Book Reviews

Book Review: The Bear and the Nightingale by Katherine Arden

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3 out of 5 stars to The Bear and the Nightingale by Katherine Arden, the first in a fantasy and historical fiction series about Russian fairy tales.

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Why This Book
I ordered this online many months ago based on the description I’d read in Goodreads. Then a friend of mine, Valerie, was planning to read it. We decided to do a buddy read together earlier this month.

Plot, Characters & Setting
A Russian girl loses her mother and her place in a family. She meets strange creatures who no one else can see. Her father remarries to provide her with a mother figure, then has more children. Something happens in the background where there is a war between religions, people and culture. It’s a battle to maintain your village and your family, but also to connect the past with the future.

Approach & Style
I read the paperback version over a two-week period. It’s 312 pages or 28 chapters long. Chapters are about 10 to 12 pages, told in third person.

Strengths
It had absolutely beautiful imagery and lyrical prose. You truly feel transported to a new world full of complex characters, interesting plots and high imagination.

There is a lot of great history and views on religion, politics and royalty. You believe you are in Russia dealing with true occurrences and fantastic situations.

Concerns
The language was too confusing for me, often leaving me wonder what was real and what was fantasy. I’m not normally a fantasy reader, so it might have been partially my fault.

Names on the characters change a bit too often, which made it slightly difficult for me to recall who each person was.

Final Thoughts
I had been in a reading slump and was working on the final chapters of my own book. I might have been distracted while reading this one. I wanted to love it, but I didn’t. I think it’s a strong book, and for that, I settled on a 3 rating. It is good, just not the right match for me.

About Me
For those new to me or my reviews… here’s the scoop: I read A LOT. I write A LOT. And now I blog A LOT. First the book review goes on Goodreads, and then I send it on over to my WordPress blog at https://thisismytruthnow.com, where you’ll also find TV & Film reviews, the revealing and introspective 365 Daily Challenge and lots of blogging about places I’ve visited all over the world. And you can find all my social media profiles to get the details on the who/what/when/where and my pictures. Leave a comment and let me know what you think. Vote in the poll and ratings. Thanks for stopping by. Note: All written content is my original creation and copyrighted to me, but the graphics and images were linked from other sites and belong to them. Many thanks to their original creators.

Book Review: Hidden Bodies by Caroline Kepnes

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3 out of 5 stars to Hidden Bodies, the second book in a thriller and suspense series by Caroline Kepnes.

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Last month, my buddy Medhat suggested a read of You, the first novel in the series. It was such a fantastic book, probably in my top 2 of 2017 to date, that I had to continue reading the series. I’ve heard rumors there will be a third book, but I’ve yet to see it confirmed. I need to check on that! I am also completely excited as Lifetime is turning the books into a television series. I can’t wait… but until then, let’s get on with the review of this second book. While I enjoyed several parts of it, it doesn’t hold a candle to the first book and I’ll explain why below.

Plot, Characters & Setting
When we left off at the end of [book:You|20821614], our protagonist/villain, Joe, completed his vicious cycle of crossing many lines and breaking tons of laws in NYC all in the name of love, also known to most people as stalking your prey. Yet he escaped without anyone knowing of his crimes and found himself falling in love with a new potential victim, Amy Adam. Joe begins trusting Amy, realizing she’s a much-improved version of his last girlfriend, Beck. Amy begins pushing him for a key to his bookstore, which we all know from reading the first book contains a few secrets Joe would prefer stay buried, like some bodies. He hides everything as much as he possibly can, caving in to his girlfriend in order to hold on to her. When he arrives for work a few days later, the place has been robbed and Amy is missing. Did she do it? Was she kidnapped as payback for his prior crimes? What does she know? You’ll find out… he finds a lead that shows she may be in Los Angeles. Joe quits his job and moves cross-country, where he meets an interesting cast of characters in his typical LA apartment. He negotiates/manipulates his way into working closely with a few Hollywood type agents and producers, finding himself falling in love with a new woman, coincidentally named Love.

Love is perfect for Joe. She adores him. And he soon forgets about Amy. All seems well for a short period of time. But he keeps worrying about the one piece of evidence of his former crimes back in Rhode Island… and it drives him nearly insane, especially when the case is re-opened. He knows he has to find a way to retrieve it without anyone seeing him in the victim’s house. Unfortunately, he’s distracted by Delilah, one of the women in his apartment complex who has the hots for him. And then there’s a cop who has taken a dislike to Joe, tailing him at different parts of the day while Joe is trying to tie up loose ends. But it’s when Love’s ex-boyfriend and her brother monopolize all of Love’s time, Joe goes off the rails. As he begins to unwind, adding more and more crimes to his list in order to cover up the past and protect himself from losing Love, Joe finds himself getting careless. It all comes crashing down in the last few chapters of the book, ending at a place where it’s very clear, a third book is necessary. Readers will not be OK with this ending, as it opens more holes than the one’s Joe’s already had to dig for each of his hidden bodies.

