Early Review: THE WARTIME SISTERS

Early Review:  THE WARTIME SISTERSThe Wartime Sisters by Lynda Cohen Loigman
four-stars
Published by St. Martin's Press on January 22, 2019
Genres: Historical Fiction
Pages: 304
Source: Netgalley
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FTC Disclosure: I received this book for free from Netgalley in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

 

THE WARTIME SISTERS REVIEW

Set against the backdrop of World War II, Lynda Cohen Loigman’s The Wartime Sisters is an emotionally charged story about two sisters who have a very complicated relationship filled with resentment and secrets.  Older sister Ruth is the smart one, brilliant even, but somehow ends up always taking a back seat to her younger sister, Millie, who with her auburn curls and bright blue eyes, is the apple of everyone’s eye.  Ruth loves her sister but can’t wait to move out and be on her own and out of the shadows.  She eventually marries a young man who is an officer in the Army and moves to Springfield, Massachusetts. Ruth is enjoying her new life immensely until she gets word that Millie’s own husband, a soldier, has been killed, and Millie has nowhere to go, especially since Millie and Ruth’s parents are since deceased. Reluctantly, Ruth extends the offer to Millie to come and live with her at the armory in Springfield.

Their first meeting after so many years is filled with tension and awkwardness, and it feels as though it’s only a matter of time before Ruth finds herself in Millie’s shadow all over again.  The tension continues to mount when it becomes clear that each sister is keeping something from the other.  Will their relationship be able to withstand the strain when someone from their past unexpectedly reemerges threatening to spill their secrets and shatter their lives?

The Wartime Sisters is very much a character driven story, and as such, I was glad that I found both sisters to be characters that I was sympathetic to.  It was easy to feel sympathetic towards Ruth because she spent so much of her life living in the shadow of her beautiful sister.  Nothing Ruth ever did could compete with how everyone was so obsessed with Millie’s extraordinary good looks.  Boys who came calling for Ruth found themselves attracted to Millie instead.  In many ways, the girls’ mother was responsible for much of the ensuing resentment between Ruth and Millie.  For example, when she was deciding who to give the good family heirloom jewelry to, in her mind, Millie, even though she was the youngest, was the obvious choice because of course she would marry into a rich family and have ample opportunities to wear and show off such jewelry.  How can you not feel bad for Ruth when her own mother acts like that?

On the flip side though, it’s equally easy to feel sympathetic toward Millie.  She’s a delightful girl and a devoted younger sister, and she can’t help how she looks or how people react to how she looks.  She’s in a lose-lose situation because she’s constantly incurring Ruth’s wrath over these things she can’t control.  And even though everyone around her treats her like she’s the golden child because of her looks, Millie feels that she can never measure up to Ruth because Ruth is just so smart and ambitious.  Millie feels inadequate compared to her sister.   I actually felt horrible for both sisters because they should have been there for each other, not driven apart by all of these unimportant things.

If you’ve been following my reviews for a while, you know I love stories that feature dual timelines. The Wartime Sisters is split between two locations and two timelines.  One is set in the 1930’s in Brooklyn, New York where the two sisters grew up together, while the other is set in early 1940’s in Springfield, Massachusetts at the armory where both sisters end up living and working.

I really liked this use of the dual timelines to show the origins of the resentment between the sisters and how those origins have continued to shape their lives and their interactions with one another over the years.  When Millie first arrives at the armory in 1942, for example, Ruth realizes that because she has been avoiding her sister as much as possible over the years, she barely knows her own nephew, Millie’s young son, Michael.  The author also very effectively uses the dual timeline to gradually reveal to the readers the secrets that both Millie and Ruth are hiding from one another.

While the dual timelines are an effective way to shed light on the lives of both sisters and how they’ve gotten to where they are, the author also presents the story in alternating viewpoints from each sister so that we are constantly getting both sides of the story and are allowed to make up our minds about each sister.  I liked this presentation because I think if we had only gotten the perspective of one of the sisters, rather than both, it would have been easy to find one of them less sympathetic.  The way the author chooses to present the story makes it easy to understand where each sister is coming from.

A final aspect of The Wartime Sisters I enjoyed was having the story actually set in the United States.  I’ve read a lot of historical fiction in my day and I can count on one hand the number of WWII stories I’ve come across that focus on what WWII looked like from the U.S.  I liked seeing it from this perspective and focusing a bit on the key roles that American women played in the war effort.  Millie’s perspective offered so much insight into this as her job in the armory was to build trigger mechanisms as part of the rifle assembly line.  Through Millie and her colleagues, we got to see firsthand the long hours and hard work women put in to get rifles into the hands of our soldiers.

Most of the time it felt like the historical aspect of the book took a backseat to the two sisters and their estranged relationship.  I still thoroughly enjoyed the story but a little more balance between the history/war and the more personal drama would have made this a 5 star read for me.

If you’re looking for a poignant, emotionally engaging read about family and the complicated relationships they can have, and the dangers of keeping secrets, I would highly recommend The Wartime Sisters.  The storyline is compelling, the characters are well drawn, and the historical setting is well researched.  I think fans of historical fiction and/or domestic dramas would find this read to their liking.

GOODREADS SYNOPSIS:

Two estranged sisters, raised in Brooklyn and each burdened with her own shocking secret, are reunited at the Springfield Armory in the early days of WWII. While one sister lives in relative ease on the bucolic Armory campus as an officer’s wife, the other arrives as a war widow and takes a position in the Armory factories as a “soldier of production.” Resentment festers between the two, and secrets are shattered when a mysterious figure from the past reemerges in their lives.

four-stars

About Lynda Cohen Loigman

Lynda Cohen Loigman grew up in Longmeadow, Massachusetts. She received a B.A. in English and American Literature from Harvard College and a law degree from Columbia Law School. Lynda practiced trusts and estates law in New York City for eight years before moving out of the city to raise her two children with her husband. She wrote The Two-Family House while she was a student of the Writing Institute at Sarah Lawrence College. The Two-Family House was chosen by Goodreads as a best book of the month for March, 2016, and was a nominee for the Goodreads 2016 Choice Awards in Historical Fiction. Lynda’s second novel, The Wartime Sisters, will be published on January 22, 2019.

Blog Tour Book Review: WHITE STAG by Kara Barbieri

Blog Tour Book Review:  WHITE STAG by Kara BarbieriWhite Stag (Permafrost, #1) by Kara Barbieri
three-half-stars
Series: Permafrost #1
Published by Wednesday Books on January 8, 2019
Genres: Fantasy
Pages: 368
Source: Netgalley
Buy on Amazon
Goodreads

FTC Disclosure: I received this book for free from Netgalley in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

 

 

 

White Stag is the first installment in an exciting new fantasy series by author Kara Barbieri.  I’ll admit right from the start that I first became interested in this book because I was drawn to its stunning cover and especially because the white stag on it brought to mind Harry Potter and his patronus.  Cover love aside, once I read the synopsis and saw that the book was actually about goblins, I knew I had to read it!

Barbieri gets her story off to a strong start by tossing her readers right into an action-packed fight scene in the Goblin Palace.  In one fell swoop, we meet the main character Janneke, learn that she is a slave who has a complicated relationship with her captor, Soren, and that she is also a pretty badass fighter.  We also meet the heinous and sadistic villain, Soren’s uncle Lydian, and learn that he has a history of violence with Janneke that still haunts her to this day.  In addition to all of this, we also see the Goblin King slain before our very eyes and learn that there will be a stag hunt to determine who the next King is.  Talk about starting off with a bang!  I was thoroughly engaged from that first scene and wanted to know more about Janneke, how she ended up where she is, and why Soren and his uncle seem so completely different from one another even though they’re both Goblins, and then of course I wanted to know more about the death of the King and the stag hunt to crown the new King.

The only survivor when the Goblins burned her village to the ground, 17-year-old Janneke is a character I was drawn to immediately.  The Goblins took her into their world, and for the past 100+ years, she has been their slave, first to the repugnant Lydian and then to Soren, once Lydian grew tired of her. Consider yourself forewarned that Janneke’s history with Lydian is dark and violent (Trigger warnings for rape, sexual abuse).  I had a somewhat difficult time reading about her time with Lydian and how it still torments her, but it is portrayed realistically and it does shape the person that we meet in the book so I think it’s well done. Janneke is definitely a survivor in every sense of the word and it’s easy to feel sympathetic toward her as she realizes and becomes conflicted by the fact that the more time she spends with the Goblins in their land, the less human she has become.  She fears turning into a monster, and it’s easy to understand why she feels that way knowing her history with Lydian.

