REVIEW – Deacon King Kong by James McBride

“He was a peaceful man beloved by all. So what happened?”

I didn’t really know what to expect when I picked up Deacon King Kong, but I was definitely surprised. Tihs book is so much funnier and lighthearted than I anticipated (but I wouldn’t say it’s a “lighthearted book”). You might not fall in love with Sportcoat right away, but you’ll realize just how much you enjoy his character by the end of the book.

I would say this is definitely more character-driven vs. plot-driven, which isn’t usually my cup of tea (or bottle of King Kong, in this instance) but I really loved this book. I don’t think the 1969 setting is incredibly consequential here, but it does make some parts of the story more plausible.

There’s so much heart in this book – each chapter almost feels like its own story, and it all contributes to the overall narrative. Everyone and everything is connected in some way, and McBride’s writing is so clever and vibrant, you can’t help but want to know who you’re going to meet next.

The shorter version? Jesus cheese. It’s all about the Jesus cheese.

REVIEW – The Paris Library by Janet Skeslien Charles

“Atrum post bellum, ex libris lux. – After the darkness of war, the light of books.”

The Paris Library is historical fiction for book lovers. Using dual timelines (WWII-era Paris and 1980s Montana), Janet Skeslien Charles weaves a beautiful, emotional story that focuses on friendship, love, family and forgiveness.

I had no choice but to give this five stars – the writing is absolutely beautiful. The characters! THE LIBRARY. Just stunning – you’ll fall in love with (almost) everyone and find yourself wanting to spend forever amongst the shelves.

Odile and Lily are truly the stars of this book, and their journey is lovely and sad and hopeful. Get ready to feel all of the feelings.

Thank you Atria Books for the ARC!

REVIEW – The Four Winds by Kristin Hannah

I have some questions for Kristin Hannah. Does she enjoy making readers cry? Does she enjoy crying? Does she cry when she writes her books? Because this is NOT the first time she’s made me cry, and i’m sure it won’t be the last.

The Four Winds is just stunning. Even if you’re not typically into historical fiction, i’d highly recommend this book. In an industry that’s oversaturated with WWII stories (but hey, I love those too!) it’s so nice to read historical fiction set during a different time. The Four Winds starts in the early 1920s, where we meet Elsa. Elsa suffered an illness as a teen, and her family has treated her like glass ever since (and boy, are they RUDE AF to her! It’s so frustrating).

We spend a brief amount of time there before moving forward into 1934. Elsa lives on her in-laws’ farm with her small family. She has changed a LOT and definitely for the better. She’s strong and capable, but she’s also dealing with some pre-teen drama from her daughter and a prolonged drought that’s proving to be catastrophic for the farm (and the farm animals…oh, my heart). On top of that, we’re also right in the middle of the Great Depression which is, well, upsetting to say the least.

After a series of unfortunate events (SERIOUSLY) Elsa packs up her kids and heads west to California, where things are supposed to be better. But…they’re not. I’m sure you could figure that out for yourself. What happens from there is brutally, dismally sad. This book will break your heart. Don’t say I didn’t warn you. Also, read the Author’s Note at the end – it’s amazing.

Thank you St. Martin’s Press for the NetGalley ARC.

REVIEW – Hamnet by Maggie O’Farrell

Hamnet was one of my most anticipated books of 2020, but somehow I failed to pick it up until the very beginning of 2021. This is incredibly well written, and although it’s a slower story, O’Farrell’s writing moves the reader along swiftly and easily.

“She grows up with the awareness that she is merely tolerated, an irritant, useless, that she does not deserve love, that she will need to change herself substantially, crush herself down if she is to be married..”

Although named after Shakespeare’s son, Hamnet is really a story about Agnes – Shakespeare’s wife and Hamnet’s mother. She’s a fascinating character with a complex back story, a strong woman who is bound by the expectations and customs of her time. Her heartbreak is front and center after Hamnet’s death, and O’Farrell handles Agnes’ grief beautifully.

“He glances over his shoulder at the tunnel of dark beside the door. The blackness is depthless, soft, absolute. Turn away, he says to Death. Close your eyes. Just for a moment.”

The writing in Hamnet is stellar, and places it firmly in the literary fiction category (historical yes, but it doesn’t have the same vibe that most mainstream historical fiction seems to have). You don’t need to know much of anything about Shakespeare to understand and appreciate this book. In fact, Shakespeare himself is never actually mentioned by name.