Approach & Style
Whereas in the first book, Joe talks to the readers almost as if they are Beck, it’s quite different in this second book. It’s still told in first person with the perspective only on Joe throughout the whole story; however, there’s no concept of “you” this time around. It works just as well, given the title is no longer “You,” which means alternative progression is an expected path.

I read a large-sized soft-cover book with ~430 pages. There are 56 chapters, so each one is less than 8 pages long on average. It took me 4 days over the course of a week, as I couldn’t read each day; in total, probably about 6 hours. Some sections are a bit slow-paced while others are ultimate page-turners where you probably skip every fifth word just to see more quickly what’s happening.

Strengths
Kepnes can certainly dream up extremely aggravating and realistic characters. Everyone she incorporates feels like someone I’ve met before, and at times, I wish I could be Joe and punish them for the things they say and do. But I’m a good guy and I don’t commit many crimes. I mean any crimes.

When she’s on point with a dramatic scene, the plot and action is amazing. A few scenes were just as good as the initial book, especially when Joe is dealing with Delilah and the cop. It’s almost like we never left the first book.

Love is a really multi-dimensional woman; she has moments of brilliance followed by sheer silliness. I want her to be with Joe, but sometimes, she seems too good for him.

The settings are crystal clear for the most part. I can always tell where we are and whether it’s gonna be a safe zone or all hands to the battle field.

Concerns
It was such a let-down from the first book. Joe became weak. I didn’t buy his drama. He seemed to cause problems for the sake of causing problems. He had the girl. But he let himself get caught up in other areas, ones that made him a true criminal and not a man in love. That’s where he becomes a bad stalker. In the first book, he loved the girl so much, you could see why he did the things he did. This time, I struggled connecting with his motivation. He became every other evil antagonist, rather than the guy you wanted to root for.

The ending gets closer to the original strength, but not all the way. I was pleasantly surprised when the last 100 or so pages took the story in quite a different and unexpected direction, but it wasn’t enough to turn the book around for me. If this were the only book I read, and I didn’t know much about the original plot, it wouldn’t have been a book I’d recommend to friends. And that’s sad because Joe is an amazing villain. I toyed with giving this less than 3 stars but I know that is mostly the disappointment in ruining a good character. It’s redeemable in a third book, so I will have faith things get better.

Final Thoughts
The story is still good. It’s got major problems with his constant quest for sex, which is just an overused plot component in this book. Pull that out. Take out the section where he turns into a whiny mess. And maybe give him a few more close calls, and we’re back in the game.

About Me
For those new to me or my reviews… here’s the scoop: I read A LOT. I write A LOT. And now I blog A LOT. First the book review goes on Goodreads, and then I send it on over to my WordPress blog at https://thisismytruthnow.com, where you’ll also find TV & Film reviews, the revealing and introspective 365 Daily Challenge and lots of blogging about places I’ve visited all over the world. And you can find all my social media profiles to get the details on the who/what/when/where and my pictures. Leave a comment and let me know what you think. Vote in the poll and ratings. Thanks for stopping by. Note: All written content is my original creation and copyrighted to me, but the graphics and images were linked from other sites and belong to them. Many thanks to their original creators.

Book Review: Lies She Told by Cate Holahan

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3+ out of 5 stars to Lies She Told, a thriller set to be released on September 12th by Cate Holahan. I enjoyed reading the book and look forward to sharing this review with you.

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Why This Book 
Many thanks to Crooked Lane Books, the publisher, for sending me this copy to read and review in advance as an ARC. They found me on Goodreads based on my reading tastes, reviews and ratings, suggesting this as a potential book I might find engaging. And they were right. I had it sitting on the shelf for a few weeks as I got through other books, but as all my NetGalley reads aren’t due until September, I had some time to squeeze this one in.

Plot, Characters & Setting 
Welcome to the concept of a book within a book… The primary story revolves around Liza Cole, an author living in the NYC metro area who’s had some good books and some not so good books. She’s been given a deadline to get the next one written since she won’t first draft an outline, which prompts her to dive head first into her own thrilling plot. While she’s writing the book, readers learn Liza’s trying to conceive a baby with her husband, David, but they’ve been unsuccessful due to a few issues she’s had in the past with uterine damage. David’s best friend, Nick, is presumed missing, which is setting off a few alarm bells. David starts worrying when they can’t find Nick and he’s being suspected of causing the disappearance. Eventually, his body is found in the East River, dying in a very similar way to the character in Liza’s book. Liza’s supported by her mother, agent Trevor and best friend, Chris.

