BOOK REVIEW: The Wages of Sin, by Kaite Welsh

BOOK REVIEW: The Wages of Sin, by Kaite WelshTitle: The Wages of Sin by Kaite Welsh
Series: Sarah Gilchrist #1
Published by Pegasus Books
Published: March 7th 2017
Genres: Fiction, Historical
Pages: 400
Format: eBook
Source: Netgalley
Goodreads

 I knew how the world worked; I knew it could be cruel, and I was not content to let it remain so.

Give me all of the historical fiction about flawed women doing things that society says they shouldn’t do!!! Kaite Welsh’s The Wages of Sin is about a woman named Sarah Gilchrist who “ruined” herself with the involvement with a man who took advantage of her. She moves in with her aunt and uncle to start anew, and she enrolls at the University of Edinburgh in the first year it allows female students. The plot goes back and forth between her past and her present and it’s a little slow moving, but I enjoyed that. I felt like Welsh easily incorporated the day-to-day life of this first class of female medical students to show the reader the kind of resistance those students felt in their everyday experiences. It also explores the victim-blaming and -shaming rhetoric that women still face regarding their sexuality and their choices and how it can be damning to assume anything about anyone without knowing the other person’s full story.

While reading this, I felt like this story also highlights the injustices and prejudices women face today in all sorts of sciences and male-dominated fields across the board. Sometimes it was troubling to read because I’ve even experienced similar things. However, that’s what I like most about good historical fiction. It illuminates the problems of the past and present. I like reading historical fiction for an escape from the present like so many others, but I also like reading historical fiction because of the explorations and struggles people have faced throughout history. It’s reflective and contemplative, and it’s always a joy to have a relatable heroine telling us her story.

I’m going to be thinking about The Wages of Sin for a while, and I’m pleased to know that there will be more of Sarah’s story, because most of this novel felt like a set up for so much more. I think I’d be disappointed to know that was the end, because it ended with so much hope and promise. I can’t wait for the next one! If you’re a fan of Deanna Raybourn’s Veronica Speedwell series or enjoy reading feminist historical fiction, I think you’ll like Sarah Gilchrist and her adventures.

Thank you to Pegasus Books and Netgalley for a review copy!

BOOK REVIEW: To Capture What We Cannot Keep, by Beatrice Colin

BOOK REVIEW: To Capture What We Cannot Keep, by Beatrice ColinTitle: To Capture What We Cannot Keep by Beatrice Colin
Published by Flatiron Books
Published: November 29th 2016
Genres: Fiction, Historical
Pages: 304
Format: eBook
Source: Netgalley
Goodreads

Set against the backdrop of Paris during la belle époque, Beatrice Colin’s To Capture What We Cannot Keep explores the intertwining lives of two Scottish siblings and their chaperone with Émile Nouguier and Gustave Eiffel during the construction of the Eiffel Tower. This novel is a perfect winter read. It’s a bit sad and melancholy, but it’s got a lot of heart and warmth throughout. Caitriona and Émile’s relationship develops against all odds due to their differences in social status. Émile is expected to marry well and into money, but he falls in love with a woman who is beneath his status and invisible in polite society. Caitriona is a widow who takes the job of chaperoning Alice Arrol and, effectively, Alice’s brother Jamie as they finish themselves in a Grand Tour. Caitriona and Émile meet briefly in a hot air balloon and cannot stop thinking about each other after Caitriona leaves Paris.

While Alice and Jamie seemed underdeveloped (and Jamie seemed to be referred to by his last name that led to some confusion for awhile), Caitriona and Émile captured me from the beginning, and I couldn’t wait to see where the story took them. Alice and Jamie return to Paris to partake in secret relationships of their own while Caitriona’s relationship develops with Émile.

The background details shone and helped illustrate the emotions and thoughts of the characters. It’s good to know about this era before reading it, or to know about the customs and secret languages of men and women during the mid- to late- 1800s, because there is so much telling in the details. In the last quarter of the book, Caitriona’s chaperoning took a different turn as she seemed to stop chaperoning entirely, even when not actively engaged with Émile. Without giving away spoilers, Jamie was left to do his own thing with little to know consequence, and even Alice’s stumble had a neat resolution that usually does not end up so well for women. I think we learn a little too late about Caitriona’s history with her husband, and some of the more disturbing details seemed to be another thing to take me out of the story for a moment to think about why those details were revealed so late in the novel.