Soren is also a very likeable character.  Even though Janneke is technically his slave, it’s clear from the opening pages that their relationship is anything but Master and Slave.  I found Soren to be very intriguing, and I liked how protective he was of Janneke. It often felt like he’s trying to make up for his uncle’s cruelty. Soren stands as a reminder that Goblins aren’t necessarily monsters, and throughout the course of the novel, I think he and Janneke learn a lot from each other about the nature of humanity and monsters.

Another aspect of White Stag that I really enjoyed was that there were two equally compelling plotlinesJanneke’s journey is an emotional one as, caught between the human world and the world of the Permafrost, she battles her inner demons and tries to figure out who she is and where she belongs.  Janneke’s plight is one that is easy to get caught up in and she’s such a likeable character that I just found myself really wanting her to find a resolution that would make her happy.

In addition to Janneke’s emotional story, however, there is also the very exciting stag hunt, which will determine the next Goblin King.  In many ways, this was actually my favorite part of the story because it was just so action-packed and fraught with danger, not to mention all of the backstabbing and conniving behavior!  The stag hunt is basically a free-for-all, and even if you form alliances with other goblins, it’s fully with the understanding that all alliances are temporary the closer everyone gets to the stag.  Barbieri does a very nice job of crafting these two separate plotlines and then seamlessly entwining them by way of Janneke, who has a tremendous stake in who becomes the next Goblin King since the main two contenders are Soren and Lydian.

Another strong point of the novel is the worldbuilding.  I just loved the wild and wintry setting of the Goblin’s Permafrost.  It’s filled with danger and excitement, myths, ancient rituals, and magical creatures and was just everything I hoped it would be.

Although I enjoyed the novel very much overall, I did run into a couple of issues while reading White Stag. One was that I was not completely sold on any kind of a romantic relationship between Soren and Janneke.  I’m not even sure why honestly. I enjoyed their banter, especially when Janneke was trying to teach Soren how to appreciate sarcasm and use it properly, but I guess for me, their chemistry felt more friend-like than it did romantic. For that reason, it threw me for a bit of a loop when things started to heat up between them.

 A second issue was that there were a couple of times when I just felt like I wanted more information, such as the idea that Janneke is still technically 17 years old even though she has been with the Goblins for over 100 years.  I would have liked a little more explanation as to how that was possible.

Overall, I found White Stag to be a very impressive debut from Kara Barbieri and I look forward to seeing where she takes the story in her next book.

 

 

 

GOODREADS SYNOPSIS:

The first book in a brutally stunning series where a young girl finds herself becoming more monster than human and must uncover dangerous truths about who she is and the place that has become her home.

As the last child in a family of daughters, seventeen-year-old Janneke was raised to be the male heir. While her sisters were becoming wives and mothers, she was taught to hunt, track, and fight. On the day her village was burned to the ground, Janneke—as the only survivor—was taken captive by the malicious Lydian and eventually sent to work for his nephew Soren.

Janneke’s survival in the court of merciless monsters has come at the cost of her connection to the human world. And when the Goblin King’s death ignites an ancient hunt for the next king, Soren senses an opportunity for her to finally fully accept the ways of the brutal Permafrost. But every action he takes to bring her deeper into his world only shows him that a little humanity isn’t bad—especially when it comes to those you care about.

Through every battle they survive, Janneke’s loyalty to Soren deepens. After dangerous truths are revealed, Janneke must choose between holding on or letting go of her last connections to a world she no longer belongs to. She must make the right choice to save the only thing keeping both worlds from crumbling.

three-half-stars

About Kara Barbieri

Kara Barbieri is a writer living in the tiny town of Hayward, Wisconsin. An avid fantasy fan, she began writing White Stag at eighteen and posting it to Wattpad soon after under the name of ‘Pandean’. When she’s not writing, you can find her marathoning Buffy the Vampire Slayer, reviving gothic fashion, and jamming to synthpop.

Early Review – HER ONE MISTAKE by Heidi Perks

Early Review – HER ONE MISTAKE by Heidi PerksHer One Mistake by Heidi Perks
four-stars
Published by Gallery Books on January 8, 2019
Genres: Thriller, Mystery
Pages: 320
Source: Netgalley
Buy on Amazon
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FTC Disclosure: I received this book for free from Netgalley in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

 

 

 

 

MY REVIEW:

Wow, what a roller coaster ride this book was for me!  Heidi Perks new novel Her One Mistake is a psychological thriller that centers on one of every parent’s worst nightmares – a missing child.  The story follows Harriet and Charlotte, best friends and mothers who have children about the same age.  Harriet, a somewhat overprotective mother, has never let her four-year-old daughter Alice out of her sight prior to the day she allows Charlotte to take Alice to the school fair with her own children.  Charlotte knows what a huge deal it is that Harriet is entrusting her with caring for Alice and vows to be worthy of the trust that has been placed in her.

When the unthinkable happens, however, and Alice goes missing at the school fair, Charlotte turns the place upside looking for her. When it becomes clear that Alice is no longer on school grounds, the police get involved and begin a search.  They are quick to act because another young child had gone missing several months ago and still hadn’t been located so the fear that a predator may be on the loose in their community is all too real.

Charlotte is truly devastated.  She is crushed, not just because Alice was in her care when she went missing, but also because she doesn’t even want to think about how distraught Harriet will be.  This will surely spell the end of their friendship, even if Alice is found safe and sound.

After she finds out about her missing daughter, Harriet refuses to even speak to or see Charlotte. She and her husband blame Charlotte exclusively for what has happened, as do all of their mutual friends and apparently most people on the internet who are discussing the incident.

As the police investigation ramps up, however, secrets, lies and some ugly truths begin to surface.  As we move closer to the truth about what has happened to Alice and who is responsible, it becomes clear that nothing is as it originally seemed.

Characters.  I found both Charlotte and Harriet to be very sympathetic characters. As a parent, I know how devastating it would be to find out my child was missing, and I also know I would never forgive myself if I was entrusted with the care of one of my friends’ children and they went missing while in my care.

Not only was it easy to sympathize with these characters, but it was also very easy to imagine them as real people.  They are flawed and messy and some of the problematic scenarios they find themselves in are of their own making.  Part of the reason Charlotte is so widely blamed, for example, is because while she was supposed to be watching the children at the fair, she was also posting on her Facebook account.  So everyone who follows her on there, knows she was at least somewhat distracted while the kids were playing.

Pacing and Perspective.  I loved the pacing of Her One Mistake.  It’s set up from the perspective of both Harriet and Charlotte and we hear from each of them as we go through the lead up to Alice going missing, the initial search and immediate fallout, the police investigation, and then the subsequent larger fallout as we get closer to the truth.  Seeing first hand what is going through the minds of both Charlotte and Harriet not only had my own emotions all in knots, but it also painted such a full picture of what was going on by presenting it from both sides.  The chapters were short but powerful, and I just flew through the pages because I needed to know the truth.

Suspense and Tension.  Perks did a phenomenal job of ratchetting up the tension and suspense the further we get into the story.  There was one character in particular I had a bad feeling about from the first moment they were introduced.  I couldn’t put my finger on exactly what it was that bothered me, but every time they appeared on the page, my skin crawled.  I hated the character but loved that the author had me on the edge of my seat waiting to see if this character would turn out to be a monster or not.

Dark but Relevant Themes.  And finally, I liked the wide range of themes Her One Mistake touched on.  Be forewarned that this is in no way a fluffy read though.  It explores some dark topics like abuse, isolation, deception, desperation, and there is a big focus on friendships, both in terms of how such a tragedy can strain or even ruin friendships, and in terms of fair weather friends who abandon you at the first sign of trouble.

I don’t have any real complaints about the novel at all, although I did feel that there were a couple of loose ends that I would have liked some closure on.  I can’t speak to what they are for spoiler reasons, but if you read it, you’ll probably figure out the ones I’m referring to.

Overall, I found Her One Mistake to be a riveting and compulsively readable thriller.  I binge-read it in just a couple of sittings and found myself immediately going to Goodreads to see what else Heidi Perks has written. She is definitely an author that I look forward to reading more from. If you’re a fan of Liane Moriarty or Sally Hepworth’s domestic thrillers, I think Her One Mistake might be right up your alley as well.

GOODREADS SYNOPSIS:

What should have been a fun-filled, carefree day takes a tragic turn for the worse for one mother when her best friend’s child goes missing in this suspenseful, compulsively readable, and darkly twisted psychological thriller.