In Liza’s story, her primary character, Beth, is a new stay-at-home mom who suspects her husband, Jake, is cheating on her. When she secretly monitors his behavior, Beth learns he has been spending a lot of time with a cop named Colleen. When she accuses her husband, he forces her to go to therapy, where Beth meets Tyler, a therapist who attempts to get her to realize she needs to end the marriage. Unfortunately, Beth isn’t ready and soon finds herself stalking Colleen. Next thing she knows, she’s killing Colleen and dumping her body in the East River, then sleeping with Tyler.

As the two stories begin weaving in and out, readers learn there are common things occurring in both, leaving us to question which one is real and which one is a story. Or perhaps… it’s all the same story happening from different perspectives. You don’t really know until the last few chapters when the random clues begin fitting together, revealing what has actually been happening along the path.

Approach & Style 
I read the paperback version sent to me by the publisher. It’s just under 300 pages, broken into three sections and alternating back and forth between the two story lines. There are 19 chapters, each dividing into two sub-chapters: (1) Liza and (2) Beth. As a result, chapters are relatively short, usually under 8 pages each. Both stories are told with first-person narration from the main female character’s point of view, and both are told in the present tense. I read the book over 3 days, about 100 pages each day.

Strengths 
The concept of the book is great. I love trying to solve not only the mystery within the novel, but also determining how the two stories would eventually link together and which was fake. I enjoy seeing parallels between the two lead characters and their families. The emotional aspects of the characters are strong and offer readers an easy connection. You can understand the pain and feel the impact of the actions happening around them. It’s full of suspense, some very descriptive scenes and lots of potential suspects and angles.

Concerns 
It was a hard read, and I’m normally good at keeping story lines separated. A few things that could have worked differently, which would have helped readers retain which characters belong in which section, as well as distinct from one another. Character names were too similar: Beth and Liza. I know this is supposed to help with the parallels, but it left you a tad confused at times. Jake and David. Sound a bit similar. Go with two very different options to help us keep it straighter. Something long, something short. I had to stop and start a lot. I don’t like to re-read the same thing over and over again. But I was OK here as it was a complex story, plotted out in a good way.

The ending came a bit from out of left field. You can guess the connection between reality and the made-up story, but why it happened was very unexpected. There were a few clues, but we needed more to not be fully surprised. I would have liked to be reading it and go “oh, now I understand how it ties all together.” Instead I went “Hmm… there were no clues of this before…” It wasn’t too much of a distraction, but it was enough to make me think the book needed another round of editing before its release. Add in a few more connected pieces of history. Make me impressed with the things I missed along the way.

Author & Other Similar Books 
The author has two other books prior to this one. I might give them a chance, depending on the plot and setting. I’ve read another book in the last few years like this one, but I can’t recall the title. It’s not a common story where there is 1 real story and 1 fake story an author is writing, which makes it a different type of read. You’re sure to be excited and thrilled at parts, but you will also be confused at some parts.

Questions & Final Thoughts 
The author can certainly write. She has a good eye for characters, setting and details. I’m glad the publisher sent this one to me, as I definitely found myself wanting to read it each night. But it was also one where I stopped a lot to check if the story had an error or if it was being written in a vague way on purpose. Overall, good book… lots of complexity in the details… good supporting characters and a treasure of relationship drama that you find quite engaging. Put it through another round of beta readers or editing and it would have been an easy 4 from me.

About Me 
For those new to me or my reviews… here’s the scoop: I read A LOT. I write A LOT. And now I blog A LOT. First the book review goes on Goodreads, and then I send it on over to my WordPress blog at https://thisismytruthnow.com, where you’ll also find TV & Film reviews, the revealing and introspective 365 Daily Challenge and lots of blogging about places I’ve visited all over the world. And you can find all my social media profiles to get the details on the who/what/when/where and my pictures. Leave a comment and let me know what you think. Vote in the poll and ratings. Thanks for stopping by. Note: All written content is my original creation and copyrighted to me, but the graphics and images were linked from other sites and belong to them. Many thanks to their original creators.

Book Review: Girl in Snow by Danya Kukafka

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3.5 out of 5 stars to Girl in Snow, a new mystery and suspense novel written by Danya Kukafka and set to be released on August 1st, 2017.

