, in fact, that I bought the sequel the very next day! I highly recommend this book, especially for fans of Agatha Christie and the television show, Midsomer Murders.

This book is…

addicting

charming

slow burning

well written

surprising

Publisher: Minotaur Books

Genre: mystery

Page Count: 312

ISBN: 1250000645

Have you read Still Life? What book did you read this weekend?