Review of “The Lighthouse Keeper’s Daughter” by Hazel Gaynor

Gaynor, Hazel. The Lighthouse Keeper’s Daughter. New York: William Morrow, 2018.

Hardcover | $26.99 USD | ISBN-13: 978-0062869302 | 398 pages | Historical Fiction

5 stars

The Lighthouse Keeper’s Daughter is another rich and emotional novel from Hazel Gaynor, which once again exposed me to a historical event and historical figure I was not aware of before, and managing to engross me so perfectly in two interconnected storylines in different time periods. Often, one of the flaws with dual timeline novels is that one timeline is lacking, but that was not the case, with each adding to the richness of the other.

The 1838-42 storyline following Grace was beautiful in expressing what the real Grace may have gone through, having to deal with such unexpected fame, while also capturing the very human side to her as well. Gaynor compares the public’s interest in her and the way her life was cut short to the lives and deaths of Marilyn Monroe, Grace Kelly, and Princess Diana, but like them, Grace Darling had human emotions, and I love Gaynor’s respect for that.

The timelines connect in a number of interesting ways, but one of my favorites was the way both Grace and Matilda were impacted by going through disaster, although their situations were different at first, and they lived a hundred years apart. Their strength of character through the hardships they’ve been through and the choices they’ve had to make is also admirable.

I would recommend this to those who love beautiful, atmospheric historical fiction.

Advertisements

My Top 10 Books of 2018 and Year-End Wrap-Up

In honor of the first calendar year of doing my blog, I decided to do an end-of-the-year wrap-up post. While I will likely be posting a couple more reviews, if I finish any more books, this an overview of my top ten books of the year, along with some other information about personal goals I had for myself this year.

The top ten was based on a few basic parameters. I started with five star books, but I did not limit myself to these, especially when considering series which were solidly consistent. My main criteria is that it needs to have been memorable in a major positive way, and not have just been a book where I could find little to complain about, which is often the case when I give 5-star ratings.

