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?

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Review: Maisie Dobbs by Jacqueline Winspear

My Rating: 4 / 5 stars

Verdict: Buy Borrow Bypass

Synopsis (from Goodreads):

Maisie Dobbs isn’t just any young housemaid. Through her own natural intelligence—and the patronage of her benevolent employers—she works her way into college at Cambridge. When World War I breaks out, Maisie goes to the front as a nurse. It is there that she learns that coincidences are meaningful and the truth elusive. After the War, Maisie sets up on her own as a private investigator. But her very first assignment, seemingly an ordinary infidelity case, soon reveals a much deeper, darker web of secrets, which will force Maisie to revisit the horrors of the Great War and the love she left behind.

My Thoughts:

This novel was a bit slow to start for me. Many of the characters were felt to be at a distance from the reader, as everyone was so perfectly characterized in their own ways. The mystery was interesting but did not pick up the pacing of the novel until the last 50 or so pages. More than anything else in the plot, I enjoyed getting to know Maisie’s backstory. I was surprised that her past was included in this first novel of a series, as usually an author will divulge most of the past as the series progresses forward. But I think Maisie’s past is so central to why she is the way that she is, that it must be included in this first book.

“Remember basics, Maisie, dear. Whenever you are stuck, go back to our earliest conversations. And remember connections, that there are always connections.”

Maisie herself is an unusual character. She is careful with her person, her work, and her interactions with characters. She is so perfectly careful that it would be easy for her to come across as standoffish, and yet, she is warm and charming. Maisie is clearly someone who worked hard for what she has, deeply values her friends and family, and holds her values high. It took a long time for me to find Maisie endearing, and I think I owe that change to the interesting choice of detailing Maisie’s past in this book. The reader is introduced to so many more characters in Maisie’s past, and these are characters that heavily shaped her future. So many of the other characters in this book are more dynamic than Maisie, and they all balanced each other out nicely.

“You worry what you can do for these boys, Maisie. You worry about whatever it is you can do.”

Because this mystery is also historical fiction, Winspear does a great job of really enveloping the reader in the WWI and post WWI time period. The emotions of these years played a big role in these characters’ lives and even the central mystery. I thought this book was spot on in terms of capturing British sentiments during wartime and the various ways in which individuals were coping after the war.

Wrap Up:

Overall, I really enjoyed this book. Although I found the pacing to be a bit off at times and the book as a whole seeming quite perfect, I thought this was a great mystery. This is a quick read and I think would fit nicely after reading a much longer story. I would highly recommend this book, especially for fans of Downton Abbey and Nancy Drew.

This book is…

charming

well-written

carefully crafted

memorable

endearing

Publisher: Penguin

Genre: mystery

Page Count: 309

ISBN: 0142004332

Available here from Book Depository.

Have you read Maisie Dobbs? What mystery have you read recently?

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Review: One Good Earl Deserves a Lover by Sarah MacLean

My Rating: 4 / 5 stars

Verdict: Buy Borrow Bypass

Synopsis (from Goodreads):

Lady Philippa Marbury is odd. The bespectacled, brilliant fourth daughter of the Marquess of Needham and Dolby cares more for books than balls, flora than fashion and science than the season. Nearly engaged to Lord Castleton, Pippa wants to explore the scandalous parts of London she’s never seen before marriage. And she knows just who to ask: the tall, charming, quick-witted bookkeeper of The Fallen Angel, London’s most notorious and coveted gaming hell, known only as Cross.

Like any good scientist, Pippa’s done her research and Cross’s reputation makes him perfect for her scheme. She wants science without emotion—the experience of ruination without the repercussions of ruination. And who better to provide her with the experience than this legendary man? But when this odd, unexpected female propositions Cross, it’s more than tempting… and it will take everything he has to resist following his instincts—and giving the lady precisely what she wants.

