What’s Ashley Reading?: The Last House Guest

The Last House Guest by Megan Miranda

First line: I almost went back for her.

Summary: Littleport, Maine is a small coastal town that spends half the year catering to the wealthy visitors on summer vacation. The Loman family is the richest and most prominent family in the area. One summer the Loman’s daughter, Sadie develops a friendship with a local girl. They become inseparable. As their friendship grows, Avery is brought on to manage the family’s local rental properties and other business ventures in town. Then one summer everything changes. Sadie is found dead. The police rule it as a suicide but Avery feels like things do not add up. Who could want to hurt Sadie and why?

My Thoughts: This is a perfect read for summer vacations. It is set on a coastal town with beaches, bungalows and bistros. While reading it I desperately wanted to be sitting outside with a cold drink.

Miranda does a great job a spinning a tangled web. The story jumps back and forth between the summer Sadie died and the next one without her. But at the same time we get glimpses farther back into Avery’s past as well. There seemed to be so many possibilities for the ending. I was shocked by the big reveal at the end. The last 50 pages fly by so fast. It was hard to put down.

FYI: My favorite Megan Miranda books is All The Missing Girls. It is fantastic. The story is told in reverse. You would think it would give away so much but it does not. Both of these books are perfect for your summer reading list!

What’s Ashley Reading?: Mistress of the Ritz

Mistress of the Ritz by Melanie Benjamin

First line: Blanche is dead.

Summary: Blanche Auzello, the wife of the Ritz hotel director, is living a beautiful life in Paris until June 1940 when the Nazis invade. They take over the grand hotel and life changes drastically. Life under the occupation becomes strained especially for Blanche who is hiding a secret that could potentially harm her and those she loves. However, she and her husband are determined to do what they can for France and the staff of the Ritz, even if it means their lives are forfeit.

My Thoughts: I am a big fan of Melanie Benjamin. Her novels are always very interesting and filled with fascinating women. I had never heard of Blanche or her husband before picking up this novel. It sounds like life in Paris was very tense during the occupation but not nearly as bad as I imagined it would be. It seems as if people continued to live life as normal as possible during those years.

Melanie Benjamin at Watermark books on May 28, 2019.

One of the issues I had with the story was that it seemed to almost center on her husband, Claude, rather than her. He references her often and thinks about her during his chapters but he almost takes over the narrative. And strangely I enjoyed his storyline more than hers. He could be a jerk but his story was more interesting except for when Blanche was with her friend, Lily.

FYI: Perfect for fans of Kate Quinn’s book, The Alice Network.

What’s Ashley Reading?: The Last Year of the War

The Last Year of the War by Susan Meissner

First line: I’ve a thief to thank for finding the one person I need to see before I die.

Summary: Elise Sontag, a fourteen year old girl from Iowa, has her life turned upside down when her father is arrested on the suspicion of being a Nazi sympathizer. Her family is sent to an internment camp in Texas where she meets her best friend, a Japanese girl named Mariko. They spend several months together before Elise’s family is deported back to Germany. In the hopes of keeping their friendship alive the two exchange letters but it is difficult with the ongoing war. However, Elise keeps up hope that after the war ends she will be able to return to America and see her best friend again.

My Thoughts: I really enjoyed this story. The last several books have not been as good as Secrets of a Charmed Life which was my first book I read by Susan Meissner. It is a topic that has not been talked about much and it could be because it is embarrassing but it is our history and we need to acknowledge it. And learn from it too. I cannot imagine how shocking it would be to have everything taken from you and being forced to live in basically a prison. Then to be sent back to a land that they had left or never even lived before. Especially with a war on and cities are being heavily bombed. How do you rationalize that?

The time spent in camp was actually a very small part of the book. Most of it took place in Germany after Elise’s family is repatriated. I liked listening to her story as she navigates this foreign land in wartime. She did not speak German which put her in a tight spot since the Germans were at war with America. I highly recommend this to anyone who loves a story set during World War II.

FYI: Definitely check out Secrets of a Charmed Life by Susan Meissner.

What’s Ashley Reading?: Anna of Kleve: The Princess in the Portrait

The only surviving piece of Dusseldorf’s City Palace, the birthplace of Anna of Kleve.