  1. The Kiss Quotient by Helen Hoang (Multicultural Contemporary): Almost definitely my top book this year, this book was pretty much revolutionary for me. As someone who was diagnosed as neurodivergent and has difficulty socializing with others, I loved reading a book about a heroine who had similar struggles, and written by an author on the autism spectrum as well. While sex-heavy as a topic, if not in terms of the content, I love how the relationship between Stella and Michael is not just physical, and demonstrates how deeply they care for each other.
  2. The Southwark Saga by Jessica Cale (Historical — Restoration): One of two series on this list. I had never read a historical romance set in the Restoration era before, and now I definitely want to read more. I love the dark, gritty nature of the world, and how the series focuses on commoners rather than the aristocracy. And the characters are all so relatable. From the intelligent and brave Nick Virtue to the bawdy and fiery Meg Henshawe, there ultimately wasn’t a dislikable character among the lot. And the story was rife with conspiracy and murder, which kept me on my toes the entire time.
  3. Good Luck with That by Kristan Higgins(Women’s Fiction/Chick Lit): Yet another life-changing book, I loved this take on the issue of body positivity, highlighting the toxic voices women have in their heads concerning their appearance. While it is important not to glorify unhealthy habits and to recognize enablers, it is also important to promote self-love…at every size.
  4. Forbidden Hearts series by Alisha Rai (Multicultural Contemporary Romance): The second series I have on my list, and a completely unexpected one. I did not know what to expect going into the first book, Hate to Want You, and I was blown away, even though I’m usually not a huge fan of super-steamy books. The way the love stories of all three books managed to negotiate the sexual tension and their deeper emotional feelings was wonderful, along with the way each book built on the previous one in terms of development of the relationships between this colorful cast of characters and the dysfunctional relationships between them.
  5. If Ever I Should Love You by Cathy Maxwell (Historical Romance — Regency): While it isn’t hard to find a books with characters with issues, this is one that highlights an issue that not only remains relevant in many people’s lives today, but is done in such a beautiful way in context with the time period. It adds a new spin to an old trope, with new obstacles facing the couple who must learn to trust one another, despite her past scars and the fact she remains closed off from him.
  6. Thirteen Reasons Why by Jay Asher (YA Contemporary Thriller): As divisive as this book and its Netflix adaptation may be, this book is well written, and the best part is in the ambiguity of Hannah’s storytelling. While it is natural to want to sympathize with her, given the fact that she committed suicide, in many ways, she is unreliable narrator and flawed protagonist, as we see through the interaction Clay has with the tapes. While many of the offenses committed against her are undeniably bad things, like the “Hot or Not” list or her sexual assault,  there are certain actions that work to diminish her credibility, like the fact that Clay is included for no reason other than plot convenience, so we would have a narrator who didn’t hurt Hannah engaging with the tapes, and the fact that she records her conversation with the guidance counselor, and, after not engaging with him properly about her issues, casting blame in his direction as a the final reason for her suicide. While there are undeniably better books out there that depict a much less complicated view of the suicidal individual, I love the thriller-esque vibe to this, where I felt almost no one was truly trustworthy.
  7. The Impossibility of Us by Katy Upperman (YA Contemporary Romance): I love love stories that also tackle tough real-world issues unflinchingly. I love how the story charts Elise’s growth of understanding and love for Mati and his culture, in spite of the obstacles put in her way by her family. The combination of prose from Elise’s perspective and verse from Mati’s, is also incredibly beautiful.
  8. Rise of the Empress duology by Julie C. Dao (YA Multicultural Fantasy): Fairytale retellings have been done to death, but Julie C. Dao provides a unique take with this duology, going into the origins of the Evil Queen in the first book and following it up with a high-action “Snow White” retelling in the second, and developing the rich East Asian inspired world of Feng Lu. Xifeng is a character that you can simultaneously root for and be horrified by, and Jade is a heroine who is very much her match.
  9. Autoboyography by Christina Lauren (YA LBTQ Romance/Coming of Age): I haven’t read much m/m, but this is probably hands-down one of the most beautiful stories within that subgenre. While religious objections are often a hurdle for LGBTQ characters, as they often can be in real life, this take was different in its focus specifically on the Mormon faith. While religion can often be seen solely as an opposition to the happiness of LGBTQ individuals, I love that Sebastian is devoted to his faith even as he’s discovering these taboo feelings, and that is a hurdle for him to negotiate throughout the story. It provides a poignant contrast to Tanner, whose family openly embraces his bisexuality. Rather than falling into the trap of promoting stereotypes, this story shows a wealth of compassion both for LGBTQ people and Mormons, showing a great deal of empathy on the authors’ part.
  10. Beast: A Tale of Love and Revenge by Lisa Jensen (YA Fairy Tale Retelling/Fantasy): I very much enjoyed this fresh take on the “Beauty and the Beast” story, and how it highlights the stark contrast between Prince and Beast in poignant detail. While the the way Jean-Loup’s character was handled in relation to his actions may be seen as a dismissal of sexual assault for some, I felt this book was an acknowledgment of the fact that, in many people’s eyes, the Beast was much more worthy of love and did not have to change physically to become a handsome prince for his Beauty, or in this case, his Lucie, because his true love loves him for his good heart.

***

I had three major goals this year. The one I’ve talked about the most with other readers is my Goodreads Reading Challenge goal. The “final” goal was set to 305, although it was reset at various times throughout the year, as I came close to meeting previous goals. But I have discussed my other two reading goals a lot less: read less books about dukes, and read more books by AOC/#ownvoices.

Of course, when making these goals, I did not have a specific number in mind; I just wanted to diversify my reading tastes. As for the former, I didn’t read a single book with a duke hero in January, which became complicated when the publishers for some reason did not want to advertise the hero’s title in the blurb. Over the course of the year, I would also try to limit the number of books about dukes I read. Ultimately, I read a total of seventeen duke books this year,  5.5% of my total books read. I ended up reading forty-six books by AOC/#ownvoices, making up around 15% of books read. By comparison, last year, I read around thirty-four of 206 (16.5%) books about dukes, and eight books by AOC/#ownvoices (around 3.8%).

