BOOK REVIEW: The Widow of Pale Harbor, by Hester Fox

BOOK REVIEW: The Widow of Pale Harbor, by Hester FoxTitle: The Widow of Pale Harbor by Hester Fox
Published by Graydon House
Published: September 17th 2019
Genres: Fiction, Romance
Pages: 352
Format: ARC
Source: Publisher
Goodreads

Maine, 1846. Gabriel Stone is desperate to escape the ghosts that haunt him in Massachusetts after his wife's death, so he moves to Pale Harbor, Maine, where there is a vacancy for a new minister. Gabriel and his late wife had always dreamed of building their own church, and Pale Harbor is the perfect opportunity.

But not all is as it seems in the sleepy town of Pale Harbor. Strange, unsettling things have been happening, and the townspeople know that only one person can be responsible: Sophronia Carver, a widow who lives with a spinster maid in the decaying Castle Carver on the edge of town. Sophronia is a recluse, rumored to be a witch who killed her husband.

When Gabriel meets her, he knows the charming, beautiful woman cannot be guilty of anything. Together, Gabriel and Sophronia realize that the mysterious events have one thing in common: they all contain an element from the wildly popular stories of Mr. Edgar Allan Poe. And when the events escalate to murder, Gabriel and Sophronia must find the real killer, before it's too late for them both.

The Widow of Pale Harbor is an atmospheric historical romance with ties to Edgar Allan Poe’s writing that kept me gripped from beginning to end. Sophronia Carver lives in Pale Harbor, Main, and must come to terms with accusations of witchcraft, murder, and unsettling incidents that keep happening to her and to her immediate surroundings. Gabriel Stone arrives to the sleep coastal town to fill the vacant minister’s position, but from what in his past is he running?

As the incidents begin to escalate, Sophronia and Gabriel realize that these incidents are the work of a twisted individual. Once they realize that the incidents are inspired by the works of Edgar Allan Poe, they must discover who is behind it all or risk being the next victims of a gruesome attack. In the midst of all of this, Sophronia and Gabriel realize that their attraction toward each other is undeniable, but parts of their respective pasts are holding them back. Gabriel accepted the position in Pale Harbor as a testament to his dead wife, even though he has little care for Transcendentalism or preaching in general. Sophronia must reconcile her past, the accusations of murder thrown toward her, and her limited freedoms before opening up her heart to someone else.

I love the Gothic as a genre. It’s claustrophobic, evoking a sense of dread and wonder at the same time, and delightfully creepy. I love the visuals of a woman scorned in some way standing on a moor overlooking her estate in contemplation, and The Widow of Pale Harbor satisfies every one of those want and hopes I had when I learned about Hester Fox’s second novel. This is a worthy sophomore work, and it’s definitely one to check out if you’re interested in Gothic-style fiction, mysteries, and Transcendental America. Fox wove all of this into a compelling and complex narrative with all sorts of delightful and macabre twists, and it’s one of my favorite reads of the year.

Thank you to Graydon House/Harlequin for sending me an advance reader’s copy to include in a promotional book tour! All opinions are my own.

BOOK REVIEW: Savage Appetites, by Rachel Monroe

BOOK REVIEW: Savage Appetites, by Rachel MonroeTitle: Savage Appetites: Four True Stories of Women, Crime, and Obsession by Rachel Monroe
Published by Scribner
Published: August 20th 2019
Genres: Cultural Studies
Pages: 272
Format: ARC
Source: Publisher
Goodreads

A provocative and original investigation of our cultural fascination with crime, linking four archetypes—Detective, Victim, Attorney, Killer—to four true stories about women driven by obsession.

In this illuminating exploration of women, violence, and obsession, Rachel Monroe interrogates the appeal of true crime through four narratives of fixation. In the 1940s, a bored heiress began creating dollhouse crime scenes depicting murders, suicides, and accidental deaths. Known as the “Mother of Forensic Science,” she revolutionized the field of what was then called legal medicine. In the aftermath of the Manson Family murders, a young woman moved into Sharon Tate’s guesthouse and, over the next two decades, entwined herself with the Tate family. In the mid-nineties, a landscape architect in Brooklyn fell in love with a convicted murderer, the supposed ringleader of the West Memphis Three, through an intense series of letters. After they married, she devoted her life to getting him freed from death row. And in 2015, a teenager deeply involved in the online fandom for the Columbine killers planned a mass shooting of her own.

Each woman, Monroe argues, represents and identifies with a particular archetype that provides an entryway into true crime. Through these four cases, she traces the history of American crime through the growth of forensic science, the evolving role of victims, the Satanic Panic, the rise of online detectives, and the long shadow of the Columbine shooting. In a combination of personal narrative, reportage, and a sociological examination of violence and media in the twentieth and twenty-first century, Savage Appetites scrupulously explores empathy, justice, and the persistent appeal of violence.

Rachel Monroe’s Savage Appetites explores the cultural phenomenon of true crime and how women tend to be drawn to the “genre” even though women are more likely to be victims in true crime “stories.” This was an examination of our society’s fascination with true crime and how that fascination has grown over the years through four case studies. In Savage Appetites, Monroe takes those fascinations of women with true crime and separates them into four general archetypes – detective, victim, attorney, killer.

