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 Last Time I Lied by Riley Sager

My Rating: 5 / 5 stars

Verdict: Buy Borrow Bypass

Synopsis (from Goodreads):

In the new novel from the bestselling author of Final Girls, The Last Time I Lied follows a young woman as she returns to her childhood summer camp to uncover the truth about a tragedy that happened there fifteen years ago.

Two Truths and a Lie. The girls played it all the time in their tiny cabin at Camp Nightingale. Vivian, Natalie, Allison, and first-time camper Emma Davis, the youngest of the group. The games ended when Emma sleepily watched the others sneak out of the cabin in the dead of night. The last she–or anyone–saw of them was Vivian closing the cabin door behind her, hushing Emma with a finger pressed to her lips.

Now a rising star in the New York art scene, Emma turns her past into paintings–massive canvases filled with dark leaves and gnarled branches that cover ghostly shapes in white dresses. The paintings catch the attention of Francesca Harris-White, the socialite and wealthy owner of Camp Nightingale. When Francesca implores her to return to the newly reopened camp as a painting instructor, Emma sees an opportunity to try to find out what really happened to her friends.

Yet it’s immediately clear that all is not right at Camp Nightingale. Already haunted by memories from fifteen years ago, Emma discovers a security camera pointed directly at her cabin, mounting mistrust from Francesca and, most disturbing of all, cryptic clues Vivian left behind about the camp’s twisted origins. As she digs deeper, Emma finds herself sorting through lies from the past while facing threats from both man and nature in the present. And the closer she gets to the truth about Camp Nightingale, the more she realizes it may come at a deadly price.

My Thoughts:

The story in Last Time is exciting. I enjoyed Emma’s return to Camp Nightingale as she simultaneously tries to learn what happened to her cabin mates and also move through that traumatic event. The mystery surrounding the girls’ disappearances was well done, and it took me until the end of the book to put it all together. As someone who reads a lot of mysteries, I’m always pleased when a mystery or thriller catches me off guard and is able to keep me guessing. That being said, if you’re paying enough attention, you might be able to figure out the ending sooner. But, like any good thriller writer, Sager includes the right amount of twists, turns, and red herrings to keep the reader on the edge of their seat.

I really liked the detail of Emma’s artist career. The descriptions of her paintings were so vivid I felt like I could see the paintings right in front of me! Emma’s artwork is eerie, sensual, and shocking, which makes sense given what happened in her past. Riley Sager made a spot on career choice for Emma, though, and it adds considerable depth to her character. I also thought it was interesting that almost every single character in Last Time is unlikeable, which even includes Emma, our protagonist. I’m not bothered by this choice as I do love rooting for unlikeable characters, especially heroines, but it’s also tough when the reader feels at a distance to everyone involved. I think it’s helpful, even in thrillers, for the reader to like at least one main character.

Wrap Up:

Overall, I loved this book! I really enjoyed Sager’s debut novel, Final Girls, and was nervous that Last Time wouldn’t live up to the hype. But I think I enjoyed Last Time even more than Final Girls! This is a fun, engaging, and quick summer read. It would be an excellent choice for a vacation read! I highly recommend this book, especially to fans of A.J. Finn and Ruth Ware.

This book is…

unputdownable

shocking

engaging

entertaining

spooky

Publisher: Dutton Books

Genre: thriller

Page Count: 384

ISBN: 1524743070

Available here from IndieBound.

Will you read The Last Time I Lied? What thriller 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: Sharp Objects by Gillian Flynn

My Rating: 4 / 5 stars

Verdict: Buy Borrow Bypass

Synopsis (from Goodreads):

Fresh from a brief stay at a psych hospital, reporter Camille Preaker faces a troubling assignment: she must return to her tiny hometown to cover the murders of two preteen girls. For years, Camille has hardly spoken to her neurotic, hypochondriac mother or to the half-sister she barely knows: a beautiful thirteen-year-old with an eerie grip on the town. Now, installed in her old bedroom in her family’s Victorian mansion, Camille finds herself identifying with the young victims—a bit too strongly. Dogged by her own demons, she must unravel the psychological puzzle of her own past if she wants to get the story—and survive this homecoming.