***

With those stats in mind, I don’t really have a specific reading goal in mind, as I expect it to change again, especially as I’m going through life changes, having graduated from grad school and am in the process of looking for a job. But whatever that goal ends up being, I would like to continue to read more AOC/#ownvoices, and aim for a larger percentage overall, to be determined once I have a more finite reading goal in mind.

Review of “Lady in Waiting” (Reluctant Brides #1) by Marie Tremayne

Tremayne, Marie. Lady in Waiting. New York: Avon Romance, 2018. 

Mass Market Paperback | $6.99 USD | ISBN-13: 978-0062747396 | 388 pages | Victorian Romance

3 stars

Lady in Waiting is a decent debut novel, showing Marie Tremayne’s promise as a historical romance author. But she has some ways to go before she can truly stand out from the pack, as this story felt very much like ones I’ve read before, with little variation in the tropes used and not much in the way of depth in character development, particularly when it comes to the hero, William, Earl of Ashworth, who I felt wasn’t given enough page time to really explore the grief he has been dealing with concerning the loss of his family, thus making his sudden fall into love feel a little sudden.

I would say that Clara was the standout part of the book. While the situation she faces at the beginning of the book is one I’ve seen before, I still loved her for her courage and perseverance in a bad situation. I also loved the role that her relationship with her sister played both in her life and in the plot. The story kicks off with her making a personal sacrifice to her reputation to help her sister be with the man she loves, and that shows real strength of character, especially given the fallout.

I would recommend this to historical romance fans. While this is very trope-y, many fans may like it a bit more than I did. Regardless, I definitely look forward to see where Marie Tremayne goes from here.

However, the premise

Review of “An Absolutely Remarkable Thing” by Hank Green

Green, Hank. An Absolutely Remarkable Thing. New York: Dutton, 2018.

Hardcover | $26.00 USD | ISBN-13: 978-1524743444 | 343 pages | Science Fiction

4 stars

I picked this one up despite not being in my typical genre, because it was chosen for the SuperCarlinBrothers’ inaugural Book Club. I was very much hoping it would be better than the standard YouTube book and the impressions I had picked up regarding the saccharine nature of John Green’s books.

And indeed it is. Hank Green draws on his ten years of experience as a YouTuber to craft a story that feels very relevant to our social media-saturated age, and the interesting world of Internet fame. And while April May as a character isn’t always likable, her narration is still fun. I must also praise Green for writing from a bisexual woman’s perspective and avoiding cliches you often see when men write women.

I wasn’t as taken with the science fiction elements, especially towards the end, and that genre can be very hit-or-miss to begin with. However, it was still done relatively well, even if it did feel a bit awkward to me at times.

I would recommend this to those who are looking for an intelligent fiction book about our current culture, but also provides a great form of escape as well.

Review of “Kingdom of Ash” (Throne of Glass #7) by Sarah J. Maas

Maas, Sarah J. Kingdom of Ash. New York: Bloomsbury, 2018. 

Hardcover | $19.99 USD | ISBN-13: 978-1619636101 | 984 pages | YA Fantasy

4.5 stars

Kingdom of Ash is a great conclusion to the “Throne of Glass” series. While some of the previous books in the series felt disjointed in terms of taking a while for the pacing to pick up or introducing characters whose connections to the other established characters wasn’t immediately obvious, all of the layout of the prior six books made for a great adventure as everyone came together for an epic final battle.

One of the greatest things about the series is the way the maturation of Aelin as a heroine parallels the evolution of Maas as a writer. While I wouldn’t say this book is the best thing since sliced bread, Maas has improved in her character development and her plotting over the course of the series, and while Aelin was initially incredibly petty and annoying in the first book, she became one of the highlights of the series as more of her past was unearthed. And the buildup and execution of the confrontation between her and Maeve was truly epic.

