Book Review: Historical Fiction

Book Review: The Secret Keeper by Kate Morton

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Ever since I read my first book by Kate Morton, I’ve been keen to read all her others. This month I went with The Secret Keeper since I tend to love books where there’s a secret buried somewhere that must come out despite every intent to bury it years ago. I was thrilled with the novel and can’t wait to take on the next one.

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The book takes place over a period of ~60 years focusing for the most part on Dorothy (Dolly) and daughter Laurel. We see snapshots of their lives while Laurel tries to unravel the mystery of a childhood incident where she’s certain she saw her mother stab a stranger. We see the perspective of a few other characters who interacted with Dolly when she was younger, as well as Laurel’s three sisters and one brother. It all comes together in a surprising conclusion where readers are forced to decide how we feel about an event that can be seen from many different angles.

Morton is the best at weaving together a story full of so many different side stories, you can never tell which will be the significant one to change the entire ending or plot arc to capture your shock. As this one moved along, I enjoyed the lyrical prose, tense dialog, well-drawn characters, and thrilling descriptions. About 75% through, when I thought I’d figured most of it out, I was feeling a bit disappointed. It was good, but that shock factor didn’t emerge as powerfully as I’d hoped. A few chapters later, in the most unusual place, I thought I saw an error. I re-read the passage twice, then realized — Oh, here’s that crazy twist! And what a fantastic one it was. 🙂

At that point, my opinion on the book shot up from a 4 to a 4.5. I would love to give it 5 stars, and it’s close, but there were a few moments of repetition and slowness that held me back. By no means did it make me want to put it down and wait days before reading again. It just didn’t force me to stay up super late… but that’s okay, sleep is needed, too. Overall, the story is very enthralling on many levels. You’ve got a backdrop of war, then modern social media times. You’ve got a mother who might or might not be lying or be a killer. As you read the historical portions, you can’t decide which of two girls is the one to believe. It keeps you going to the point you almost think they’re both lying, but which is the most pertinent among all the confusion?

Above all the plot and story, the settings are among the most gorgeous and captivating as any I’ve ever read before. Morton can describe the simplest things in the most complex terms, but it still makes me yearn for more. I never think “ugh, she’s completely overdone it,” but there are times when I would be okay with a few less words if it’s not ultimately important to the detail of the story. It’s a fine line, and in 98% of the cases, she’s spot on.

If you’ve never read her work, this is a good one, but I’d start with The Forgotten Garden then come to this one. I’ve two more left to read of hers, then I’ll probably have to wait a year for the next to be published. Oh well… sometimes patience is a good thing.

About Me
For those new to me or my reviews… here’s the scoop: I’m Jay, an author who lives in NYC. My stand-alone novels, Watching Glass Shatter and Father Figure, can be purchased on Amazon as electronic copies or physical copies. The debut book, Academic Curveball, in my new mystery series, Braxton Campus Mysteries will fit those who love cozy mysteries and crime investigations. I read, write, and 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 find the revealing and introspective 365 Daily Challenge –and multiple Readathons. You can also 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. 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. Follow my blog with Bloglovin.

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Book Review: The Cottingley Secret by Hazel Gaynor

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I chose this book purely based on its cover. The Cottingley Secret by Hazel Gaynor looked gorgeous, and after seeing it all over Goodreads and thinking about the Cotswolds, I fell in love. Then I learned it doesn’t take place in England, but in Ireland, as well as that it’s based on a true story. Wow! Knock me over with a feather… all that said, it was a good book and I enjoyed it very much. I’d give it somewhere between a 3.5 and 4 stars rounded up.

Two young girls take pictures of faeries in Ireland during World War 1. One of them is a transplant from South Africa returning because her father must fight in the war. She bonds with her cousin, they become somewhat famous for their pictures as everyone thinks it’s real. Was it? In current day, a somewhat distant relative / friend (I’m being vague to not give it away) returns to the village to take care of her aging grandmother after her grandfather passes away. She’s contemplating breaking off an engagement and starting life anew. The stories intertwine and we learn what really happened with the photo of the faeries.