Through each of these archetypes, Monroe combines thorough research with her own anecdotes to explore what exactly it is that makes true crime so fascinating not only for women but for all of us. While her writing flowed easily and I enjoyed learning what she tied in with her archetypes, I felt that it all fell flat because some of the attitudes were a little negatively skewed toward the women featured in the archetypes. It’s uncomfortable to read unnecessary criticism against women in a book about women, but because I’m not well-read in true crime, maybe that’s something delved into a little more? I’m not sure. For me, when someone is offering cultural insight and criticism, I do want there to be more about what we as a society could do to be better or how it ultimately affects our society to be so interested in an ultimately violent “genre.” What happens when true crime begins being viewed as fiction rather than something that happened to real people? Do we become more desensitized to the violence because we’re beginning to assume it’s fiction and therefore can’t happen to us?

Even though true crime has certainly morphed into a genre, I was hoping for more in Savage Appetites about the implications of calling true crime a genre and ultimately why we’re becoming more and more fascinated with true crime. One more chapter tying the four archetypes together and exploring a result or conclusion would have made me like this a little bit more!

Thank you to Scribner for sending me a complimentary copy to review. All opinions are my own.

BOOK REVIEW: Three Flames, by Alan Lightman

BOOK REVIEW: Three Flames, by Alan LightmanTitle: Three Flames by Alan Lightman
Published by Counterpoint LLC
Published: September 3rd 2019
Genres: Fiction
Pages: 205
Format: ARC
Source: Publisher
Goodreads

From the international bestselling author of Einstein’s Dreams comes a deeply compelling story about the lives of a Cambodian family—set between 1973, just before the Cambodian Genocide by the Khmer Rouge—to 2015.

The stories of one Cambodian family are intricately braided together in Alan Lightman’s haunting Three Flames, his first work of fiction in six years.

Three Flames portrays the struggles of a Cambodian farming family against the extreme patriarchal attitudes of their society and the cruel and dictatorial father, set against a rural community that is slowly being exposed to the modern world and its values. A mother must fight against memories of her father’s death at the hands of the Khmer Rouge, and her powerful desire for revenge. A daughter is married off at sixteen to a wandering husband and his domineering aunt; another daughter is sent to the city to work in the factories to settle her father’s gambling debt. A son dreams of marrying the most beautiful girl of the village and escaping the life of a farmer. And the youngest daughter bravely challenges her father so she can stay in school and strive for a better future.

A vivid story of revenge and forgiveness, of a culture smothering the dreams of freedom, and of tradition against courage, Three Flames grows directly from Lightman’s work as the founder of the Harpswell Foundation, a nonprofit organization whose mission is to advance a new generation of female leaders in Cambodia and all of Southeast Asia.

Alan Lightman’s Three Flames follows the story of a Cambodian family throughout the years told through interwoven chapters from each family member’s point of view. I love family stories that are told throughout the decades, illuminating the secret pains and joys each member of the family harbors. Even though it’s a short book, I found myself thoroughly engaged and involved with the story, and I couldn’t put it down. It’s easy to read in a single sitting or two, and the lives of the characters and the struggles they faced will stick with you and make you think as they did for me.

Three Flames explores the costs and consequences of living in a deeply patriarchal society and the affects that has on both men and women and the roles each are expected to perform. It’s difficult sometimes to reconcile that some of this story is set in the last decade because I, as a white woman living in America, am incredibly privileged and have many more freedoms than the women have in Cambodia today. Lightman’s work and passion with his foundation to assist women in Cambodia shines in this novel, giving a voice to people that many may not have heard about or thought of without having read this. It’s a reminder to us all that oppression against women and others thought of as “lesser” still exists to such extremes (and what we might call outdated ways) today.

Lightman’s use of language and theme is precise, rich, compassionate, and fitting for a novel that delves into difficult realities. It’s well worth looking into, and I haven’t stopped thinking about it since I finished it.

Many thanks to Counterpoint LLC for sending me a complimentary copy to review! All opinions are my own.

BOOK REVIEW: Love at First Like, by Hannah Orenstein

BOOK REVIEW: Love at First Like, by Hannah OrensteinTitle: Love at First Like by Hannah Orenstein
Published by Atria Books
Published: August 6th 2019
Genres: Romance
Pages: 336
Format: ARC
Source: Publisher
Goodreads

Eliza Roth and her sister Sophie co-own a jewelry shop in Brooklyn. One night, after learning of an ex’s engagement, Eliza accidentally posts a photo of herself wearing a diamond ring on that finger to her Instagram account beloved by 100,000 followers. Sales skyrocket, press rolls in, and Eliza learns that her personal life is good for business. So she has a choice: continue the ruse or clear up the misunderstanding. With mounting financial pressure, Eliza sets off to find a fake fiancé.

Fellow entrepreneur Blake seems like the perfect match on paper. And in real life he shows promise, too. He would be perfect, if only Eliza didn’t feel also drawn to someone else. But Blake doesn’t know Eliza is “engaged”; Sophie asks Eliza for an impossible sum of money; and Eliza’s lies start to spiral out of control. She can either stay engaged online or fall in love in real life.