It was also nice to see all these people from different paths working together. One of my favorites was seeing Chaol and Yrene, and I’m so happy about them starting their family. It was also wonderful to finally have more information about the deceased former King of Adarlan, and the significance of his name, long kept secret by Erawan.

I think fans who stuck with the series would be pretty happy with the conclusion, and would also recommend the series to readers who are willing to try a slowly building YA fantasy series.

Review of “The Good, the Bad, and the Duke” (The Cavensham Heiresses #4) by Janna MacGregor

MacGregor, Janna. The Good, the Bad, and the Duke. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 2018. 

Mass Market Paperback | $7.99 USD | ISBN-13: 978-1250295972 | 356 pages | Regency Romance

5 stars

This was a vast improvement on the prior book, which had a lot of great elements, but suffered from pacing issues and lack of conflict. And it happens to be one of those rare books where I found I could empathize with the a reformed rake character.

It helps that Paul has already shown potential for reform in prior books, but I enjoyed getting insight into his family dynamic, leading me to truly empathize with him and how he never truly felt good enough, especially when family secrets were revealed that added new perspective. I’m not usually a fan of heroes who are full of self-pity to the point of rejecting the heroine’s love, but I felt it worked for the most part with Paul.

I also loved how he and Daphne have a shared dedication to doing charity work in honor of the siblings who are now deceased. It gave them something deeper to connect them, in addition to the fact that there is obviously a long-standing attraction that has grown into love.

And not having been a fan of Alex when I read his book, and how the feud between them started in large part due to a Big Misunderstanding, I was glad to see them bury the hatchet for good and for once not have Somerton be caught between them. It was especially wonderful given the growing interconnectedness of the three families making them all related in a sense, as well as the way Paul had in a sense led the two of them to marrying the women they love.

I would recommend this book to fans of deeply emotional historical romance.

Review of “Kingdom of the Blazing Phoenix” (Rise of the Empress #2) by Julie C. Dao

Dao, Julie C.Kingdom of the Blazing Phoenix. New York: Philomel Books, 2018.
Hardcover | $18.99 USD | ISBN-13: 978-1524738327 | 356 pages | YA Fantasy

5 stars

Kingdom of the Blazing Phoenix is a wonderful second book and conclusion to the Rise of the Empress duology. Just as the first book provided insight into Xifeng’s backstory and why she made choices she did, this book provides a fresh new take on the story of “Snow White,” with Jade being a sympathetic heroine and one who’s easy to root for. While it can be hard seeing Xifeng as the villain after rooting for her in the prior book in spite of it all, I felt Jade was loyal and good and still had the strength to go up against her stepmother.

It was nice that Xifeng’s past still played a pivotal role, with Wei making an unexpected appearance and being pivotal in taking her down. It’s great that, even though there is that shift in focus, there is still this issue to be resolved, and in an unexpectedly poignant way.

I also love the growing complexity of the world building, and hope we see more stories in this world, even if it’s not focused on these characters necessarily. Like, the Crimson Army is so freaking cool, and I think it would be cool to explore more with the different deities, since the Dragon King played such an important part in this book.

I would recommend this book to fantasy fans, especially if they like dark and gritty retellings.

Review of “Someone to Trust” (Westcott #5) by Mary Balogh

Balogh, Mary. Someone to Trust. New York: Berkley, 2018. MP
Mass Market Paperback | $7.99 USD | ISBN-13: 978-0399586101 | 369 pages | Regency Romance

5 stars

Someone to Trust is another fabulous installment in Mary Balogh’s beautiful Westcott series, bringing love to people who have faced heartache. And it was all the more rewarding, because I had grown to love Elizabeth over the course of the past four books, and hoped that she would someday find someone who would make her happy, given all the heartache she endured at the hands of her first husband.

And I was not disappointed. I love how both she and Colin have been betrayed in their past and have had trust issues with those close to them, and this is what binds them together, in addition to the physical attraction.