My Thoughts:

This story is creepy! I loved how much Flynn used Missouri in this story. Missouri is not just the setting of this novel, it is a character in this novel. From luxurious details about the heat and how it gets under your skin to descriptions of the fields and rivers around town, Flynn lets Missouri embody the story. The characters in Sharp Objects are dried up, prickly, and bored. It reminds me of the play Cat On A Hot Tin Roof. In both stories, the unrelenting heat coupled with limited locations drives the characters to make questionable choices. And no one wants to own up to their mistakes.

Camille is a fascinating protagonist. We learn early on that she previously spent time in a psychiatric hospital and that she’s also a heavy drinker. Immediately, Camille’s perceptions are distrusted. Most characters in Sharp Objects act different ways with different people which, especially when coupled with the heat, mean appearances can be deceiving. Camille is also obstinate at times, and her futile interactions with her distant family make the reader question what really happened to drive a wedge between mother and daughter.

And speaking of mothers and daughters, Camille and her mother, Adora, are destructive to themselves, each other, and everyone around them. One of the things I loved about Gone Girl was how much Flynn pushed back against traditional gender roles and challenged some stereotypes. She takes a similar approach in Sharp Objects by questioning the notion that all women should be mothers and that they are, inherently, good mothers. To say that Adora is not a good mother is a massive understatement. Camille seems reluctant to take that path herself which is understandable once we get to know Adora.

Wrap Up:

Overall, I really enjoyed this book! Sharp Objects is definitely more gruesome than Gone Girl, so please keep that in mind if you’re expecting many similarities in tone. I’m eagerly awaiting the HBO miniseries and can’t wait to see how it compares to the book. I would also love to see this turned into a play. It would work quite well! I highly recommend this book, especially for fans of Tana French.

This book is…

sensuous

unputdownable

eerie

unsettling

shocking

This book contains content warnings for…

self-harm

child abuse

animal abuse

Publisher: Broadway Books

Genre: mystery

Page Count: 254

ISBN: 0307341550

Available here from IndieBound.

Have you read Sharp Objects? What mystery book would you recommend?

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Review: Educated by Tara Westover

My Rating: 5 / 5 stars

Verdict: Buy Borrow Bypass

Synopsis (from Goodreads):

An unforgettable memoir in the tradition of The Glass Castle about a young girl who, kept out of school, leaves her survivalist family and goes on to earn a PhD from Cambridge University

Tara Westover was seventeen the first time she set foot in a classroom. Born to survivalists in the mountains of Idaho, she prepared for the end of the world by stockpiling home-canned peaches and sleeping with her “head-for-the-hills bag.” In the summer she stewed herbs for her mother, a midwife and healer, and in the winter she salvaged in her father’s junkyard.

Her father forbade hospitals, so Tara never saw a doctor or nurse. Gashes and concussions, even burns from explosions, were all treated at home with herbalism. The family was so isolated from mainstream society that there was no one to ensure the children received an education, and no one to intervene when one of Tara’s older brothers became violent.

Then, lacking any formal education, Tara began to educate herself. She taught herself enough mathematics and grammar to be admitted to Brigham Young University, where she studied history, learning for the first time about important world events like the Holocaust and the civil rights movement. Her quest for knowledge transformed her, taking her over oceans and across continents, to Harvard and to Cambridge. Only then would she wonder if she’d traveled too far, if there was still a way home.

Educated is an account of the struggle for self-invention. It is a tale of fierce family loyalty, and of the grief that comes with severing the closest of ties. With the acute insight that distinguishes all great writers, Westover has crafted a universal coming-of-age story that gets to the heart of what an education is and what it offers: the perspective to see one’s life through new eyes, and the will to change it.

My Thoughts:

Westover’s life story is incredible. And I’m not using that word lightly. What struck me most about this memoir was that despite all the horrific experiences Westover endured, as well as the emotional and verbal abuse she suffered from her parents, Westover writes lovingly of her family. Throughout Educated, there is an undercurrent of ‘if only they would accept me, things would be okay.’ Even though she suffers no illusions about her past, Westover longs for her family to be reunited.

