REVIEW – The Residence by Andrew Pyper

“It was the dead who did it. The house was full of them.”

Something terrifying is happening in the White House (I mean, the jokes just write themselves at this point…) But seriously. Not long after Franklin Pierce is elected president, his son dies in a horrific train accident. When Franklin and his wife, Jane, move into the White House, that’s when the real terror begins.

PHEW. This book is a doozy. It’s definitely creepy but, more importantly, it’s incredibly sad. It’s hard enough reading about grieving parents, but when you add some really terrifying, demonic elements to that, it’s gut-wrenching. The opening especially is just chilling and heartbreakingly sad.

You see, Jane accidentally summoned some sort of malevolent presence when she was a young girl, and this presence has been tormenting and influencing her ever since. Is it responsible for the tragedy in her life? Probably. This presence seems to feed off of terror and grief and sadness. The book does seem a little repetitive at times (especially the scenes in the boy’s staged bedroom) but there are some parts that will stick with readers long after they’ve left the White House.

Also I would HIGHLY recommend reading the Author’s Note at the end! It’s absolutely terrifying and makes the book that much better. I mean, is it really hard to imagine that the White House is actually haunted?

Content warning: death of a child, suicidal thoughts

Thank you Gallery Books / Skybound Books for the finished copy!

REVIEW – The Devil and the Dark Water by Stuart Turton

“That’s the problem with summoning demons, you see. Sooner or later, somebody else raises them against you.”

The Devil and the Dark Water was for sure one of my most anticipated books of the year. I loved The 7 1/2 Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle, and i’ll probably pick up pretty much anything Stuart Turton decides to write.

This book is a combination of Sherlock Holmes, Pirates of the Caribbean and Titanic (sound weird? …good.) It’s historical-ish fiction – set in the 1600s but not entirely historically accurate (but that’s not the point! Just enjoy the story for what it is.)

Arent and Sammy- the Bear and the Sparrow – are like a spin on Watson and Sherlock. Sammy is imprisoned on the ship for reasons unknown, and Arent is trying to find out why. There’s also a dead leper, the mark of a supposed devil/demon named Old Tom and some dead livestock to add to the fun.

Sara is married to a total jerk, who just so happens to kind of be in charge of this entire operation. There’s a relatively large cast of characters here, but each person is different enough that it’s not hard to keep them all straight.

What happens in this book? I really can’t tell you. It’s wild and fun and unique. You can’t really begin to try to solve the mystery of Old Tom, you just have to let Turton guide you through the twists and turns of the story. It’s not perfect, but it’s still an amazing read.

REVIEW – The Confessions of Frannie Langton by Sara Collins

“No one knows the worst thing they are capable of until they do it.”

I had been interested in reading this book for quite some time – I love historical fiction, but this had the added promise of a more gruesome/thrilling story. Well, it’s definitely disturbing. But it’s not quite a thriller (at least, not in the traditional sense).

This book is beautifully written, but don’t let it fool you – even in the lovely, “happy” moments, there’s an underlying cruelty and dread that follows Frannie pretty much everywhere. Since the book is told through a series of flashbacks, you somewhat already know what awaits Frannie at the end.

“That’s always been my trouble. Never knowing my place or being content in it.”

After traveling from Jamaica to England, Frannie transitions from slave to servant. However, having been enslaved for her entire life, she struggles to understand the difference. She’s still under the control and authority of someone else, and her life is still difficult regardless of the change in status.

Through Frannie’s letters/journal entries, we learn about a lot of horrific events that she either witnessed or participated in. It never gets too deep – many of the horrors are merely alluded to. That being said, there’s an overall lack of depth throughout the story – I felt that we skimmed the surface on so many topics instead of really digging in to the meat of the story.

There’s a deep sadness here too, and if you’re looking for something with a happy twist or ending, don’t expect to find it here.

I think Sara Collins shows a lot of promise, and i’d be happy to read whatever she decides to write next.

There are multiple trigger/content warnings for this one, so proceed with caution if you’re a sensitive reader.

Thank you Harper Perennial for the free book!

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.