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Blog Tour Review – LITTLE DARLINGS by Melanie Golding

Blog Tour Review – LITTLE DARLINGS by Melanie GoldingLittle Darlings by Melanie Golding
four-stars
Published by Crooked Lane Books on April 30, 2019
Genres: Thriller, Mystery
Pages: 304
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.

LITTLE DARLINGS REVIEW

Melanie Golding’s Little Darlings is one of the most unsettling and addictive novels I’ve read in a long time.  It hooked me from the opening scene and kept me on the edge of my seat (and looking over my shoulder!) until the very last page.

Inspired by some pretty creepy folklore, in the vein of Grimm’s Fairy Tales, the story follows exhausted new mom, Lauren Tranter, who has just given birth to identical twin boys.  One night while still at the hospital, Lauren wakes to find a filthy woman dressed in rags in her room trying to take Lauren’s babies and replace them with some creatures that she is carrying in a basket.  Lauren screams, grabs her babies, and locks herself in the bathroom, but when help arrives, there’s no sign that anyone has been there aside from Lauren.  Everyone chalks the incident up to Lauren just being so tired from taking care of her twins, but Lauren cannot be convinced that no one is trying to take her babies.

A month passes and Lauren is still terrified that someone is after her children, but reluctantly agrees that it’s time for all of them to get out of the house.  She takes the twins to the park, where she dozes off from sheer exhaustion.  When she wakes up, her babies are gone and she just knows it’s the woman from the hospital.  The police are called, and a search ensues, and thankfully the babies are located and returned to Lauren quickly.  Except that Lauren takes one look at these babies and swears that they aren’t hers.  She is convinced that they’re changelings and is prepared to resort to drastic and desperate measures to get rid of them and get her boys back.

If she’s wrong, however, it will cost her everything she holds dear…

One facet of Little Darlings I really liked was how well developed and relatable both of the main characters are.  Even though my son is now 11, I still vividly remember the crushing exhaustion that went along with those first few weeks after he was born.  Because of that, I immediately felt a connection to Lauren and felt tremendous sympathy for her, especially when her husband wasn’t being as helpful as he could be.  I also very much remember being hyper alert to any and all things that could possibly harm my baby.  The author does an incredible job bringing to life Lauren’s fears about her babies, as well as her growing frustration that no one believes what she is trying to tell them. The intensity of Lauren’s emotions made Little Darlings such a powerful and gripping read.

The other main character is a police sergeant named Harper who takes an interest in finding out what really happened in the hospital, even though the rest of her department and everyone else has written this off as some kind of postpartum psychotic episode that Lauren has experienced.  I liked Harper right away because she comes across as a bit of a rebel, always pushing the envelope, if she thinks she needs to investigate something further.  What draws her to Lauren’s case is something from her own past that still haunts her, and I loved the added layers Harper’s backstory added to the overall story.  It made her just as compelling a character as Lauren, which was ideal since the story is presented from each of their points of view.

Aside from giving me these two characters that I was immediately so invested in, I also loved that the suspense level was just off the charts and that I was kept guessing.  I didn’t know what to believe.  Had someone really been in the hospital room?  Is Lauren right in the park when she swears her babies have been swapped out for changelings?  Is there a real suspect at large or is there something supernatural afoot?  Or is everyone else right and Lauren is truly suffering a mental health crisis?  I wanted to know the answers to these questions so badly that I just couldn’t put the book down and ended up devouring the entire story in less than two days.  This book is the definition of a page turner!

The only real issue I had with Little Darlings was that I couldn’t stomach Lauren’s husband.  I found him utterly unlikable and didn’t want to believe that a new dad could be as selfish and clueless as he was.  I’m sure the author drew him that way to make it even easier to sympathize with Lauren, but that man seriously needed a swift kick in the pants.

If you’re a fan of creepy folklore and addictive thrillers that will keep you on the edge of your seat, Little Darlings should be on your must-read list.

 

 

 

GOODREADS SYNOPSIS:

“Mother knows best” takes on a sinister new meaning in this unsettling thriller perfect for fans of Neil Gaiman and Grimms’ Fairy Tales.

Everyone says Lauren Tranter is exhausted, that she needs rest. And they’re right; with newborn twins, Morgan and Riley, she’s never been more tired in her life. But she knows what she saw: that night, in her hospital room, a woman tried to take her babies and replace them with her own…creatures. Yet when the police arrived, they saw no one. Everyone, from her doctor to her husband, thinks she’s imagining things.

A month passes. And one bright summer morning, the babies disappear from Lauren’s side in a park. But when they’re found, something is different about them. The infants look like Morgan and Riley―to everyone else. But to Lauren, something is off. As everyone around her celebrates their return, Lauren begins to scream, These are not my babies.

