Review: The Summer Wives by Beatriz Williams

My Rating: 3 / 5 stars

Verdict: Buy Borrow Bypass

Synopsis (from Goodreads):

New York Times bestselling author Beatriz Williams brings us the blockbuster novel of the season—a spellbinding novel of romance, murder, class, power, and dark secrets set in the 1950s and ’60s among the rarified world of a resort island in the Long Island Sound . . .

In the summer of 1951, Miranda Schuyler arrives on elite, secretive Winthrop Island in Long Island Sound as a naive eighteen year old, still reeling from the loss of her father in the Second World War. Although a graduate of the exclusive Foxcroft Academy in Virginia, Miranda has always lived on the margins of high society. When her beautiful mother marries Hugh Fisher, whose summer house on Winthrop overlooks the famous lighthouse, Miranda is catapulted into a heady new world of pedigrees and cocktails, status and swimming pools. Isobel Fisher, Miranda’s new stepsister—all long legs and world-weary bravado, engaged to a wealthy Island scion—is eager to draw Miranda into the arcane customs of Winthrop society.

But beneath the Island’s patrician surface, there are really two clans–the summer families with their steadfast ways and quiet obsessions, and the working class of Portuguese fishermen and domestic workers who earn their living on the water and in the laundries of the summer houses. Uneasy among Isobel’s privileged friends, Miranda finds herself drawn to Joseph helps his father in the lobster boat, but in the autumn he returns to Brown University, where he’s determined to make something of himself. Since childhood, Joseph has enjoyed an intense, complex friendship with Isobel Fisher, and has a catastrophe that will shatter Winthrop’s hard-won tranquility and banish Miranda from the Island for nearly two decades.

Now, in the summer of 1969, Miranda returns at last, as a renowned Shakespearean actress hiding a terrible heartbreak. On its surface, the Island remains the same–determined to keep the outside world from its shores, fiercely loyal to those who belong. But the formerly powerful Fisher family is a shadow of itself, and Joseph Vargas has recently escaped the prison where he was incarcerated for the murder of Miranda’s stepfather eighteen years earlier. What’s more, Miranda herself is no longer a naive teenager, and she begins a fierce, inexorable quest for justice to the man she once loved . . . even if it means uncovering every last one of the secrets that bind together the families of Winthrop Island.

My Thoughts:

Per usual, I enjoyed how Beatriz Williams used multiple characters and timelines to flesh out her story. The Summer Wives is slightly different from many of her other stories, in that the focus is primarily on one character and the narration alternates between two time periods in her life. And then we do occasionally hear from another character, but always from the same point in time. While I enjoyed reading so much from one person’s perspective, I prefer when the two timelines are more disparate, like in most of Williams’s other novels. But the overall story was interesting, and includes romance, murder, and theatre! The plot is pretty interesting throughout, despite some slow pacing at times. The last 50 pages or so are a wild ride, and I can honestly say I did not expect things to wrap up the way they did.

I really appreciated how Williams explores class dynamics and how the characters in The Summer Wives navigate these differences. The different generations handled these dynamics in their own ways, with the older adults demanding distance and safety and the younger adults wanting to shake things up, and desperately. Williams also notes how gender dynamics of the 1950s and 1960s intersect with class and race, and that no two people have the exact same options or paths before them.

I thought all of the characters in The Summer Wives were interesting and complex. My favorite character is Miranda, our protagonist. As a bookworm myself, I appreciated how much Miranda loved reading and performing. Once again, Williams crafted several great women lead characters in The Summer Wives. And I appreciate that Williams knows there are many ways to write strong women. The characters featured here are courageous, weak, outspoken, understated, violent, and cautious. That being said, I do wish a few more of the characters were more fleshed out during the 1969 timeline. I felt there wasn’t quite enough explanation as to why certain characters developed as they did, which left some of these characters feeling rushed and forced.

Wrap Up:

Overall, I enjoyed this book! It took me a few days to get into it, but once I did,I flew through the rest. Williams is great at writing historical fiction and adds just the right amount of details and atmosphere to place the reader right in the middle of the story. If you’ve enjoyed any of Williams’s previous books, or if you’ve been meaning to give her work a try, you’ll definitely enjoy this one.

