Review of The English Wife by Lauren Willig

“What a very odd thing … to live and leave no mark.”

 — The English Wife, Lauren Willig

I was really excited to read The English Wife by Lauren Willig. As a gothic murder mystery set in the late 1800s, it seemed like it would be full of mystery, intrigue, and all of the fun stuff needed for a historical fiction thriller. I did enjoy some parts of this novel (particularly ones with Mr. Burke, I think he may have been my favorite character), but it just didn’t do it for me.

The English Wife starts with Bayard Van Duyvil being found with a knife in his chest and his wife, Annabelle, missing. One side thinks Annabelle is a victim and had been drowned by the real culprit, the other side thinks she is the one who killed her husband. With the mystery surrounding this crime, the press is all over the story and Janie Van Duyvil (Bayard’s sister) sets out to find the truth. Janie forms an alliance with James Burke, a reporter hellbent on solving this case, to figure out who killed her brother and what happened to Annabelle.

My biggest issue with this book is the pacing. This book starts out fast-paced with the crime happening right in the first five pages, but then it jumps to five years prior with a character not mentioned prior or in any synopses telling the story. It then continues to jump between 1899 and the years prior (sometimes even in the middle of a chapter). For me, this threw the pacing off. The earlier chapters are very slow and build backstory to of Bayard and Annabelle’s marriage. The chapters that take place in 1899 alternate between slow and fast-paced. Some parts of the 1899 story were about solving the crime and others were building a strange relationship between all of the other characters. Honestly, I felt like I was getting whiplash from how often the pace changed.

Another issue I had with this book was the characters. I didn’t feel connected to any of them. Not Bayard, not Janie, and especially not Annabelle. They didn’t come to life on the page for me. I didn’t even feel any love between the characters. Bayard and Annabelle’s relationship felt forced and confusing. Janie seemed to have no relationship with Bayard which made me really confused as to why she was so determined to solve her brother’s murder. I didn’t understand the purpose of Anne, Janie and Bayard’s cousin, and what part she played other than to make Janie’s life difficult (also, with her name being so close to Annabelle, it just made things even more confusing).

And then there were Bayard and Annabelle’s children. I have absolutely no clue why they were in this story. They added nothing and I mean absolutely nothing. They didn’t make me believe Bay and Annabelle’s marriage more, they were kept in the dark about the crime, and they seemed to just get in the way. I’m not sure what Willig wanted to accomplish with including them, but I didn’t see a point to them.

Overall, I think Willig did succeed in creating a mystery because I wasn’t fully expecting the twist at the end, but this book gets two and a half out of five stars from me. It went on too long and I didn’t really understand the point of this story.

“I wish you more happiness than can fit in a person”: A review of We Are Okay

“I was okay just a moment ago. I will learn how to be okay again.”

— We Are Okay, Nina LaCour

There is no doubt in my mind that We Are Okay by Nina LaCour is a five-star book.

We Are Okay is a heart wrenching, beautiful, and uniquely human. LaCour did an amazing job with capturing human emotion within the pages of this book. I felt for every character – even ones who only appear for short stretches.

We Are Okay tells a story of grief, love, and betrayal through experiences of Marin. Marin leaves her hometown for the quiet, lonely sanctuary of a New York college campus. Marin has isolated herself from everyone, the only exception being her roommate, as she quietly suffers a devastating loss. It isn’t until her best friend from home, Mabel, arrives that Marin must face her grief and events from her past.

Personally, I believe the best part of this book is LaCour’s writing. She makes the reader feel Marin’s pain as her words bring grief and loss to life. Marin’s past unfolds on the pages in front of you as she is struggling to deal with the events. It is almost like LaCour wanted you, as the reader, to discover what happened to Marin as she is coming to terms with it herself.

My biggest complaint is that I wished the book were longer. I wanted to dive into Marin and Mabel’s relationship, learn how Marin became reliant on her roommate, and see into the thoughts and feelings of Marin’s grandfather. LaCour made these characters so real and I wanted to know everything about them. That being said, I think We Are Okay was the perfect telling of Marin’s story. It made the people in her life as real as she was, but ultimately was her telling of how she handled loss and betrayal.

I cannot recommend this book enough. It was a quick read, but so worth your time.

The Alienist by Caleb Carr: A review

In celebration of the premiere of The Alienist on TNT last night, I thought I would tell you my thoughts on the book.