It all started at the school fair…

Charlotte was supposed to be looking after the children, and she swears she was. She only took her eyes off of them for one second. But when her three kids are all safe and sound at the school fair, and Alice, her best friend Harriet’s daughter, is nowhere to be found, Charlotte panics. Frantically searching everywhere, Charlotte knows she must find the courage to tell Harriet that her beloved only child is missing. And admit that she has only herself to blame.

Harriet, devastated by this unthinkable, unbearable loss, can no longer bring herself to speak to Charlotte again, much less trust her. Now more isolated than ever and struggling to keep her marriage afloat, Harriet believes nothing and no one. But as the police bear down on both women trying to piece together the puzzle of what happened to this little girl, dark secrets begin to surface—and Harriet discovers that confiding in Charlotte again may be the only thing that will reunite her with her daughter….

This breathless and fast-paced debut—perfect for fans of Big Little Lies and The Couple Next Door—takes you on a chilling journey that will keep you guessing until the very last page.

four-stars

About Heidi Perks

Heidi Perks was born in 1973. She lives by the sea in Bournemouth with her husband and two children.

Heidi graduated from Bournemouth University in 1997 with a BA (Hons) in Retail Management, and then enjoyed a career in Marketing before leaving in 2012 to focus on both bringing up her family and writing.

Heidi successfully applied for a place on the inaugural Curtis Brown Creative online Novel Writing Course and after that dedicated her time to completing her first novel, Beneath The Surface.

She has a huge interest in what makes people tick and loves to write about family relationships, especially where some of the characters are slightly dysfunctional.

Heidi is now writing her second novel

Early Review: THE GIRL KING

Early Review:  THE GIRL KINGThe Girl King by Mimi Yu
three-half-stars
Series: The Girl King #1
Published by Bloomsbury YA on January 8, 2019
Genres: Fantasy, Young Adult Fiction
Pages: 432
Source: Netgalley
Buy on Amazon
Goodreads

FTC Disclosure: I received this book for free from Netgalley in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

 
 
 
 
 
 

MY REVIEW:

Mimi Yu’s debut novel The Girl King is an Asian-inspired fantasy that is filled to the brim with political intrigue, sibling rivalry, betrayal, rebellion, and of course, magic. It follows Lu and Min, two sisters who are as different as night and day, and who are princesses of the Empire.  Lu, the more outspoken and rebellious of the two, believes that their father (against their mother’s wishes) is about to name her as his successor, which would make her the Empire’s first female ruler. Min, the more docile and reserved sister, also believes that Lu is destined to be Empress and that her own role is simply to continue being the meek and dutiful daughter that makes their mother happy.

It’s also not only the sisters who expect Lu to be named the next ruler.  Most of the citizens of the Empire expect it as well. So, when the unthinkable happens and their father names their cousin Set as the new Emperor instead and proclaims that Lu’s destiny will be to marry Set, chaos ensues on all sides. Lu feels betrayed and Min is utterly bewildered.  Determined to reclaim her birthright at all costs, Lu sets out to find allies who will help her take back the throne.  In doing so, however, she leaves her sister Min behind.  Min’s future has also been up-ended, both by their father’s proclamation and by Lu’s desertion.  What role will Min play now that everything has been turned upside down?

The three main characters of The Girl King were the story’s biggest draw for me.

  • Lu.  I really liked Lu’s fierceness and determination, and that she’s a bit of a rebel.  Most of all though, I liked her self-confidence.  She truly feels that she is more than capable of taking her father’s place as ruler of the Empire.  The fact that she would be the first female ruler doesn’t faze her in the least.  Some may find her arrogant, but I just found it refreshing that she knows what she wants and feels ready for the responsibility.  My heart broke for her when her father announced that Set, a cousin that Lu despises, would be named the next ruler instead of Lu.
  • Min.  Min was a little harder to get to know, mainly because she’s so quiet and retreating compared to Lu.  She functions as little more than a secondary character while Lu is around.  Even relegated to the background, however, Min still got to me.  I still found myself really caring about her and feeling protective of her.  It seemed like no good could come from her being left behind at the palace without Lu there as a buffer between her and anyone else who might try to take advantage of her meek nature.  I don’t want to give away anything too spoilery but I will say that the transformation Min undergoes throughout the course of The Girl King wins her the Most Shocking Character award.  It’s amazing what can happen when someone is just pushed way too far!
  • Nokhai (or Nok). Nok was actually probably my favorite character.  As much as I enjoyed the sibling dynamic between Lu and Min, I just found Nokhai’s story equally, if not more, compelling than theirs.  Nok is a wolf shapeshifter, and thanks to Min and Lu’s father wiping out his people, Nok is the last surviving one of his kind. Unable to master this shapeshifting power that he has, Nok has been in hiding and would prefer to stay that way, However, when he and Lu meet up out in the forest, he finds himself drawn into an awkward alliance with her and vows to help her reclaim the throne.  I love how the author infuses this character with so much complexity and inner turmoil.  On the one hand, he hates the Empire and everything it stands for, but on the other, there’s something about Lu that makes him believe he can trust her to be a just ruler.  Add to that Nok’s immense frustration that he cannot master his power and that there is no one left to teach him how to do so and we have ourselves an emotional mess of a character.  Nok just needed a hug so badly.

Aside from the characters, I also thought the worldbuilding was wonderful too.  Everything is just so detailed and vivid. There’s a complex and very cool magic system of course, but there’s also spirits, shapeshifters, prophecies, and even a hidden city and temples.  I do wish I was more familiar with Asian folklore and history so that I could have appreciated it even more, but I was still quite captivated by the world the author has constructed.

The author also strikes a nice balance between action and emotion.  While much of the story feels quite character driven as Lu, Min, and Nok are each battling their own inner demons, there is also a very strong plot that is filled with political intrigue, betrayal, and epic fight scenes.

Overall, I found The Girl King to be a very entertaining read.  My only real complaint was that I wish the story had felt a little more original.  I guess I’ve just read too many stories where the rightful ruler goes into exile and has to come back and fight for their throne.  It was a nice twist to have that rightful ruler be a female this time though.

There were also a couple of plot twists regarding Nok that I found somewhat predictable.  Predicting how things would turn out didn’t lessen my enjoyment of the story, although I always prefer to be kept guessing for as long as possible to build suspense.

If you like fierce heroines, sibling rivalries, vivid worldbuilding, and political intrigue, I think you would find The Girl King to your liking.  I found it to be a very solid debut for Mimi Yu and look forward to seeing where the second book in the series takes me.

 

GOODREADS SYNOPSIS:

Two sisters become unwitting rivals in a war to claim the title of Emperor in this sweeping tale of ambition, sacrifice and betrayal for readers of Sabaa Tahir and Alwyn Hamilton.

All hail the Girl King.

Sisters Lu and Min have always understood their places as princesses of the Empire. Lu knows she is destined to become the dynasty’s first female ruler, while Min is resigned to a life in her shadow. Then their father declares their male cousin Set the heir instead—a betrayal that sends the sisters down two very different paths.

Determined to reclaim her birthright, Lu goes on the run. She needs an ally—and an army—if she is to succeed. Her quest leads her to Nokhai, the last surviving wolf shapeshifter. Nok wants to keep his identity secret, but finds himself forced into an uneasy alliance with the girl whose family killed everyone he ever loved…

Alone in the volatile court, Min’s hidden power awakens—a forbidden, deadly magic that could secure Set’s reign…or allow Min to claim the throne herself. But there can only be one Emperor, and the sisters’ greatest enemy could turn out to be each other.

three-half-stars

About Mimi Yu

Mimi Yu was born and raised in rural upstate New York. Her hometown is the site of both the Women’s Rights Convention (1848) and the largest active landfill in New York State (ongoing).

She currently resides in the SF Bay Area of California, and soon she will live near Chicago. She has never been a midwesterner before, but she does enjoy a good casserole.

Besides books, Mimi likes quilting, gardening, drawing, picking up heavy weights, and pop music. She has four planets in Aquarius. She knows a little bit about a lot of animals, and far too much about cats.