REVIEW – The Last Tiara by MJ Rose

I’m always excited to put a historical fiction novel onto my tbr, especially if it deals with an era or region that i’m not really familiar with. The Last Tiara is told in dual timelines – Isobelle is living in 1940s NYC and looking for answers after her mother’s death one year prior. She finds a tiara (minus the jewels) hidden in the wall of her mother’s bedroom and works to uncover the history of piece. We also get Sofiya’s perspective from Russia in 1915 – she begins working as a nurse and through a series of events (and after a period of years) ends up fleeing Bolshevik Russia.

This is my second MJ Rose book and she does a great job of setting up strong, independent female characters. If you’re a historical fiction fan, you’ll want to add this to your tbr!

Thank you Get Red PR for the NetGalley ARC.

REVIEW – The Duke and I (Bridgerton) by Julia Quinn

Let’s get this out of the way first: Lady Whistledown is 100% Regency-era Gossip Girl. If that alone appeals to you, give this book a shot. You’re probably already interested in reading this anyway because the Netflix adaptation is pretty much the only thing anyone can talk about right now.

However, there are some great and not-so-great things about The Duke and I…

The good: The relationships at the heart of this book are lovely. The Bridgerton family is adorable and hilarious, and they’re honestly even better in the Netflix show. Lady Danbury is one of my favorite characters – she’s feisty, tough and funny. Simon (uhh SWOON) is arrogant and lovable and YES i’m aware of the spoon scene in the show.

The bad: There’s a controversial scene that many readers have already discussed. It’s icky and out of character, and honestly feels out of place in the overall story (and the tone of novel takes such a shift in the second half). If Quinn wanted to create conflict, she could have taken one of practically a million different avenues.

However, I am willing to continue in the series because I was really loving this book up until that point and assume it does get a bit better as the books go on.

REVIEW – A Thousand Ships by Natalie Haynes

I had incredibly high hopes for this book and it delivered (and then some). A Thousand Ships is absolutely stunning right from the first chapter. It toggles between different perspectives, all of which are women affected in some way by the Trojan War. We get to visit some characters a few times, and others are only mentioned once – but the impact is never diminished. These are stories of grief, loss, strength, grace, pain and revenge. If you’re a fan of Circe or Song of Achilles, this is an absolute MUST read for you.

Thank you Harper Books for the ARC!

REVIEW – Murder in the Lincoln White House by CM Gleason

I bought this book last fall because I was intrigued by the premise, but it took me a year (and some change…) before I actually picked it up. I regret not reading this sooner! I was pleasantly surprised by just how much I loved this.

We follow Adam Quinn, who is part of President Lincoln’s security team. At Lincoln’s inaugural ball, a dead body is found (just a few yards from the POTUS, might I add). President Lincoln tasks Adam with investigating the murder, which takes him on a journey across DC where he meets some eccentric, fun and suspicious characters.

When a second dead body turns up inside the White House, Adam has to race against time to find the culprit before they reach the president himself. He ends up putting himself in harm’s way because someone REALLY does not want these murders solved…

There are clever little clues throughout the book, and Gleason does a great job of placing the reader directly in 1860s Washington. There are some hilarious scenes in this book (and some pretty gruesome ones, too). Overall it features a great balance of humor and mystery and suspense, and I look forward to reading the next book in the series!

REVIEW – Under A Gilded Moon by Joy Jordan-Lake

When Kerry MacGregor has no choice but to leave NYC and head home to the Blue Ridge Mountains to care for her dying father, she gets wrapped up in the world of high society, the completion of the Biltmore Estate and a murder mystery.

You can tell that Jordan-Lake has a great love for the Blue Ridge Mountains – some of my favorite parts of the book were the descriptions of the setting and scenery. I did feel that some of the characters and potential storylines weren’t explored enough, but that did not detract from my overall enjoyment of the book. The story is interesting, the setting is lovely and there are a lot of memorable characters (some delightful and others absolutely despicable).

There is a murder mystery in the background of this book, but this is very much historical fiction that covers a few months in the life of our main character – I would not classify the book as a “mystery” even though that is one major element.

Under A Gilded Moon was a nice little escape for a few days – I felt transported to the Blue Ridge Mountains and i’m definitely going to make it a point to visit the Biltmore someday.

Content warnings: racism, brief mentions of domestic violence, alcoholism, death of a parent, attempted assault, suicide

Thank you Get Red PR for the finished copy!

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!