Review of “The Beauitful” (The Beautiful #1) by Renee Ahdieh

Ahdieh, Renee. The Beautiful. New York: G.P. Putna’s Sons, 2019.

Hardcover | $18.99 USD | ISBN-13: 978-1524738174 | 424 pages | YA Historical Fiction/Paranormal

2 stars

The Beautiful is a vampire story arriving when pop culture has largely fallen out of love with vampires. And I think what makes this one work to an extent is that it leans on the older stories, like Anne Rice’s books, prior to the big Twilight boom (even if it did shamelessly plug it in some of its marketing).

It does take its time to establish the world, and vampires aren’t nearly as prominent in the story as you might expect. But in some ways it amps up the creep factor and Gothic atmosphere, especially with the occasional interstitial moments written from the vampire perspective in between those focused on the human characters.

However, I did find the characters themselves rather uninteresting. There’s a rather forgettable love triangle (the setup of which, along with some of the atmospheric tones, reminded me a bit of Phantom of the Opera), Celine has “secrets” which end up being underwhelming, and while there is some payoff on the vampire front (the best part of the entire story), it is of course left open-ended to set up the sequel.

And one of my major criticisms as far as characterization is concerned is the way culture is incorporated. Ahdieh’s previous books were so entrenched in the respective cultures of the Middle East and Japan, respectively, it’s odd that the only reference to diversity is a throwaway mention of Celine being half “Oriental” (I can’t recall it being given further clarification than that). While I didn’t go in expecting diversity, given the setting, I did expect a bit better representation of the diverse character(s) Ahdieh decided to incorporate once that statement was made, given her previous track record, and I just didn’t feel like I got that.

This book has seen a lot of divisive opinions, so I’m not really surprised to fall on the “this isn’t really for me” side of things, with the exception of the plotting itself and its usage of the vampire myth in a relatively cool way. I think, if you really enjoy vampires, it’s still worth checking out, as it does that part super well, and I do really hope that we see more of them cropping up again.

Review of “The Widow of Rose House” by Diana Biller

Biller, Diana. The Widow of Rose House. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 2019.

Paperback | $16.99 USD | ISBN-13: 978-1250297853 | 252 pages | Historical Romance–Gilded Age

5 stars

I received an ARC in a Goodreads Giveaway in exchange for an honest review.

The Widow of Rose House is a pleasant surprise to me in a number of wayss. It’s a engaging debut novel set in a period that is shamefully not explored enough for my liking, and hopefully finally puts an end to the string of subpar reads and DNFs I’ve had more or less in a row. While the focus is much more on developing the romantic relationship and the mystery plot over any period detail beyond what is needed to set the scene, it’s nonetheless an incredibly delightful book that intrigued me almost immediately and did not let me go.

The setup with the widow who was in an abusive marriage is a familiar one, but I loved it was handled here, especially with his family determined to cast blame on Alva in the aftermath, and the scars that leaves on her. There are moments where she is jarred by her brother-in-law’s appearance both for his threatening nature in his own right and for his resemblance to his brother, and I think that helped to amp up the suspense factor.

However, she meets the perfect counterpart in Sam, an inventor, who is as intelligent as she is and compassionate where her former husband was not. It was beautiful seeing the walls come down between them, first giving into passion, and then lasting love.

I was a little nervous at how the “ghosts” element would play out, but it’s done in an incredibly plausible way, and one where I couldn’t help but feel sorry for that particular character. I also appreciate the statement it made about poor nineteenth century mental health care, and that it led to Alva resolving to do her part to make things better for people still living with mental illnesses.

This is a delightful historical, and one I recommend picking up when it comes out especially if you like your historicals with a bit of suspense and a touch of the paranormal.

Review of “Dread Nation” (Dread Nation #1) by Justina Ireland

Ireland, Justina. Dread Nation. 2018. New York: Balzer + Bray, 2019.

Paperback | $9.99 USD | ISBN-13: 978-0062570611 | 451 pages | Historical Fiction/Horror

5 stars

Dread Nation saved me from falling deep into a massive slump, when I found that some of the other books I tried weren’t keeping my attention. However, despite my general dislike of zombie stories, this story captured me due to the way it took that and combined it with such dark historical events with such skill, that it kept me enthralled the whole way through. While there are some stylistic things that I often dislike, I felt they worked well in terms of engaging me in the narrative.

Jane is a great narrator and protagonist, and while she can be a little unlikable at times, I found her compelling, and her growth throughout the story only makes her more so. I think it’s great to see her genuine reactions to the issues going on, whether it be the racial tensions or the heightened threat to their lives.

