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: A Perilous Undertaking, by Deanna Raybourn

BOOK REVIEW: A Perilous Undertaking, by Deanna RaybournTitle: A Perilous Undertaking by Deanna Raybourn
Series: Veronica Speedwell #2
Published by Berkley Books
Published: January 10th 2017
Genres: Mystery
Pages: 352
Format: eBook
Source: Netgalley
Goodreads

Veronica Speedwell returns in a brand new adventure from Deanna Raybourn, the New York Times bestselling author of the Lady Julia Grey mysteries...
London, 1887 . . Victorian adventuress and butterfly hunter Veronica Speedwell receives an invitation to visit the Curiosity Club, a ladies-only establishment for daring and intrepid women. There she meets the mysterious Lady Sundridge, who begs her to take on an impossible task saving society art patron Miles Ramsforth from execution. Accused of the brutal murder of his artist mistress Artemisia, Ramsforth will face the hangman's noose in a week s time if Veronica cannot find the real killer.
But Lady Sundridge is not all that she seems and unmasking her true identity is only the first of the many secrets Veronica must uncover. Together with her natural historian colleague Stoker, Veronica races against time to find the true murderer a ruthless villain who not only took Artemisia s life in cold blood but is happy to see Ramsforth hang for the crime.
From a Bohemian artists colony to a royal palace to a subterranean grotto with a decadent history, the investigation proves to be a very perilous undertaking indeed....

In the second installment of the Veronica Speedwell mysteries, Veronica continues to be a woman out of her time. The mystery in this one is not as prominent as it was in the first, but I found this to be excellent in learning more about who Veronica (a lepidopterist) and Stoker (a natural historian) are. We find out more about Stoker’s past and meet some of his family, and I found that it really rounded out Stoker as a character.

With her ties to a major family, Veronica is swept up into a job preventing the hanging of someone some believe to be innocent. Along the way, Veronica and Stoker become closer friends with so much romantic tension hanging between them. While I’m not really one for romances in a traditional sense, I’m really liking this slow burn, and I’m hoping that later in the series something happens because I have a feeling it will be so satisfying to read.

The other characters in the novel are well-developed and engaging, and I felt each of them added so much to the depth of the story. I loved all of the incidents Veronica and Stoker find themselves in, and I especially loved the peeks into that upper-class art scene and those sex houses/clubs of Victorian England.

If you enjoy vivacious and smart women, broody and Byronic men, visual glimpses into life in Victorian England, and a lot of humor and tension, these mysteries should be on your reading lists!

Thank you to Netgalley and Berkley Books for a review copy! All opinions are my own.

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: 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!

BOOK REVIEW: The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah

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BOOK REVIEW: The Nightingale by Kristin HannahTitle: The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah
Published by St. Martin's Press
Published: February 3rd 2015
Genres: Fiction, Historical
Pages: 440
Format: Hardcover
Source: Library
Goodreads

In the quiet village of Carriveau, Vianne Mauriac says goodbye to her husband, Antoine, as he heads for the Front. She doesn’t believe that the Nazis will invade France...but invade they do, in droves of marching soldiers, in caravans of trucks and tanks, in planes that fill the skies and drop bombs upon the innocent. When France is overrun, Vianne is forced to take an enemy into her house, and suddenly her every move is watched; her life and her child’s life is at constant risk. Without food or money or hope, as danger escalates around her, she must make one terrible choice after another.

Vianne’s sister, Isabelle, is a rebellious eighteen-year-old girl, searching for purpose with all the reckless passion of youth. While thousands of Parisians march into the unknown terrors of war, she meets the compelling and mysterious Gäetan, a partisan who believes the French can fight the Nazis from within France, and she falls in love as only the young can...completely. When he betrays her, Isabelle races headlong into danger and joins the Resistance, never looking back or giving a thought to the real--and deadly--consequences.

With courage, grace and powerful insight, bestselling author Kristin Hannah takes her talented pen to the epic panorama of WWII and illuminates an intimate part of history seldom seen: the women’s war. The Nightingale tells the stories of two sisters, separated by years and experience, by ideals, passion and circumstance, each embarking on her own dangerous path toward survival, love, and freedom in German-occupied, war-torn France--a heartbreakingly beautiful novel that celebrates the resilience of the human spirit and the durability of women. It is a novel for everyone, a novel for a lifetime.

Men tell stories. Women get on with it. For us it was a shadow war. There were no parades for us when it was over, no medals or mentions in history books. We did what we had to during the war, and when it was over, we picked up the pieces and started our lives over.

I’d heard a lot about this book from various people, publications, and my old job at the bookstore. It kept showing up everywhere, so I finally decided to reserve it at the library and give it a go. We usually hear about the stories of men in wars, a man’s heroic actions, and a man’s role in the war, but we hardly hear of what women went through during any war. Not in popular commercial fiction, anyway. I’ll be the first to admit that I was hesitant on picking it up because Hannah’s other works aren’t titles of interest to me, but I’m all about expanding my horizons this year. I’m glad I did for this one.

In The Nightingale, Hannah explores the relationship between two French sisters during World War II. It started out slow, a bit cliche at times, but by the time I got through a third of the book, I couldn’t put it down. I read straight on from about eight-thirty in the morning to noon. I wanted to read more of Isabelle’s story, and I can certainly see from this interview why Hannah wrote about a young woman leading hundreds of soldiers to freedom. I don’t recall reading anything even remotely similar to that in my history books, nor are the actions of women often spoken about in reference to the war. The Nightingale shows two women fighting their own battles during the war in their own ways, sometimes through being outspoken and daring, and sometimes through hardship and resilience.

Even though the story seemed too tidy and too happily-ever-after in its resolution, I really enjoyed reading it, and it makes me want to read more about the women who played such pivotal roles in World War II.