Determined to bring her true infant sons home, Lauren will risk the unthinkable. But if she’s wrong about what she saw…she’ll be making the biggest mistake of her life.

Compulsive, creepy, and inspired by some our darkest fairy tales, Little Darlings will have you checking―and rechecking―your own little ones. Just to be sure. Just to be safe.

four-stars

About Melanie Golding

Melanie Golding is a graduate of the MA in creative writing program at Bath Spa University, with distinction. She has been employed in many occupations including farm hand, factory worker, childminder and music teacher. Throughout all this, because and in spite of it, there was always the writing. In recent years she has won and been shortlisted in several local and national short story competitions. Little Darlings is her first novel, and has been optioned for screen by Free Range Films, the team behind the adaptation of My Cousin Rachel.

Early Review: THE LOST GIRLS OF PARIS

Early Review:  THE LOST GIRLS OF PARISThe Lost Girls of Paris by Pam Jenoff
five-stars
Published by Park Row on January 29, 2019
Genres: Historical Fiction
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.

THE LOST GIRLS OF PARIS REVIEW

Set during and immediately following WWII and inspired by real life people and historical events, Pam Jenoff’s The Lost Girls of Paris is centered around the stories of three women and a ring of British female spies.

The story begins in Manhattan in 1946.  It is here that we meet Grace Healey, who is trying to start over after losing her husband in an automobile accident.  One morning while cutting through Grand Central Station on her way to work, Grace happens across an abandoned suitcase tucked under a bench.  Only seeing the name Trigg on the case, she looks inside the case and finds a packet of twelve photographs, each photo a different woman.  Captivated by the photos, Grace impulsively takes the photos with her but leaves the suitcase behind.  When Grace thinks better of what she has done and returns to the station to put the photos back, the suitcase is gone.  When Grace hears a news report mention a woman named Eleanor Trigg, she realizes this is who the suitcase and the photos must belong to and becomes even more curious about the women in the photos and all the more determined to get the photos back to their rightful owner.  This is the start of quite an unexpected journey for Grace.

Eleanor Trigg is the second woman the story centers on. She worked for Britain’s Special Operations Executive during WWII. The SOE was a British spy ring that was operating in France to arm and help the French resistance against the Nazis. Since their male spies were being captured frequently, Eleanor proposes that they should start recruiting and training female spies to act as couriers and radio operators.  She is put in charge of the female spy ring and sets out to handpick her recruits.  Eleanor takes full responsibility for the girls she chooses and when twelve of the girls go missing, she makes it her personal mission to find out what has happened, no matter who tries to get in her way.

The third woman The Lost Girls of Paris centers on is Marie Roux, a young woman that Eleanor recruits to become a radio operator in her unit.  It is from Marie’s vantage point that we see the recruitment process, the extremely rigorous training that the girls are put through, as well as the dangers of being deployed into Nazi-occupied France.  We also get to see the spy operations up close and how adaptable agents have to be if they are going to survive.

Through the journeys of these three women, Jenoff paints an unforgettable story of courage, strength, resilience, friendship, and sisterhood.

My absolute favorite part about The Lost Girls of Paris are the well drawn characters, especially the girls who are recruited to work in the spy network.  I just found them all to be such inspiring women, and to know they’re loosely based on real people and a real ring of female spies, just blew me away.  These women are such brave warriors and I admired their determination to do their part to stop Hitler.  Marie, of course, was phenomenal, but I was also drawn to a young woman named Josie, who although she was only 17, was the fiercest among them as well as the one who was most supportive when other girls like Marie were struggling and questioning whether they were good enough to do the job required of them.  There just isn’t enough praise to do this group of women justice.

Eleanor was fantastic too.  She’s stern and rather standoffish and most of her recruits don’t especially like her, but they respect and admire her.  I liked her mother bear attitude when it came to both her girls and her mission.

A second element of the story that I enjoyed was the way the story was presented from multiple points of view.  The details of the story unfold through the eyes of Eleanor and Marie during WWII and then from Grace’s point of view after the war.  This three-pronged approach with its alternating chapters allows us to learn about all aspects of the spy ring, from recruitment and training up through deployment and the aftermath from Eleanor and Marie’s perspectives, while we backtrack from Grace’s point of view after the war to eventually learn what happened to the twelve women in those photographs.  Those different perspectives and the moving back and forth between the two timelines added so many layers to the overall story and to the journeys of all three women.

The writing style and the overall pacing of the story worked very well for me too.  Everything just flowed so smoothly and I loved the steady buildup to the girls’ deployment and then how the intensity picked up and the suspense built up once Marie and the other girls were on the ground in France.  It took me a day or so to read the first half of the book, but then I devoured the second half in just a few hours because I so desperately wanted to know how things would turn out for them all.