This is an incredibly unique book, bringing a fun twist to two very distinct genres and delivers messages that are incredibly relevant and timely. I recommend this to historical fiction fans and zombie lovers alike.

Review of “Of Blood and Bone” (Chronicles of the One #2) by Nora Robertsp

Roberts, Nora. Of Blood and Bone. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 2018.

Hardcover | $28.99 USD | ISBN-13: 978-1250122995 | 453 pages | Science Fiction/Paranormal

4 stars

After really enjoying the initial setup of Year One, I really liked seeing the further development of the characters and the world in Of Blood and Bone, especially focusing on the One of the series title, Fallon.

I enjoyed seeing Fallon coming into her own and mastering her gifts, and that for me was the best part of the book, as it allowed me to really get to know her, especially since the last book and the first part of this one got me invested in her unique family situation in the midst of the Doom.

The one weak spot, which seems to be the case for me with much of Roberts’ work, is the poor, somewhat sudden development of the romance between Fallon and Duncan. I can understand it in theory, given they do have some common ground, but it just felt out of place after spending so much time with Fallon during her training with Mallick, and I wished it focused just on her development. I also felt that the familial and romantic bonds in Fallon’s family were much more interesting, whether it be the magickal scenes between Fallon and her birth father, Max, the sweet moments at the beginning between her and Simon, the father who raised her, or the descriptions in both books of Lana’s love for both Max and Simon.

I really liked this one overall, even if it does suffer a bit from being a middle book, expanding on the story, but still feeling a little open-ended. I still feel it’s worth picking up if you enjoyed the first one.

Review of “The Clockmaker’s Daughter” by Kate Morton

Morton, Kate. The Clockmaker’s Daughter. New York: Atria Books, 2018.

Hardcover | $28.00 USD | ISBN-13: 978-1451649390 | 485 pages | Historical Fiction

2.5 stars

Kate Morton is an author I enjoyed quite a bit in the past, but found myself having some difficulty getting into her last release, The Lake House. So, when I heard about The Clockmaker’s Daughter, I was interested in picking it up, but not overly eager to do so. And now that I have, I have mixed feelings.

Morton has a beautiful and evocative writing style that always gives me the sense that I’m actually in the places she describes, in this case a stately manor near the Thames. She also manages to capture the voice of the central historical character she’s writing about beautifully, in this case the spirit-character, Birdie. She has such a powerful voice, and even as I waited for it all to come together, I still found myself captivated by those chapters.

However, I did feel like it took a bit too long to come together, and I found myself a bit confused at times, what with all the skipping about through time. And despite there being quite a few characters in these different time periods the only one who really stood out aside from Birdie was Edward, due to the mystery being so focused on him. And while there are obvious connections between the time periods, the book falls into the common problem with multi-timeline stories where we don’t really spend enough time with anyone to see them develop or get attached to them, with a few exceptions.

In general, this wasn’t really for me, although it did have a lot of promise. That being said, I think it’s still worth giving it a shot after looking into the varying opinions on the book, especially if you’ve liked Kate Morton in the past, or are interested in complex, intricate stories.

Review of “The Dark Days Deceit” (Lady Helen #3) by Alison Goodman

Goodman, Alison. The Dark Days Deceit. New York: Viking Books for Young Readers, 2018.

Hardcover | $19.99 USD | ISBN-13: 978-0670785490 | 527 pages | Historical Fiction/Paranormal

4 stars

The Dark Days Deceit is a good book overall, but in terms of concluding the trilogy, it is definitely the weakest. However, in terms of the main arc of the series, it did accomplish most of what it needed to do.

To start off with the good points, I love seeing Helen’s growth as a character and really coming into her own as a Reclaimer. I love the growth of her relationships with Darby, attending Darby’s wedding to Quinn, and her aunt, especially as her aunt finds out about and comes to accept her unique destiny instead of continuing to try to mold her into a proper lady.

And while the reveal of the Grand Reclaimer was predictable, especially given the story’s setup of a romantic conflict, I did like the way Goodman both foreshadowed this reveal throughout the trilogy while also providing artful misdirection.

My one major complaint is that there was NO conclusion to the romantic tension between Helen and Carlston. I kept reading, hoping it would be addressed, but it wasn’t. Given the promotion of this series promising a “blend of Regency romance and with supernatural adventure,” I was disappointed that the supernatural elements all reached a fitting conclusion, but everything concerning the romance was left up in the air, robbing these amazing characters of their well-deserved happy ending.