This book is…

well-written

lush with detail

surprising

moving

full of unique characters

Publisher: William Morrow

Genre: historical fiction

Page Count: 384

ISBN: 0062660349

Available here from IndieBound.

Will you read The Summer Wives? What historical fiction book would you recommend?

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Review: Before We Were Yours by Lisa Wingate

My Rating: 4 / 5 stars

Verdict: Buy Borrow Bypass

Synopsis (from Goodreads):

Two families, generations apart, are forever changed by a heartbreaking injustice in this poignant novel, inspired by a true story, for readers of Orphan Train and The Nightingale.

Memphis, 1939. Twelve-year-old Rill Foss and her four younger siblings live a magical life aboard their family’s Mississippi River shantyboat. But when their father must rush their mother to the hospital one stormy night, Rill is left in charge—until strangers arrive in force. Wrenched from all that is familiar and thrown into a Tennessee Children’s Home Society orphanage, the Foss children are assured that they will soon be returned to their parents—but they quickly realize that the truth is much darker. At the mercy of the facility’s cruel director, Rill fights to keep her sisters and brother together—in a world of danger and uncertainty.

Aiken, South Carolina, present day. Born into wealth and privilege, Avery Stafford seems to have it all: a successful career as a federal prosecutor, a handsome fiancé, and a lavish wedding on the horizon. But when Avery returns home to help her father weather a health crisis, a chance encounter leaves her with uncomfortable questions—and compels her to take a journey through her family’s long-hidden history, on a path that will ultimately lead either to devastation or redemption.

Based on one of America’s most notorious real-life scandals—in which Georgia Tann, director of a Memphis-based adoption organization, kidnapped and sold poor children to wealthy families all over the country—Wingate’s riveting, wrenching, and ultimately uplifting tale reminds us how, even though the paths we take can lead to many places, the heart never forgets where we belong.

My Thoughts:

Both the story and the truth behind Before We Were Yours is astonishing in the worst possible way. The more you read and discover what really happened, the more shocked you are that such a large scale operation existed for so long and did so much damage. I’m grateful to Lisa Wingate for exposing the truth and sharing this story.

I also really enjoyed how Wingate used two time periods to tell the story. By having Avery investigate, it’s easy for the reader to identify with Avery in her search for the truth. Likewise, by alternating between past and present, it’s almost impossible to put this book down. Wingate does an excellent job of pacing Before We Were Yours and also makes great use of cliffhangers to propel the story forward.

The characters in Before We Were Yours are very well-written. Wingate does a great job of showcasing each character’s intent and motivations in order to understand where everyone is coming from, including the villains. What’s also interesting about this story is that sometimes there are clearly defined good and evil characters, but that sometimes the characters aren’t so clearly defined. And in this, Wingate reflects real life. Sometimes someone does the wrong thing for the right reasons, and vice versa.

Throughout Before We Were Yours, Wingate makes some questionable language choices. She repeatedly refers to Rill Foss and her family as “river gypsies,” which is not only a slur, but not really the correct word choice. Additionally, Rill and other characters in the 1939 timeline make crass and racist observations about anyone who isn’t white, including black workers and that someone’s closed eyes make them look like a “Chinaman.” I would presume that Wingate included these details to reinforce the time period and the lack of political correctness and awareness that is better these days. But instead these remarks felt jarring and pull the reader out of the story. There are other ways to establish that the Foss family is ‘free spirited’ or that nothing about the early 1940s was perfect.

Wrap Up:

Overall, I really enjoyed this book. Wingate does an incredible job of highlighting this horrific situation in our country’s past. Wingate’s former career as a journalist aided in the research and writing of Before We Were Yours and the story unfolds in all the right ways. I highly recommend this book, especially for fans of The Alice Network by Kate Quinn (read my review!) and Next Year in Havana by Chanel Cleeton (read my review!).

This book is…

shocking

illuminating

well-written

engaging

unputdownable

This book contains content warning for…

child abuse (emotional, physical, and sexual)

Publisher: Ballantine Books

Genre: historical fiction

Page Count: 342

ISBN: 9780425284681

Available here from IndieBound.

Have you read Before We Were Yours? What historical fiction about a lesser known piece of history would you recommend?