My Thoughts:

I thought the plot quite intriguing. MacLean does a great job here of building suspense and suspicion around Cross and for what exactly he feels the need to punish himself. Because of the way A Rogue By Any Other Name ends, I already knew the initial premise of this novel. But that didn’t make it any less enjoying! Pippa’s plea for Cross to aid in her research paved the way for plenty of clever jokes and turns of phrase. I also found the ending quite surprising. I won’t give any spoilers, but they were in such a bind that I honestly had no idea how Cross and Pippa would work their way out and end up happily together. But MacLean delivered and the ending was shocking and pleasing, leading to the promised happy ending.

Pippa is fantastic. I was initially worried that she wouldn’t be quite as “odd” as the summary makes her out to be, but MacLean wrote a dynamic character who would be, in fact, odd to society at this time. Pippa is clever, witty, and endearing. So, too, is Cross. I admit that Cross took some time to grow on me. He wasn’t one of my favorite characters in A Rogue By Any Other Name, so I honestly sort of dismissed him the first time around. But ultimately I appreciated his commitment, witty retorts, and love for his friends and family. Also, as this book focused on Pippa, we were afforded a handful of lines and sightings of the happy couple, Bourne and Penelope, from the first book in this series, which I greatly enjoyed.

What really surprised me with this book was that we heard much more from characters who were not wealthy, sex workers, and nefarious social climbers. It was interesting to hear from some of the sex workers, referred to in the book as prostitutes, as many of them seemed to enjoy their lifestyle and the protections that Cross provided. That being said, the sex workers quoted in this novel chose that profession and were not forced into it for one reason or another. So I’m sure that less happy and poorly treated sex workers existed and I’d be curious to hear their points of view. was much more language in this book about marrying because there were no other options, due to disability or a poorer family, and forced marriages. I’m glad that MacLean took the time to include more of these stories in this novel, as these stories were often the reality for men and women during this time. Not every match was a love match, and many were purely for societal gain.

Wrap Up:

Overall, I found this book to be delightful! I enjoyed the dynamic between Pippa and Cross quite a bit, although I do not love Cross quite so much as I love Bourne from A Rogue By Any Other Name (review here and available here). This is a fast read (I read it over the course of two days) and a fun read from start to finish. I would definitely recommend this book, and this series overall.

This book is…

charming

clever

surprising

engaging

funny

Publisher: Avon

Genre: romance

Page Count: 373

ISBN: 0062068539

Available here from Book Depository.

Have you read One Good Earl Deserves a Lover? What romance series do you recommend?

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Review: As Bright As Heaven by Susan Meissner

ATTENTION: THIS REVIEW CONTAINS SPOILERS

My Rating: 2 / 5 stars

Verdict: Buy Borrow Bypass

Synopsis (from Goodreads):

From the acclaimed author of Secrets of a Charmed Life and A Bridge Across the Ocean comes a new novel set in Philadelphia during the Spanish flu epidemic of 1918, which tells the story of a family reborn through loss and love.

In 1918, Philadelphia was a city teeming with promise. Even as its young men went off to fight in the Great War, there were opportunities for a fresh start on its cobblestone streets. Into this bustling town, came Pauline Bright and her husband, filled with hope that they could now give their three daughters–Evelyn, Maggie, and Willa–a chance at a better life.

But just months after they arrive, the Spanish Flu reaches the shores of America. As the pandemic claims more than twelve thousand victims in their adopted city, they find their lives left with a world that looks nothing like the one they knew. But even as they lose loved ones, they take in a baby orphaned by the disease who becomes their single source of hope. Amidst the tragedy and challenges, they learn what they cannot live without–and what they are willing to do about it.

As Bright as Heaven is the compelling story of a mother and her daughters who find themselves in a harsh world, not of their making, which will either crush their resolve to survive or purify it.

My Thoughts:

This book moved incredibly slowly and after reading over 200 pages, it felt like the plot was going nowhere. There were several events that did not need to be mentioned at all, and the deletion of these would have gone a long way towards picking up the pace and cutting down the overall length. While I thought the plot seemed interesting, Meissner did not do enough with the story. Meissner also did an awful lot of telling and not showing. Rather than witness a character overcome an obstacle, we were merely told it happened in one sentence. Rather than witness a character go through an emotional journey or experience, we were told it happened in a line. This is poor storytelling and only serves to keep the reader at a distance from the material. I felt no connections to this story or any characters.