On my most recent trip to Germany I had the privilege to visit Dusseldorf and Schloss Burg, the home of Anna of Kleve. Before I visited my brother in law told me about this castle. I knew I had to see it for myself. It was a long hike through the woods and up the hill to this fortress but it was worth every step. It overlooks the town of Solingen, a picturesque town in Western Germany. Even though very little is mentioned about Anna at the castle it is where she spent much of her childhood leading up to her marriage to King Henry VIII.

Anna of Kleve: The Princess in the Portrait by Alison Weir

First line: Anna peered through the window of the gatehouse, watching the chariot trundling through below, enjoying the rich sensuousness of the new silk gown she was wearing, and conscious of her parents’ expectations of her.

Summary: Anna of Kleve is the daughter of a German duke. She is raised to be the wife of a powerful man. When Henry VIII is unexpectedly widowed, he is in search of a fourth wife. His ministers look to Anna for this honor. As Anna embarks on the journey to England she worries about what her life will be like as the Queen of England. After her initial encounter with her future husband her worries mount. Does he like her? He does not appear to. However, as the first months of her marriage progress her worries begin to vanish. Then she receives news that the king has grave doubts about their union. What does this mean for Anna? Will he send her to her death like one of her predecessors?

Anna’s father and brother’s portraits from the entrance hall at Schloss Burg.
The entrance to Schloss Burg, the home of the Dukes of Kleve.

My Thoughts: Anna is probably one of the least talked about of Henry’s wives. I have read numerous books about the other five but she seems to be largely forgotten. This is rather sad because she was probably the luckiest of the six wives.

I really enjoyed learning more about her life before, during and after her marriage. She led such a sheltered life before coming to England. I cannot imagine the shock of life in Henry’s court compared to Kleve. And the fact that her husband is an obese man who had killed a previous wife. How terrifying! Her reign as queen was a very short lived one. However, she seemed to have made quite an impression on the people of England. I was very frustrated reading about the struggles she had to deal with after the death of the king. She was an important lady and was treated very badly by the men who ran the government of the new king, Edward VI.

A stunning view from the tower of Schloss Burg.

Weir took a lot of liberties with the history by adding in a romance that has no basis in fact. Even though it deviates from the record it was fun to read and imagine that Anna had some love in her life.

This is not a book that can be read quickly. There is tons of information, characters and time to cover. I spent several weeks slowly working my way through the narrative but I found it fascinating. Weir does a great job bringing life to the wives. I am highly anticipating her books on Katheryn Howard and Katherine Parr.

FYI: This is book four in the Six Tudor Queens series by Alison Weir.

What’s Ashley Reading?: Warrior of the Wild

Warrior of the Wild by Tricia Levenseller

First line: An ax swings for my head.

Summary: Rasmira has been training for years to be a warrior and gain her father’s approval. On the day of her trial she is sabotaged and sentenced to banishment in the wild until she completes a task set by the council. No one ever returns from the wild. However, Rasmira is determined to finish her mission and take revenge on the people who caused her downfall. But how do you kill a god?

My Thoughts: Tricia Levenseller can write a really fun novel! There is no big world building or complicated story lines. It is straight to the point and loads of fun to read. I immediately was hooked on Rasmira’s story. I liked how tough she was. I truly felt sorry for her when she is sent into the wild. Everything that she thought she knew was destroyed. I enjoyed her interactions and friendship with Iric and Soren. They are destined to be friends but it takes a lot for Rasmira to accept them due to past prejudices.

This book really reminded me of The Valiant by Lesley Livingston. There was a lot of action and it was a quick read.

FYI: Check out Levenseller’s debut duology, The Daughter of the Pirate King.

What’s Ashley Reading?: Woman 99

Woman 99 by Greer MacAllister

First line: Goldengrove devoured my sister every time I closed my eyes.

Summary: Charlotte Smith is the daughter of a wealthy San Francisco business man. She is engaged to a respectable man. Her manners and comportment are perfect. However, her sister Phoebe has fits of depression or energy. Her parents do not know what to do with her. Their only hope is to send her to a respected asylum for women called Goldengrove. Charlotte loves her sister and is determined to get her out of the asylum. She devises a plan to be admitted to the asylum in order to find and rescue her sister. When Charlotte arrives at Goldengrove she realizes that her plan may not be as easy as she originally thought.