Hannah Orenstein’s Love at First Like is her follow-up novel to one of my favorite reads of last year, Playing With Matches. In Love at First Like, Eliza owns a jewelry shop with her sister Sophie in NYC and, after finding out via Instagram that her ex-boyfriend is engaged, accidentally posts a photo of herself wearing a diamond ring on her left hand. Overnight, the post causes a social media stir and brings a lot of attention (and customers!) to her Instagram and her store. With it comes a lot of press and pressure to reveal more information about the ring, herself, and her new fiance. She has two choices – reveal the truth about the sensational post or find someone to be her fiance. When she meets Blake, Eliza feels enough of a connection with him to pursue a relationship with him and hopes his interest is reciprocated enough to actually be her fiance. However, when Blake finds out the truth, Eliza’s lies force her back to reality and to confront herself.

I’ve read a few reviews on this and noticed that some where really turned off by Eliza’s determination to fulfill her accidental Instagram post and bring success to her business, calling it careless and selfish, but would we say the same thing about a man who does the same? I don’t necessarily think so. I liked Eliza’s determination to see her business succeed and that it did take something like this to show her what she really wanted for her personal and professional life. It takes a lot of guts to put yourself out there personally and professionally, and Eliza did both. Maybe she could have done some things differently, but I think that would have detracted from the lessons learned.

I thought this was cute, enjoyable, and a good examination of modern dating and the questions we ask ourselves when putting ourselves out there. It touches on how we compare ourselves to others on social media, and the reservations we have in revealing our “true” selves, thoughts, and feelings. I also liked seeing some of the characters from Orenstein’s first novel make an appearance as well! I think the only bummer for me in the whole fake dating trope that I like is that I like it when both sides of the relationship are “in” on the fake dating, but it’s a variation on the trope and it works in this novel!

Thank you to Atria for sending me a copy to review! All opinions are my own.

BOOK REVIEW: We Are All Good People Here, by Susan Rebecca White

BOOK REVIEW: We Are All Good People Here, by Susan Rebecca WhiteTitle: We Are All Good People Here by Susan Rebecca White
Published by Atria Books
Published: August 6th 2019
Genres: Fiction, Historical
Pages: 304
Format: ARC
Source: Publisher
Goodreads

From the author of A Place at the Table and A Soft Place to Land, an “intense, complex, and wholly immersive” (Joshilyn Jackson, New York Times bestselling author) multigenerational novel that explores the complex relationship between two very different women and the secrets they bequeath to their daughters.

Eve Whalen, privileged child of an old-money Atlanta family, meets Daniella Gold in the fall of 1962, on their first day at Belmont College. Paired as roommates, the two become fast friends. Daniella, raised in Georgetown by a Jewish father and a Methodist mother, has always felt caught between two worlds. But at Belmont, her bond with Eve allows her to finally experience a sense of belonging. That is, until the girls’ expanding awareness of the South’s systematic injustice forces them to question everything they thought they knew about the world and their places in it.

Eve veers toward radicalism—a choice pragmatic Daniella cannot fathom. After a tragedy, Eve returns to Daniella for help in beginning anew, hoping to shed her past. But the past isn’t so easily buried, as Daniella and Eve discover when their daughters are endangered by secrets meant to stay hidden.

Spanning more than thirty years of American history, from the twilight of Kennedy’s Camelot to the beginning of Bill Clinton’s presidency, We Are All Good People Here is “a captivating…meaningful, resonant story” (Emily Giffin, author of All We Ever Wanted) about two flawed but well-meaning women clinging to a lifelong friendship that is tested by the rushing waters of history and their own good intentions.

Susan Rebecca White’s We Are All Good People Here follows the lives of two women – Daniella and Eve – and their daughters, spanning from the 1960s to the late 1980s. Throughout these three decades, Daniella and Eve face changes in their personal lives and in the world around them, and even though they try to be good people, their actions often have consequences for which they weren’t prepared. Daniella veers toward social reform and justice while Eve becomes a sometimes-violent radical, and the paths each of them take strain their relationship throughout the rest of their lives culminating in a revelation to each of their daughters that changes how they each view one another.

White’s writing in this book is incredible. It starts off rather naive, reflecting the views and experiences of the characters, and eventually morphing into something complex and heady. White doesn’t shy away from the difficult aspects of the Civil Rights Movement in the 60s, the Vietnam riots in the 70s, and the racial tensions throughout each of the decades in which these women live. The descriptions of the era are spot on, and I could often vividly imagine the rooms in which these women walked and the clothes they wore to the tensions and struggles of each setting. The character’s voices are unique, honest, and at times flawed, and each of the women feel so real and I felt as if I got to know each of them very well.

The novel was a reflection on the past as well as a reflection of our current time of unrest and upheaval. I read it in about two sittings because I absolutely had to know how it ended, and it’s a perfect end of summer read. However, if you are affected and prefer not to read about animal violence, there is a violent scene involving a cat that was unsettling.

Thank you to Atria for sending me a complimentary copy to review! All opinions are my own!