All in all, this is a lovely novel that would read well with a cup of hot cocoa and a snowfall in the depth of winter. If you enjoy reading historical fiction about women in Paris with a little bit of romance sprinkled in, add this to your reading list.

BOOK REVIEW: Dust and Shadow, by Lyndsay Faye

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BOOK REVIEW: Dust and Shadow, by Lyndsay FayeTitle: Dust and Shadow: An Account of the Ripper Killings by Dr. John H. Watson by Lyndsay Faye
Published by Simon & Schuster
Published: April 2nd 2015
Genres: Fiction, Historical, Retellings
Pages: 336
Format: Trade Paper
Source: Purchased
Goodreads

From the gritty streets of nineteenth century London, the loyal and courageous Dr. Watson offers a tale unearthed after generations of lore: the harrowing story of Sherlock Holmes’s attempt to hunt down Jack the Ripper.
As England’s greatest specialist in criminal detection, Sherlock Holmes is unwavering in his quest to capture the killer responsible for terrifying London’s East End. He hires an “unfortunate” known as Mary Ann Monk, the friend of a fellow streetwalker who was one of the Ripper’s earliest victims; and he relies heavily on the steadfast and devoted Dr. John H. Watson. When Holmes himself is wounded in Whitechapel during an attempt to catch the savage monster, the popular press launches an investigation of its own, questioning the great detective’s role in the very crimes he is so fervently struggling to prevent. Stripped of his credibility, Holmes is left with no choice but to break every rule in the desperate race to find the madman known as “the Knife” before it is too late.
A masterly re-creation of history’s most diabolical villain, Lyndsay Faye’s debut brings unparalleled authenticity to the atmosphere of Whitechapel and London in the fledgling days of tabloid journalism and recalls the ideals evinced by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s most beloved and world-renowned characters. Jack the Ripper’s identity, still hotly debated around the world more than a century after his crimes were committed, remains a mystery ripe for speculation. Dust and Shadow explores the terrifying prospect of tracking a serial killer without the advantage of modern forensics, and the result is a lightning-paced novel brimming with historical detail that will keep you on the edge of your seat.

 As he passed a hand over his eyes, I recalled the he could not have slept more than twenty hours in the last seven days. For the first time since I had known him, Sherlock Holmes appeared to be exhausted by work rather than inaction.

“Because if I am right,” he murmured, “I haven’t the first idea what to do.”

Lyndsay Faye’s debut novel Dust and Shadow imagines what it might be like if Sherlock Holmes and John Watson investigated and solved the Jack the Ripper murders. While she tackles some of the more sensitive issues regarding women and people who are not well-off white men, Faye brings to life that Holmesian Victorian London as if Doyle himself might have imagined. The details of day-to-day life are so vivid and believable that there were times while I was reading this that I forgot it was a pastiche.

This novel is a bit slow at first and really takes about a third of the novel to get to the really interesting bits, but once you’ve hit that mark, the story sweeps you away. Holmes is our cynical, cold, cerebral detective, and Watson is our devoted and daring narrator. Faye’s Watson illuminates the humanity of every character in the novel and develops them well. The addition of Mary Ann Monk, a prostitute who proves herself to Holmes and Watson to be “a woman of extraordinary fortitude. Compared to Doyle’s historically sexist and racist writing, Faye’s Victorian England and the characters intertwined are presented in a more modern and humanist light that I found refreshing, daring, and forward.

While I have read many historical documents and fictional narratives surrounding the Jack the Ripper murders, I found Faye’s (and Holmes’s and Watson’s) deductions and conclusions regarding the murderer to be enlightening, engaging, and well-researched.

