Jane Seymour: The Haunted Queen by Alison Weir
First line: “A health to the bride!”
Summary: Jane Seymour is the daughter of knight. With aspirations of becoming a nun, she did not consider that life at court was in her future. However, when her plans to join a nunnery change she joins the household of Queen Katherine, the wife of Henry VIII. Jane is devoted to the queen so when a maid of honor, Anne Boleyn, starts to attract the king, Jane must decide where her loyalties lie. When Anne becomes queen, Jane is forced to serve her. As Anne’s power wanes the king’s eye begins to stray. Jane becomes the focus of his attention and his future queen.
Highlights: Weir’s portrayal of Jane Seymour is the best one I have read. Jane is a very boring queen. She has very little time to establish herself in history but what we know of her is that she was meek and obedient. At least this is what we assume but in The Haunted Queen we get a little bit of fire injected in to her character. She has opinions, thoughts and questions. Even though she is afraid to voice them, we as the reader get a look into her mind and see more than the quiet mouse she is remembered as.
Lowlights: I felt that more of the book was centered around Anne Boleyn (who is my favorite of Henry’s wives). We see the events unfold through Jane’s eyes but not much about Jane herself. Which leaves a small portion at the end of story to center around her time as queen.
FYI: Weir does a great job so far on each of the queens. Check out Katherine of Aragon: The True Queen and Anne Boleyn: A King’s Obsession to read the first two books in the series.
The Last Time I Lied by Riley Sager
First line: This is how it begins.
Summary: When Emma Davis is asked to return to Camp Nightingale it brings many memories and fears to mind. One summer, fifteen years before, Emma was a camper at Camp Nightingale and the three girls from her cabin all disappeared. Now as an artist on the rise, she continues to paint the missing girls Vivian, Natalie and Allison. Maybe going back will help Emma get past her demons and find out what truly happened to the girls of Dogwood cabin.
“I want to go inside, look around, see what memories it dredges up. That’s why I’m here, after all. Yet when I twist the doorknob, I realize my hand is shaking. I don’t know what I’m expecting. Ghosts, I suppose.”
Highlights: Sager’s latest novel is one of nostalgia for me. Having attended a summer camp near a large lake and cabins with no AC, this brought back many memories for me. The uncomfortable nights where everything is hot and sticky, canoeing on the lake, campfires and crafts. My sister, my cousins and I attended Quaker Haven Camp in Northern Indiana for two summers. We loved every minute of it. We made friends, crafts and memories. Even at church camp, you hear the stories of some creepy man that stalks the woods or a ghost that kidnaps children. This is what summer was as a kid at camp.
I could picture Camp Nightingale as clear as day. As Emma looks deeper into the events of fifteen years before she slowly reveals more memories that she has kept hidden. The author leads us in many different directions to keep us guessing. I loved the mystery of the lake. With each new tidbit, I was even more intrigued.
The ending was not what I expected. It wrapped up, we got the mystery solved but then…that ending! Holy cow! My chest was tight. My heart was pounding. I had to set the book down and breathe after the last page. The fact that Sager once again got a five star review from me is astounding. I cannot wait for his next book.
Lowlights: The only downfall was that I could not be reading this in a lawn chair on the shores of Dewart Lake in Indiana. That would have made this perfect.
FYI: This is the perfect book to take on a weekend trip to the lake!
As Bright As Heaven by Susan Meissner
First line: Morning light shimmers on the apricot horizon as I stand at the place where my baby boy rests.
Summary: When the Bright family, Thomas, Pauline and their three daughters, decide that they are going to move to Philadelphia they believe that it will be a new start away from the sorrow of the last few months. Thomas is apprenticing his uncle’s mortuary business. This seems a strange place to bring a family after the loss of their infant son and brother but for Pauline it helps her heal and understand death better. But suddenly the war and the Spanish Flu descend on the family. They have to deal with more than they ever expected.
Highlights: Susan Meissner can write beautiful stories rich with historical detail and human emotion. Her characters are always amazing and deep. It was a very fitting time to read about the flu after the strong strain that hit the U.S. this year. It is also the 100th anniversary of the epidemic. I liked the love stories and the history.
“She says the flu wanted to make barbarians of us, to have us think life is not precious and the dead are not worthy of our kindest care. Our humanity is what made what happened to us so terrible. Without it, nothing matters.”
Of course I had to search Newspapers.com (using the link on our library website) to see how Wichita reported the events of the time. It seemed that the who country shut down to help protect civilians from the dreaded flu that was wiping out millions of people.
Lowlights: I felt like the narratives of Pauline and Willa were not completely necessary. They did not provide too much to the story. The story could have been shortened by 50 pages or so. I ended up skimming the last 40 pages to see how the characters and story wrapped up.
FYI: I loved her book, The Secrets of a Charmed Life, which is set during the Blitz in London during World War II.
The Immortalists by Chloe Benjamin
First line: Varya is thirteen.
Summary: Four siblings sneak out one night to find a local gypsy woman who is said to be able to tell their futures including their date of death. With these revelations, the siblings begin to live their lives with the knowledge hanging over them. Their stories span over fifty years from San Francisco to Las Vegas. The introduction of the AIDS virus to the war in Iraq. This story shows how knowledge of the future can shape our lives.
Highlights: I really enjoyed Simon’s story. I think he was my favorite character. I was sad when his story was over. However, the plotline for the book was very intriguing. Would I want to know when my death date was? I cannot imagine that I would. It would bring dread as each day passed. On the other hand, would this give me reason to enjoy each day? The author really gives the reader lots to think about while reading. A good author can do this and Chloe Benjamin did a great job.
Lowlights: Simon and Klara were the characters that kept my attention. However, I felt that the story slowed after that. Especially with Varya’s story. Varya had to deal with the loss of each of her siblings and wrapping the story up. I felt like she deserved more. There was a little twist for her but it was not as big as I would have hoped for.
FYI: There is some sexual content and language.
The Cruel Prince by Holly Black
First line: On a drowsy Sunday afternoon, a man in a long dark coat hesitated in front of a house on a tree-lined street.
Summary: After the murder of her parents by a faerie of the High Court, Jude and her sisters are taken back to the land of faery. For years, Jude has trained and wished to be a part of the Court even if she is only human. When the chance arrives in the form of a transition of power, she takes her chance. Entering the world of intrigue, she must outwit her family and the wicked prince, Cardan.
Highlights: This is only the second book by Holly Black that I have read and I definitely know that I will be reading more. Her characters are fantastic. Jude is another kick butt girl in a world where is she is actually considered weak. However, she wants to be a part of the faerie world. And who would not want to be an beautiful immortal? The twists and turns were perfect, leaving the reader shocked and intrigued. There seem to be many books about faeries recently. It is following a growing trend but I think this one will not get lost in the group. I cannot wait to see where the author takes us in the next installment.
Lowlights: It started slow with the introductions and character building but it is worth the wait. Don’t give up on this one too early!
FYI: Book one in the The Folk of the Air series.
Tarnished City by Vic James
*May contain spoilers–see my review of book one, Gilded Cage.*
First line: Jenner reined his horse to a halt, and it stamped and snorted in the long blue-black shadow of the trees.
Summary: In a modern day Great Britain the powerful are called Equals. They have magical powers called Skill. And the common people live their lives just as we do except for each person is required to serve 10 slave years during their lifetime. Many are sent to the slave towns to work in factories but the Hadley family are assigned to work at a home of an Equal. However, when Luke kills the Prime Minister he is condemned and sent to the dreaded prison island for a lifelong punishment. His sister Abigail is determined to rescue her brother. She escapes and tries to find the other rebels who are intent on bringing down the Equal regime and end the slave days. Revolution has begun in Great Britain and it will be a battle to the death.
Highlights: This series reminds me of the Hunger Games. There is lots of action and drama. The characters are really well established. I hate Whittam Jardine almost as much as President Snow. I was deeply saddened by several deaths in the story. I was completely shocked when they happened that I gasped and had to take a minute to recover from them. If a book can make you do that, you know that you are invested in it. I keep having complicated feelings about Silyean. He is an interesting character that I cannot decide if I want to trust or not. When I was nearing the end the whole story sped up and it was like a marathon. I had to finish it and was exhausted at the end. It was great! I cannot wait till the author releases the final book to find out how the story ends, if I can trust Silyean and see if the Hadley’s survive the revolution.