It seemed to me that many characters did things that were very out of character. When Willa gets the flu and Pauline tends to her, Pauline neglects to take proper precautions for days and ultimately dies while Willa survives. After Pauline’s vigilance towards other flu patients, I find it shocking that she would so willingly and stupidly risk her life like that, knowing she has two other children to care for. And I’m still fuming that Meissner killed off Pauline under the pretense of reuniting her with her dead son in heaven. As someone whose mother did die, I can tell you that it’s infuriating to think and be told she’s in a better place. Pauline should have lived with her remaining children and survived.

I found Maggie incredibly infuriating. It seems that Meissner couldn’t decide if she should be mature or immature. On the one hand, her bizarre crush on the older soldier next door was unfounded in any real interactions and proved to make Maggie into a foolish child. And the entire Maggie taking Alex situation was simply odd. She turned someone else’s child into her pet, taking him and demanding to keep him because she wanted him. This was so incredibly immature and, well, ridiculous.

Granted I only read about half of the book, but the representation I did read was infuriating. And by that, I mean the overall lack of it. There was an overwhelming amount of white people in this story, which doesn’t entirely make sense seeing that this book takes place in Philadelphia in the twentieth century. People of color existed and should have been represented in this story. Virtually the only people of color that were mentioned were made off to be unintelligent, illiterate in English, desperately poor, and desperately in need of white saviors, of which Meissner provided plenty. While the story was told by the women and girls of the central family, the book was still overwhelmingly about men and their actions. I’m also not sure if Fred was supposed to be coded as gay because he lived alone and never took a wife or had children, but maybe I’m reading into that in the hopes that at least one character in this book wasn’t heterosexual.

Wrap Up:

Overall, I thought this book was exceptionally disappointing. I really enjoyed Meissner’s earlier book, Secrets of a Charmed Life, but I did not think this new one lives up to it or the hype. I would not recommend this book and would not read any other book of hers.

This book is…

slow

surface level

too long

trying too hard

boring

Publisher: Berkley Books

Genre: historical fiction

Page Count: 400

ISBN: 0399585966

Available here from Book Depository.

Have you read As Bright As Heaven? Do you ever stop reading a book halfway through?

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Review: A Rogue By Any Other Name by Sarah MacLean

My Rating: 5 / 5 stars

Verdict: Buy Borrow Bypass

Synopsis (from Goodreads):

A decade ago, the Marquess of Bourne was cast from society with nothing but his title. Now a partner in London’s most exclusive gaming hell, the cold, ruthless Bourne will do whatever it takes to regain his inheritance—including marrying perfect, proper Lady Penelope Marbury.

A broken engagement and years of disappointing courtships have left Penelope with little interest in a quiet, comfortable marriage, and a longing for something more. How lucky that her new husband has access to such unexplored pleasures.

Bourne may be a prince of London’s underworld, but he vows to keep Penelope untouched by its wickedness—a challenge indeed as the lady discovers her own desires, and her willingness to wager anything for them… even her heart.

My Thoughts:

I thought the plot was quite engaging. I quite enjoyed the arch of the fallen hero, attempting to regain what he lost. Within this particular story, I especially appreciated the numerous references to Lucifer, hell, and angels. I thought it added an additional layer to this book. I was more interested in Bourne’s attempts to repair his relationship with Penelope than with his attempts to regain his lost property. Bourne and Penelope went through just the right amount of hurdles and made up just enough times to make this a very satisfying relationship.

The characters in this story are fantastic! From heroes, villains, and hilariously awkward side characters, I think MacLean did a great job of making this world come to life. Bourne is, without a doubt, a star. I actually teared up at some of his heartfelt confessions. He is devilishly handsome and complicated and I adore his relationship with Penelope, who is equally fantastic. She has such tenacity, strength, and humor. I honestly wish she were real because I think we’d be great friends!

Wrap Up:

Overall, I loved this book! I already put the second book in this series on hold at the library. I was very pleasantly surprised by this book, even more so because I picked it up on a whim at the library! I think it’s important you know that I actually delayed the blog post I originally scheduled to go live today in order to publish this review as soon as possible. This book is just that good! This was my first book by MacLean but it will certainly not be my last.

