Review of “Dreams of Falling” by Karen White

White, Karen. Dreams of Falling. New York: Berkley, 2018. 

Hardcover | $26.00 USD | ISBN-13: 978-0451488411 | 404 pages | Women’s Fiction

5 stars

Despite having fallen in love with the Willig, White, and Williams collaboration, The Forgotten Room, and devouring much of the other two Ws’ backlists, I have long found myself reluctant to try Karen White, as she, of the three is the one who writes in more modern times, and also the South, and I have only recently overcome my mistaken prejudices against Southern fiction. But once I made peace with these factors and picked up her most recent release, I quickly fell in love, finding myself in a very similar book to ones I had adored from the other authors, rife with multigenerational family drama, mystery, and romance.

It is rare that I pay close attention to the author’s prose style, other than to note when certain POV and tense styles annoy me, but with White, her style is worthy of praise. While (of course) she does utilize multiple POV and tense styles, switching between present and past tense, or first and third, this adds to each character’s voice, and I actually found myself enjoying the first person present tense chapters the most, as they are told from the perspective of a character in a coma. This creates a sense of immediacy and I truly felt the purpose of this particular form. However, the passages in the other tenses are no different, with many passages being incredibly memorable and quotable, especially the closing lines that sum up the novel’s title in connection to the themes of the story.

I also loved the examination of the different relationships between the characters, with the different parallels between the choices made by the women across three generations, and how each previous generation’s choices had an impact on the next. But I love how, even though there is a lot of drama between Larkin and Ivy, Ivy and CeeCee, or CeeCee and Margaret, there is a sense of closure and peace brought to each of these relationships by the end, making way for future happiness.

Review of “Song of Blood and Stone” (Earthsinger Chronicles #1) by L. Penelope

Penelope, L. Song of Blood and Stone. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 2018. 

Hardcover | $26.99 USD | ISBN-13: 978-1250148070 | 372 pages | Fantasy Romance

4 starsin

L. Penelope is yet another author I discovered through a book group, and given that epic fantasy romance  set in other worlds for adults is incredibly hard to find aside from a handful authors, I was excited for this new addition. But while a lot of the fantasy and world elements were wonderful, I found the romance a bit “meh” at times.

I love the extensive sense of lore and legends associated with the world, from the illustrations included, like the map and chart, and the folktales that unfold at the beginning of each chapter, accompanied by a related illustration. I love how the geography of the world as depicted on the map has a deeper significance to the turmoil that is unfolding between Elsira and Lagrimar throughout the book, and the epic way Jasminda and Jack play roles in resolving this conflict. I also enjoyed the parts of the story relating to issues of racism that feel equally relevant to our lives in the real world as they do to the people of this fictional world.

However, despite a promising beginning, where Jasminda is the one who saves Jack, I found myself unhappy with the revelations that, without all the trappings, this was just another rich guy-poor girl romance, where she’s seen as nothing but a distraction by people of his world. And the way they get together in the end feels a little too much like a fairy tale, without any real substance to indicate to me why they belong together or whether things will last once the sparks inevitably fade. However, Jack and Jasminda as characters independent of each other are both compelling, Jasminda in particular with her connection to the lore of the Queen Who Sleeps. Jack, despite not fully winning me over, does however seem to have the best interests of his people at heart, and I can admire that he wants to do what is right, even though he did not expect to take on his position.

Review of “As Bright as Heaven” by Susan Meissner

Meissner, Susan. As Bright as Heaven. New York: Berkley, 2018. 

Hardcover | $26.00 USD | 978-0399585968 | 400 pages | Historical Fiction

4 stars

As Bright as Heaven is a wonderful book that depicts the bleak nature of the last year of World War I and the year of the Spanish flu pandemic, and the lingering legacy both had on a family and their circle of acquaintances in a poignant way. It is a moving book, and one that definitely surprised me in how much I enjoyed it.

While it did take a little while to get into the flow of the story, given the fact that it alternates between multiple first person viewpoints, as soon as I was invested in this family’s plight, I wanted to see them come out of this with a happy outcome, and was dismayed with each tragedy and setback. And I love how the threads of the story, while being vaguely connected through the girls being sisters, come together in a deeper way toward the end to answer a lingering question throughout the book.

However, I did feel at times that the narrative style of first person with a mix of present and past tenses (often feeling a bit like a journal) meant I had to suspend my disbelief as the girls could be unreliable narrators. While this works in the case of Maggie and the secret of Alex’s family, it made me feel uneasy as the hints of romance between Evie and Conrad became more obvious, given that Conrad is, for most of the time Evie knows him, married to a mentally incompetent woman who the reader is given little information about. Given the standards for mental health care at the time this story is set, I am a bit suspicious, and regardless of the former wife’s state of health, it is technically infidelity, which doesn’t sit well with me.

 

Review of “The Secret of the India Orchid” by Nancy Campbell Allen

Allen, Nancy Campbell. The Secret of the India Orchid. Salt Lake City: Shadow Mountain, 2017. 