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Many thanks to Simon & Schuster, NetGalley and the author for the opportunity to review an Advanced Reader Copy (ARC) of this novel. I enjoyed it and would be interested in reading more by this author.

Why This Book
This is slightly embarrassing, but I’m not one hundred percent certain how I came to read this book. I was awarded the novel on NetGalley in May, but I believe someone recommended it to me, or maybe the publisher reached out to me to take a look at it. I can’t find any emails, which I normally save, or any comments that might refresh my memory… so bottom-line, it was part of a NetGalley list of books I wanted to read.

Plot, Characters & Setting
Lucinda is a teenager in a small Colorado town who is found dead in the snow on a school playground by a custodian. She was hit in the head with a blunt object and left to die. The story follows several people in the town who either knew the girl or knew of her, each having different opinions about whether Lucinda was a good person or a bad girl.

Cameron is the boy who loved her from afar, except someone knows he was stalking the girl and watching through her windows. He’s had mini-breakdowns after his father left town years ago under very bad circumstances. He doesn’t remember doing anything, but people close to him know he was missing, saw him talking to her and believe he’s guilty.

Jade is a fellow schoolmate who did not like Lucinda. Lucinda stole the boy Jade loved, but the boy never really loved Jade. Jade is not upset that Lucinda is dead, but her younger sister is angry. Jade’s mother treats her daughter poorly and seems to be hiding some sort of a secret.

Russ is the cop assigned to investigate Lucinda’s death. He’s harboring a secret about his friendship with Cameron’s father, as well as the reasons Cameron’s father disappeared. He’s also certain the school custodian, who happens to be Russ’s wife’s brother, is guilty. He tries to navigate the situation, but finds himself stuck on the past.

A few other characters intersect, e.g. a couple with a young child that both Lucinda and Jade babysat for. A young school teacher accused of flirting inappropriately with his female students. And the friends and family members of all 3 main characters.

One of these people is guilty. But the question is who… and you’ll need to read the book to find out.

Approach & Style
I read the novel on my iPad through Kindle Reader. It was about 4500 lines, which is about a 300 page hardcover — not that long. Chapters are relatively short and alternate perspective from the 3 main characters: Cameron, Jade and Russ. The language and writing are absolutely beautiful. So much background and description are revealed in the narration and prose. There are limited amounts of dialogue.

Jade tells 2 sides of every conversation — what she wishes she said (through a play she is writing) and what she actually said. For a young and new writer, the author has a firm grip on flourishing language. On occasion, it fell a little too simple, but it balanced out from the lengthy details of everything else going on in the background.

Strengths
The best part of the story is the absolutely beautiful descriptions of the characters and the scenery. Everything feels authentic. The plot is complex in that there are different levels of relationships happening behind the scenes, which readers only see when certain characters happen to stumble on the supporting cast. It’s a good approach to hold interest in the story. The plot has many interesting sub-components, which help reveal who people really are on the inside versus who they appear to be on the outside.

Concerns
I didn’t know enough about nor care much for Lucinda. A lot of details were revealed about her, but she’s dead when the story starts. As a result, I felt like she could have been anyone as opposed to having a real strong desire inside me to want to know who killed her. I felt less of an attachment to her, but if it were written a little differently, I think it would have been an easy 4 rating for me. Also, once the killer is revealed, there is no scene explaining how/why it happened. You have a hint at the reason for the murder, but you never actually watch or hear the scene played out from either the narrator or a confession from the killer. It felt like a bit of a letdown.

Author & Other Similar Books
This is a very typical story about 3 seemingly disconnected characters where you have to figure out how everyone knew each other. There are a lot of similar type stories on the market right now, as it’s a popular genre and sub-genre. In a way, it was similar to “Beartown” in the structure, focus on teenagers and the mystery portion. But it was also like “I Found You” where the 3 stories will intersect somehow, but you just don’t know until the end, but also that this this was about teenagers and “I Found You” was not only about teenagers.

This is the author’s first book. She definitely has writing talent and storytelling abilities. I think with more experience, she’ll flush out some of the areas that felt a bit weak to me and become a fantastic and creative author in this genre. I’m glad I read it and will chance her next book.

About Me
For those new to me or my reviews… here’s the scoop: I read A LOT. I write A LOT. And now I blog A LOT. First the book review goes on Goodreads, and then I send it on over to my WordPress blog at https://thisismytruthnow.com, where you’ll also find TV & Film reviews, the revealing and introspective 365 Daily Challenge and lots of blogging about places I’ve visited all over the world. And you can find all my social media profiles to get the details on the who/what/when/where and my pictures. Leave a comment and let me know what you think. Vote in the poll and ratings. Thanks for stopping by. Note: All written content is my original creation and copyrighted to me, but the graphics and images were linked from other sites and belong to them. Many thanks to their original creators.