If this weren’t based on a true story, I’d have said the plot was too simple. Knowing it comes from a real-life experience, it makes the book a bit better. The author created a beautiful story. The characters felt real. I enjoyed the current story more than the historical one, tho. I felt the book had some literary merit, but at times, it was repetitive and listless… yet I also found it enchanting and vivid in many other places. I think it’s meant to be that way if you’re not aware of or fully caught up in the true story.

Gaynor’s writing is quite strong and made me keep reading. I will definitely sample more of her work in the future.

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About Me
For those new to me or my reviews… here’s the scoop: I’m Jay, an author who lives in NYC. My novels, Watching Glass Shatter and Father Figure, can be purchased on Amazon as electronic copies or physical copies. I write A LOT. I read 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 find the revealing and introspective 365 Daily Challenge – words and humor. You can also 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. 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. Follow my blog with Bloglovin.

Book Review: The Clockmaker’s Daughter by Kate Morton

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Kate Morton is one of my favorite authors, and when The Clockmaker’s Daughter came out this year, I was one of the first to jump on NetGalley to get a copy. I was so excited to be awarded the book and added it to my August reading queue. It made for a good alternate style given I’m also running a children’s book readathon this month! Although not my favorite of all her novels, it’s an enchanting story and covers a lot of beautiful generations within a couple of families.

What I loved the most about this book was how you never quite knew who was speaking in the beginning of a chapter. It took a few paragraphs or a page or two before it became obvious. Some might be bothered by this approach, but it added to mystery and ambiance for me. The Radcliffe family was quite peculiar, and I wondered whether it would turn out to be accidental death or murder for one or two characters. As the story unfolds and we learned about Elodie in 2017/8 discovering the past, everything comes flooding forward. There are memorable characters in this book and I recommend it for that reason alone. On the flip side, there are over 30 main characters, so it gets a tad difficult to keep focused if you have to put the book down for more than a day at a time. Don’t read it with anything else like I did.

Morton is the queen of lyrical words and astounding settings. The plot is strong, and the twist at the end is great. Along the path, it’s much lighter tho… less about the mystery and more about hearing what happened to people over a century. I found myself eager for more action than present in the book. But it still captured my heart and attention. A solid 4 stars.

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About Me
For those new to me or my reviews… here’s the scoop: I’m Jay, an author who lives in NYC. My novels, Watching Glass Shatter and Father Figure, can be purchased on Amazon as electronic copies or physical copies. I write A LOT. I read 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 find the revealing and introspective 365 Daily Challenge – words and humor. You can also 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. 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. Follow my blog with Bloglovin.

Book Review: Citadel by Kate Mosse

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3.5 stars to [book:Citadel|6952554], the third book in the Languedoc trilogy, written by [author:Kate Mosse|9343] in 2011. I read the first two books in the series many years ago and loved them both. I hadn’t been aware of this one until three years ago when I found a copy at a discount sale. I quickly bought it but it sat on my shelf for over a year until I finally read it this month. I struggled at first to get into the story, but the intrigue got better as the book progressed. Unfortunately, it was probably 200 pages too long and had a couple of side-stories that didn’t make a whole lot of sense. For those reasons, I’d rate this as my least favorite in the series and given it had only a very small connection to the previous two, it isn’t a must-read.

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At times, the language and imagery was quite beautiful. At times, it was repetitive and confusing. There were too many characters without fully fleshed out personalities or descriptions, so it seemed a bit tedious. That said, the battle scenes and the dialog were strong. I often found myself skimming a few too many times within the same hour-long reading period and not feeling the urgent need to pick up the book each night when bedtime arrived. I was glad I’d finished it, but I also felt it started to get much stronger around the 7o-80 percent mark and wished some of that beauty was present earlier on. Ultimately, I was puzzled over the entire point of the story as the ending felt very much ‘let’s just wrap this up’ which is sad.