However, I do still recommend this series for fans of Regency/paranormal mashups, given the sheer depth of the world, combining Regency history with well-thought out paranormal elements.

Review of “The Dark Days Pact” (Lady Helen #2) by Alison Goodman

Goodman, Alison. The Dark Days Pact. New York: Viking, 2017. 

Hardcover | $18.99 USD | ISBN-13: 978-0670785483 | 490 pages | Historical Fiction

5 stars

The Dark Days Pact is a truly great sequel. It picks up on all the promise of the first, and ups the stakes. Once again, Alison Goodman shows the depth of research she has done, crafting an entertaining world that ties in well with existing historical figures and events.

It was great to see Helen’s growth as a character as she began to come into her own as a Reclaimer, and how this plays into her relationships with the people around her. I like that she’s more independent and assertive about things in this regard, whereas in the prior book, she demonstrated a lot of uncertainty. While it’s understandable, given her state of mind at the time, it was nice to see that progression.

I was glad to see Darby back again, as the relationship between her and Helen was one of the highlights of the previous book and is just as much fun here, as well as Helen’s friendship with Delia as she brings her into the fold as an aide.

While I’m not usually into broody heroes, I truly loved Carlston and could empathize with what he was going through, with his mysterious illness. And I am curious to know what the growing bond between him and Helen means, especially as her relationship with the autocratic Duke of Selburn changes as well. I wouldn’t call it a love triangle in the traditional sense, so it is refreshing for YA lit, but there is enough tension there on both sides that I wonder how the new developments in this book will play out going into the next and final installment.

I think fans of well-researched historical fiction would love this book (and its predecessor), especially if they also like historical stories with a paranormal twist.

Review of “The Dark Days Club” (Lady Helen #1) by Alison Goodman

Goodman, Alison. The Dark Days Club. 2016. New York: Speak, 2017. 

Paperback | $10.99 USD | ISBN-13: 978-0142425091 | 524 pages | YA Historical/Paranormal Fiction

4.5 stars

I’m a huge fan of a well done historical/paranormal mash-up, and this one is one of the best I’ve read. Alison Goodman shows a clear enthusiasm for the Regency period with great attention to detail, while also not being afraid to have a little fun in interweaving the paranormal elements into the world of the Regency. While it did take a little while for the story to build up and the paranormal elements to come to the fore, when they did, it was wonderful.

Helen is a likable and intelligent heroine. While the issue of young women and their lack of options will be one that comes up frequently in historical fiction and romance, this one feels fresh through the added element of her having these powers putting her into contact with the Dark Days Club, and the way they might also take away her agency over her powers, as they did with her mother before her.

The supporting cast of characters are also fabulous. Lord Carlston has the potential to be a great romantic hero, as it shows that, unlike some of the more unscrupulous members of the Dark Days Club, he truly does care for her and want to give her the choice to join them or not. But given that their relationship has not progressed beyond that of friendship, and there remains issues to be resolved concerning the fate of his wife, I’m curious to know how that pans out in the future books. And Darby is one of those rare servant characters who truly has a good relationship with the person they work for, and I hope that, despite how circumstances were left at the end of the book, that we haven’t seen the last of her.

I would definitely recommend this book to anyone who loves a good genre-bending historical fiction book, or someone who is looking for a new twist on the familiar Regency romance genre.

Review of “The Collector of Dying Breaths” (Reincarnationist #6) by M.J. Rose

Rose, M.J. The Collector of Dying Breaths. New York: Atria Books, 2014. ISBN-13: 978-1-4516-2153-2. Hardcover List Price: $25.00. Paperback List Price: $16.00.

5 stars

This was a book I picked up by chance, not realizing it was part of a series, and despite my typical fanatical need to read in order, I dove in. And it ended up being amazing, with just enough information about the backstories of the characters (some of whom appear in previous installments, based on the synopses) that the reader doesn’t get lost, and is able to focus on what’s going on in the present story.

This is a book that combines all the elements I love into one book: rich historical detail, paranormal elements, lost and rekindled love, and of course, suspense. And these elements come together to form a narrative with a powerful message regarding death and immortality.

Of the two narratives within the story, I found myself more absorbed into the historical one following Rene le Florentin and his work in Catherine ‘de Medici’s court. I had heard rumors about her practice of witchcraft and that she was a formidable woman, and while that is a facet of her character, I like that Rose does not villainize her, but chooses to write from the perspective of someone who was one of her closest confidantes for years.

The modern narrative was not lacking, however. I like how the arcs fit so seamlessly together, with both arcs beginning and ending with death, as a way to present the over-arching message of the story.