Review: At the Drop of a Hat

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At the Drop of a Hat3 out of 5 stars to At the Drop of a Hat, the third book in the “Hat Shop” cozy mystery series, written in 2015 by Jenn McKinlay. Another good book by this lovely author… serves as a model cozy with light humor, romance and mystery.



Why This Book


I’d purchased a few of these paperbacks on Amazon earlier this year, wanting to have a few cozy mysteries to include in between my NetGalley Advanced Reader Copy (ARC) books. Jenn McKinlay is a fun writer and the books take place in my favorite place, England. I had just finished the second book in this series last week and wasn’t ready to give up the characters, so I read this one back-to-back.



Plot, Characters & Setting


Cousins Scarlett (American) and Vivian (British) are at it again in this whodunit caper set in London. A young bride-to-be, Ariana, wanders into their hat store, asking for her mother’s hat to be repaired so that she can wear it on her own wedding day. Vivian recognizes the hat as one their late grandmother made years ago, suddenly feeling nostalgic and eager to help Ariana. Once she has the repair costs, Scarlett tries to contact Ariana, but she can’t reach her. Scarlett heads to Ariana’s office, where she is an assistant to a difficult and womanizing barrister (attorney). When she arrives, Scarlett finds Ariana screaming while standing over the dead body of the attorney, who either fell or was pushed off the roof of his building. Scarlett and Vivian want to help Ariana, as they don’t believe she is guilty. Harrison, Scarlett’s pseudo love-interest tries to stop her, but agrees to help find the real culprit. Scarlett and gang (including her assistant hat maker Fee, and her best friends, gay couple Andre and Nick) try to avoid being caught by the cops while checking out the attorney’s background. Between former girlfriends and models who hated him and the shady men he was in debt to, the attorney had no chance! But which one off’d him? Scarlett figures it out and uses herself as bait to catch the criminal, and this time, the answers are a layer deeper than she realizes. Add in some romance with Harrison, some questions about Vivian’s lack of a boyfriend and a bet between all the friends, this book has its normal dose of humor.



Approach & Style


I read the paperback version, which was about 280 pages, broken up into 27 chapters. Each one is short and a quick-read. The book is told from Scarlett’s point of view in the first-person perspective. She’s funny and direct, which is a good contrast against her reserved British friends.



Strengths


Scarlett is a great character. Her personality is spunky. Her dialogue with Harrison is on point. She has a lot of charm. You care about what happens to her. I like the supporting cast with the best friends Nick and Andre, and learning about their life together as a couple is fun. The references to Scarlett’s grandmother Mim are always enjoyable, too. The plot in this book had lots of potential. The police are often helpful and open to Scarlet’s help, rather than the usual angry and pushy when the main character tries to get involved. I look forward to seeing this series grow stronger.



Concerns


While its intended to be a light and fun cozy with some humor and romance, the point is that it’s a mystery… and I would expect a certain amount of complexity in the plot with multiple suspects. This one was very simple and had a short list of suspects. Several potential people were considered, but it was over 50% into the book before Scarlet even did any research. And when she did, she only looked at two people. It needed at least another 50 pages with some investigation and research into the victim’s past and the people he spent most of his time with. It makes me a little concerned to continue with the series, but I do enjoy the characters and the setting. So if you think of it more as a light romance and humor book with some mystery thrown in, then you might be totally fine with it.



Final Thoughts


McKinlay is my new Evanovich. She’s a great character-writer, and I love all the antics and banter. It’s worth sampling one of her books, purely from that perspective. The series focus on the hat industry is kinda cool and provides a lot of backdrop to meet new characters and people to kill off for the mysteries. Hope you enjoy them.



About Me


For those new to me or my reviews… here’s the scoop: I read A LOT. I write A LOT. And now I blog A LOT. First the book review goes on Goodreads, and then I send it on over to my WordPress blog at https://thisismytruthnow.com, where you’ll also find TV & Film reviews, the revealing and introspective 365 Daily Challenge and lots of blogging about places I’ve visited all over the world. And you can find all my social media profiles to get the details on the who/what/when/where and my pictures. Leave a comment and let me know what you think. Vote in the poll and ratings. Thanks for stopping by. Note: All written content is my original creation and copyrighted to me, but the graphics and images were linked from other sites and belong to them. Many thanks to their original creators.

