BOOK REVIEW: The Earl Next Door, by Amelia Grey

BOOK REVIEW: The Earl Next Door, by Amelia GreyTitle: The Earl Next Door by Amelia Grey
Published by St. Martin's Paperbacks
Published: May 28th 2019
Genres: Romance
Pages: 294
Format: eBook
Source: Netgalley
Goodreads

What does a Wickedly Wonderful Widow really want? One noble suitor is about to find out. . .

Adeline, Dowager Countess of Wake, is all on her own after her husband’s sudden death. The good news? Losing him allowed her to find herself. Finally, Adeline is free to do, go, and be as she pleases. She cherishes her newfound independence and is not looking for another man to wed. But seeking out a new lover? Well, that is a whole ’nother story. . .

Lord Lyon, son of the two-timing Earl of Marksworth, wishes to have a respectable, loving wife someday. When he meets the beautiful and self-reliant Adeline, Lyon is instantly smitten. But Adeline would rather have the handsome suitor in her bed than to take his hand in marriage. It’s a scandalous proposal—and one that’s hard for Lyon to refuse. Unless the fire of his passion can melt Adeline’s resolve. . .and he can find a way to be the Wickedly Wonderful Widow’s lover for all time?

Only within the last year or so have I started reading romance, and I fully admit to having a lot of biases associated with the genre for the longest time until, you know, I actually started reading it and following some romance writers on Twitter and realizing there’s a lot more to the genre than I expected. Much in the same way I read fantasy to be delighted by magic systems and a subversive reality and science fiction to explore strange and familiar worlds, the romance I’ve read has offered a little swoon-worthy escape from the drudgery of every day. And since I tend to gravitate toward historical romance, I get to enjoy the commentary and dives into women’s spheres while escaping for a little bit.

Amelia Grey’s The Earl Next Door is about Adeline, Dowager Countess of Wake, who lost her husband at sea. Her two friends, also widows, have joined with her to open up a school for young girls who have also lost family members at sea. Her next door neighbor, Lord Lyon, Earl of Marksworth, first assumes she is running a house of ill-repute and then is later rudely awakened and frustrated by the house of school-aged girls disturbing his mid-morning sleep.This sets off the attraction, sparks, and tension between Adeline and Lyon that continues through the rest of the book.

I thought it was an easy, fun read, and perfect for a week that was more than a little stressful! To me, the ending was a little contrived, but ultimately it works with the story itself, and I’m curious to see how the rest of the series pans out because I loved Adeline’s two friends so much!

Many thanks to St. Martin’s Press for an advance review copy! All opinions are my own!

BOOK REVIEW: Rouge, by Richard Kirshenbaum

BOOK REVIEW: Rouge, by Richard KirshenbaumTitle: Rouge by Richard Kirshenbaum
Published by St. Martin's Press
Published: June 25th 2019
Genres: Fiction
Pages: 320
Format: Hardcover
Source: Publisher
Goodreads

Like Swans of Fifth Avenue and Truman Capote’s Answered Prayers, Richard Kirshenbaum's Rouge gives readers a rare front row seat into the world of high society and business through the rivalry of two beauty industry icons (think Helena Rubenstein and Elizabeth Arden), by the master marketer and chronicler of the over-moneyed. Rouge is a sexy, glamorous journey into the rivalry of the pioneers of powder, mascara and rouge.

This fast-paced novel examines the lives, loves, and sacrifices of the visionaries who invented the modern cosmetics industry: Josiah Herzenstein, born in a Polish Jewish Shtlel, the entrepreneur who transforms herself into a global style icon and the richest woman in the world, Josephine Herz; Constance Gardiner, her rival, the ultimate society woman who invents the door-to-door business and its female workforce but whose deepest secret threatens everything; CeeCee Lopez, the bi-racial beauty and founder of the first African American woman’s hair relaxer business, who overcomes prejudice and heartbreak to become her community’s first female millionaire. The cast of characters is rounded out by Mickey Heron, a dashing, sexy ladies' man whose cosmetics business is founded in a Hollywood brothel. All are bound in a struggle to be number one, doing anything to get there…including murder.