For me, this story was about as close to flawless as it gets. I did have a couple of minor quibbles, the first being that it didn’t make sense to me why Grace would take the photographs from the suitcase in the first place. The photos are clearly the catalyst that set the rest of the story into motion as far as figuring out who the girls are, but Grace taking the photos just seemed like such an odd thing to do.  It bothered me for a  few pages, but then I got so engrossed in the rest of the story that I let it go and as you can see by my rating, even with my questioning Grace’s action, I still thought this was a phenomenal read.

The Lost Girls of Paris is one of those books that is going to stay with me for a long time.  The writing is beautiful, the characters are unforgettable, and the fact that the story is inspired by real people and events just makes it resonate all the more.  I’d recommend The Lost Girls of Paris to anyone who enjoys historical fiction, but especially to those who are fans of Kristin Hannah’s The Nightingale and/or Martha Hall Kelly’s The Lilac Girls.

 

GOODREADS SYNOPSIS:

From the author of the runaway bestseller The Orphan’s Tale comes a remarkable story of friendship and courage centered around three women and a ring of female spies during World War II.

1946, Manhattan

Grace Healey is rebuilding her life after losing her husband during the war. One morning while passing through Grand Central Terminal on her way to work, she finds an abandoned suitcase tucked beneath a bench. Unable to resist her own curiosity, Grace opens the suitcase, where she discovers a dozen photographs—each of a different woman. In a moment of impulse, Grace takes the photographs and quickly leaves the station.

Grace soon learns that the suitcase belonged to a woman named Eleanor Trigg, leader of a ring of female secret agents who were deployed out of London during the war. Twelve of these women were sent to Occupied Europe as couriers and radio operators to aid the resistance, but they never returned home, their fates a mystery. Setting out to learn the truth behind the women in the photographs, Grace finds herself drawn to a young mother turned agent named Marie, whose daring mission overseas reveals a remarkable story of friendship, valor and betrayal.

Vividly rendered and inspired by true events, New York Times bestselling author Pam Jenoff shines a light on the incredible heroics of the brave women of the war, and weaves a mesmerizing tale of courage, sisterhood and the great strength of women to survive in the hardest of circumstances.

five-stars

About Pam Jenoff

Pam is the author of several novels, including her most recent The Orphan’s Tale, an instant New York Times bestseller. Pam was born in Maryland and raised outside Philadelphia. She attended George Washington University in Washington, D.C., and Cambridge University in England. Upon receiving her master’s in history from Cambridge, she accepted an appointment as Special Assistant to the Secretary of the Army. The position provided a unique opportunity to witness and participate in operations at the most senior levels of government, including helping the families of the Pan Am Flight 103 victims secure their memorial at Arlington National Cemetery, observing recovery efforts at the site of the Oklahoma City bombing and attending ceremonies to commemorate the fiftieth anniversary of World War II at sites such as Bastogne and Corregidor.

Following her work at the Pentagon, Jenoff moved to the State Department. In 1996 she was assigned to the U.S. Consulate in Krakow, Poland. It was during this period that Pam developed her expertise in Polish-Jewish relations and the Holocaust. Working on matters such as preservation of Auschwitz and the restitution of Jewish property in Poland, Jenoff developed close relations with the surviving Jewish community.

Having left the Foreign Service in 1998 to attend law school at the University of Pennsylvania, Jenoff is now employed as an attorney in Philadelphia.

Pam is the author of The Kommandant’s Girl, which was an international bestseller and nominated for a Quill award, as well as The Diplomat’s Wife and Almost Home.

Early Review: THE SUSPECT by Fiona Barton

Early Review:  THE SUSPECT by Fiona BartonThe Suspect by Fiona Barton
Also by this author: The Child
three-half-stars
Series: Kate Waters #3
Published by Berkley Books on January 22, 2019
Genres: Mystery, Thriller
Pages: 416
Also in this series: The Child
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.

 

THE SUSPECT review

Fiona Barton’s latest thriller The Suspect is the third book in her popular Kate Waters series.  In this novel, we follow journalist Kate Waters as she investigates what has happened to two teenage girls who have gone missing while traveling in Thailand.  Kate is an ambitious journalist – she always wants to be the one to get the exclusive and be the first to discover the truth.  This case is no different, although it does have the added motivation that it would have her traveling to Thailand.

Why is Thailand such a draw for Kate?  Because that’s where her estranged son has been living for the past two years.  She hasn’t seen him even once in those two years and he rarely ever tries to contact her or his dad and is evasive the few times he has spoken to them.  Kate is hoping this investigation will give her the opportunity to check in on him herself and hopefully convince him to come home.