Early Review: AN ANONYMOUS GIRL by Greer Hendricks and Sarah Pekkanen

Early Review:  AN ANONYMOUS GIRL by Greer Hendricks and Sarah PekkanenAn Anonymous Girl by Greer Hendricks, Sarah Pekkanen
Also by this author: The Wife Between Us
four-stars
Published by St. Martin's Press on January 8, 2019
Genres: Thriller, Mystery
Pages: 384
Source: Netgalley
Buy on Amazon
Goodreads

FTC Disclosure: I received this book for free from Netgalley in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

MY REVIEW:

The Wife Between Us by Greer Hendricks and Sarah Pekkanen was one of my favorite thrillers from last year, so when I heard this duo had collaborated on another book, I couldn’t request it from Netgalley fast enough.  And as much as I enjoyed The Wife Between Us, I think their latest effort, An Anonymous Girl, is an even more riveting read.  It was a nail biter from start to finish and it seemed to actually just get creepier and creepier with each turn of the page!

An Anonymous Girl follows Jess Farris, a 28-year old make-up artist who is struggling to make ends meet.  When the opportunity to take part in a psychology experiment that pays its participants $500 falls into her lap, Jess jumps at the chance to make some easy cash.  Jess thinks she’s going to waltz in, answer a few anonymous questions about morality and ethics for Dr. Lydia Shields, grab her $500, and go.  What she doesn’t anticipate is getting sucked into a manipulative game of cat and mouse orchestrated by Dr. Shields that threatens to turn Jess’ whole world upside down.

This is one of those books where it’s best to go in knowing as little as possible so I’m going to be pretty vague in my explanation of what I liked about it.  Here were some of the highlights for me:

I loved the way the story is presented from the perspectives of both Jess and Dr. Shields.  The way Dr. Shields would manipulate Jess and then sit back and watch her like she was a lab rat in a cage lent the story such a creepy and suspenseful atmosphere.  Coupling those chapters with chapters from Jess where you can see what’s going on in her head as Dr. Shields keeps drawing her deeper and deeper into her twisted game had me on the edge of my seat the entire time I was reading.  Dr. Shields gets so far inside Jess’ head that she can barely perform the simplest task without wondering how Dr. Shields would judge her for her choices.

Also adding to the creepy factor is the fact that in the chapters from Dr. Shields’ perspective, she thinks of herself in the third person. It’s as if she is observing herself as part of an experiment as well.  It gives her a cold and clinical vibe, which is in sharp contrast to Jess, who comes across as resourceful but naïve.

Some other highlights for me are that the pacing is near perfect. I never once lost interest in the plot and easily breezed through this novel in a sitting or two.  Also, as with The Wife Between Us, Hendricks and Pekkanen are truly in sync with one another and the writing just flows so smoothly and effortlessly.

I know I keep using the word creepy, but the dark nature of An Anonymous Girl is what really stuck with me after I finished the last page. Even though it starts out focusing on morality and ethics, it takes a very dark and dangerous turn into the realm of obsession and manipulation.  I love those books that have you practically screaming at the main characters to turn around and run away, and this is a prime example of a book like that.

Overall, I thought this was a fantastic and compelling read.  There were a couple of plot twists that I thought came together a little too conveniently, but that didn’t at all take away from my enjoyment of the story.

If you’re looking for a mind blowing psychological thriller to get your 2019 reading off to a stellar start, I highly recommend An Anonymous Girl.

GOODREADS SYNOPSIS:

Seeking women ages 18–32 to participate in a study on ethics and morality. Generous compensation. Anonymity guaranteed. 

When Jessica Farris signs up for a psychology study conducted by the mysterious Dr. Shields, she thinks all she’ll have to do is answer a few questions, collect her money, and leave. But as the questions grow more and more intense and invasive and the sessions become outings where Jess is told what to wear and how to act, she begins to feel as though Dr. Shields may know what she’s thinking…and what she’s hiding. As Jess’s paranoia grows, it becomes clear that she can no longer trust what in her life is real, and what is one of Dr. Shields’ manipulative experiments. Caught in a web of deceit and jealousy, Jess quickly learns that some obsessions can be deadly.

four-stars

About Greer Hendricks

GREER HENDRICKS spent over two decades as an editor at Simon & Schuster. Prior to her tenure in publishing, she worked at Allure Magazine and obtained her Master’s in Journalism from Columbia University. Her writing has appeared in The New York Times and Publishers Weekly. She lives in Manhattan with her husband and two children, The Wife Between Us is her first novel.

Follow Greer Hendricks on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram

About Sarah Pekkanen

Internationally bestselling author Sarah Pekkanen’s newest book is THE PERFECT NEIGHBORS. She is also the co-author of the upcoming THE WIFE BETWEEN US (out in January 2018).

Her prior novels are: THINGS YOU WON’T SAY, CATCHING AIR, THE BEST OF US, THE OPPOSITE OF ME, SKIPPING A BEAT, and THESE GIRLS.

Sarah’s linked free short estories, published by Simon&Schuster exclusively for ereaders, are titled “All is Bright,” and “Love, Accidentally.”

Sarah is the mother of three young boys, which explains why she writes part of her novels at Chuck E. Cheese. Sarah penned her first book, Miscellaneous Tales and Poems, at the age of 10. When publishers failed to jump upon this literary masterpiece (hey, all the poems rhymed!) Sarah followed up by sending them a sternly-worded letter on Raggedy Ann stationery. Sarah still has that letter, and carries it to New York every time she has meetings with her publisher, as a reminder that dreams do come true.

Her website is www.sarahpekkanen.com and please find her on Facebook Instagram and Twitter @sarahpekkanen!

Review: WATCHING YOU by Lisa Jewell

Review:  WATCHING YOU by Lisa JewellWatching You by Lisa Jewell
four-stars
Published by Atria Books on December 26, 2018
Genres: Mystery, Thriller
Pages: 320
Source: Netgalley
Buy on Amazon
Goodreads

FTC Disclosure: I received this book for free from Netgalley in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

MY REVIEW:

 

Lisa Jewell’s latest novel Watching You is the thrilling domestic drama you need in your life.  It’s a murder mystery that is filled with suspense, complicated characters, and a myriad of plot twists that will keep you guessing and on the edge of your seat until the final piece of the puzzle is in place and the murderer is revealed.

Watching You is set in an upscale neighborhood in Bristol, England, and although several of the neighbors play important roles in the overall story, the novel primarily follows a character named Joey Mullen.  Joey apparently has a history of not always making the best choices in life and so when we meet her, she has just moved back to Bristol with her brand-new husband (who she has only known for a few months) and the two of them are living with Joey’s brother and sister-in-law while they try to find jobs and save up to get a place of their own.

One night Joey encounters Tom Fitzwilliam, the beloved headmaster at one of the local schools, and she, like most of the female student body at his school, develops a crush on Tom.  Even though he is happily married and therefore unavailable, Joey thinks about him all the time, makes up excuses to walk near his home to see if she can catch a glimpse of him, and goes out of her way to find ways to cross paths with Tom.  She thinks her secret crush is safe, but she doesn’t realize that Tom’s son, Freddie, has been watching her just as much as she has been watching Tom.

Ah yes, the watching.  That’s what it’s all about with Watching You.  Everyone in this novel is watching and spying on someone else.  It’s disturbing and yet also quite fascinating because none of them are as innocent as they would like for their neighbors to believe.  They all have secrets they’re trying to keep hidden, but at the same time, they’re almost desperate to find some dirt on their neighbors and in the end, everyone involved gets way more than they bargained for…

There’s so much to love about this book because Jewell just sets up the drama so perfectly.  She opens the novel by introducing us to Joey, Tom, and a few of their neighbors but then immediately hits us with a murder.  She starts building up the suspense immediately too because she doesn’t give the reader any details as to who the victim is or what has happened.  I was hooked right away and immediately started looking closely at the characters I had met so far, trying to figure out who might be the victim, who might be the murderer, etc.

Speaking of the characters, Watching You is filled with realistically flawed characters, any of whom seem capable of having murdered someone.  Each of the neighbors had messy, complicated lives and their individual dramas just added so many more layers to the story that made it so much more than just a murder mystery.  It was interesting to learn more about each of them and to watch them in action.  Fallible is probably the best word to describe them because mistakes and human error play a large role in the story.  As I’ve mentioned, these neighbors like to observe each other, but not only do they observe, they judge and make assumptions about people, they take things out of context and try to fit them into whatever narrative they’re trying to spin, and unfortunately, more often than not, they’re wrong.