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Review: The Room on Rue Amélie by Kristin Harmel

My Rating: 4 / 5 stars

Verdict: Buy Borrow Bypass

Synopsis (from Goodreads):

For fans of Kristin Hannah’s The Nightingale and Martha Hall Kelly’s Lilac Girls, this powerful novel of fate, resistance, and family—by the international bestselling author of The Sweetness of Forgetting and When We Meet Again—tells the tale of an American woman, a British RAF pilot, and a young Jewish teenager whose lives intersect in occupied Paris during the tumultuous days of World War II.

When newlywed Ruby Henderson Benoit arrives in Paris in 1939 with her French husband Marcel, she imagines strolling arm in arm along the grand boulevards, awash in the golden afternoon light. But war is looming on the horizon, and as France falls to the Nazis, her marriage begins to splinter, too.

Charlotte Dacher is eleven when the Germans roll into the French capital, their sinister swastika flags snapping in the breeze. After the Jewish restrictions take effect and Jews are ordered to wear the yellow star, Charlotte can’t imagine things getting much worse. But then the mass deportations begin, and her life is ripped forever apart.

Thomas Clarke joins the British Royal Air Force to protect his country, but when his beloved mother dies in a German bombing during the waning days of the Blitz, he wonders if he’s really making a difference. Then he finds himself in Paris, in the shadow of the Eiffel Tower, and he discovers a new reason to keep fighting—and an unexpected road home.

When fate brings them together, Ruby, Charlotte, and Thomas must summon the courage to defy the Nazis—and to open their own broken hearts—as they fight to survive. Rich with historical drama and emotional depth, this is an unforgettable story that will stay with you long after the final page is turned.

My Thoughts:

Room has been compared to The Nightingale and there are many similarities between the two. Both stories focus on sheltering and moving RAF pilots, as well as taking in Jewish neighbors. But Room and Nightingale differ in tone. Don’t get me wrong, Room is definitely heartbreaking. I cried several time during the last 100 pages compared to my sobbing during the last 100 pages of Nightingale. Room manages to feel like a lighter read and I think that’s because Harmel injects images and conversations about hope early on and frequently throughout the story. Also, as a reader, you know when starting this book that there will be sadness. That’s an inevitable fact about this time period. But Harmel’s messages of hope were a welcome change and a beautiful way to pay tribute to the men and women who did resist the Nazis.

Harmel writes incredible characters. Ruby and Charlotte are strong, well-rounded, and dynamic. I loved reading their interactions with one another and enjoyed their development throughout Room. These two ‘regular people’ sacrificed their own well-being and safety to do the right thing during a horrible time. Harmel makes some strong points about how chosen family can be just as powerful as relatives. I especially fell for Ruby’s involvement with Thomas and for Charlotte’s loss of her childhood. Ruby and Thomas’s love story is so pure and heartwarming. I loved reading as they fell in love. Both characters felt so real and it made their romance really come alive on the page. And as for Charlotte, I can’t even imagine what it would be like to be eleven years old when WWII broke into France. Harmel does a great job of capturing Charlotte’s resolve to help despite her limited understanding of what’s happening and why.

Wrap Up:

Overall, I really enjoyed this book! I love to read well-written historical fiction, especially ones set during WWII. And Harmel definitely delivered! Harmel uses lush language to describe locations in Room, including Paris and Ruby’s hometown in California. I would highly recommend this book, especially for fans of The Nightingale and The Alice Network.

This book is…

beautifully written

a tearjerker

informative

full of interesting characters

engaging

Publisher: Gallery Books

Genre: historical fiction

Page Count: 400

ISBN: 1501171402

Available here from IndieBound.

Have you read The Room on Rue Amélie? What historical fiction book would you recommend?

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Review: Next Year in Havana by Chanel Cleeton

My Rating: 4 / 5 stars

Verdict: Buy Borrow Bypass

Synopsis (from Goodreads):

After the death of her beloved grandmother, a Cuban-American woman travels to Havana, where she discovers the roots of her identity–and unearths a family secret hidden since the revolution…

Havana, 1958. The daughter of a sugar baron, nineteen-year-old Elisa Perez is part of Cuba’s high society, where she is largely sheltered from the country’s growing political unrest–until she embarks on a clandestine affair with a passionate revolutionary…

Miami, 2017. Freelance writer Marisol Ferrera grew up hearing romantic stories of Cuba from her late grandmother Elisa, who was forced to flee with her family during the revolution. Elisa’s last wish was for Marisol to scatter her ashes in the country of her birth.