I’m also glad we got closure (somewhat) with Colin and Wren’s mother, as the situation was not fully addressed in Someone to Wed. While I would have preferred to see Lady Hodges get her just deserts for the way she treated her children, I can respect that she is their mother and that Colin wins by not giving into her whims.

I would recommend this to fans of historical romance, as there really are few authors who write true and authentic-feeling historical romance better than Mary Balogh.

Review of “My Plain Jane” (The Lady Janies #2) by Cynthia Hand, Brodi Ashton, and Jodi Meadows

Hand, Cynthia, et. al.My Plain Jane. New York: HarperTeen, 2018. Harf
Hardcover | $17.99 USD | ISBN-13: 978-0062652775 | 450 pages | Historical Fiction/Fantasy

4.5 stars

My Plain Jane is a delightfully anachronistic read, just as much as the authors’ previous collaboration. And while some of their choices did bother me slightly, like the constant mentions of Jane Austen, despite the fact that real-world Charlotte was very much not a fan of her work, I more or less found myself once again able to go with the flow and laugh at the continual twists and turns, and applaud the changes made to both historical and literary characters.

Unlike many, while I love Jane Eyre as a book and Jane as a character, I fail to find Rochester romantic, given his broody, moody nature, not to mention the deception regarding the mad wife in the attic. Thus, I was pleased that this book was taking a drastically different turn with that aspect. And without spoiling too much, I will say that I like that this book affirms that Jane is a strong character, even if a little short-sighted and naive at times, and that she doesn’t need a man to be happy.

The twists concerning Charlotte and the Brontes were equally welcome. I always thought it was unfair that the daughters died in the prime of their lives and careers, their brother Branwell almost literally threw his life away, and that ultimately, their father lived alone after they were all gone. I love that Charlotte and Branwell found new purpose through their work in spirit relocation, and that there are other signs of a happier future for the Bronte family as well.

I would recommend this for fans of the authors’ prior book, My Lady Jane, (which, by the way, is not necessary to read before this one, it’s just stylistically similar) or for people who love books that provide funny new takes on historical figures and works of literature.

Review of “Beast: A Tale of Love and Revenge” by Lisa Jensen

Jensen, Lisa.Beast: A Tale of Love and Revenge. Somerville, MA: Candlewick Press, 2018.
Hardcover | $18.99 USD | ISBN-13: 978-0763688806 | 337 pages | YA Fantasy

5 stars

Trigger warning: This book contains a two-page rape scene rather early on in the book.

Normally, I don’t read books with rape scenes, particularly if the rapist is being presented as the hero of the book. However, the promise that the book put a new spin on Beauty and the Beast made the book almost impossible to pass up. And while I was still prepared for the worst, given the variety of reviews, I ended up absolutely adoring the book.

For one, I love how this story adds layers to the Beast’s past and discusses the duality between the selfish aristocrat and unexpectedly kind Beast in a refreshing new way. In a lot of versions of the story, his true crimes as a cruel prince are glossed over or only discussed briefly and in vague terms, but in this version we get a fuller picture of the vile nature of Jean-Loup, providing a contrast with the sweet natured Beast, as if they are truly different people.

I also love the heroine, Lucie. One of the common features of the original tale and many retellings is that the “Beauty” figure is endlessly good-natured, but Lucie is definitely not that. She is a sympathetic character, but she has a dark side, from being an instrument in an act of revenge against Jean-Loup to thinking petty thoughts about Rose on occasion, and even behaving a bit badly to her at one point (although she is unaware of it). However, it is still easy to root for her, due to the fact that she has this growing love for Beast, and longs to do what is best for him (just as he wants to do what is best for her). While it was a little strange to have quite a bit of the book follow the love story between a beast and a candlestick, I somehow loved it.

I would recommend this to fans of darker fairy tale retellings. Due to the aforementioned trigger warning, it is definitely not for the faint of heart. But if you like retellings that not only turn your favorite stories on their head, but add further moral ambiguity to the mix, then I think you would love this book.