I read The Alienist by Caleb Carr to prepare myself for the TV show and because my mom highly suggested (and when your bookworm mom suggests something, you listen). I’ve mentioned before that I am a sucker for true crime. I love reading, listening to, and watching all things true crime. While The Alienist is a work of fiction, it felt like it drew a lot of inspiration from true crime and that’s what made me love it.

The Alienist tells the story of Dr. Laszlo Kreizler and his work to solve some of the first serial killings in Gilded Age New York City. Kreizler is an “alienist” or, what we now call, a psychologist. This book starts with Dr. Kreizler summoning his friend John Moore to view the mutilated body of a young boy. This moment sparks an investigation that causes uproar and danger to those around them.

My biggest issue with this story is how slow the pacing is at the beginning of the novel. Carr writes a lot of exposition and back story through the eyes of John Moore. It takes a little while to get into the novel and into the crime solving aspect of it, but once you do… wow, does this book really take off. Once I got to that point, I did not want to stop reading. I texted my mom so many times asking her if my theories were right (she did the right thing by not telling me anything until after I had finished) because I wanted to non-stop talk about this book. I even bored my boyfriend and talked to him about it! It was just that thought-provoking.

I loved the dynamic between all of the characters. Each character brought something important to the team and without them, the case couldn’t have been solved. There was always intrigue about each character as well. Carr, master of exposition, provided you with back stories to each character throughout the novel. He really created the sense that these could have been real people solving horrendous murders in the late 1800s and I really enjoyed that.

Carr also brought the murderer to life on the pages. You don’t meet the murderer until the very end, but they feel like a very real entity throughout the entire novel. Kreizler’s method of piecing the person together brought a sense to the reader (and the characters) that the person committing the murders was a very real person with very dangerous tendencies.

I found myself completely sucked into this book throughout the last half. It was entertaining, creepy, and a little chilling how realistic Carr made his murderer. I cannot wait to watch how TNT brings this book to life on screen. I’m sure it’ll be great though!

The Alienist got four out of five stars from me! I am definitely planning on reading the next book that features Dr. Laszlo Kreizler and his team.

If you’re interested in learning more about the show, click here.

No visitors. No contact. No return.: A review of The Blinds

“There’s nothing special about this place, he thinks. We all forget. Then we forget what we forgot. And that’s how we survive.”

 —  The Blinds, Adam Sternbergh

I was very impressed with The Blinds by Adam Sternbergh. It was well-developed, well-written, and incredibly interesting.

The Blinds is a modern Western thriller that takes place in the town of Caesura. It is  populated with criminals who have been pulled from their lives and had their memories altered. These people were granted a second chance to live a quiet life away from the prying eyes of society. They are free to leave at any time, but, if they do leave, they’ll end up dead.

Caesura has been running smoothly for eight years thanks to Sheriff Cooper (I pictured him as Hopper from Stranger Things). However, after a murder and a suicide in quick succession, the town begins to question their safety. Not only does Cooper need to protect his residents, but he needs to protect his secrets. With a deputy that keeps prying and outsiders that are threatening to tear the town apart, Caesura is no longer the quiet escape from the world it once was.

I would say calling this book a modern Western is incredibly accurate. It has elements of a Western as well as a thriller. This book was a page-turner for me. I kept reading because I had to find out what in the world was going on in the town of Caesura and what Cooper was hiding.

I found the characters incredible interesting, especially when their backstories were revealed. It was obvious to me that Sternbergh put a lot of thought into his characters and the memories they wanted to forget. This book begs the question, if you don’t remember what you did and you are a completely different person, isolated from the world, should you still be held accountable for your actions? What warrants a second chance?

There were many interesting themes explored at a quick pace. There were surprises at every turn and I was kept guessing throughout most of the story. My only complaint (and it’s a small one), is that the ending wrapped up a little too neatly. After the huge reveals at the end, it seemed difficult for me to believe that things would have been that easy to wrap up.

All that being said, I give The Blinds a three and a half out of five stars. I really liked this book and was completely engrossed in the story. If you’re looking for an interesting, western style thriller, this book is for you!

How to Find Love in a Bookshop: A review

Have I got a book for all of you book lovers.

The whole premise of this book is love and, well, books.

How to Find Love in a Bookshop by Veronica Henry tells the story of all of the people who have had their lives impacted by a local bookshop and it’s owner. Most of the story focuses on Nightingale Books and Emilia Nightingale’s struggles to save the business after her father’s passing; however, stories of others are spread throughout its pages to give you an idea of just how much influence Nightingale Books had on the people of Peasebrook.