Arriving in Havana, Marisol comes face-to-face with the contrast of Cuba’s tropical, timeless beauty and its perilous political climate. When more family history comes to light and Marisol finds herself attracted to a man with secrets of his own, she’ll need the lessons of her grandmother’s past to help her understand the true meaning of courage.

My Thoughts:

I really enjoyed the dual storylines of 1950s Elisa and present day Marisol. The shifting perspectives and eras kept the story moving forward and each storyline lent the other needed context. Each storyline also introduced the reader to a vastly different Cuba. While Elisa’s Cuba reeked of opulence despite the world crumbling down around her, Marisol’s Cuba showed the results of their crumbled world. I especially loved the paralleled romances between Marisol/Luis and Marisol/Pablo. Reading along as each couple fell in love was absolutely beautiful and I found myself cheering for them every step of the way.

I appreciate that although Cleeton wrote strong women into this story, they were by no means perfect. Both Elisa and Marisol took tremendous risks to protect their families and the men they love, but neither leapt at the chance to be involved with politics. These are women who did what they had to do to survive. I have tremendous respect and love for Elisa and Marisol, and it’s abundantly clear that Cleeton feels the same. This book is full of strong well-written women and it was a joy to read about them.

I loved reading the interactions between the characters in this story. They were very realistic and lent an air of truth to everything that occurred. Elisa and her sisters felt especially true to me, and I’m excited to learn more about Elisa’s sister, Beatriz, in next year’s sequel. I’d be curious to know if any of these characters are based on real-life people from Cleeton’s life, as they all were engaging, well-written, and familiar.

I hope many people read this book. It’s important talk about the realities of Cuban life and its shifting political climate. Cleeton wrote a beautiful story about one family, and I hope that many more Cuban family stories are shared through books. Cleeton also does a great job of criticizing the rampant tourist fever, along with the disconnect between tourist Havana and citizen Havana.

Wrap Up:

Overall, I really enjoyed this book. While I initially thought the story moved a bit slowly, the pacing really improved once the plot picked up. This story serves as a great introduction to the complicated Cuban political climate and the mindsets of those who stayed and those who left. I would definitely recommend this book, especially for fans of Beatriz Williams.

This book is…

memorable

a page turner

beautifully written

educational

surprising

Publisher: Berkley Books

Genre: fiction

Page Count: 356

ISBN: 0399586687

Available here from IndieBound.

Have you read Next Year in Havana? What fiction set in another country would you recommend?

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Review: Romancing the Duke by Tessa Dare

My Rating: 5 / 5 stars

Verdict: Buy Borrow Bypass

Synopsis (from Goodreads):

In the first in Tessa Dare’s captivating Castles Ever After series, a mysterious fortress is the setting for an unlikely love . . .

As the daughter of a famed author, Isolde Ophelia Goodnight grew up on tales of brave knights and fair maidens. She never doubted romance would be in her future, too. The storybooks offered endless possibilities.

And as she grew older, Izzy crossed them off. One by one by one.

Ugly duckling turned swan?

Abducted by handsome highwayman?

Rescued from drudgery by charming prince?

No, no, and… Heh.

Now Izzy’s given up yearning for romance. She’ll settle for a roof over her head. What fairy tales are left over for an impoverished twenty-six year-old woman who’s never even been kissed?

This one.

My Thoughts:

The storyline in Romancing the Duke felt fresh. It was great to read about Izzy fighting for her inheritance and learn how to reclaim what is rightfully hers. I think Tessa Dare does a great job of putting her own twists on some stock romance plots. This book resolves quite nicely in the end and I hope Tessa Dare revisits these characters in a later novel. In addition to the inheritance storyline, Romancing the Duke also focuses on fandoms, their usefulness, and their innate desire to hope. Many parts of this book felt like an ode to fans and to those who love to fully embody a story they love.

I loved Izzy as a heroine. I was impressed by her determination, courage, and, most of all, her imagination. It’s her imagination that makes a twenty-six-year-old woman fear the dark. It’s what made her accept the fantastic stories of knights and devilish rogues. And it’s what made Izzy visit a strange decrepit castle only to discover she’s know the owner, not Duke Ransom. Also, there are some details about Ransom that I won’t get into here because it would spoil a pretty major plot point! The foils between Izzy and Ransom are fantastic and I loved reading their witty banter. I especially loved that they both grew up throughout the course of the story. This is not a one-sided development. Rather, Izzy and Ransom ultimately learn to work together and to help one another.