All of these wrongs are what Jewell skillfully weaves into the narrative to drive the story along.  She presents the story to us from the viewpoints of several of the neighbors, so we get to see several perspectives as to what is going on in the neighborhood.  Those chapters move us forward toward the murder so we are able to see what tensions are mounting throughout the neighborhood – who might have been a likely target, as well as who might have the biggest motive to commit the crime.  Interspersed throughout, however, are also police interviews with the various neighbors to specifically give us their thoughts and theories about the murder.  The novel’s structure actually reminded me a lot of Liane Moriarty’s Big Little Lies, and it works here just as well as it did there. It really made for a fast-paced read that held my attention throughout, and the more I read, the more I desperately wanted to know who was dead and who had done it.

Overall, I really enjoyed Watching You.  I thought the pacing was fantastic and I loved how Jewell kept the suspense and tension building throughout the novel.  The only aspect of Watching You that fell a little short for me was that I didn’t really feel much of a connection to any of the characters.  Joey was probably the character I connected with the most, but even then, for the most part, I still felt like I was on the outside looking in.  Maybe that’s fitting since this is a story full of people watching each other, but that distance kept this from being a 5 star read for me.

Lisa Jewell’s Watching You is a riveting read that is sure to keep you on the edge of your seat. I highly recommend it to anyone who enjoys domestic thrillers.  If you’re a fan of Liane Moriarty’s books, you would probably enjoy this one too.  This was my first time reading Lisa Jewell but I’m looking forward to reading more of her twisty thrillers!

 

GOODREADS SYNOPSIS:

Melville Heights is one of the nicest neighbourhoods in Bristol, England; home to doctors and lawyers and old-money academics. It’s not the sort of place where people are brutally murdered in their own kitchens. But it is the sort of place where everyone has a secret. And everyone is watching you.

As the headmaster credited with turning around the local school, Tom Fitzwilliam is beloved by one and all—including Joey Mullen, his new neighbor, who quickly develops an intense infatuation with this thoroughly charming yet unavailable man. Joey thinks her crush is a secret, but Tom’s teenaged son Freddie—a prodigy with aspirations of becoming a spy for MI5—excels in observing people and has witnessed Joey behaving strangely around his father.

One of Tom’s students, Jenna Tripp, also lives on the same street, and she’s not convinced her teacher is as squeaky clean as he seems. For one thing, he has taken a particular liking to her best friend and fellow classmate, and Jenna’s mother—whose mental health has admittedly been deteriorating in recent years—is convinced that Mr. Fitzwilliam is stalking her.

Meanwhile, twenty years earlier, a schoolgirl writes in her diary, charting her doomed obsession with a handsome young English teacher named Mr. Fitzwilliam…

four-stars

About Lisa Jewell

Lisa was born in London in 1968. Her mother was a secretary and her father was a textile agent and she was brought up in the northernmost reaches of London with her two younger sisters. She was educated at a Catholic girls’ Grammar school in Finchley. After leaving school at sixteen she spent two years at Barnet College doing an arts foundation course and then two years at Epsom School of Art & Design studying Fashion Illustration and Communication.

She worked for the fashion chain Warehouse for three years as a PR assistant and then for Thomas Pink, the Jermyn Street shirt company for four years as a receptionist and PA. She started her first novel, Ralph’s Party, for a bet in 1996. She finished it in 1997 and it was published by Penguin books in May 1998. It went on to become the best-selling debut novel of that year.

She has since written a further nine novels, as is currently at work on her eleventh.

She now lives in an innermost part of north London with her husband Jascha, an IT consultant, her daughters, Amelie and Evie and her silver tabbies, Jack and Milly.

Mini Reviews for THE ACCIDENTAL BEAUTY QUEEN & MY FAVORITE HALF-NIGHT STAND

Mini Reviews for THE ACCIDENTAL BEAUTY QUEEN & MY FAVORITE HALF-NIGHT STANDThe Accidental Beauty Queen by Teri Wilson
four-stars
Published by Gallery Books on December 4, 2018
Genres: Contemporary Fiction
Pages: 304
Source: Netgalley
Buy on Amazon
Goodreads

FTC Disclosure: I received this book for free from Netgalley in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

GOODREADS SYNOPSIS:

In this charming romantic comedy perfect for fans of Meg Cabot and Sophie Kinsella, critically acclaimed author Teri Wilson shows us that sometimes being pushed out of your comfort zone leads you to the ultimate prize.

Charlotte Gorman loves her job as an elementary school librarian, and is content to experience life through the pages of her books. Which couldn’t be more opposite from her identical twin sister. Ginny, an Instagram-famous beauty pageant contestant, has been chasing a crown since she was old enough to enunciate the words world peace, and she’s not giving up until she gets the title of Miss American Treasure. And Ginny’s refusing to do it alone this time.

She drags Charlotte to the pageant as a good luck charm, but the winning plan quickly goes awry when Ginny has a terrible, face-altering allergic reaction the night before the pageant, and Charlotte suddenly finds herself in a switcheroo the twins haven’t successfully pulled off in decades.

Woefully unprepared for the glittery world of hair extensions, false eyelashes, and push-up bras, Charlotte is mortified at every unstable step in her sky-high stilettos. But as she discovers there’s more to her fellow contestants than just wanting a sparkly crown, Charlotte realizes she has a whole new motivation for winning.

Review:

After a stressful work week, I was in the mood for a light and fun read to ease me into the weekend. I came across Teri Wilson’s The Accidental Beauty Queen, and as soon as I read the synopsis, I knew this was exactly the kind of story I was searching for. As soon as I started reading about Charlotte, her twin sister Ginny, and their beauty pageant misadventures, I was hooked.  Their story is sweet, heartfelt, and just downright hilarious.

Charlotte was the biggest draw for me. She’s an elementary school librarian, and a huge fan of both Harry Potter and Pride and Prejudice. Truly a heroine after my own heart.  I loved that she’s such a huge book nerd and that she’s so completely devoted to her twin.  When an allergic reaction sidelines Ginny with a swollen, blotchy face, Charlotte agrees to switch places and compete in the preliminary rounds of the pageant to keep her sister’s dream of winning this pageant alive.  Charlotte knows that the pageant is important to Ginny, not just for the prestige, but also for sentimental reasons. It’s a pageant that their mom won years ago before she passed away from cancer.  I was touched by Charlotte not wanting to let her sister down, even if it meant doing something that she was completely uncomfortable doing.  Wilson also does a beautiful job of portraying this sisterly dynamic.  I’m a sucker for a good sibling story anyway, and this was realistic and moving, and just everything I wanted it to be.

There were lots of other things to like about this story as well.  I was also a fan of how the actual pageant was portrayed.  Instead of the cattiness I was expecting Charlotte to encounter, it was nice to see that each pageant scene had more of a supportive sisterhood vibe to it.  Another point of interest to me was Grey, one of the pageant judges and someone Charlotte continually bumps into throughout the book.  Grey is super charming and he’s also quite bookish, so I just adored it when he and Charlotte would talk nerdy to each other. Their chemistry was off the charts, and their banter was sprinkled with Harry Potter and Pride and Prejudice references.  Pure perfection!

In short, The Accidental Beauty Queen was everything my book-loving heart desired and then some.  4 STARS

 

 

Mini Reviews for THE ACCIDENTAL BEAUTY QUEEN & MY FAVORITE HALF-NIGHT STANDMy Favorite Half-Night Stand by Christina Lauren
four-stars
Published by Gallery Books on December 4, 2018
Genres: Contemporary Fiction, Romance
Pages: 384
Source: Netgalley
Buy on Amazon
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FTC Disclosure: I received this book for free from Netgalley in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

GOODREADS SYNOPSIS:

By the New York Times bestselling author who “hilariously depicts modern dating” (Us Weekly), My Favorite Half-Night Stand is a laugh-out-loud romp through online dating and its many, many fails.

Millie Morris has always been one of the guys. A UC Santa Barbara professor, she’s a female-serial-killer expert who’s quick with a deflection joke and terrible at getting personal. And she, just like her four best guy friends and fellow professors, is perma-single.

So when a routine university function turns into a black tie gala, Mille and her circle make a pact that they’ll join an online dating service to find plus-ones for the event. There’s only one hitch: after making the pact, Millie and one of the guys, Reid Campbell, secretly spend the sexiest half-night of their lives together, but mutually decide the friendship would be better off strictly platonic.

But online dating isn’t for the faint of heart. While the guys are inundated with quality matches and potential dates, Millie’s first profile attempt garners nothing but dick pics and creepers. Enter “Catherine”—Millie’s fictional profile persona, in whose make-believe shoes she can be more vulnerable than she’s ever been in person. Soon “Catherine” and Reid strike up a digital pen-pal-ship...but Millie can’t resist temptation in real life, either. Soon, Millie will have to face her worst fear—intimacy—or risk losing her best friend, forever.