My Thoughts: The story took a little while to gather momentum. The first several chapters were devoted to giving a little backstory but once Charlotte enters the asylum everything picks up. Quoting one of the reviewers I follow on Goodreads, “…the chick in this book is cray cray!!” Why do you think that walking an insane asylum is going to be easy. She figures that she can just waltz out with her sister once she finds her. Even though her main goal is to find her sister, she learns a lot about the struggles that women have to face out in the world. She was raised very sheltered and wealthy where these hardships are not shared. I loved seeing her growth.

Most of the story is told through Charlotte’s thoughts rather than interactions and conversation. This style makes the reading a little slower but as a reader you can tell that the author did a lot of research in order to fill out her novel. Everything down to the specific treatments to the activity at docks in San Francisco.

The other women at the asylum though were hands down my favorite part. Each of them had a story to tell even though we get it in bits and pieces. Hearing how easily a wife, daughter or sister can be discarded is so sad. If you wanted to do or be anything other than what was expected you were clearly “insane”. It makes me want to scream at the injustice that they faced. And the women that were truly disturbed did not get the help they needed. Be ready for a look into a cruel world but it will also give you the feels for how much Charlotte and Phoebe truly care for each other. I hope that I would do something this crazy for my sister if the time ever came around.

FYI: Greer MacAllister’s first book, The Magician’s Lie, is phenomenal! Read it. Please!

What’s Ashley Reading?: The Red Scrolls of Magic

Recently Miss Hannah and I recorded a podcast where we gushed about how much we love the author Cassandra Clare and her work. If you love everything Shadowhunters then you should listen to our podcast episode and check out her newest book, The Red Scrolls of Magic.

The Red Scrolls of Magic by Cassandra Clare & Wesley Chu

First line: From the observation deck of the Eiffel Tower, the city was spread at Magnus Bane and Alec Lightwood’s feet like a gift.

Summary: Following the Mortal War against Valentine Morgenstern and his followers, it is time for a much needed vacation. Alec Lightwood and his warlock boyfriend, Magnus Bane, are on a romantic adventure through Europe. However, everything does not go as planned. With the arrival of an old friend, Magnus is warned that there is a demon worshipping cult making trouble in Europe. And the rumored leader is none other than Magnus Bane himself. In order to clear his name and bring down the cult he and Alec travel across Europe fighting demons and attending some rather exciting parties.

My Thoughts: I have been waiting for this for years! I love Alec and Magnus. I have been a huge fan of their relationship from the very beginning. And now they are traveling across Europe. Yes please! One of the best things about Clare’s characters, especially Magnus, is their wit. He always has perfect little quips.

The story started a little slow and the pacing seemed a little off from Clare’s other works but that may be due to having a co-writer on this novel. However, once I got into the story I was hooked. I read the last 200 pages in one day. I could not put it down. I loved their banter. I was happy to see some characters from later timelines make an appearance. Even though this novel is much shorter than her more recent ones it does not lack any of the pieces that makes her other books so gripping. There is a lot of action, romance and demons.

And this novel is her first adult novel in the Shadowhunter universe. It is evident that this is written for a little older audience because there is some more graphic scenes but it does not go too far. At the end Cassie writes about how she wanted to write this novel for a long time and left a gap in her timeline in case she was able to get it written. I could tell that it was a project she felt very passionate about.

FYI: This is the first in a new trilogy, The Elder Curses. It takes place after the first three books in the Mortal Instruments series.

What’s Ashley Reading?: Daisy Jones and the Six

Daisy Jones and The Six by Taylor Jenkins Reid

*If you would like to listen to the audio book it is available on Libby.*

First line: This book is an attempt to piece together a clear portrait of how the renowned 1970s rock band Daisy Jones & The Six rose to fame—as well as what led to their abrupt and infamous split while on tour in Chicago on July 12, 1979.

Summary: Daisy Jones, a young girl in the late 1960s who spends her time on Sunset Boulevard, sneaking into clubs, drinking heavily and dreaming big of a life as a rock star. Billy Dunne is the lead singer of an up and coming rock band called The Six. They each have a unique sound but when their producer decides that the way to make them superstars is to combine their talents.

Told through interviews with band members, family, friends and colleagues we get the story of the legendary band known as Daisy Jones and The Six.