View all my reviews

Review: Death of a Mad Hatter

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Death of a Mad Hatter3+ out of 5 stars to Death of a Mad Hatter, the 2nd book in the “Hat Shop” cozy mystery series, written in 2014 by Jenn McKinlay. I enjoyed this book and it was a good, traditional cozy read full of fun characters and some great family drama. And it made me think of the wonderful adaption of the Alice in Wonderland books…



Why This Book


I’m a fan of Jenn McKinlay’s writing style and several of her other book series. I’m almost current on her “Library Lovers” mystery series and had picked up the first book in the “Hat Shop” series last year. I liked it so much, I ordered books 2 and 3 on Amazon. I was recently in a reading slump and hadn’t read for 7 day. That’s very unheard of for me, so I went with an old favorite to push me out… and it’s helping. I am even going to read book 3 next, so that I’m back on my game.



Plot, Characters & Setting


Scarlett Parker, an American, moved to London in the last book to help run the hat shop her grandmother willed to her and her British cousin, Vivian Tremont. Their grandmother has been gone for a few years, but Scarlett needed to escape a relationship disaster and thought London would provide a fresh lease on life… and it has, especially when she’s finding herself attracted to Harrison, their hat shop’s business manager. In this book, she and Harrison continue their flirting dance while trying to ensure their hat shop isn’t dragged down by a murder. An old friend of their grandmothers, Dotty Grisby, asks the girls to make all the hats for her upcoming tea party in the hopes she can have the new hospital wing named after her late husband. As Viv and Scarlett meet and work with all the members of the Grisby family, they find themselves embroiled in a sea of vipers who are all annoyed that their late father left all his money to the eldest son, as was traditional in England up until the law changed a few years ago. And the widow has a bit of dementia, believing Viv is actually her grandmother, not realizing how many years have passed since she died. When the eldest son turns up dead at the tea party, the cops find evidence potentially connecting the hat shop to the murder. Scarlett investigates while Harrison tries to keep her out of it. She becomes close to some members of the family and an annoyance to others. At one point, someone even tries to hurt both her and Harrison. But Scarlett won’t give up and keeps pushing deeper and deeper until she learns more family secrets. And when she visits one of the family members to try to warn her, Scarlett finds herself right in the line of fire again. She survives this one, but the outcome leaves a few more issues among the family and Scarlett’s newest friendships.



Approach & Style


The story is told in a first-person perspective from Scarlett’s point of view. It’s consistent throughout the story, and every so often, she pushes the envelope just a little by making comments aimed at the reader. I read the paperback version, which is 28 chapters, each about 10 pages long, totaling just under 300 pages in the book. The writing and language are light, but consistent. There is humor and a little bit of suspense, but it’s a cozy mystery, so never anything too scary, vulgar or off-putting.



Strengths


Scarlett is a strong character. She’s charming and funny without pushing the boundaries. She laughs at herself, is a bit opinionated, and is often a little too direct in the British world, but this makes the drama feel real. I like her relationship with Nick and Andre, a gay couple who she’s befriended in the previous book. And her tiptoeing around Harrison is flushing out nicely. She and Vivian haven’t quite clicked for me, but then again, they are cousins who have been a bit separated over the years, so I wouldn’t expect it to be all chummy right away.

The humor is what makes Ms. McKinlay’s books good. It’s got a balance of character, plot, setting and fun. The family drama here is strong. There are a lot of characters who could be good or bad. It keeps you guessing and you want to know who is out to kill the eldest brother. Makes you wonder how many people would really kill their brother, son or uncle in order to collect an inheritance, but still…



Concerns


The books take place in London, and although you do feel transported there, it’s mostly by the description of the setting being laced throughout the story. I’d like the language and the structure of the relationships to be more closely aligned. It happens a few times in the story, e.g. when they talk about Scarlett being too direct for the British, but I think it needs to be more obvious in the words, phrases and attitudes we see covered for each character.

For this specific plot, I had a hard-time buying the ultimate killer’s true motivation. I won’t give away any spoilers, but you know there are a few layers or relationships going on between the grandfather who recently died, his widow, his mistress he lived with in France, the machinations between the 4 children and then the grandchildren. I’m not sure it was cleanly explored enough for readers to figure this one out… not that it’s the point of the novel, but I would have liked more time to get to know the family before the revelation of who killed whom and why. At 280 pages, it felt too short for the complexity behind this story. Still good, but could have been better.



