REVIEW – My Dear Hamilton by Stephanie Dray and Laura Kamoie

“The promise of liberty is not written in blood or engraved in stone; it’s embroidered into the fabric of our nation. And so is Alexander Hamilton. My husband. My hero. My betrayer.”

I’ll admit – I was saving this book until after I had seen Hamilton. As someone who actively avoided listening to the soundtrack (I wanted to experience it in context!) I basically went from zero to 100. We watched the show when it was added to Disney+. I downloaded the soundtrack (and I listen to at least a few songs pretty much every single day…). And I finally read this book!

My Dear Hamilton is a great companion to the Hamilton musical, especially for fans who want more of Eliza’s story after Hamilton’s death. We get a better idea of how Eliza was a complete person before she met Alexander (I know, right? Wild…) and how much she accomplished once he was gone.

“Silence is often the only weapon available to ladies. And I wield mine expertly.”

This is also a great read for fans of historical fiction in general. For my fellow 90s kids who read (and loved) the Dear America series, this is the first book i’ve found that really hits the same notes. The book is told from Eliza’s perspective as she reflects on her life and the chapters read very much like diary entries.

“The revolution. It is unfinished. Maybe liberty must always be fought for.”

Is this probably a somewhat romanticized account with historical inaccuracies? Of course. But it’s a good choice for anyone who wants a bit more Hamilton beyond the musical.

Content warning: miscarriage, death of a child, death of a spouse, slavery.

REVIEW – The Light After the War by Anita Abriel

“No man can wipe out truth and beauty. Human beings were born to create great things, and they will do so again.”

The Light After the War is a post-WWII account of Vera and Edith, two best friends living in Naples, Italy (and eventually ending up in Caracas, Venezuela). The novel is based on the author’s mother’s story of surviving WWII and her experiences in the years immediately following the end of the war.

“When they were together, Vera felt like she and Edith were two girls on a grand adventure instead of orphans alone in the world.”

There was a lot to like about this book. The writing is incredibly vivid and provides a beautiful, delicious description of Naples, before moving on to warm, colorful Caracas. I felt like I was there right alongside Vera and Edith (and it was wonderful!) I loved that both Vera and Edith had career aspirations – Vera dreamt of being a playwright and Edith wanted to be a clothing designer. Some of the most interesting aspects of the book were the plot points that led each woman down her own career path.

“That was the thing about Edith: she believed falling in love was the answer to everything, even escaping the war.”

This is primarily a historical romance, and honestly I would have found it a bit unbelievable (and a little too fluffy) if not based on a true story. (I guess truth really is stranger than fiction sometimes!) It leaned a little too light and airy at times for my taste, but I think romance lovers will really enjoy this story.

“Death is everywhere, but so is life.”

My favorite part of Abriel’s writing was how she tied events and objects from the “present” timeline in the book, to Vera and Edith’s experiences as children and during the war. It was really impactful to get their backstories in small bits and pieces, even at times when you’d least expect it. Ultimately, it’s a very hopeful book but it doesn’t gloss over the realities and horrors of the war. It strikes the perfect balance between joy and sorrow.

I know many avid readers may think the historical fiction genre is oversaturated with WWII novels, but I would urge you to give this one a try – the war is a key part of the story, but it’s not the main focus.

Thank you Atria for sending me a finished copy of this book!

REVIEW – Westering Women by Sandra Dallas

“Being part of our group of women has been the greatest adventure of my life. …I have been part of a remarkable journey with you and the others. We are sisters. We are a band of sisters.”

Westering Women is the story of 44 women (and two ministers) making the journey west on the Overland Trail from Chicago to California. The intent is that the women will find husbands once they reach their destination, but many of the travelers have dark secrets that threaten their lives (and, ultimately, the lives of those traveling with them).

“I do not know the meaning of death, but there is meaning to life.”

The good? The eventual bond between these women is great. They stand up for each other, they protect each other, they keep each other’s secrets. The women are tough and resilient, despite the conditions they face on the trail, including disease, death, violence, rough terrain and harsh weather. Mary, especially, is an incredible character, and I would love to read a book focusing on women like her during that time. She quickly takes on a leadership role for a multitude of reasons, and she’s the shining star in this book despite not being the main character.

The not so good? I found the dialogue to be a bit stilted at times, but this could be a symptom of the time period in which it’s set (I haven’t read many books set in the 1800s so this might be my issue and not the book’s). I also found it to be inconsistent in its approach to hardships – it seemed like some of the issues and events were very brutal and upsetting for the overall tone of the book, but other issues were just kind of brushed aside too easily.

And the problematic? I felt that the story glossed over the role of Native Americans during this time period, and applied a harmful, racist lens overall. Although those traveling to California were attacked by Native Americans on the trail, it seemed like the book did little to dispel the “savage, violent, greedy” stereotype that had incredibly harmful repercussions, the effects of which are still evident today.

I do think this book will go over well with a lot of people – it has enough “grit” that it’s interesting but is also precious and fluffy enough that many readers will still find it palatable.

Content warning: assault, attempted rape/rape (at times involving children), death of children.

Thank you Bibliofinder and St. Martin’s Press for sending me a copy of this book.

REVIEW – The Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller

“I will never leave him. It will be this, always, for as long as he will let me.”