This book is…

delightful

sexy

surprising

intriguing

engaging

Publisher: Avon

Genre: romance

Page Count: 386

ISBN: 0062068520

Available here from Book Depository

Have you read A Rogue By Any Other Name? What’s your favorite pleasure read?

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Review: The Alice Network by Kate Quinn

My Rating: 5 / 5 stars

Verdict: Buy Borrow Bypass

Synopsis (from Goodreads):

In an enthralling new historical novel from national bestselling author Kate Quinn, two women—a female spy recruited to the real-life Alice Network in France during World War I and an unconventional American socialite searching for her cousin in 1947—are brought together in a mesmerizing story of courage and redemption.

1947. In the chaotic aftermath of World War II, American college girl Charlie St. Clair is pregnant, unmarried, and on the verge of being thrown out of her very proper family. She’s also nursing a desperate hope that her beloved cousin Rose, who disappeared in Nazi-occupied France during the war, might still be alive. So when Charlie’s parents banish her to Europe to have her “little problem” taken care of, Charlie breaks free and heads to London, determined to find out what happened to the cousin she loves like a sister.

1915. A year into the Great War, Eve Gardiner burns to join the fight against the Germans and unexpectedly gets her chance when she’s recruited to work as a spy. Sent into enemy-occupied France, she’s trained by the mesmerizing Lili, the “Queen of Spies”, who manages a vast network of secret agents right under the enemy’s nose.

Thirty years later, haunted by the betrayal that ultimately tore apart the Alice Network, Eve spends her days drunk and secluded in her crumbling London house. Until a young American barges in uttering a name Eve hasn’t heard in decades, and launches them both on a mission to find the truth…no matter where it leads.

My Thoughts:

It’s hard to know where to begin with this book. I loved everything about it! The Alice Network has a great storyline, writing, and setting. What really stands out for me, though, are the characters. Every single character in this book is well-written. Kate Quinn created engaging, dynamic, and flushed out characters. It was easy to picture vividly each character, from the main trio to the minor ones encountered along the way. I also enjoyed the ways in which Quinn explored good and evil within the characters. Everyone made morally ambiguous choices at one point or another, emphasizing that very few people are ever truly good or truly bad. It was interesting to see how these choices affected the characters, the reader’s opinion, and the overall plot.

Our central trio, composed of Eve, Charlie, and Finn, is simply remarkable. Their interactions and dynamic were realistic, thoughtful, and honest. I still can’t decide if Eve or Charlie is my favorite character, but I will always hold a soft spot in my heart for Finn. I enjoyed seeing each of these characters progress throughout the novel and grow along the way. I love that Quinn focuses the novel on women’s contributions to the war effort. This easily lends itself to lots of interactions between women that centered on patriotism, survival, and morality. My only critique here is that this book focused solely on white women and men during the war. I’m racking my brain trying to think of a single character of color. This book is certainly not feminist in an intersectional capacity.

I thought the storyline of The Alice Network was phenomenal. I enjoyed the alternating chapters that followed two different timelines: Eve’s in 1915 and Charlie’s in 1947, or the present. This kept the story moving forward, particularly as the timelines often synced brilliantly to parallel emotion and action. Moments of suspense were built beautifully and the action sequences were perfectly tense, emotional, and heart stopping.

Wrap Up:

Overall, I loved this book! I really enjoy reading about the two world wars and particularly women’s experiences during the wars. I thought this was a fantastic and engaging read. It’s full of well-written characters, explores morality, and hits all sorts of emotional peaks. I would highly recommend this book, particularly to fans of The Nightingale and All the Light We Cannot See.

By the way, this book comes highly recommended from Reese Witherspoon! If you haven’t yet, definitely check out her book club, Hello Sunshine, for other recommendations.

This book is…

deeply moving

full of memorable characters

adventurous

well-written

feminist

Publisher: William Morrow

Genre: historical fiction

Page Count: 520

ISBN: 0062654195

Available here from Book Depository.

Have you read The Alice Network? What time periods do you like to read about?

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