My Thoughts: If you loved the movie Bohemian Rhapsody then you should definitely check this out! And listen to the audio book. I find that the style of the writing is very hard to read because it is an oral history. The book is composed of interviews which bounce back and forth between different members. But the audio has a full cast and it feels like a documentary. I kept having to remind myself that this was fiction not an actual band.

I did not grow up in the seventies but I can imagine that Taylor Jenkins Reid does a great job of portraying it. Life was wild at the time. I really loved hearing about Daisy. She sounds like the typical female rock star of the time who struggled with drugs and the crazy lifestyle. However, I kept rooting for her to figure it out.

Each of the other characters has their own demons but they are mainly supporting characters. But I did enjoy hearing each ones perspective on the same events. It is crazy how different each person views and remembers the same thing. The one character that I really struggled with liking was Eddie. He drove me crazy. He was constantly complaining about everything, even though most of the stuff had nothing to do with him.

FYI: Pick up Reid’s novel, The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo!

What’s Ashley Reading?: American Duchess

American Duchess by Karen Harper

First line: Everyone was calling it the wedding of the century.

Summary: Consuelo Vanderbilt, the American heiress to the railroad empire, is marrying the future Duke of Marlborough. However, she is in love with someone else and is being forced into the marriage by her strong willed mother, Alva Smith Vanderbilt. The marriage is an unhappy one but Consuelo hopes to use her influence as the Duchess of Marlborough to help the lower classes living around Blenheim Palace.

My Thoughts: I have been a reader of Karen Harper for many years. I really enjoy her historical fiction even though she seems to elaborate her narratives a bit. Her most recent novel was a fast read about one of the American heiresses whose money helped sustain the British aristocracy. Having recently read, A Well-Behaved Woman by Therese Anne Fowler, I was familiar with the Vanderbilt family at the turn of the nineteenth century.

Alva was a force to be dealt with but it sounds like her daughter learned a lot from her mother. I loved hearing about Consuelo’s life and the way she tried to improve her circumstances and those of the poor. I cannot imagine living her life though. She was forced into a marriage, had unimaginable wealth and was very unhappy for many years. Harper does a great job of breathing life into her characters. I loved “meeting” Winston Churchill. As with most historical novels, I googled many of the locations and people to see what they really looked like. This was a fun romp through the Gilded Age and into the time of the world wars.

FYI: This is perfect for fans of Downton Abbey!

What’s Ashley Reading?: The Huntress

The Huntress by Kate Quinn

First line: She was not used to being hunted.

Summary: Nina dreamed of becoming a pilot. When the German army attacks her native Russia, she enlists to help her country fight its invaders. As one of the all-female bomber regiment called the Night Witches, she gets her wish. Until one day when she goes down behind enemy lines and encounters the evil villainous known as the Huntress.

Ian Graham spent the war years as a war correspondent. He everything from the invasion of Omaha Beach to the Nuremburg Trials but he is determined to find and bring to justice one person, the Huntress. With a personal vendetta against the war criminal he joins an organization tasked with finding members of the Nazi party that escaped punishment.

Jordan McBride is a young girl and aspiring photographer in 1946. Her father recently married a mysterious Austrian widow but her story makes Jordan suspicious. The more she learns the less she trusts her. She is determined to find out who this woman is in order to protect her father.

Told in three narratives we piece together the story of the Huntress.

My Thoughts: From the very first chapter I was hooked. I have been a longtime fan of Kate Quinn and her newest novel does not disappoint. I think I can even say with confidence that it is her best book to date. I loved the different timelines and how each intertwine. This would be perfect for fans of historical fiction and mysteries.

Nina was by far my favorite character. She is strong woman but also has a deep seeded fear. I enjoyed seeing her change and grow throughout the story. She starts as a poor girl from eastern Russia who dreams of becoming a pilot. As the war progresses she discovers more about herself and the country she serves. I learned so much while reading her chapters. I had never heard of female bomber teams during World War II. Even though Russia has a history of being behind the times, this is a very progressive stance. And for them to be highly decorated after the war for their courage.

Read the author’s notes at the end for more background on the story. You can tell that Quinn did a lot of research to build her narrative.

FYI: This reminded me a lot of the new release movie, Operation Finale, starring Oscar Isaac. It follows the search and capture of Adolph Eichmann, the mastermind behind the Holocaust.