While I seem to be focusing on the negative aspects of the book, there were many positive ones. Sandrine is a fantastically drawn beacon of strength in a time that was quite horrific for many people. What she suffered through and how she supported others was a tribute to the many women who led the pack to protect their families, friends, and even strangers in their towns during the Nazi invasion of France in the 1930s and 1940s. The book wisely left out the details of what happened in the Jewish camps (for the most part) and astutely focused on the impact on the families left behind when someone was taken from them. The worry. The questions. The unknown. So much to understand about this period in history.

Now that I’m done with this series, I’ll give some thought about what else of Mosse’s books I want to read.

 

About Me
For those new to me or my reviews… here’s the scoop: I’m Jay, an author who lives in NYC. My novels, Watching Glass Shatter and Father Figure, can be purchased on Amazon as electronic copies or physical copies. I write A LOT. I read 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 find the revealing and introspective 365 Daily Challenge – words and humor. You can also 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. 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. Follow my blog with Bloglovin.

Book Review: The Lake House by Kate Morton

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After reading a few Kate Morton novels last year, I found myself enamored with her storytelling and character creation abilities. I added all of her books to my TBR and included The Lake House on my monthly Book Bucket List on my blog, where followers vote to select one read per month for me — this won as my June novel and I finished it over 6 days last week. With a new puppy in the house, reading and book reviewing time is not as easy as usual but I’m determined to meet my June TBR goals. While I absolutely adored this book, there were a few times I felt disconnected and disappointed, or that the coincidences were a little too much, but not for too long or in any way to truly bother me.
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The story focuses on several characters in England mostly during the 1910s to the 1930s, and then current time which is set in the 2000s. In the 1920s, the Edevane family is recuperating from World War 1 where while no one died, the savagery of war has had its toll on relationships. Alice is the focus, the middle sister who never quite fit in the family and became a mystery writer. When her younger brother disappears, and her two other sisters begin to act oddly, something seems off. Throw in a battleaxe for a grandmother, a fun but peculiar uncle-type, and some very attentive or non-attentive nannies, there’s got to be something bad that happened to the little boy… but was he kidnapped, killed, or is someone making things up about his childhood? When Alice’s book covers some of those true-life situations, people wonder what happened years ago… in modern times, Sadie has been put on leave after she made a mistake during an investigation, so the cop visits her grandfather and gets caught up in the old Edevane case while taking some rest. This is a story about missing children, lost children, and kidnapped children… there are a few cases going on, but they are not connected in any way other than as situations to help readers reflect on the character’s emotions and lives.

What I love about Morton’s writing is the imagery and depth you see, hear, and experience. Everything feels like it’s unfolding right before your eyes on a stage. Among the always present gardens, large estates, dysfunctional families, and interconnected historic and modern times, you’re carried away into a dreamlike state where you can happily immerse yourself in beauty and lyrical action. Morton also excels at weaving together multiple stories that have both small and large connections you begin to assemble along the path. At times, it’s a bit too connected or coincidental, but truthfully, isn’t that part of why we read books? We want to experience something new and different, a shock or a twist… if it was all simple and straightforward, there wouldn’t be a lot of drama to dig into. So while it can be a bit overdone or over-the-top (even in my own writing, I would agree it happens), it also is what truly makes the book spectacular in other ways. It’s a story with a start and a finish, so it’s going to have very specific reasons for things happening. In this one, it all felt natural as it could have happened just pushed together too closely in a few occasions.

I also struggled a bit in the early pages as there were a few too many characters to keep track of, and with so many women across 4 generations, it was often a confusing in the beginning of a chapter to know which one we were talking about. It was done purposefully to add intrigue and suspense, which I understand, but sometimes it was a little too much. Other than those concerns, I was very happy with the story. It isn’t my favorite Morton, but I find myself still thinking about it days later… Morton captures the young heroine trying to solve the past like no other author I know. She can also brilliantly build the amazing balance in an octogenarian who is torn, but also a bit of a curmudgeon about the past. You feel the indeterminable strength in the woman who can’t let go but is desperate for a closure that seems destined to cause more pain.