A great of this book was how the characters came to life throughout the story. I found myself feeling like I knew Emilia and her father, Julius, as if I lived in Peasebrook myself. I felt for Thomasina and found myself encouraging her to power through her shyness. I wanted to hug Alice and tell her what a terrible decision she was making with Hugh… Henry did an amazing job making me feel like I truly knew the characters in the world she had created.

How to Find Love in a Bookshop was a truly lovely read. Despite the sadness woven throughout, the book told a happy tale about love and human connection. I think that my favorite part about this book was its message about connection and how just one person can have such an impact on everyone, even in death. Although Julius was not physically present in the book (save for the exposition chapter about how Emilia came into his life), you could feel his influence through all of Peasebrook.

Henry’s writing style was lovely and got me lost in the book’s pages. In the story, the lives of the characters, the city of Peasebrook… everything. Everything in this book was so heartfelt and had me wishing I could experience the love created by Nightingale Books.

If you love books and find yourself happy when you’re surrounded by them, I highly suggest you lose yourself in the world of How to Find Love in a Bookshop. It tells the story of so many types of love (especially a love of books) and I don’t think you’ll regret reading this book.

Stacks on stacks: Books I hope to read in January

In lieu of a traditional to-be-read pile for the month, I have my stack of “hopefuls”. My hopefuls are books that I want to get to in January, but if I add or subtract from it, there is no harm done.

There are a couple books missing from this stack. One of them being my January pick from Book of the Month Club. My pick this month was Red Clocks by Leni ZumasRed Clocks is a dystopian novel that some have compared to a modern day The Handmaid’s Taleso there was no question it would be my pick. The other book missing is Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone by J.K. Rowling. Confession time… I have never read the Harry Potter series so this will be my first read through. I’m joining a group of people reading the series throughout the year and will be discussing my thoughts with them. I’m very excited!

Moving onto the stack above, I’ve already finished one of these books (We are Okay by Nina LaCour) and will be posting a review soon because it was absolutely beautiful. I have picked up The Alienist by Caleb Carr as my next read for a couple of reasons. One, my mom and I were at Barnes & Noble recently and she pointed this series out to tell me how much she loved it. I take her recommendations so seriously because my mom is where I got my love of reading from. Two, the show on TNT premieres at the end of this month so I definitely need to finish the book before I start watching the show!

After I finish The Alienist, I have no idea where I will go next in my stack. There’s Promise Me, Dad by Joe Biden which has caught my eye again and again. It seems like a heart-wrenching memoir that I have to be ready for, but something important to read.

I also am dying to read Illuminae by Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff for quite some time. It is in a completely different format from other books with documents and conversations scattered throughout. I’ve also seen nothing by high ratings on this book (and I’ve pre-ordered the other books in the series), so it is a must read this month.

Another book I am hoping to get through this month is The Raven Boys by Maggie Stiefvater. The entire Raven Cycle series has come highly recommended to me and I want to get started on it and immerse myself in a fantasy world again. I’m thinking this one will be next after The Alienist, but who knows where my hopeful pile will take me!

The final book that I’d love to get to by the end of the month is The Knife of Never Letting Go by Patrick Ness. This series caught my eye a while ago and when I received all of my Christmas gift cards, I bought the whole thing. I really enjoyed Patrick Ness’ Release and think I will love this series. The only scary this is that The Knife of Never Letting Go is a big book and will take me a little longer to read. But! I need to stick with my resolution of reading larger books in 2018.

Wish me luck on this pile and tell me in the comments what you’re looking forward to reading this month!

PS. If you’re interested in joining Book of the Month Club, click this link for my referral code! You’ll get your first month for only $10 and a free tote bag. Book of the Month Club is one of my favorite monthly subscription services. It has been a great way for me to discover books I wouldn’t have read otherwise. You can skip any month (without losing credits) if the selections aren’t for you. Seriously, check it out!

Distractions from reading: TV shows that I highly recommend

I got a cold during the holidays. One that made my life a little miserable. I could barely get through books because I was so exhausted and did not want to get out of bed.

This is where binge-watching TV shows came in handy.

I recently caught up on a few that I feel are worth mentioning:

5. Outlander

Most bookworms probably know all about Outlander. This show was created off of a series of books written by Diana Gabaldon. It follows the story of Claire Beauchamp Randall and Jamie Fraser. Claire travels to Scotland with her husband in 1946 as a second honeymoon. It is on this honeymoon that Claire discovers a circle of standing stones, which she travels through and disappears from 1946.