Kirshenbaum’s Rouge follows the fictional lives of Josiah Herzenstein, who reinvents herself as Josephine Herz, and Constance Gardiner who are vying for the limelight in the booming cosmetics industry in the 1920s,1930s, and beyond. In chapters of alternating perspectives, we get glimpses into the lives of Herz, Gardiner, Cee Cee, and Mickey. Kirshenbaum’s knowledge of business and the ruthless behind-the-scenes behavior between Herz and Gardiner are spot on and engaging. I liked the history woven into the story, illuminating the financial and personal struggles of the women and their businesses and showing how they persevered through the ups and downs of life.

Rouge is a fast-paced read that carries you along from start to finish. I read it in a single day, and lately it’s been rare that I’ve been compelled to start and finish something within the same day. The novel covers a lot of ground and manages to tie the lives of these two rivals together in a breezy narrative perfect for a summer beach read.

Because the novel covered so much history of the women and the business empires they created, I felt like I wanted more of the women’s personal spheres: how they felt wearing their creations, how they felt when they noticed other women wearing their creations, their private moments, and something a bit more grounded in the day-to-day. I think having more of those personal, intimate moments of some gravity would have added a lot more enjoyable weight to the story.

If you are interested in the intersection of business and creativity, especially in the beauty industry, definitely look into this book!

Thank you to St. Martin’s Press for sending me a review copy! All opinions are my own.

BOOK REVIEW: The Very Best of Caitlín R. Kiernan, by Caitlín R. Kiernan

BOOK REVIEW: The Very Best of Caitlín R. Kiernan, by Caitlín R. KiernanTitle: The Very Best of Caitlín R. Kiernan by Caitlín R. Kiernan
Published by Tachyon Publications
Published: February 18th, 2019
Genres: Fiction
Pages: 432
Format: eBook
Source: Netgalley
Goodreads

"One of our essential writers of dark fiction."―New York Times

Caitlín R. Kiernan is widely acknowledged as one of dark fantasy and horror’s most skilled and acclaimed short fiction writers. Here in this retrospective volume is her finest work, previously only collected in sold-out limited editions. Kiernan’s tales are visceral, sensual, devastating, and impossible to resist: a reporter is goaded by her girlfriend into watching people morphing into terrifying art; a critic interviews an elderly model from a series of famous mermaid paintings; a moviegoer watches a banned arthouse film only to discover exactly why it has been banned.

When I read “The Maltese Unicorn” in The Unicorn Anthology, I wanted to read more of Caitlín R. Kiernan’s work. Tachyon on Netgalley had The Very Best of Caitlín R. Kiernan up for download, so I loaded it onto my kindle and started reading a story or three. I was really captivated by a lot of her work because it’s a little creepy, unsettling, and grotesque, but in a way that showcases truths that sometimes we’re afraid to face or don’t know how to face.

My favorite stories in the collection were as follows: “The Maltese Unicorn” (of course, because you really can’t go wrong with lesbian unicorn noir), “A Child’s Guide to Hollow Hills,” “The Ammonite Violin,” and “Hydrarguros”. “The Ammonite Violin” has such a masterfully and terrific thrill to it that I read it twice. I knew the story was leading up to something, and the revelation was perfectly executed.

I had never read any of her work before her story in The Unicorn Anthology, and I think it’s because I don’t often dabble in the “horror” genre. I am hesitate to label Kiernan as “horror” in the traditional sense because so many of her stories were a quiet, creeping sort of horror rather than a shock and scare sort of thing that I generally tend to associate with “horror.” Her work is more an examination of the human existence in all its forms, from light to dark, and I think this collection of her work shows the broad scope of her abilities.

Thank you to Tachyon Pub and Netgalley for a digital review copy! All opinions are my own.

BOOK REVIEW: Ask Again, Yes, by Mary Beth Keane

BOOK REVIEW: Ask Again, Yes, by Mary Beth KeaneTitle: Ask Again, Yes by Mary Beth Keane
Published by Scribner
Published: May 28th 2019
Genres: Fiction
Pages: 400
Format: Hardcover
Source: Publisher
Goodreads

A profoundly moving novel about two neighboring families in a suburban town, the friendship between their children, a tragedy that reverberates over four decades, and the power of forgiveness.

Francis Gleeson and Brian Stanhope are two NYPD rookies assigned to the same Bronx precinct in 1973. They aren’t close friends on the job, but end up living next door to each other outside the city. What goes on behind closed doors in both houses—the loneliness of Francis’s wife, Lena, and the instability of Brian’s wife, Anne, sets the stage for the stunning events to come.