I am thrilled with this book, especially with the last 25% and how it all came together. Stunning poetry at times. I can’t wait to read her latest book, The Clockmaker’s Daughter, which I just got approved for on NetGalley.

About Me
For those new to me or my reviews… here’s the scoop: I’m Jay, an author who lives in NYC. My novels, Watching Glass Shatter and Father Figure, can be purchased on Amazon as electronic copies or physical copies. I write A LOT. I read 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 find the revealing and introspective 365 Daily Challenge – words and humor. You can also 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. 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. Follow my blog with Bloglovin.

Book Review: Dragonfly in Amber by Diana Gabaldon

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4.5 stars right off the top! I got hooked on the Outlander series last year when I read the first book in this series by Diana Gabaldon. I knew I wanted to try another one, and now that I’ve devoured the second novel, Dragonfly in Amber, in this historical fiction and fantasy series, I have added the rest and even started watching the television drama. I’m a major fan, especially because followers on my blog selected this as my ‘Book Bucket List’ read for May 2018. I’m so glad they pushed me to take on this ~950 behemoth despite everything else on my TBR. Now I’m trying to add in the next one in June… and to think these were written nearly 30 years ago in the early 1990s.

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Where do I begin? My normal review format won’t do as I really just want to gush about the book, as my friend Noriko would say. Yes, there’s the time travel, the Scottish setting, and Jamie / Claire, but it’s so much more. The sheer brilliance in the relationships, complexities in the plot, and historical facts and embellishments (in a good way) is phenomenal. It’s like I’m absorbed into a life I wish I could live for a few hours… no different than when I read Lord of the Rings, Harry Potter or Pillars of the Earth. I adore these giant tomes because of the author’s ability to build realistic worlds with just a touch of disbelief to give me something to deeply ponder.

Gabaldon’s attention to details is quite strong. I’m a history buff and love learning about new characters, then looking up to see if they’re based on real people. All the clans of Scotland shine through. I was especially pleased when they visited the Kilmarnock villages, as my ancestors lived there in the early 1800s before emigrating to America. I can’t wait to visit the town to see how it compares to the novel, family stories and everything in between. This is a true genealogy lover’s book because it combines all the analytical and historical aspects of discovering your past and your supposed family. Then learning the wicked secrets, and oh, are they wicked.

The only things I’d say that stopped me from giving this 5 stars fall into two categories. There are some sections that are overly detailed to the point you begin skimming a paragraph here and there. When that happens, the action and plot (usually my most important element in a book) feels pushed to the side. It happened once every 100 pages or so… not for more than a page or two, but enough that maybe it needed to be a ~900 page book instead of a ~950 page book. Ha! The other area was something that felt a bit different from Outlander. It’s almost as if Gabaldon took a few too many “pun” liberties in this one, covering bathing or bathroom habits all too frequently. I love when it’s brought up in books, but it was done in a too-humorous way which forced me to step out of the book instead of stay connected to true 18th century life. Even in the 1940s which is where Claire is from before she time travels, they still lacked some of the things we consider necessary today. I like when it’s brought up once or twice, but not for pages where she laughs about it and then says “but it is what it is” essentially.

All that said, the plot is smart and charming. The introduction of a good side to one of the formerly bad characters is interesting, but I know it’s long from over. The travel between France and Scotland is compelling. I just finished Follett’s Column of Fire and saw a strong and tight connection here. If you love a touch of fantasy and historical fiction, and don’t mind strong sexual content, then you need to give this a chance, even if the entire series is around 8k pages at this point. I’ll be in a book daze all week long, so I’m gonna have to select something very different to draw me out of it.