Paperback | $15.99 USD | ISBN-13: 978-1629722931 | 314 pages | Regency Romance

2 stars

I worried quite a bit when I first picked up this book, because despite the connection not being advertised by the publisher, reviews noted the connection between this and one of Nancy Campbell Allen’s prior Proper Romances, My Fair Gentleman. However, not having read that book played no role in my impressions of this one, as the plot of that book and relationships between the characters are satisfactorily explained to provide proper context without overwhelming the story.

However, I did feel that the overabundance of characters with their own issues did no favors to this story. There is an endless list of characters who I found impossible to keep straight or distinguish, especially since so many of them are young women of marriageable age. And despite them being the lead characters, I didn’t get a sense that Anthony or Sophia felt fully fleshed out or alive either. Allen and/or her publisher also show a lack of understanding of the semantics of titles and forms of address, given the number of mistakes that appear throughout the text.

The only reasonably interesting part of the book is the mystery element, which provides a sense of intrigue to the otherwise bland setup. However, considering the general lack of investment I felt while reading with the characters, the reveal that wrapped up the mystery at the end was underwhelming.

 

Review of “The Gentleman’s Guide to Vice and Virtue” (Guide #1) by Mackenzi Lee

Lee, Mackenzi. The Gentleman’s Guide to Vice and Virtue. New York: Katherine Tegen Books, 2017. 

Hardcover | $18.99 USD | ISBN-13: 978-0062382801 | 513 pages | New Adult Historical Fiction

5 stars

I had heard a lot of about this book, but I wasn’t sure if I wanted to try it, given that while I don’t see anything wrong with m/m romance, those books seem to dominate the market, particularly of adult romance, leaving the other identities, and especially women who identify as queer, unrepresented. But the recommendations for this book and finding myself with limited options for the LGBTQ historical square for the Ripped Bodice Bingo, led to me taking a chance on it, as well as Mackenzi Lee’s demonstration that she truly does care about representation across the board, as shown through her nonfiction book and her videos on EpicReads.

And I found myself blown away by this book. And a good part of it has to do with the characters. Monty is a character who is not always likable, given that he is often concerned with himself and what would make him happy, but he is a sympathetic character, and by the end of the book, I loved him, especially as he did evolve as a character. And despite the fact that I normally dislike the first person present tense narration, this is one of those books where it really worked for me.

Another strength this book has is the fact that in addition to openly discussing the difficulties faced by homosexual men who chose to pursue relationships with each other during the eighteenth century, there is also a focus on racial issues and the plight for people with disabilities, in this case epilepsy. Given the harsh realities for all of these populations throughout history, and how selectively romances seem to focus on these issues, it is refreshing to read a book that is unafraid to talk about them, while also being an entertaining adventure-romance story.

Review of “Lord and Lady Spy” (Lord and Lady Spy #1) by Shana Galen

Galen, Shana. Lord and Lady Spy. Napervile, IL: Sourcebooks Casablanca, 2011. 

Mass Market Paperback | $6.99 USD | ISBN-13: 978-1402259074 | 378 pages | Regency Romance

4 stars

While this book is not the best by Shana Galen, nor is it the most original spy romance (especially as it is based on Mr. and Mrs. Smith, a film I have not seen), I still found it charming in all the ways her books usually are: the copious amounts of banter, mixed in with some deeper elements beneath the surface to both Adrian and Sophia.

Something I enjoyed was the way Galen added a new element to the mix in the typical story of reunited spouses who have faced troubles in their marriage. Other stories of this type show the couple working through their differences, and this one does as well, but it is great to see Adrian and Sophia reckon with their issues with one another while also working on solving a murder. And I appreciate that while each of them is flawed, they do have great respect for their marriage, and eventually each other as professionals as well.

 

Review of “The President is Missing” by Bill Clinton and James Patterson

Clinton, Bill, and James Patterson. The President is Missing. New York: Little, Brown and Company/Alfred A. Knopf, 2018. 

Hardcover | $30.00 USD | ISBN-13: 978-0316412698 | 513 pages | Political Thriller

4 stars

While I have never read anything by James Patterson before, and don’t read a lot of books, fiction or nonfiction, that directly relate to contemporary politics, I was curious abut the hype around this book, especially considering the environment we are currently in. Considering how well-known Bill Clinton is, and the events not only of his presidency, but relating to his life over the past few years, it could have been easy for the book to be another book to incite controversy, the way some other books released recently have.

But I don’t think it does that. I feel like it provides the answers to what I wanted to know when I heard Clinton and Patterson discussing the book: depicting the stresses of the job of the president, while also depicting a man of good intent filling the role and taking on a major security threat. As for the latter, it is shocking how real the possibility is that if something can take down an entire nation’s Internet access, it could cripple them worse than ever before, and the way this element was executed and resolved was excellent.

I admit I was a bit concerned when I first opened up the book to see it was written primarily in first person present tense (with the occasional chapter from other significant characters in third person present tense), as I still have difficulties with this style of writing. But the style works here, especially as it is a fast-paced thriller, told in an almost minute-by-minute fashion, ensuring I continued turning pages to find out what would happen next. While there were definitely some cheesy moments and it’s by no means a masterpiece of writing, I enjoyed this book, especially with its poignant final chapters summing up the importance of working together.