Claire wakes up in 1743 with nothing but the clothes on her back. It is in 1743 where she meets (and has to marry) highlander, Jamie Fraser,  and their love story begins.

This show is currently on season 3, which is well into Claire and Jamie’s story. If you haven’t watched this show, I highly suggest it. It’s a great historical fiction love story that is filled with adventure and interesting politics. I also can’t complain about Sam Heughan and his looks.

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I mean… c’mon.

I will give you a fair warning though! Season 1 is quite slow and I had to power through the first couple episodes. I think the last few episodes of season 1 is where the show really finds its stride and is definitely worth watching by that point.

4. Ultimate Beastmaster

I might need to explain this one a little for you.

I love competition shows.

I especially love obstacle course competitions.

Ultimate Beastmaster is both of those things. This show has competitors from around the world (season 1 and 2 focus on different countries) to take on, what they call, “The Beast”. Each episode focuses on 12 competitors (2 from each country) as they make their way through a physically demanding obstacle course. The winner from each episode then goes on to compete in the final episode for a prize of $50,000 and the title of “Ultimate Beastmaster”.

This show is ridiculously fun and exciting. My favorite part of the show is the hosts. There are two hosts from every country so there is diversity and fun rivalry. This is a great show to have on in the background when just need something mindless.

Ultimate Beastmaster currently has two seasons on Netflix so, if you have any interest, go watch it!

PS. Did I mentioned Terry Crews is a host in season 1?

3. The Good Place

Kristen Bell is my idol. She is fun and bubbly and adorable and, of course, loves sloths. So when I found out she was in a new show, I knew I had to watch it.

The Good Place is about the afterlife. Eleanor Shellstrop (Kristen Bell) wakes up in “the good place”, but it doesn’t take her very long to figure out she’s not supposed to be there. She hides in plain sight from the good place’s architect, Michael, and enlists the help of her neighbors and soulmate so she can earn her place in “the good place”.

This show is bizarre, fun, and utterly hilarious. The chemistry between all of the characters is amazing. All of the characters are eccentric and are what make the show so good.

The Good Place is a classic sitcom. The characters find themselves in some far-fetched mess that they need to clean up by the end, but the twist at the end of season 1 turned the whole show up on its head. It also has funny jokes throughout each episode that I can’t help but laugh at.

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Quite possibly my favorite joke in the show: The Shrimp Dispenser

I cannot recommend this show more. It takes a boring trope and surrounds it with such strangeness that it turns it around completely. The jokes are well thought out and I will sing the praises of the cast until the end of time.

2. MINDHUNTER

Do you like true crime? If the answer is yes, then MINDHUNTER is for you.

MINDHUNTER is a fiction retelling of the conception of the Behavioral Science Unit of the FBI. It follows young FBI agent, Holden Ford, and veteran agent, Bill Tench, as they begin to study a new type of criminal: serial killers.

The best part about this show is Jonathan Groff (of Glee, Frozen, and Hamilton fame). Groff plays Holden Ford and does a stellar job. He captured the essence of the character so perfectly and made me forget that he was the king in Hamilton any time I watched the show.

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Kind of hard to forget Groff’s performance as King George… but he made it happen!

MINDHUNTER is classic true crime. It features prolific serial killers, questionable characters (even those who you think are supposed to be the “good guys”), and intense themes. Every minute of this show put me on my toes and made me want to watch more of it.

It’s definitely not a quick watch and you have to focus on it while you’re watching it, but I think it’s totally worth it!

1. Brooklyn Nine-Nine

Let me tell you about my favorite show ever. It stars Andy Samburg and it is the most important cop show ever.

Brooklyn Nine-Nine a sitcom about the 99th precinct of the Brooklyn police force. The show starts with a new captain joining the force, Ray Holt. Holt’s commanding presence throws a wrench in the life of Jake Peralta (Samburg) an immature, but talented officer.

This show is the perfect balance of chemistry between characters, cold opens, and witty humor. It is funny without being insulting to any groups of people. There, of course, is the right amount of stupid humor. There are jokes that have made me laugh uncontrollably. Andy Samburg has had stare-downs with a corgi, Terry Crews constantly refers to himself in third person, Chelsea Peretti’s character is a role model… I could go on.
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There are so many reasons to love this show, but the friendships between all of the characters is what keeps me in it. Sure, they all make fun of each other, but you can tell it’s because they all love each other. The 99th Precinct is a team that compares to no others.

If you need a show to put you in a good mood, to make you laugh, or to revel in how amazing human friendships can be… Brooklyn Nine-Nine is for you.

Honorable mentions: