Title: Sin Eater by Megan Campisi
Published by Atria Books
Published: April 7th 2020
Genres: Fiction, Historical
The Handmaid’s Tale meets Alice in Wonderland in this gripping and imaginative historical novel about a shunned orphan girl in 16th century England who is ensnared in a deadly royal plot and must turn her subjugation into her power.
The Sin Eater walks among us, unseen, unheard Sins of our flesh become sins of Hers Following Her to the grave, unseen, unheard The Sin Eater Walks Among Us.
For the crime of stealing bread, fourteen-year-old May receives a life sentence: she must become a Sin Eater—a shunned woman, brutally marked, whose fate is to hear the final confessions of the dying, eat ritual foods symbolizing their sins as a funeral rite, and thereby shoulder their transgressions to grant their souls access to heaven.
Orphaned and friendless, apprenticed to an older Sin Eater who cannot speak to her, May must make her way in a dangerous and cruel world she barely understands. When a deer heart appears on the coffin of a royal governess who did not confess to the dreadful sin it represents, the older Sin Eater refuses to eat it. She is taken to prison, tortured, and killed. To avenge her death, May must find out who placed the deer heart on the coffin and why.
“A keenly researched feminist arc of unexpected abundance, reckoning, intellect, and ferocious survival” (Maria Dahvana Headley, author of The Mere Wife) Sin Eater is “a dark, rich story replete with humor, unforgettable characters, and arcane mysteries. It casts a spell on your heart and mind until the final page” (Jennie Melamed, author of Gather the Daughters).
The Unseen is now seen. The Unheard is now heard. The sins of your flesh become the sins of mine to be borne to my grave in silence. Speak.
Megan Campisi’s Sin Eater defies genre. It is historical fiction, but not completely; it’s fantasy/fabulist¹, but not completely. This indefinite quality adds to its appeal. Sin-eaters did exist, but sin-eaters still remain more in folkloric history in which not much is widely known about them and their practices. Campisi brings an alternate speculative look at Elizabethan England that is rich and detailed, and I wanted more from the world she created. The comp titles listed with this are wide and varied, and for the most part I don’t know if they particularly fit, aside from Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale in the sense that this is a character study of a young woman in a society that prefers she stay in her place and not question anything. If anything, my comp would be The Handmaid’s Tale meets Parasite in an alternate Tudor England as this is very much about class, violent deception, and the fear that rules institutionalized religion.
May Owens, the fourteen year old girl sentenced to become a Sin Eater after stealing food, is the perfect set of eyes through which to experience this world, because like her, we are unfamiliar with a lot of the customs outside of our immediate recognition. May’s isolation and loneliness are present on the page, along with her discomfort and estrangement at her own acceptance of her life’s chosen path. When she delves into the mystery surrounding her mentor’s death, May discovers that the court for which she is performing the sin eating is rife with manipulative and deceptive people, and nobody can be trusted but herself, and even then she’s not entirely sure she can trust herself.
This is an excellent intrigue of a novel, grim and gruesome with a lot of heart, and it’s a contender to be one of my favorite reads of the year.
Thank you to Atria Books for a review copy! All opinions are my own.
¹ I’ve begun using “fabulist” for something that isn’t quite “real” and not quite “fantasy” in terms of genre, as “magical realism” is a style specific to Latin American literature.
Title: To Have and to Hoax by Martha Waters
Published by Atria Books
Published: April 7th 2020
Buy: Bookshop(afflilate link)
In this fresh and hilarious historical rom-com, an estranged husband and wife in Regency England feign accidents and illness in an attempt to gain attention—and maybe just win each other back in the process.
Five years ago, Lady Violet Grey and Lord James Audley met, fell in love, and got married. Four years ago, they had a fight to end all fights, and have barely spoken since.
Their once-passionate love match has been reduced to one of cold, detached politeness. But when Violet receives a letter that James has been thrown from his horse and rendered unconscious at their country estate, she races to be by his side—only to discover him alive and well at a tavern, and completely unaware of her concern. She’s outraged. He’s confused. And the distance between them has never been more apparent.
Wanting to teach her estranged husband a lesson, Violet decides to feign an illness of her own. James quickly sees through it, but he decides to play along in an ever-escalating game of manipulation, featuring actors masquerading as doctors, threats of Swiss sanitariums, faux mistresses—and a lot of flirtation between a husband and wife who might not hate each other as much as they thought. Will the two be able to overcome four years of hurt or will they continue to deny the spark between them?
With charm, wit, and heart in spades, To Have and To Hoax is a fresh and eminently entertaining romantic comedy—perfect for fans of Jasmine Guillory and Julia Quinn.
I have very much been in the mood for reading romances because they’re light and fun and take you away from the world for a bit, and To Have and To Hoax
is a fun regency romance in which a husband and wife suffer from misaligned communication and miscommunication, and now resort to playing games with each other to try to win each other’s attention and affection. And of course
none of it goes as planned.
The main characters are immature, stubborn, and insufferable, but it is a delight to read because the situations in which they found themselves resulted in witty dialogue and believable chemistry. For me, I thought that the games they played went on a little too long which made the middle of the book drag a bit, and I thought the chapters could be too long and possibly better broken into shorter ones, especially when the point of view changed. The core of the argument that drove Audley and Violet apart was not revealed until well into the book, leaving you guessing as to what could possibly drive two people apart for four years other than sheer stubbornness and an inability to talk about it. Otherwise the pacing was good and kept me interested to find out what shenanigans the characters got up to next.
Ultimately, I think my favorite parts of the entire book involved Violet’s friends and how each of them were involved in Violet’s schemes, and I hope Waters writes more about them, because I think their stories would be just as entertaining to read!
If you are in the mood for a more modern twist on regency romance, definitely check this one out.
Thank you to Atria for sending me an advance reader’s copy; all opinions are my own.
Title: The English Wife by Lauren Willig
Published by St. Martin's Press
Published: January 9th 2018
Genres: Fiction, Historical
Format: Hardcover, ARC
Source: Purchased, Netgalley
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.
Title: We Are All Good People Here by Susan Rebecca White
Published by Atria Books
Published: August 6th 2019
Genres: Fiction, Historical
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!
Title: The Dragon Lady by Louisa Treger
Published by Bloomsbury Publishing PLC
Published: August 13th 2019
Genres: Fiction, Historical
'A daring blend of romance, crime and history, and an intelligent exposé of the inherent injustice and consequences of all forms of oppression' Tsitsi Dangarembga, Nervous Conditions
Opening with the shooting of Lady Virginia 'Ginie' Courtauld in her tranquil garden in 1950s Rhodesia, The Dragon Lady tells Ginie's extraordinary story, so called for the exotic tattoo snaking up her leg. From the glamorous Italian Riviera before the Great War to the Art Deco glory of Eltham Palace in the thirties, and from the secluded Scottish Highlands to segregated Rhodesia in the fifties, the narrative spans enormous cultural and social change. Lady Virginia Courtauld was a boundary-breaking, colourful and unconventional person who rejected the submissive role women were expected to play.
Ostracised by society for being a foreign divorcée at the time of Edward VIII and Mrs Simpson, Ginie and her second husband ,Stephen Courtauld, leave the confines of post-war Britain to forge a new life in Rhodesia, only to find that being progressive liberals during segregation proves mortally dangerous. Many people had reason to dislike Ginie, but who had reason enough to pull the trigger?
Deeply evocative of time and place, The Dragon Lady subtly blends fact and fiction to paint the portrait of an extraordinary woman in an era of great social and cultural change.
Louisa Treger’s The Dragon Lady
is about the Ginie Courtald’s life as the “lady with the dragon tattoo.” Set in Rhodesia, current day Zimbabwe, in the early 20th century, Ginie and her husband Stephen find themselves to be find themselves to be relative social outcasts as they each think and behave differently than society deems acceptable. Ginie has a dragon tattooed the length of her body and creates varying stories about her tattoo, and she is also a divorcee with an annulled marriage that further adds to the speculation about her private life. Stephen is an advocate for the arts and advocates for improved treatment of the native population.
Even though as mentioned in the afterword that not many details about the Courtald’s life are known, Treger’s dedication to research and evoking the atmosphere of the era brought this novel and its characters to life. She touches on the claustrophobic racial tensions, the glitz and glamour of high society, and the struggles between wanting to be one’s own self and wanting to fit in with everyone else. Ginie is bright, vivacious, and carries a wonderful depth; and the rest of the characters add such dimension and life to the story.
When I started reading this, I was in the mood for some historical fiction that flowed and The Dragon Lady delivered. I fell into the story and got lost in it, and I came out of it wanting to know more about Rhodesia/Zimbabwe history.
Many thanks to Bloomsbury Publishing for an advance copy! All opinions are my own.