Perfect for fans of Roxanne and She’s the Man, Christina Lauren’s latest romantic comedy is full of mistaken identities, hijinks, and a classic love story with a modern twist. Funny and fresh, you’ll want to swipe right on My Favorite Half-Night Stand.

Review:

Christina Lauren’s My Favorite Half-Night Stand, which explores the many ups and downs of online dating, is another book I picked up because I wanted a light and fluffy read.  It follows Millie Morris and her all-guy friend group as they try to use online dating apps to find themselves dates to a university function.

My Favorite Half-Night Stand really delivers with the laughs. I honestly lost track of how many times I laughed out loud at Millie and the guys as they bantered back and forth while trying out these apps.  In fact, the dynamics of this group was my favorite part of the whole book.  All I kept thinking while I was reading about them in action using these apps was that this whole premise would make for such a great episode of Friends. Everything about how they interacted with one another actually made me think of Friends, which is a good thing since Friends is one of my favorite shows.

I also really liked Millie.  She’s kind of a mother hen to the guys in her circle of friends, which is funny to watch.  What I liked most about Millie though is how much emotional growth there is with her character throughout the story.  When we first meet her, she’s very closed off about anything personal.  Even her closest friends can’t really pry any personal details out of her.  As the story progresses, however, she starts to have romantic feelings towards her best friend, Reid, and so she does slowly start to open up. She unfortunately makes some questionable choices along the way as she explores her feelings for Reid, but when her choices threaten their friendship, she vows to change her ways.  I liked that Millie was kind of a mess and trying to sort herself out. That made her feel very authentic to me.  I’m also all for a good friends to possible lovers story, so My Favorite Half-Night Stand really hit the spot in that area as well.

This was my first time reading anything by Christina Laurent but it definitely won’t be my last! 4 STARS

four-stars

About Christina Lauren

Christina Lauren is the combined pen name of long-time writing partners and best friends Christina Hobbs and Lauren Billings. The #1 international bestselling coauthor duo writes both Young Adult and Adult Fiction, and together has produced fourteen New York Times bestselling novels. They are published in over 30 languages, have received starred reviews from Kirkus Reviews, Library Journal and Publishers Weekly, won both the Seal of Excellence and Book of the Year from RT Magazine, named Amazon and Audible Romance of the Year, a Lambda Literary Award finalist and been nominated for several Goodreads Choice Awards. They have been featured in publications such as Forbes, The Washington Post, Time, Entertainment Weekly, People, O Magazine and more. Their third YA novel, Autoboyography was released in 2017 to critical acclaim, followed by Roomies, Love and Other Words, Josh and Hazel’s Guide to Not Dating, and the Publisher’s Weekly starred My Favorite Half-Night Stand, out in December.

About Teri Wilson

Teri Wilson is the author/creator of the Hallmark Channel Original Movies UNLEASHING MR. DARCY, MARRYING MR. DARCY, THE ART OF US and NORTHERN LIGHTS OF CHRISTMAS, based on her book SLEIGH BELL SWEETHEARTS. She is a double finalist for the prestigious RITA Award for excellence in romantic fiction for her novels THE PRINCESS PROBLEM and ROYALLY WED. She has a major weakness for cute animals, pretty dresses and Audrey Hepburn films, and she loves following the British royal family. Feel free to visit and connect with her here at TeriWilson.net, and on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

Early Review: THE WINTER OF THE WITCH by Katherine Arden

Early Review:  THE WINTER OF THE WITCH by Katherine ArdenThe Winter of the Witch by Katherine Arden
Also by this author: The Bear and the Nightingale
five-stars
Series: Winternight Trilogy #3
Published by Del Rey Books on January 8, 2019
Genres: Fantasy
Pages: 384
Source: Netgalley
Buy on Amazon
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FTC Disclosure: I received this book for free from Netgalley in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

 

MY REVIEW:

 

The Winter of the Witch is the final book in Katherine Arden’s captivating Winternight Trilogy. I always find it difficult to review books that come late in a series because it’s so hard to talk about them without giving away spoilers, but I’m going to give it my best shot here and hope that my words do it justice because  filled with unforgettable characters, intricate worldbuilding, and creatures from Russian folklore, the Winternight Trilogy truly is one of the most beautifully crafted series I’ve ever read.

To give a bit of general context for those who have begun the series, The Winter of the Witch picks up right where the second book left off.  Moscow is in ruins and its terrified citizens are looking for answers, and more specifically, for someone to blame.  That someone, unfortunately, becomes our heroine Vasya, and the final book begins with her fleeing for her life from an angry mob who accuse her of being a witch and want to see her dead.

War is also brewing as the Grand Prince of Moscow looks to go after those who threaten his kingdom.  While the Grand Prince prepares for war, the priest Konstantin has troubles of his own.  Although he may be a powerful religious figure, Konstantin is a weak man, easily manipulated by those stronger than he is.  In Konstantin’s case, he finds himself the puppet of a vengeful demon named the Bear.  The Bear feeds off of chaos, fear, and war so he uses Konstantin to fan the flames of hatred and distrust to create chaos everywhere.

This chaos and turmoil affects not just the humans, but also the magical creatures.  Vasya finds herself with the weight of both worlds on her shoulders as she desperately tries to save both her Russian homeland and her beloved magical realm.

Can Vasya stop the Bear and Konstantin?  Can she stop a war?  And most importantly, is there any way that her magical pagan world can peacefully coexist with the human world?  It’s a tall order, and Vasya isn’t sure she’s up to the task.

Vasya.  As with the two prior books, Vasya is my favorite part about this story.  We’ve watched her grow from a young girl to a young woman and there has just been such tremendous character growth throughout each book. That growth continues well into this final book and I can honestly say that Vasya is one of my all-time favorite book heroines.  I love her big heart, her refusal to conform to what is expected of her, and most especially, I love her resilience.  The final book presents Vasya with several heartbreaking, gut-wrenching moments – moments that probably would have crushed a lesser person – but no matter how low she is pushed down, she always picks herself back up and refuses to give up.

Worldbuilding.  I honestly didn’t think Arden could improve upon the worldbuilding from the first two books, but she proved me wrong with the Winter of the Witch.  Again, I don’t want to say much because of spoilers, but into her world of Russian inspired folklore, she introduces what she calls the Road to Midnight and for me, it’s one of the most memorable and unique parts of the story.  Vasya finds herself journeying on this road as she desperately seeks help from the Frost Demon and the journey she takes is truly magical, so much so that it almost defies explanation.  It’s kind of like time traveling but so much more.  You really have to experience it for yourself to get a feel for how wild a ride it really is.

Wonderful Secondary Characters.  Some like Solovey, Vasya’s horse, and Morozko, the Frost Demon, I adored.  Others like the Bear and Konstantin, not so much. But whether I loved or hated them, this series has a fantastic and unforgettable cast of well-drawn characters.  We also meet several more mythological creatures in this final book and their bond of mutual respect with Vasya adds so much richness to the story and really emphasizes how she is a bridge between the two worlds.

Creative Use of History.  I didn’t realize this until I read the author’s note, but some of the characters and events in the series are based on real historical events, including a war.  Arden has, of course, put her own personal and creative twist on them, but the historical fiction fan in me thought it was very cool to learn the story was based on not just Russian folklore but on actual Russian history as well.

It made me cry.  This does not happen to me often when I read fantasy series, but The Winter of the Witch made me cry. Not just once or twice, but three times!  I won’t say specifically why I cried, but I will say that two times, my tears were tears of sadness and one time, they were tears of joy.  That’s how attached to these characters I got!

I dislike that the series is over because I’m going to miss these characters and this gorgeous world so much, but that’s really all I’ve got.  For me, this series is about as close to perfection as it gets.

The Winternight Trilogy is, by far, one of the most unforgettable series I’ve ever read.  I love that while it’s a wholly unique story inspired by Russian history and folklore, it’s also reminiscent of some of my favorite childhood fantasies like The Chronicles of Narnia because the strong element of whimsical magic and wonder that permeates it.

GOODREADS SYNOPSIS:

Following their adventures in The Bear and the Nightingale and The Girl in the Tower, Vasya and Morozko return in this stunning conclusion to the bestselling Winternight Trilogy, battling enemies mortal and magical to save both Russias, the seen and the unseen.

