BOOK REVIEW: The English Wife, by Lauren Willig

BOOK REVIEW: The English Wife, by Lauren WilligTitle: The English Wife by Lauren Willig
Published by St. Martin's Press
Published: January 9th 2018
Genres: Fiction, Historical
Pages: 376
Format: Hardcover, ARC
Source: Purchased, Netgalley
Goodreads

From the New York Times bestselling author, Lauren Willig, comes this scandalous New York Gilded Age novel full of family secrets, affairs, and even murder.

Annabelle and Bayard Van Duyvil live a charmed life: he’s the scion of an old Knickerbocker family, she grew up in a Tudor manor in England, they had a whirlwind romance in London, they have three year old twins on whom they dote, and he’s recreated her family home on the banks of the Hudson and renamed it Illyria. Yes, there are rumors that she’s having an affair with the architect, but rumors are rumors and people will gossip. But then Bayard is found dead with a knife in his chest on the night of their Twelfth Night Ball, Annabelle goes missing, presumed drowned, and the papers go mad. Bay’s sister, Janie, forms an unlikely alliance with a reporter to uncover the truth, convinced that Bay would never have killed his wife, that it must be a third party, but the more she learns about her brother and his wife, the more everything she thought she knew about them starts to unravel. Who were her brother and his wife, really? And why did her brother die with the name George on his lips?

I was looking through my Netgalley queue deciding on my next read, and Lauren Willig’s The English Wife caught my eye. It was one of those I started reading a long time ago, set it aside for whatever reason, and ended up purchasing a copy of the book for myself because look at that cover? It’s gorgeous. So with it being October and with me being in the mood for some historical fiction, I decided to pick this up again. This took a little bit of time to get into, but by the time I got through the first quarter of the book, I was hooked and I needed to know how the story got to its end. There’s nothing entirely new about the plot or the types of characters and once I was clued into a certain character’s behaviors, I did begin to put together the pieces of the narrative and very nearly guess whodunit, and that’s completely fine. It felt both familiar and new, I was entertained, and I loved the insights to and development of each of the four main characters.

One of the things I loved the most about The English Wife was the Gilded Age setting. I’m such a sucker for it, especially when it’s done well, and this novel felt incredibly atmospheric in just the right ways. I don’t think I’ve ever read anything by Willig before, but this certainly makes me want to go back and see what I’ve missed! After being in a reading slump for a while, Willig’s novel was exactly what I needed. Something a little familiar, something a little new, something that reminded me how fun reading could be. I absolutely devoured this within a twenty-four hour period, and it felt like it had been a while since a book was able to captivate me like that from the get-go.

This was a perfect mid-October read, and I’m glad I finally picked it up. If you like historical fiction with a heavier lean on romance, do look into this!

Thank you to Netgalley and St. Martin’s Press for the digital galley! All opinions are my own.

BOOK REVIEW: To Kill a Kingdom, by Alexandra Christo

BOOK REVIEW: To Kill a Kingdom, by Alexandra ChristoTitle: To Kill a Kingdom by Alexandra Christo
Published by Feiwel & Friends
Published: March 6th 2018
Genres: Fantasy, Young Adult
Pages: 344
Format: Hardcover
Source: Purchased
Goodreads

Princess Lira is siren royalty and the most lethal of them all. With the hearts of seventeen princes in her collection, she is revered across the sea. Until a twist of fate forces her to kill one of her own. To punish her daughter, the Sea Queen transforms Lira into the one thing they loathe most—a human. Robbed of her song, Lira has until the winter solstice to deliver Prince Elian’s heart to the Sea Queen or remain a human forever.

The ocean is the only place Prince Elian calls home, even though he is heir to the most powerful kingdom in the world. Hunting sirens is more than an unsavory hobby—it’s his calling. When he rescues a drowning woman in the ocean, she’s more than what she appears. She promises to help him find the key to destroying all of sirenkind for good—But can he trust her? And just how many deals will Elian have to barter to eliminate mankind’s greatest enemy?

Alexandra Christo’s To Kill a Kingdom scratched the itch I had for sea stories focusing on mermaids and sirens and pirates and ships, and I loved it! Sometimes the banter felt a little cheesy, but in the scope of the novel, the dialogue helped maintain a balance with the murderous aspect of the sirens because without the banter, this would be a pretty gruesome book!