As usual, we readers are seeing the story unfold through Watson’s eyes and Watson’s pen, so there are times when we should question Watson and his presentation. Did things happen so neatly as Watson writes them out to be? Watson, when writing these narratives, already knows the end and the resolution, so are any of the details exaggerated or changed to fit a narrative? And there are times when Watson and ourselves as readers have no clue what Holmes is about to do, and that’s what I think really drives this story (and any good Sherlock Holmes story).  Holmes already knows the answers, but we need to know them, even if “on occasion his dictatorial glibness grated upon [our] nerves.” But that’s what keeps us reading until the very end.

If you enjoy Sherlock Holmes in any form, find Jack the Ripper fascinating, or just like a good murder mystery, pick Faye’s novel up immediately.

Faye has a collection of Sherlock Holmes short stories coming out in early 2017, so I’m looking forward to reading more of her Holmesian mysteries.

BOOK REVIEW: The Girl in the Castle, by Santa Montefiore

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BOOK REVIEW: The Girl in the Castle, by Santa MontefioreTitle: The Girl in the Castle by Santa Montefiore
Published by William Morrow Paperbacks
Published: September 27th 2016
Genres: Fiction, Historical
Pages: 576
Format: Trade Paper
Source: Library
Goodreads

International sensation Santa Montefiore presents the first book in a trilogy that follows three Irish women through the decades of the twentieth century—perfect for fans of Kate Morton and Hazel Gaynor.
Born on the ninth day of the ninth month in the year 1900, Kitty Deverill is special as her grandmother has always told her. Built on the stunning green hills of West Cork, Ireland, Castle Deverill is Kitty’s beloved home, where many generations of Deverills have also resided. Although she’s Anglo-Irish, Kitty’s heart completely belongs to the wild countryside of the Emerald Isle, and her devotion to her Irish-Catholic friends Bridie Doyle, the daughter of the castle’s cook, and Jack O’Leary, the vet’s son, is unmatched—even if Jack is always reminding her that she isn’t fully Irish. Still, Jack and Kitty can’t help falling in love although they both know their union faces the greatest obstacles since they are from different worlds.
Bridie cherishes her friendship with Kitty, who makes her feel more like her equal than a servant. Yet she can’t help dreaming of someday having all the wealth and glamour Kitty’s station in life affords her. But when she discovers a secret that Kitty has been keeping from her, Bridie finds herself growing resentful toward the girl in the castle who seems to have it all.
When the Irish revolt to throw over British rule in Southern Ireland, Jack enlists to fight. Worried for her safety, Jack warns Kitty to keep her distance, but she refuses and throws herself into the cause for Irish liberty, running messages and ammunition between the rebels. But as Kitty soon discovers, her allegiance to her family and her friends will be tested—and when Castle Deverill comes under attack, the only home and life she’s ever known are threatened.
A powerful story of love, loyalty, and friendship, The Girl in the Castle is an exquisitely written novel set against the magical, captivating landscape of Ireland.

 The Girl in the Castle is about the lives of women around an estate in Ireland. It’s the first in a trilogy that spans before, during, and just after World War I and the Irish War of Independence. It’s expansive and well-detailed historical fiction, but I found it typical of the genre. There’s romance, war, and rape. I am so incredibly tired of rape being used as a plot device to make us feel pity for that character. While I understand it can be used as a plot device to explore certain aspects of how women and men are treated in society, I really hate when it’s used to just add “flavor” to a narrative as I feel like it’s used here.

Aside from that, it’s a well-structured historical novel that kept me interested. It has a wide variety of characters from all backgrounds, and Montefiore explores nearly all aspects of the characters and compels you to care for the protagonists in some way. Montefiore also weaves historical significance of both the Irish War for Independence and World War I throughout the narrative, showing how both wars affect each of the characters and the fate of the estate.

Sometimes I felt as if there were too many characters to follow, and I hope there are fewer in the second and third novel. Often times what happens with several characters to follow in any series is that the storylines blur and individual voices are hard to differentiate.

It’s a novel that was reminiscent of Downton Abbey, and if you’re in the mood for something more after finishing that show, this is the start of an expansive trilogy. I am looking forward to reading the next one!