Lowlights: The magical powers of the Equal is called Skill. I felt like the word was over used at times. On several pages, the word is mentioned multiple times. As a reader of the series, we understand what they are doing. It does not have to be pointed out repeatedly.
FYI: Lots of violence.
The Good People by Hannah Kent
First Line: Nora’s first thought when they brought her the body was that it could not be her husband’s.
Summary: In a small village in Ireland in the early 1800s lived three women. Nora a recent widow, her maid, Mary and the local healer, Nance. When bad luck starts to befall the village, the people look for someone to blame. Is the healer responsible for the cows not giving milk? Did the mysterious child living with the widow cause the death of his grandfather? Or is it the fairies? During a cold winter, suspicion and fear cause the people to turn on these women.
Highlights: Beautifully written! I felt like I was living in the world. I could feel the dirt, hear the screams, and smell the pipe smoke. It is fascinating to read stories based on true events. This one is filled with the folklore of the poor in rural Ireland. The fact that people believed that a child who was sick or disabled was actually a changeling (a fairy) is astounding. This book has to be read considering the context. To modern day standards it seems ridiculous but to the people of the time it made complete sense. Science was not as far advanced. People were not taught to read. Many never left their villages. The whole time I was hoping for a happy ending even though knowing it will never happen.
Lowlights: The story started out slow as it was building to the main theme. I kept wondering when the plot described in the summary was going to begin but when it did, I was pulled into this world. I was very sad about the ending but also pleased with the outcome.
FYI: Read with an idea that these were not modern times. This is a great lesson in how not that long ago we were burning witches and believing in fairies rather than science and facts.
The Hamilton Affair by Elizabeth Cobbs
First line: The boy frowned, pressed a folded handkerchief to his nose, and scanned the crowd for the third time.
Summary: Alexander Hamilton, a Revolutionary War hero and the first Secretary of the Treasury, was born in the Caribbean and moved to the American Colonies to attend college. He was not wealthy but he was brave and smart. Eliza Schuyler, a debutante and daughter of a famous general, is helping the war effort by assisting with the wounded at Valley Forge. When these two young people meet a love story begins. But the story still has its ups and downs even after the war is over.
Highlights: I knew basically nothing about Alexander Hamilton other than what I learned in my history classes, which wasn’t much. I had recently read a book about him but it stopped shortly after his marriage to Eliza. When I found out about the affair he had with Maria Reynolds I was completely shocked. I loved the author’s writing style and the flow of the story. I was completely engrossed in this story and I learned a lot. The pacing is really well done. I would recommend this to anyone who wants to read more about the man who has become a pop culture phenomenon.
Lowlights: The political intrigue and problems with fellow founding fathers was a little confusing to me. It may all fall on my lack of detailed knowledge of the founding of the United States and all the problems that went along with it. I never realized that there was so much opposition to the changes and that they believed that Hamilton was interested in being King even though he fought so hard to end the rule of England over the colonies. Some of the pieces with the animosity with the fellow politicians was a little too much but it was building up to what led to the duel with Aaron Burr.
FYI: Great history lesson. Get the information that you missed in high school history.
The Shadow Land by Elizabeth Kostova
First Line: Sofia, the year 2008.
Summary: When Alexandra takes a summer job in Sofia, Bulgaria she thinks that it will be the perfect way to heal the loss of her brother who disappeared on a hiking trip. But things do not turn out the way she had planned. She meets a group of three people outside a hotel but when they go their separate ways she notices that she has kept one of their bags. Inside are human ashes. With the help of the friendly taxi driver, Bobby, she is determined to find the group and return the remains. Everything is not as easy as she expected when threats and warnings start to appear as they dig deeper into whose ashes are in the urn.
Highlights: I love the pieces near the end when you get to look into the life of Stoyan Lazarov. He details his time after the war and living in Communist controlled Bulgaria. The strength that he possesses is astounding. I have read a lot about prisoners during the Holocaust and it always scares me plus amazes me the will power and strength these people have.
Lowlights: The middle is slow moving as they are traveling around Bulgaria looking for the relatives of Stoyan. It was a lot of detail gathering and talking that leads up till the ending but it got long.
FYI: Read her other book, The Historian! Amazing read. But make sure you keep the lights on.