Reviewers called Katherine Arden’s novels The Bear and the Nightingale and The Girl in the Tower “lyrical,” “emotionally stirring,” and “utterly bewitching.” The Winternight Trilogy introduced an unforgettable heroine, Vasilisa Petrovna, a girl determined to forge her own path in a world that would rather lock her away. Her gifts and her courage have drawn the attention of Morozko, the winter-king, but it is too soon to know if this connection will prove a blessing or a curse.

Now Moscow has been struck by disaster. Its people are searching for answers—and for someone to blame. Vasya finds herself alone, beset on all sides. The Grand Prince is in a rage, choosing allies that will lead him on a path to war and ruin. A wicked demon returns, stronger than ever and determined to spread chaos. Caught at the center of the conflict is Vasya, who finds the fate of two worlds resting on her shoulders. Her destiny uncertain, Vasya will uncover surprising truths about herself and her history as she desperately tries to save Russia, Morozko, and the magical world she treasures. But she may not be able to save them all.

 

five-stars

About Katherine Arden

Born in Austin, Texas, Katherine Arden spent a year of high school in Rennes, France. Following her acceptance to Middlebury College in Vermont, she deferred enrollment for a year in order to live and study in Moscow. At Middlebury, she specialized in French and Russian literature. After receiving her BA, she moved to Maui, Hawaii, working every kind of odd job imaginable, from grant writing and making crêpes to guiding horse trips. Currently she lives in Vermont, but really, you never know.

Early Review: ONCE UPON A RIVER

Early Review:  ONCE UPON A RIVEROnce Upon a River by Diane Setterfield
four-half-stars
Published by Atria/Emily Bestler Books on December 4, 2018
Genres: Historical Fiction, Fantasy, Fiction
Pages: 480
Source: Netgalley
Buy on Amazon
Goodreads

FTC Disclosure: I received this book for free from Netgalley in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

MY REVIEW:

Years ago I read and fell in love with Diane Setterfield’s bestselling novel, The Thirteenth Tale.  Setterfield’s storytelling abilities and her atmospheric settings thoroughly captivated me and so when I read that she had a new novel coming out, Once Upon a River, I couldn’t get over to Netgalley fast enough so that I could request it.

I was a little nervous going in that my expectations were way too high just because I loved The Thirteenth Tale so much, but those fears were alleviated almost immediately as I was pulled into Once Upon a River’s magical tale right away.  The story itself follows several families who live in a town located near the Thames River and how their lives changed forever one winter night when an injured man staggered into the Swan Inn with a dead little girl in his arms.

The local nurse is summoned to examine both the man and the girl, and even though all signs indicate that the little girl is, in fact, dead, a few moments later, the girl inexplicably starts breathing again and opens her eyes.  No one can explain what has happened and the girl, who no one recognizes, including the man who found her and brought her to the inn, cannot speak so in addition to her miraculous and unexplainable return from the dead, her identity is also a mystery.

There is speculation that she is the long lost daughter of the Vaughn family, whose child was kidnapped two years before and hasn’t been seen since, but there is also the possibility that she could be the grandchild of Mr. Armstrong, whose mother was rumored to have killed herself and tried to drown her child in the river.

The townspeople are left with endless questions and so the search is on to figure out who the little girl is, what happened to her, while in the backs of everyone’s mind is the real question:  Was she really dead and if so, why isn’t she still dead?

I loved that Setterfield chooses to set Once Upon a River around the Thames River and that her version of the Thames has an almost mythological, supernatural quality to it.  My favorite bit of folklore attributed to the river in this tale is Mr. Quietly, the boatman who appears to those who find themselves in distress in the river.  It is said that Quietly will either escort you safely to land if it’s not your time to go, but that if it is your time, he will escort you to the “other side of the river.”  At its heart, Once Upon a River is about stories and folklore and how they can shape and influence people’s lives and so the river and all of the lore surrounding it really helps to lend an atmospheric quality to the story as a whole.

The story is actually so atmospheric and embedded with lore that for the characters in the story, the lines between the real and the imagined at times become blurred and this adds to the appeal of the story because Once Upon a River also contains this mystery about the little girl that must be solved.  It’s hard to talk about the mystery without giving away too much, but I will say that Setterfield crafts the mystery in such a way that it unfolds almost like a fairytale.  In fact, the whole book almost reads as if it’s a fairytale.  It has that quality of magical realism that we often see in books like those of Alice Hoffman or even Neil Gaiman.

I also found the cast of characters Setterfield creates to be an endearing bunch.  The appearance of the mysterious little girl opens up a lot of old wounds for those in the town who have lost a child.  It actually hurts to watch so many people get their hopes up about this little girl, knowing that she can only belong to one family, which means many others will end up disappointed and crushed by the loss all over again.

In contrast to those families who are haunted by this girl, there are also the other townsfolk who, although they aren’t really the focus of Once Upon a River, they still add a richness to the story because they all fancy themselves storytellers and they all latch on to the events of that fateful night and spin tale after tale, adding whatever creative details suit the purposes of their individual stories.  The storytellers ultimately end up infusing the girl’s story into the existing lore of the river, further blurring those lines between the real and the magical/supernatural.

I’d also like to speak a bit on the pacing of the novel.  If you’re expecting a fast-paced thrill ride as the mystery in Once Upon a River unfolds, you will probably be disappointed.  This is a mystery that unfolds at its own pace, where the reader is meant to savor each detail and each clue as they are revealed.  You’re meant to observe all of these seemingly unrelated characters and how they each share a possible connection to the little girl.  Yes, there are plenty of twists and turns and unexpected surprises, but the reveal builds slowly over time.  I will say that I typically prefer my mysteries to be fast-paced, but Setterfield makes the slower pace really work here.  I don’t think the story would have had such a magical feel to it if the pace had been faster.

One last element of the story that really appealed to me was that it also included the use of scientific experimentation to try to explain away the unexplainable.  I loved that although Nurse Rita feels the same draw to this little girl that everyone else feels, her scientific mind won’t let her just accept what has happened and move on.  She won’t be satisfied until she has tested every possible hypothesis for why the girl was dead but then wasn’t.  I really liked the balance between Rita’s scientific curiosity and the supernatural elements throughout Once Upon a River.

NONE!

If you’re looking for an atmospheric mystery that reads like a fairytale, look no further than Diane Setterfield’s Once Upon a River.  It’s truly an exquisite piece of storytelling.

GOODREADS SYNOPSIS:

A dark midwinter’s night in an ancient inn on the Thames. The regulars are entertaining themselves by telling stories when the door bursts open on an injured stranger. In his arms is the drowned corpse of a little child.

Hours later the dead girl stirs, takes a breath and returns to life.

Is it a miracle?

Is it magic?

Or can it be explained by science?

Replete with folklore, suspense and romance, as well as with the urgent scientific curiosity of the Darwinian age, Once Upon a River is as richly atmospheric as Setterfield’s bestseller The Thirteenth Tale.

four-half-stars

About Diane Setterfield

Diane Setterfield is a British author. Her debut novel, The Thirteenth Tale (2006) was published in 38 countries worldwide and has sold more than three million copies. It was number one in the New York Times hardback fiction list for three weeks and is enjoyed as much for being ‘a love letter to reading’ as for its mystery and style. Her second novel is Bellman & Black (2013), an unusual genre-defying meditation on workaholism, Victorian mourning ritual and rooks, and her third, Once Upon a River, will be published in early 2019.

Born in rural Berkshire, Diane spent most of her childhood in the village of Theale. After schooldays at Theale Green, Diane studied French Literature at the University of Bristol. Her PhD was on autobiographical structures in André Gide’s early fiction. She taught English at the Institut Universitaire de Technologie and the Ecole nationale supérieure de Chimie, both in Mulhouse, France, and later lectured in French in the UK. She left academia in the late 1990s to pursue writing.

The Thirteenth Tale was acquired by Heyday Films and adapted for television by the award-winning playwright and scriptwriter, Christopher Hampton. Starring Vanessa Redgrave and Olivia Colman, it was filmed in North Yorkshire and broadcast by BBC2 in 2013.

Diane now lives in Oxford by the Thames. When not writing she reads widely, and when not actually reading she is usually talking or thinking about reading. She is, she says, ‘a reader first, a writer second.’