Some of the people in Educated felt larger than life. Like they couldn’t possibly really be this bad. It would be easy to refer to them as ‘characters’, but it’s important to remember that these are real people from Westover’s life. But the more you read this memoir, the clearer it is that the gaslighting, paranoia, mental illness, and distrust run deep. It would be easy to write off the Westover family. But Westover herself shows that nothing is black and white. Her parents thought they were doing right by their children. Her parents legitimately believe the things they believe. I’m sure we will never hear her parent’s points of view, even though it would be fascinating to hear directly from them.

Admittedly, I didn’t know much about Mormonism prior to reading this book. Most of my knowledge of the Mormon religion come from the musical, The Book of Mormon. I enjoyed learning more about Mormonism through Westover’s experiences. I’d be curious to see how her family’s more extremist take on the Mormon faith compares to other families’ experiences. But I also think it’s important that stories like Westover’s are told. Not only from a survivor standpoint, but I think it’s good to hear the life story of someone very different from one’s own.

Wrap Up:

Overall, I loved this book. I was consistently amazed at Westover’s life and the courage she had to overcome her upbringing. Her story will inspire readers to pursue their own education. Several times I set this book down while reading, needing to take a break from her life, which is a luxury that Westover herself never had. I would highly recommend this book to everyone, but especially for fans of The Glass Castle.

This book is…

inspiring

shocking

unforgettable

informative

well-written

This book contains content warnings for…

emotional abuse

physical abuse

Publisher: Random House

Genre: memoir

Page Count: 352

ISBN: 0399590501

Available here from IndieBound.

Have you read Educated? What books about the Mormon faith 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: 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?

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: 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 Astonishing Color of After by Emily X.R. Pan

My Rating: 3 / 5 stars

Verdict: Buy Borrow Bypass

Synopsis (from Goodreads):

Leigh Chen Sanders is absolutely certain about one thing: When her mother died by suicide, she turned into a bird.

Leigh, who is half Asian and half white, travels to Taiwan to meet her maternal grandparents for the first time. There, she is determined to find her mother, the bird. In her search, she winds up chasing after ghosts, uncovering family secrets, and forging a new relationship with her grandparents. And as she grieves, she must try to reconcile the fact that on the same day she kissed her best friend and longtime secret crush, Axel, her mother was taking her own life.

Alternating between real and magic, past and present, friendship and romance, hope and despair, The Astonishing Color of After is a novel about finding oneself through family history, art, grief, and love.

My Thoughts:

Astonishing Color handles suicide and depression quite well. Leigh’s mother Dory was never written as being ‘broken’ or ‘at fault.’ She was receiving medical care and was supported by her immediate family. I was not a huge fan of the magical realism in this story but I think that’s more about a personal preference than anything else. I also wish that the secondary story, about Leigh and Axel’s changing relationship, wasn’t present. I read this as a story about loss and grief in one family. Each time Pan cut to a memory of Leigh and Axel the plot became disjointed. This storyline felt unnecessary to the central themes.

Leigh and her parents felt very real to me. Their family dynamic genuinely reflected a family that loved one another but also was unsure how to handle some shifting circumstances. It was very clear that Leigh was surrounded by people who loved her but also had their own ideas about what was best for her.

I really enjoyed learning so much about Taiwan and Taiwanese culture. Taiwan is not often a setting in books, particularly YA books, so this was a pleasant change. It was great to learn more about Taiwan through Leigh, who was getting to know more about her family and history for the first time. I also appreciated the frank depiction of being mixed race and the uncomfortable microaggressions faced on a frequent basis. As someone who is also mixed race, I recognized the racist and inappropriate questions, stares, and insults Leigh faced.

Wrap Up:

Overall, I liked this book but I wouldn’t read it again. I had a hard time connecting with the plot and the characters because of my own backstory. My mother died several years ago and I was unable to get on board with some of the magical realism in this story as a result. I did enjoy the colorful writing, exploration of a new culture, and the focus on mental health. I don’t think I would recommend this to someone who was young when their parent died, but otherwise I would recommend this book. It’s worth noting here that this book is incredibly well reviewed on Goodreads and I am clearly of the minority opinion.

This book is…

imaginative

colorful

slow-moving

full of magical realism

a coming of age story

This book contains content warnings for…

suicide

depression

Publisher: Little, Brown Books for Young Readers

Genre: young adult

Page Count: 472

ISBN: 031646399X

Available here from IndieBound.

Have you read The Astonishing Color of After? What book about refugees 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!