Kate decides that getting close to the families of the missing girls is the best way to ensure she is at the forefront and has access as the pieces of the investigation start to form a picture of what has happened to the girls. At first this seems like a brilliant move, but then the investigation takes an unexpected turn that has her regretting her decision to get so close to these families.

The Suspect is a suspenseful story that kept me reading late into the night.  I knew just based on the novel’s title that a crime had potentially been committed, so as soon as I read that two teens had gone missing in a foreign country, I couldn’t put the book down until I knew what had happened to the girls and who was responsible.

The story itself was engaging because the fear of losing a child is a fear that all parents can relate to. Barton does a particularly good job of depicting the two sets of parents and how frantic with worry they are.  There are several scenes where they get emotional and lash out at each other, desperately looking for someone to blame. The raw emotions in those scenes felt very real, and it was easy to put myself in these parents’ place and imagine what they were going through.

Another aspect of the story that I thought was very well done was the way Barton chooses to present the story from four different points of view – Detective Sparkes (who appears regularly in this series and often works with Kate), so that we get law enforcement’s perspective on the investigation, and of course, Kate so that we also get the media’s perspective.  In addition to those two points of view, we also hear from the mother of one of the missing girls and from one of the missing girls, Alex.  I loved the depth and the added layers that each perspective brought to the story.  Any more than four POVs might have gotten too confusing to keep track of, but these four really came together to paint a full picture of what happened and to show how each piece fell into place. Alex’s perspective was particularly effective since we can witness firsthand the days and weeks leading up to the girls’ disappearance.

All of these elements made for a well-paced read that I didn’t want to put down.

Even though I enjoyed the story overall, I did have some mixed feelings about The Suspect, the first being that I found it hard to connect with Kate Waters.  I experienced the same thing with the second book in the series.  I like Kate well enough and I think she’s a talented journalist, but even three books in, I still just don’t feel like I really know much about her.  In that sense, the books remind me of procedural crime dramas where the characters take a backseat to the crimes being investigated.  There’s obviously nothing wrong with that and from a mystery standpoint, the story is fantastic, but because I prefer to feel some kind of a connection to the main characters, I found that aspect a little lacking in The Suspect.

One other issue I had was that I felt like we learned what happened to the girls a little too soon.  I know the book is called The Suspect and therefore implies that the suspect is the primary focus, but I just would have preferred a little more buildup to the reveal of the crime.

The Suspect is another riveting mystery from Fiona Barton.  Even with the couple of issues I had with it, I still found the story very engaging and wouldn’t hesitate to recommend it to anyone looking for a good thriller.

GOODREADS SYNOPSIS:

The new must-read standalone crime thriller from the author of Sunday Times bestseller, The Widow, and the Richard & Judy No. 1 bestseller, The Child – featuring unforgettable journalist, Kate Waters.

The police belonged to another world – the world they saw on the television or in the papers. Not theirs.

When two eighteen-year-old girls go missing on their gap year in Thailand, their families are thrust into the international spotlight: desperate, bereft and frantic with worry.

Journalist Kate Waters always does everything she can to be first to the story, first with the exclusive, first to discover the truth – and this time is no exception. But she can’t help but think of her own son, who she hasn’t seen in two years since he left home to go traveling. This time it’s personal.

And as the case of the missing girls unfolds, they will all find that even this far away, danger can lie closer to home than you might think

 

three-half-stars

About Fiona Barton

In Barton’s own words…

“My career has taken some surprising twists and turns over the years. I have been a journalist – senior writer at the Daily Mail, news editor at the Daily Telegraph, and chief reporter at The Mail on Sunday, where I won Reporter of the Year at the National Press Awards, gave up my job to volunteer in Sri Lanka and since 2008, have trained and worked with exiled and threatened journalists all over the world.

But through it all, a story was cooking in my head.

The worm of my first book infected me long ago when, as a national newspaper journalist covering notorious crimes and trials, I found myself wondering what the wives of those accused really knew – or allowed themselves to know.

It took the liberation of my career change to turn that fascination into a tale of a missing child, narrated by the wife of the man suspected of the crime, the detective leading the hunt, the journalist covering the case and the mother of the victim.

Much to my astonishment and delight, The Widow was published in 36 countries and made the Sunday Times and New York Times Best Seller lists.

It gave me the confidence to write a second book ,The Child, in which I return to another story that had intrigued me as a journalist. It begins with the discovery of a newborn’s skeleton on a building site. It only makes a paragraph in an evening newspaper but for three women it’s impossible to ignore.

The Child will be published in June 2017 and I am embarking on my next novel. My husband and I are still living the good life in south-west France, where I am writing in bed, early in the morning when the only distraction is our cockerel, Titch, crowing.”

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
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:

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.

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
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 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
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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:

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.’