Little List of Reviews #1

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Little List of Reviews #1Title: The Good Luck of Right Now by Matthew Quick
Published by Harper
Published: February 11th 2014
Genres: Fiction
Pages: 304
Format: Trade Paper
Source: Library
Goodreads

I liked the premise of it, but like I mentioned in my Goodreads review, I thought the narrator made Bartholomew a bit slower than I probably would have imagined the character if I had read it instead of listened to it. It can be discerned from the story sometimes that the social awkwardness and social anxiety may place Bartholomew on the autism scale, but sometimes people who care for their overbearing, needy mothers in the way he did do end up being more socially reserved than others and not on the autism scale at all. I felt a lot of the story was too trite and stereotypical in a way that didn’t sit well with me. I don’t mind language, but one of the characters cannot speak two words before interjecting “fuck,” and the overuse of the word “retard” by the main character to describe himself got old and frustrating by the second time he used it. By about a quarter of the way through, I kept asking myself why I was still listening to it, and realized it was sort of like watching a train wreck. You don’t want to stop watching in case something better happens. Halfway through, I realized nothing better would happen and let it go.

Little List of Reviews #1Title: The Dressmaker by Rosalie Ham
Published: August 11th 2015
Pages: 288
Format: Trade Paper
Source: Library
Goodreads

The premise sounded so interesting! It’s going to be made into a movie! I don’t read many books about Australia! Unfortunately for me, the characters fell flat, there wasn’t any connection among all of the characters introduced by the time I was halfway through the novel, and I didn’t feel like I cared about any of the characters or what happened to them. I might give the movie a go if it ever comes to Netflix because sometimes these kinds of stories work better on film.

Little List of Reviews #1Title: The Bad Beginning by Lemony Snicket
Published: September 30th 1999
Pages: 162
Format: Hardcover
Source: Purchased
Goodreads

I can’t believe this was released in 1999. I remember when it first came out, and it makes me feel a little bit old. I read this last year in hopes of reading all thirteen by the end of 2015, but that didn’t happen. With the announcement of Neil Patrick Harris’ casting in the role as Count Olaf in the new Netflix series, I decided that in 2016 I am going to read all of them. For whatever reason, I’ve never read the last three, so I’m excited to discover how this story ends. These are great books for everyone who likes a good deal of dark humor, word play, and shenanigans that play on popular tropes, so if you haven’t read them, do give them a go!

Little List of Reviews #1Title: The Apple: New Crimson Petal Stories by Michel Faber
Published: September 7th 2006
Pages: 199
Format: Hardcover
Source: Library
Goodreads

Faber apparently wrote these to appease himself and his fans who wanted to know what happened after The Crimson Petal and the White ended. To me, they read as deleted scenes of sorts. Good in their own right, but not good enough in the context of the novel. I liked the story with Sophie the most because it offered a peek into a relationship arrangement that would be considered scandalous even today by some people, but it didn’t offer the sense of completion I was hoping for. C’est la vie.

Little List of Reviews #1Title: The Night Manager by John le Carré
Published: November 7th 2013
Pages: 473
Format: Trade Paper
Source: Purchased
Goodreads

The things I do for Tom Hiddleston? I liked Tinker, Sailor, Solider, Spy, which admittedly I read after seeing the film and enjoying Gary Oldman’s and Benedict Cumberbatch’s roles in the film. I really don’t know why I took so long to read this (literally from March 2015 to February 2016), but I think I attribute it to the fact that I read it before I went to bed/fell asleep, so my brain got in the habit of wanting to fall asleep soon after picking it up again. It got really good in the last quarter of it, and the amount of building up that it took to get to that point might be why I let it linger for so long. I’m looking forward to the BBC/AMC mini-series, and I think it will translate nicely to screen as le Carré’s works tend to do.

I think I might make this a regular feature. Here’s a little list of reviews for books I’ve read up until now. Some of them are rereads, some of them are books that I didn’t devote enough time outside of reading to devote a whole review post (like write down my favorite parts, keep notes in a notebook, etc.), some of them are books I didn’t finish. I’m going to start with the ones I didn’t finish, just because I’d rather get the not-so-great out of the way.