Thanks for picking this book, This Is My Truth Now voters. New poll to be setup today for June’s Book Bucket List read.

About Me
For those new to me or my reviews… here’s the scoop: I’m Jay, an author who lives in NYC. My novels, Watching Glass Shatter and Father Figure, can be purchased on Amazon as electronic copies or physical copies. I write A LOT. I read 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 find the revealing and introspective 365 Daily Challenge – words and humor. You can also 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. 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. Follow my blog with Bloglovin.

Book Review: Scripting the Truth by T. A. Henry

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You may recall the post I shared last week on the RONE awards where Henry’s current book, Ostrich Mentality is up for an award. Or you may know her from her fantastic blog. Either case… this is definitely a book that fit into many of my reading / genre preferences. I highly recommend it for any historical fiction fans looking for witty British dialogue. Let’s get to the review…

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Although I’m American, I find myself drawn to lots of British literature with 20th century settings and plots. Scripting the Truth showed up on someone’s blog as a recently added book, so I had to look up more about it. That’s when I discovered the author, T.A. Henry, is also a blogger. I began following her blog and learning more about her, then decided to add a few of her books to my collection last month. I’m so glad I did… this one I started with is a wonderful novel that carried along with great ease and interest. And it came about at the right time given the topics covered in the story about the film business which is where I find myself focusing the last few weeks. But first a quick overview of the story:

Lady Margaret Leighton served in World War II administering to injured soldiers coming back for rest and treatment. She fell in love with one of the patients, but lost the opportunity to stay connected with him. After Margaret arrived home, her mother wanted to find a suitable husband while her father wanted her to work for his company. Margaret wanted nothing to do with that! She learned that the soldier she had met became an actor, which pushed her to try to become an actress (to meet him). When that didn’t work, she decided to become a scriptwriter. It all began to come together, but then it soon all fell apart. Throw in a few side stories with her best friend, Lila, her two brothers and their wives, and a couple of other characters she meets in the film business, and you’ve got a nice romantic historical drama with levity and charm.

Henry’s writing style is witty and seamless. I wouldn’t call it a classic ‘page-turner’ (as I think that’s more for suspense and thriller books), but there’s something about the story and characters that push you to read just a bit more than you planned each day — in that respect, it’s a new kind of page-turner! I read the book over two days, sitting for about an hour each time, finding myself wanting to read more but also wanting to let some of the actions and themes settle in for analysis and thought. Margaret is probably a very typical woman of her time, but she’s also got an energy and a drive that you don’t often see in people. She’s persistent and will make her re-connection to the soldier happen no matter what. But it’s the surprises life has in store for her that make this extra special.

Henry’s characters are charming. The mother is definitely not a character we’re supposed to like. She’s not awful, but there’s enough of a wall and attitude that we have good conflict for Margaret to face. The relationship with her father is charming and has both ups-and-downs, which is very typical of someone in her situation — that’s what makes the book so readable. You care just as much about her family life as you do her professional life. It’s in her professional life where we see her shine, but when her heart is broken, you feel the sadness over the loss just as much as she does.

Much of the detail in the book is very well-thought out and intricate. Given the time frames are ~70 years ago, the film business is way more complicated than an average reader probably knows, and the specifics of the war are frequently referred to, it’s obvious how much energy and effort went into researching this novel — it’s also what makes it all the more appealing for a reader when there’s something to learn but also truly transport you to the historical place and time.

Kudos to Henry for gaining a new fan with this 4.5 star book. I’m looking forward to picking up more of her work later this year. She’s even nominated for a RONE award on one of her latest pieces. Nice!

About Me
For those new to me or my reviews… here’s the scoop: I’m Jay, an author who lives in NYC. My novels, Watching Glass Shatter and Father Figure, can be purchased on Amazon as electronic copies or physical copies. I write A LOT. I read 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 find the revealing and introspective 365 Daily Challenge – words and humor. You can also 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. 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. Follow my blog with Bloglovin.