Ask Again, Yes by award-winning author Mary Beth Keane, is a beautifully moving exploration of the friendship and love that blossoms between Francis’s youngest daughter, Kate, and Brian’s son, Peter, who are born six months apart. In the spring of Kate and Peter’s eighth grade year a violent event divides the neighbors, the Stanhopes are forced to move away, and the children are forbidden to have any further contact.

But Kate and Peter find a way back to each other, and their relationship is tested by the echoes from their past. Ask Again, Yes reveals how the events of childhood look different when reexamined from the distance of adulthood—villains lose their menace, and those who appeared innocent seem less so. Kate and Peter’s love story is marked by tenderness, generosity, and grace.

Sometimes when I go into a book I just know it’s going to be one of those hit books of the summer. Ask Again, Yes is such a compelling character portrait of what happens when the lives of two families are entwined and changed from the beginnings of their children’s lives until the end.

Aside from the synopsis on the back and a little bit of early buzz from people I follow on social media, I didn’t know what to expect when I started this, and there’s a pivotal scene in the book that had me left in a little shock. I mean, I kind of knew it was coming, but the pacing of that scene was absolute perfection. The novel mostly follows what happened after in each of the character’s lives, after the Gleesons and Stanhopes recover; through the rest of high school, college, and beyond for their children, Kate and Peter; and how one reconciles the past with the present and future.

Keane handles mental illness, everyday violence, and love, forgiveness, and hope found within these characters with profound tenderness and empathy. This isn’t a sentimental novel, but it will certainly make you feel things throughout it all. Especially at the end.

Once I dug into this, I read it in about a day and a half. I had to know how things resolved, what happened to the characters, and to bask in the clear, fresh prose. If you enjoyed the tone of Celeste Ng’s Little Fires Everywhere, consider this your next read.

Many thanks to Scribner for sending me a copy of this to review! All opinions are my own.

BOOK REVIEW: The Unquiet Heart, by Kaite Welsh

BOOK REVIEW: The Unquiet Heart, by Kaite WelshTitle: The Unquiet Heart by Kaite Welsh
Series: Sarah Gilchrist #2
Published by Pegasus Books
Published: February 21st 2019
Genres: Mystery
Pages: 288
Format: eBook
Source: Netgalley
Goodreads

Kaite Welsh's thrilling THE UNQUIET HEART is the second in the gothic Sarah Gilchrist series, following a medical student turned detective in Victorian Edinburgh.

Sarah Gilchrist has no intention of marrying her dull fiancé Miles, the man her family hope will restore her reputation and put an end to her dreams of becoming a doctor, but when he is arrested for a murder she is sure he didn't commit she finds herself his reluctant ally. Beneath the genteel façade of upper class Edinburgh lurks blackmail, adultery, poison and madness and Sarah must return to Edinburgh's slums, back alleys and asylums as she discovers the dark past about a family where no one is what they seem, even Miles himself. It also brings her back into the orbit of her mercurial professor, Gregory Merchiston - he sees Sarah as his protegee, but can he stave off his demons long enough to teach her the skills that will save her life?

I read the first Sarah Gilchrist book last year? The year before? And I fell in love with it. Sarah Gilchrist is a medical student at the University of Edinburgh, and in this second installment of the series, Sarah is trying not to marry her fiance Miles. In the midst of the drama surrounding her upcoming wedding, Miles is arrested for a murder Sarah is sure he didn’t commit, and she becomes his ally in trying to clear his name while maintaining the delicate balance of her own reputation.

I love Sarah’s voice. She’s a strong-willed individual who finds it difficult to balance what she wants in her life while trying to balance what’s expected of hers by others. She knows she’ll never be able to live up to those expectations, and her professor Gregory Merchiston encourages Sarah to find her own way. Welsh weaves in traditional mystery tropes with historical fiction and feminism, and the writing and the story is fresh, engaging, and wonderful. I also loved the weaving in of what happened in the first book without it feeling like an info dump, because there were some details I had forgotten or was glad to be reminded about. The hint of romance near the end is swoon-worthy, because who doesn’t love a quietly-pining, broody someone?

If you’re interested in feminist historical fiction with strong characters with a setting that feels like you’re completely immersed, definitely check out this series.

Thank you to Netgalley and Pegasus Books for the digital advance copy! All opinions are my own.