Final Thoughts


If you like cozy mysteries, British characters, American humor and a play on Alice in Wonderland, you will find this one amusing. I really think the author is a strong writer in the humor and cozy market, and I plan to read book #3 very soon, perhaps tonight, as I want to see if the series is growing or just maintaining its place.



About Me


For those new to me or my reviews… here’s the scoop: I read A LOT. I write A LOT. And now I blog A LOT. First the book review goes on Goodreads, and then I send it on over to my WordPress blog at https://thisismytruthnow.com, where you’ll also find TV & Film reviews, the revealing and introspective 365 Daily Challenge and lots of blogging about places I’ve visited all over the world. And you can find all my social media profiles to get the details on the who/what/when/where and my pictures. Leave a comment and let me know what you think. Vote in the poll and ratings. Thanks for stopping by. Note: All written content is my original creation and copyrighted to me, but the graphics and images were linked from other sites and belong to them. Many thanks to their original creators.

View all my reviews

Review: See What I Have Done

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See What I Have Done4 out of 5 stars to See What I Have Done, a historical fictional account of the “Lizzie Borden Axe Murders,” written by Sarah Schmidt and set to be published on August 1, 2017. Many thanks to NetGalley, Grove Atlantic Monthly Press and the author for providing me with an Advanced Review Copy (ARC) of this fantastic book.



Why This Book


I’ve become a NetGalley member and saw this in the update feeds of a few fellow Goodreads’ members. I am fascinated with historical re-telling of real-life stories and knew a little bit about the Lizzie Borden murders. I thought this would be a great way to learn more and read the debut novel of a new author. And if you’re interested in some additional facts about the whole affair, check out this site: http://www.history.com/news/9-things-….



Approach & Style


I read the electronic Kindle Reader version on my iPad over three days. The book mostly takes place over a 3-day period, covering the day before, the day of, and the day after the murders occurred. It takes place in the small Massachusetts town in the Borden home.

There are about 15 chapters with each one told from the perspective of all the main and supporting characters. You see and hear the voice of each person before or after the murders occurred, learning different facts that weren’t clear to everyone else.

I believe most of the main facts are accurate, but there is likely some embellishment in the thoughts and actions of the other characters. For example, the uncle’s motivations behind hiring a supposed accomplice are not fully explored in the book but were more detailed in real life. As is traditional in historical fiction, there is some element of drama being added in to help support some of the known information. It felt natural to me, and nothing seemed to throw me at any point, which means the author has done a fine job at telling this story.



Plot, Characters & Setting

I’m breaking this area into two sections to set the stage of what has previously occurred and what actually happens in the book. Since this is a real-life story, I don’t think any of this counts as a spoiler, but if you want to be surprised about what’s actually covered in the book, you may want to skip this review.

Background covered thru conversations
Andrew and Sarah Borden were married and had two daughters, Emma and Alice. Alice unfortunately died in infancy from dropsy. A few years later, Lizzie was born, but Sarah never quite recovered and passed away. Andrew later married Abby, who became a stepmother to his two surviving daughters. Sarah’s brother, John Morse, would visit from time to time, checking in on his nieces in their small hometown of Fall River, Massachusetts. Though they lived in somewhat poor conditions, the Bordens were very wealthy; Andrew was just unwilling to spend any money. Abby hires a house maid, Bridget, recent Irish immigrant. At first, the ladies are friendly, but over time, Abby becomes more and more difficult, which leaves Bridget wanting to escape the family’s clutches, as she feels there is a dark cloud surrounding both the family and the home. Emma loses her chance at getting married when Lizzie orchestrates a small blackmail scheme in order to keep Emma from leaving. But Emma eventually moves away from Fall River on her own, leaving Lizzie behind. Lizzie’s mental state is somewhat questionable as a result of these actions.

Action in novel
Lizzie and her father have a peculiar relationship. They love one another, but for a nearly 30 year old woman, Lizzie certainly plays a few too many games to capture his attention. She also raises pigeons in the backyard to keep her mind occupied. Lizzie does not like her stepmother, Abby, and often treats her poorly. Lizzie also plays mind games with Bridget, the house maid. Lizzie has some great lines, and quite a number of times, I had to stop reading and think about what that loon was trying to do. She might actually scare me if I met her in person, and I don’t scare easily.

The Bordens are planning to have a small party in a few days. Abby tells Bridget what needs to be cleaned and arranged, but it is too much for one person. Bridget asks Lizzie to help with some of it, but Lizzie has a fit and tells Bridget it’s not her responsibility. Bridget is trying to escape the house and has been saving up enough money. As she’s telling the neighboring house maid, Mary, Abby overhears Bridget’s confession and steals the money, so Bridget is unable to leave. Bridget is very upset and agrees to clean up for the party but begs to leave afterwards. Abby says she’ll think about it, but truly has no intention of letting Bridget leave. Andrew is off at work when a visitor arrives. It’s his former brother-in-law, John Morse, who has stopped in to check in on his nieces.