Circe was one of the best books I read this year, and I knew I had to pick up The Song of Achilles. Miller is an incredible writer – she has a way of turning words into something beautiful and heartbreaking and hopeful at the same time.

Patroclus is a wonderful narrator. I felt bad from him from the beginning – a disappointment to his father, his involvement in a fatal accident results in his banishment. He meets Achilles and the two become fast friends.

This is easily one of the most romantic, most beautiful books I’ve ever read. I cannot wait to see what Miller writes next.

REVIEW – How Quickly She Disappears by Raymond Fleischmann

How Quickly She Disappears is an interesting debut with promise – but ultimately falls a bit flat. The overall plot is interesting and eerie. Elisabeth’s character starts off strong but I found myself growing more and more frustrated with her as the book went on (this may have been intentional!) The villain does have an underlying creepiness but I thought he could have been a bit more fleshed out.

I did find it tough to determine if the flashbacks were memories or dreams at the beginning (again, this may have been intentional, it’s not necessarily a negative). I did think that through the flashbacks, Elisabeth and Jacqueline seemed older than 11 (Jacqueline especially) so sometimes it was hard to buy that it was the dialogue, thoughts and actions of children.

Elisabeth’s daughter was interesting but there’s a shift in her personality that isn’t much accounted for or explained and seems very abrupt.

It doesn’t seem like setting the book in WWII was really necessary to the story. It did provide challenges that wouldn’t exist if set in modern-day, but the background of the war starting wasn’t important enough of a detail to make a difference.

However, there’s a lot of good bits of writing in this book and I think that with more time and experience, Fleischmann could produce a very compelling thriller. (Also, I cannot give half stars but I would put this solidly as a 2.5.)

Thank you Berkley for the NetGalley ARC.

REVIEW – The Light Over London by Julia Kelly

The Light Over London is primarily about one woman’s experience during WWII – I loved reading about the gunner girls and the whole crew.

I would categorize this as light historical fiction (well, half historical, half contemporary) that’s easy on the history but heavier on the romance. It’s a great read for anyone who’s looking for something set in WWII without the disturbing, gory details. It’s emotional, but not overly sad.

I thought the ending was a little too quick and wrapped up a little too neatly, but it was still an enjoyable book!

Thank you Gallery for the NetGalley copy!

REVIEW – The Seven or Eight Deaths of Stella Fortuna by Juliet Grames

“The problems inside the pot are known only by the spoon who stirs it. In other words, only a family can know all its own secrets.”

Stella Fortuna has cheated death seven (or eight) times. With a name that means “lucky star” that must mean she has good luck, right?

Unfortunately, it’s the life that happens between each death that makes Stella’s story so sad.

Mostly family drama with a little bit of historical fiction sprinkled in, The Seven or Eight Deaths of Stella Fortuna is bleak, gritty, raw and disturbing.

This book is beautifully written but the subject matter is tough and it’s not for the faint of heart. It’s incredibly depressing without a single joyful story or event.

REVIEW – The Doll Factory by Elizabeth Macneal

The Doll Factory is an incredible book, meant for the patient reader. The buildup is slow, but oh boy does it pay off at the end.

Macneal does an amazing job of placing the reader right in the middle of gloomy, grimy 1850s London. Each chapter flawlessly leads into the next (seriously. When you start a chapter, go back and read the last sentence from the previous one.)

There are subtle, but terrifying, details that suggest not all is right with Silas “the Cadaver” Reed, but you have no idea the depths of his depravity until it all comes together at the end. There’s a revelation in the last few chapters that made me audibly gasp. It’s THAT good (and THAT horrible).

It’s almost impossible to believe that this is a debut. The way Macneal slowly builds to certain reveals is absolutely masterful.

Also, Guinevere is clearly the best character 😉

Thank you Atria for providing me with a copy of this book.

REVIEW – Montauk by Nicola Harrison

“No matter how perfect all these lives might have seemed from a distance, so full of possibilities and promise, we all wanted more.”

I was expecting this to lean a bit more towards the historical fiction genre, but it’s ultimately women’s fiction that just so happens to be set in 1938. There were some slight historical references but none of them had any real impact on the story.

Readers who typically gravitate towards romance might really enjoy this one.

The treatment of women was infuriating (not a negative of the book, but of the time). I immediately hated Beatrice’s husband. The author does a great job of covering the overall sentiment towards women, the “necessity” of having children, and the enforcement of very archaic, traditional gender roles. We do have at least one character who has branched out beyond her “place” as a woman, but even she has her problematic views in the end.

That ending though – I was content for this book to take the expected route (rather, one of two) and it didn’t. Which was frustrating because I felt like the way it wrapped up was simply drama for the sake of drama, instead of it serving a real purpose.

I received this book as part of the BookSparks Montauk pop-up tour.

REVIEW – The Things We Cannot Say by Kelly Rimmer

“Hatred spreads – it doesn’t burn out with time. Someone needs to stand up and stop it.”

The Things We Cannot Say is a heart wrenching story about the horrors and realities of WWII. I enjoyed Alina’s chapters more than Alice’s but the story came together nicely and had a very emotional ending.

I did think this book was just a smidge too long, and I had figured out where it was going – it took awhile to get there but the payoff is good.

I would make sure you have a feel-good book ready for when you finish this one!