Additionally, the side characters in Romancing the Duke were very fun! Ransom’s valet, Duncan, was delightfully devoted, competent, and desperate for some real work. The vicar’s daughter, Miss Pelham, is romantic, determined, and easily excited. There is also a local troupe who enjoys re-enacting scenes from their favorite stories. All in all, these side characters liven up the page and attempt to steal the show. Tessa Dare clearly writes great characters across the board, and does not relegate side characters to mere plot devices.

Wrap Up:

Overall, I loved this book! Romancing the Duke broke me out of my reading rut. I flew through this story and loved every minute of the ride. There were a few plot twists that I definitely did not see coming. Tessa Dare is quickly becoming one of my favorite romance writers! I also loved one of her more recent books, The Duchess Deal, and you can read my review here. I would highly recommend this book, especially for fans of Julia Quinn.

This book is…

laugh out loud funny

charming

surprising

steamy

a quick read

Publisher: Avon

Genre: romance

Page Count: 370

ISBN: 0062240196

Available here from IndieBound.

Have you read Romancing the Duke? What historical romance would you recommend?

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Review: What I Saw and How I Lied by Judy Blundell

My Rating: 2 / 5 stars

Verdict: Buy Borrow Bypass

Synopsis (from Goodreads):

When Evie’s father returned home from World War II, the family fell back into its normal life pretty quickly. But Joe Spooner brought more back with him than just good war stories. When movie-star handsome Peter Coleridge, a young ex-GI who served in Joe’s company in postwar Austria, shows up, Evie is suddenly caught in a complicated web of lies that she only slowly recognizes. She finds herself falling for Peter, ignoring the secrets that surround him . . . until a tragedy occurs that shatters her family and breaks her life in two.

My Thoughts:

For such a short book, I thought the plot dragged on for the first two-thirds of the story until What I Saw becomes a very different book during the last third. Many of the plot developments felt entirely unnecessary and unrealistic. Anyone paying a smidgen of attention will spot the “tragedy” coming from a mile away and feel totally underwhelmed. Evie’s relationship with Peter is horrendously inappropriate, regardless of the time period. A fifteen year old should never, ever be pursued by someone in their twenties. And because I was never able to look past this plot point, I felt Evie and Peter’s relationship was ridiculous and I actively wanted them to separate.

I found Evie’s characterization to be inconsistent. At times she behaved like a twelve year old, and at others was spouting profound comments like a grown adult. The characters in this story are largely forgettable and incredibly unlikeable. I felt zero sympathy for any character save the protagonist and narrator, Evie. And I only felt a little sorry for her because at fifteen, she’s only a child who shouldn’t necessarily know better. But the adults in What I Saw are awful to themselves and to one another. Evie’s mother, Beverly, was particularly frustrating as she would act under the pretense of Eve’s best interests, and then do something else to undermine Evie’s emotional health and well-being. Both of Evie’s parents are abusive and are perpetuating cycles of abuse.

I am pleased that Blundell touched on the Anti-Semitism prevalent after WWII. One storyline surrounding the Graysons reveals the hateful attitudes towards the Jewish community that still hasn’t gone away. I think Anti-Semitism is an often overlooked form of discrimination and Blundell did a good job of providing some historical context in this book for discrimination and the many shapes it takes.

Wrap Up:

Overall, I thought this book was okay. Thankfully, this is a quick read and I started and finished What I Saw in an afternoon. I liked the setting and the hints of post war glamour mixed with a still recovering country. I am left unclear as to why Blundell thought this particular story needed to be told. I would not recommend this book.

This book is…

forgettable

a coming of age story

troubling

a quick read

predictable

This book contains content warnings for…

sexual assault of a minor

Publisher: Scholastic Press

Genre: young adult

Page Count: 284

ISBN: 0439903467

Available here from IndieBound.

Have you read What I Saw and How I Lied? What YA historical fiction would you recommend?

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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 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?

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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?

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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?

I am an affiliate with Book Depository 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!