Mini Reviews: ‘TWAS THE KNIFE BEFORE CHRISTMAS & A CHRISTMAS REVELATION

Mini Reviews:  ‘TWAS THE KNIFE BEFORE CHRISTMAS & A CHRISTMAS REVELATION'Twas the Knife Before Christmas by Jacqueline Frost
four-stars
Series: A Christmas Tree Farm Mystery #2
Published by Crooked Lane Books on November 23, 2018
Genres: Fiction, Holiday, Cozy Mystery
Pages: 246
Source: Netgalley
Buy on Amazon
Goodreads

FTC Disclosure: I received this book for free from Netgalley in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

GOODREADS SYNOPSIS:

A Christmas delight, ’Twas the Knife Before Christmas will charm the stockings off readers of Joanne Fluke and Leslie Meier.

It’s out of the cupcake tin, into the fire for Holly White’s best friend, Caroline. Can Holly clear Caroline’s name in time to go caroling?

When a body turns up in the dumpster behind Caroline’s Cupcakes, Holly White is horrified to learn her best friend Caroline is the main suspect. Everyone in town, including Mistletoe, Maine’s sheriff, saw Caroline fighting with the victim on the night of his death. Worse, Caroline’s fingerprints are all over the murder weapon, a custom-designed marble rolling pin.

Now, just ten days before Christmas, Holly’s up to her jingle bells in holiday shenanigans and in desperate need of a miracle. Juggling extra shifts at her family’s Christmas tree farm and making enough gingerbread jewelry to satisfy the crowd is already more than she can handle—and now she has to find time to clear her best friend of murder. Add in her budding relationship with the sheriff, and run-ins with an ex-fiancé looking to make amends, and Holly’s ready to fly south until springtime.

But her Sherpa-lined mittens come off when Caroline is taken into custody. Can Holly wrap up the case in time for Christmas…even after she gains the true killer’s attention? Find out in ‘Twas the Knife Before Christmas, Jacqueline Frost’s second pine-scented Christmas Tree Farm mystery.

Review:

If you’re looking for a delightful Christmas-themed cozy murder mystery, Jacqueline Frost’s ‘Twas the Knife Before Christmas is sure to please.  The story is set in Mistletoe, which is a charming little town in Maine, and boy, do these folks love Christmas!  For all of you Gilmore Girls fans out there, imagine Stars Hollow but all decked out for the holidays.  That was the vibe I got the entire time I was reading and I loved it.

The story follows Holly White and her quest to clear her best friend, Caroline, who happens to be a suspect in a murder that has rocked this quaint little Christmas town.  During the town’s annual Christmas tree lighting ceremony, a man is found dead, stabbed and dumped into a giant dish of peppermint candies.  The last person seen with him was Caroline, the town’s beloved owner of Caroline’s Cupcakes, and they were having a pretty heated argument.  Although no one can believe their sweet Caroline could possibly be a murderer, she still finds herself a suspect.  Holly, in particular, knows her friend is innocent and makes it her mission to prove Caroline’s innocence and find the real killer, even if she drives her boyfriend, the town’s sheriff, crazy in the process.

‘Twas the Knife Before Christmas is filled with characters that you can’t help but fall in love with. Holly, Caroline, and Sheriff Evan are all very likable, and some of the secondary characters are so quirky and fun that they practically steal the show. There’s Cookie Cutter who likes to brew “special” tea that is sure to put an extra kick in your step, a la Peppermint Schnapps, and then there’s Ray, who is so overprotective of his mother because she’s dating a new man, that he spends most of the book sneaking around spying on their dates.  Oh, and I can’t forget Holly’s cat, who has the best pet name ever, Cindy Loo Who.  Between the fabulous characters and a murder mystery that has plenty of twists and turns to keep the story interesting, I can’t recommend ‘Twas the Knife Before Christmas highly enough. Cozy mystery fans are sure to love it!  4 STARS

 

Mini Reviews:  ‘TWAS THE KNIFE BEFORE CHRISTMAS & A CHRISTMAS REVELATIONA Christmas Revelation by Anne Perry
Also by this author: Twenty-One Days (Daniel Pitt, #1)
three-half-stars
Series: Christmas Stories #16
Published by Ballantine Books on November 6, 2018
Genres: Fiction, Holiday, Mystery
Pages: 192
Source: Netgalley
Buy on Amazon
Goodreads

FTC Disclosure: I received this book for free from Netgalley in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

GOODREADS SYNOPSIS:

In this intriguing, uplifting holiday mystery from bestselling author Anne Perry, an orphan boy investigates a woman's kidnapping--and discovers there's more at stake than a disappearance.

It wouldn't quite be Christmas without a holiday mystery decorated with all the Victorian trimmings as only New York Times bestselling author Anne Perry can render it. Now the tradition continues as mayhem is once again found under the mistletoe, and intrigue stalks the cobblestone streets and gaslit parlors of old London Town.

Formerly a river urchin living on the banks of the Thames, nine-year-old Worm has never experienced a family Christmas. But thanks to a job at Hester Monk's clinic in Portpool Lane, he's found a makeshift family in kindly Miss Claudine Burroughs and curmudgeonly old bookkeeper Squeaky Robinson.

When Worm witnesses the abduction of a beautiful woman by a pair of ruffians just days before Christmas, he frantically turns to Squeaky for help. A one-time brothel owner, Squeaky knows the perils of interfering in nasty business, but he can't bear to disappoint Worm--or leave the boy to attempt a rescue on his own. What neither of the would-be saviors expects, however, is that the damsel in distress already has her dilemma well in hand . . . and is taking steps to bring her captors to justice for crimes far worse than kidnapping. But the rogues, as cunning as they are deadly, are not to be underestimated. The aid of cynical old Squeaky and hopeful young Worm just might make the difference between a merry triumph over evil and a terrible yuletide tragedy.

Review:

A Christmas Revelation is the latest installment of Anne Perry’s Christmas Stories series, which takes characters from some of Perry’s other popular series and inserts them into holiday-themed stories of their own.  This was my first time reading one of these holiday stories and I’m pleased to say that overall, even though they’re supposed to be part of a series, A Christmas Revelation still works quite well as a standalone.

The story follows a nine-year old boy nicknamed Worm, who used to live on his own as a street urchin until he got himself a job at Hester Monk’s clinic.  That job also brought him a makeshift family in the form of the always kind Miss Claudine and especially in the cynical and curmudgeonly old bookkeeper, Squeaky.  Squeaky is a man who prefers to mind his own business at all costs, but when Worm comes to him, completely distraught because he thinks he has witnessed a woman being abducted, Squeaky promises Worm, against his better judgment, that he’ll help him find and rescue the woman, if she really is, in fact, in distress.  Squeaky also realizes while he and Worm are playing detective and trying to locate the missing woman, that Worm has never had a real Christmas before so he makes it his mission to deliver a real family Christmas for Worm and to explain to him the true meaning of Christmas.

What I enjoyed most about this story was that it was a nice balance between the mystery of what happened to the woman Worm saw and the Christmas aspect that Squeaky introduces.  The story also boasts what felt like a truly authentic Victorian London setting.  It felt so Dickensian that I half expected Worm and Squeaky to rush around a corner and run smack dab into Ebenezer Scrooge himself.  I also especially liked the idea that the holidays make us want to be our best selves, as is witnessed by Squeaky’s efforts to not disappoint Worm and to bring Christmas to him for the first time.  I think the story would have worked even better for me if I had known a little more of the background of these two characters, but overall it was still a great holiday read. 3.5 STARS

four-stars

About Anne Perry

Anne Perry (born Juliet Hulme) is a British historical novelist.

Juliet took the name “Anne Perry,” the latter being her stepfather’s surname. Her first novel, The Cater Street Hangman, was published under this name in 1979. Her works generally fall into one of several categories of genre fiction, including historical murder mysteries and detective fiction. Many of them feature a number of recurring characters, most importantly Thomas Pitt, who appeared in her first novel, and amnesiac private investigator William Monk, who first appeared in her 1990 novel The Face of a Stranger. As of 2003 she had published 47 novels, and several collections of short stories. Her story “Heroes,” which first appeared the 1999 anthology Murder and Obsession, edited by Otto Penzler, won the 2001 Edgar Award for Best Short Story.

Recently she was included as an entry in Ben Peek’s Twenty-Six Lies/One Truth, a novel exploring the nature of truth in literature.

Series contributed to:
. Crime Through Time
. Perfectly Criminal
. Malice Domestic
. The World’s Finest Mystery and Crime Stories
. Transgressions
. The Year’s Finest Crime and Mystery Stories

About Jacqueline Frost

Jacqueline Frost is a mystery-loving pet enthusiast who hopes to make readers smile. She lives in rural Ohio with her husband and three spunky children. Jacqueline is a member of the International Thriller Writers (ITW) and Sisters in Crime (SinC).