I love mermaid/siren stories, and I especially love when the familiar stories are reinvented and reinvented well. Each of the places explored seemed incredibly real and memorable, and Lira’s adjustment from living in the cold sea waters as the Princes’ Bane to living above the sea in the care of the prince known to kill sirens was masterfully explored. The worldbuilding felt believable, and I never once felt overwhelmed or underwhelmed by the level of detail. If anything, I found myself wanting to read more of the characters, especially Lila and Elian. They were vicious and violent with soft sides that came out as they got to know each other.

Lila and Elian’s rivalry that turns into something more by the end kept me turning pages. The barbs they threw at each other that eventually developed into something deeper is part of the enemies-to-lovers slow burn trope I live for. Sometimes a physical transformation can lead to emotional realizations that you don’t consider in your previous form. Especially when it comes to your past life, your past self, and the ideals you held before circumstances showed you a different way of life. And Elian’s compass of truth? I want to see more of that.

All in all, this was a fantastic YA fantasy that fulfilled all of my expectations and then some.


After a week of spotty internet and moving house with my mom, I’m finally in a place where I can update my blog more regularly! Woohoo! All summer, I’ve been wanting to focus more on my blog, but between my move and all of the stress and busy-ness associated with it, it’s been difficult to find time to sit down and write. Reading is easy when you’re in bed at night and in the morning, but for me, writing requires a little more “me” time. Now that everything is out of the old house and into the new, I’m ready to get back on track and work out a posting schedule that works for me! What would you like to see more of?

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: 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: Star Wars: Queen’s Shadow – E.K. Johnston

BOOK REVIEW: Star Wars: Queen’s Shadow – E.K. JohnstonTitle: Star Wars: Queen's Shadow by E.K. Johnston
Published by Disney Lucasfilm Press
Published: March 5th 2019
Genres: Science Fiction, Young Adult
Pages: 345
Format: Hardcover
Source: Purchased
Goodreads

The end of her reign is just the beginning...

When Padmé Amidala steps down from her position as Queen of Naboo, she is ready to set aside her title and return to life outside of the spotlight. But to her surprise, the new queen asks Padmé to continue serving their people—this time in the Galactic Senate. Padmé is unsure about the new role but cannot turn down the request, especially since, thanks to her dearest friend—and decoy—Sabé, she can be in two places at once. So while Padmé plunges into politics, Sabé sets off on a mission dear to Padmé's heart.

On the glistening capital planet Coruscant, Padmé's new Senate colleagues regard her with curiosity—and with suspicion for her role in ousting the previous chancellor. Posing as a merchant on Tatooine, Sabé has fewer resources than she thought and fewer options than she needs.

Together with Padmé's loyal handmaidens, Padmé and Sabé must navigate treacherous politics, adapt to constantly changing landscapes, and forge a new identity beyond the queen's shadow.

I’ve fought evil, and it was easy: I shot it. It’s apathy I can’t stand.

Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace came out twenty years ago this month. That blows my mind, because I still remember when the promotional material started appearing everywhere and then finally seeing the movie and falling head over heels in love with Queen Amidala/Padmé Naberrie. I loved her character, her gowns, her handmaidens, and the way she was able to navigate her day to day life disguised as a handmaiden while her decoy Sabé assumed the persona of Queen Amidala.

Back then, I wanted to know more about Padmé, where she came from, and who she was behind the scenes. Over the years, there were a few things that were sprinkled into the Star Wars novels but not enough to fully satiate what I was wanting to see. Then comes E.K. Johnston’s Queen’s Shadow and it’s everything I’ve wanted for twenty years. And I only want more.

Queen’s Shadow is a quiet Star Wars novel, going behind the scenes and to the front lines of Padmé’s reign as queen and her time as senator. We’re able to see the connections between Episode I to Episode III from her perspective in a quietly tense, masterful way. You won’t see big battles on planets or in space, but you will get to see the heart and soul behind one of Star Wars’ most interesting characters. We also get to know Padmé’s handmaidens, and I was especially happy to see Sabé in this book.

I can’t really describe how I felt while reading this book, except that it was a good feeling and full of nostalgia. I was twelve when Episode I came out, and I was obsessed with Padmé’s costuming and character. I doodled her everywhere, I bought the dolls so I could marvel at the costumes in person and display them on my shelves (I still have them, too!). All I wanted was more of her from the movies and the extended universe, and it wasn’t until twenty years later that this wish was fulfilled. Queen’s Shadow is easily one of my favorite Star Wars novels of all time.