Uncle John has a flashback to a conversation the previous day with Benjamin, a somewhat friend of his, who has been hired to “do something” to Andrew Borden, as revenge for the way he treats his daughters. John sees the pain and struggle in Emma and Lizzie, and wants to teach Andrew a lesson. Benjamin hides out in the house and the barn for several hours. Andrew arrives home and is angry to learn from Abby that John has shown up unannounced. Abby then tells him that Lizzie knew earlier in the day he would be stopping, but failed to tell anyone. As revenge on his own daughter, Andrew harms her pigeons. Lizzie is distraught over the whole situation. The next morning, an odd series of events occurs involving Abby supposedly leaving to visit a sick friend, the uncle heading in to town to meet some bankers and Andrew preparing to leave for work, too. Lizzie and Bridget are mulling about the house. Bridget hears strange noises but can’t find anyone. Soon after, Lizzie comes running to find Bridget and tells her that her father has been cut. He’s resting on the couch in another room but looks very sick. Bridget runs for the doctor. Everyone assumes Abby is out with the sick friend. But events quickly turn when the cops arrive and find Abby has also been brutally murdered with an axe, just like Andrew.

Emma is brought back to the house. Benjamin is hiding out in the barn, then meets with John. John asks him why he killed Abby too, as the plan was only to harm Andrew. Benjamin wants his money, but says he never got to hurt anyone. When he arrived, he found both had already been killed. John doesn’t understand but when the cops arrive, Benjamin escapes. No one knows he was there until years later when he surprises Lizzie and asks for his money. Emma, Bridget and Lizzie band together to help clean up the house, trying to get some rest before the bodies are moved to the mortuary. Lizzie says many odd things but no one accuses her of murder. She doesn’t seem upset that her father has died, but she is also given sedatives to keep her calm. A few days later, she’s arrested but is not found guilty. The book doesn’t cover the trial, instead it’s told in a few small sections as part of the conclusion to the book. We learn what happened to Bridget, Lizzie and Emma in the future years, as well as John and Benjamin.



Strengths


I am not certain how much knowledge the author had of all the events beyond what people may have already read about or seen on TV. Perhaps she had access to all the police reports, trial summaries and information handed down to future generations. But what she’s done with it is truly amazing. She’s brought to life this once great family and shown us the complexities of living in the 1890s beneath one’s means when there was money to do things in a better way. She’s shown the crazy and tender side of Lizzie. She’s made Andrew and Abby into very peculiar people who either were indeed crazy themselves or truly just impacted by raising someone like Lizzie. Nothing is clear cut, as the author offers up scenes and emotions, but the reader gets to choose how to interpret the action. It feels very accurate from what I know of the true story. The embellishments add drama but don’t take away from the sense of reality that occurred. The writing feels authentic to the 1890s. The descriptions clearly show what the house looked like and how the family lived. I love how the murders were handled, as they weren’t. But it was fantastic. In one scene change, we go from a few missing hours of time to suddenly Lizzie yelling her father has been cut. You might think it is awkward, but it really is integrated quite well. It’s exactly representative of the missing hours in the real story, since we don’t for certain know what happened.

For those who are a tad squeamish, there are a number of scenes describing how different people react to the dead bodies. And some of these characters have an unhealthy fascination with blood and cuts. If you can’t handle a few descriptions about how some of the characters touch the bodies and want to feel where the axe has cut open flesh and bone, you may not want to read this one. I loved it, but as much as I find this kind of detail cool… what two of the characters do is absolutely insane… are there really people like that? Oh my!



Concerns


I would have liked more background on why they thought Lizzie was guilty. No evidence is provided, but very little of the arrest and trial is included in this novel. It leaves you wanting more. I would have liked to see a fact sheet in the back, letting us know what was embellished and what was real. There is some information showing the timeline of events, but you won’t know on your own without reading other literature or websites, which makes you wonder which parts are true, e.g. the whole concept of Bridget and the stolen money or the events with the pigeons.



Questions & Final Thoughts


It’s a solid book. It deserves a 4 rating, given how well the author has told a story that actually happened but with some flair and drama to make the intricacies even more complex. It is an easy read and leaves you more curious about the events and the author’s future in writing. I will definitely pick up another book if and when she writes another one.



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