Fiction

THE BURNING GIRLS by C.J. Tudor

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Perhaps it’s best that the bishop is reassigning Jack. After all, she doesn’t enjoy being “the vicar with blood on her hands.” Maybe in getting away from Nottingham, she and her teenage daughter, Flo, can escape the scandal, escape the memories of little Ruby–and Jack’s husband–and start anew.

But Chapel Croft, Sussex, might be just a bit too far from the life she and Flo know. The isolated country parish isn’t enthusiastic about a female vicar. And Jack soon learns that Chapel Croft has scandals of its own. From the legends of the two young girls burned to death in the sixteenth century (and allegedly still haunting the chapel) to the disappearance of two teenage girls in the ’90s to the suicide of Jack’s predecessor, the village has a dark past. It isn’t long before Jack and Flo get sucked into the mysteries–all of which seem to point back to the Church itself.

I literally read this book in one sitting. The e-reader did not leave my hands until I got to the end. It’s dark and layered–full of twists to keep you guessing and underlying questions about the nature of evil, spirituality, and free will. Whether you are a fan of psychological thrillers, suspense-heavy mysteries, or Kingian horror, this is one you’ll definitely want to check out!

“I loved Netflix’s BRIDGERTON, but will I like the books?”

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If you are anything like me and had already read Julia Quinn’s Bridgerton series, halfway through the first episode you had Questions…

Her debut season? A diamond of the first water? Daphne?? And why is Anthony being such a tool about her suitors? (And in general?) And wait–Daphne and Simon don’t like each other? And why is the queen involved in any of this? And who the heck is Marina Thompson? Oh her–but isn’t she…? So why…? WHAT IS HAPPENING?!?

Of course if you are like me, you also believe that “different from the book” does not mean “worse than the book,” so you quit with the comparisons and settled in to enjoy the show on its own merits.

But if you are one of the many Bridgerton viewers who had not read the book, but who watched in the series three times in a row and are now going though Bridgerton withdrawal and wondering if you should get the books… this post is for you!

The answer to your question depends on why you liked the series. So I will give a breakdown of the big picture similarities and differences (NO SPOILERS beyond Episode 1 in case you haven’t finished) so that you have an idea of whether the books will be for you.

If you love Daphne, read the books! She is if anything more lovable. Daphne is in her second season in the Marriage Mart because too many of the “good” men view her as a friend. And though the show plays on the “enemies to lovers” trope, in the books she and Simon are BFFs from the moment they meet (when they bond over Daphne punching a suitor in the face). She has turned down several suitors she wasn’t keen on by the time she meets Simon, and Anthony (who is much more likable in the books) is wholly supportive of her wishes. If he weren’t, she’d punch him in the face…

If you love Simon, you should know that he is less likable in the books. Not that he’s awful, but some of the events that happen in the book were changed slightly but deliberately in the show to make Simon look better. BUT that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t read the books. Each book has a different hero (and heroine) and honestly, Simon and Daphne aren’t my favorite couple. So if you find yourself disgusted with Simon in The Duke and I, you should still read The Viscount Who Loved Me because Anthony and Kate are awesome. (If you don’t like The Viscount Who Loved Me, you probably won’t like the rest either.)

If you love Penelope and Eloise you’ll have to wait for books 4 & 5 or skip ahead. And in the meantime, you might be annoyed at some moments of Eloise as Generic Girly Younger Sister. Don’t worry. She’ll come into her own.

If you love the whole Bridgerton family dynamic, read the books! The in-depth exploration of non-Daphne Bridgerton characters is saved for each of their specific books so don’t expect any subplots from Anthony, Benedict, Eloise, etc., but the camaraderie, affection, and FUN is there from book one. Speaking of which…

If you love the drama, be advised that there is less in the books. There are fewer subplots, and the overall tone is just lighter.

If you love the social commentary, you might like the books. The Netflix series draws on and deepens some themes that are present in the book. For example, the theme of a woman’s options and agency is present in The Duke and I, but Daphne is more confident from the start. Anthony gives Daphne her choice of suitors (acting more as a messenger to turn down proposals as she rejects them); Lady Bridgerton is head of household in all but name and Anthony defers to her; Lady Danbury is never shown as subordinate to anyone. Marina Thompson isn’t in any of the books, (though her absence plays a role in a later book). My point: though the chains of the patriarchy and societal expectations limit and direct the characters’ actions in the book, there is much less straining against the bonds.

But if you love the show specifically because of the alternate history and commentary on racism, give the books a miss. The reinvention of the racial make-up of the ton extrapolated from the historical Queen Charlotte’s possible African ancestry is exclusive to the show. In the books, you will not find the racial overtones that accompany Marina Thompson’s reception by her “elite” relatives or Simon’s view of his position in society. But you will find an occasional (unrepudiated) casual racism from the characters, like this moment in The Duke and I:

“Now look here,” Simon said hotly, “I’m not some sacrificial lamb to be slaughtered on the altar of your mother.”

“You have spent a lot of time in Africa, haven’t you?” Colin quipped.

Though likely historically accurate, such remarks will disappoint readers looking for meaningful commentary on racism either yesterday or today.

THE DUKE WHO DIDN’T by Courtney Milan

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Chloe Fong’s greatest ambition is to help her father get revenge on the men who stole his sauce recipe.

That and to forget Jeremy Yu.

It’s been three years since she’s seen or heard from him. So when he shows up for the village’s annual week of games–now, when she and her father are so close to perfecting their new recipe and launching their vengeful sauce empire–her annoyance and heartache crystallizes into fury.

Jeremy knows that if he told Chloe his true identity–the Duke of Lansing, the man with the power to turn her whole community out over decades of unpaid rents–she would want nothing more to do with him. And anyway, how could he ask perfect, ambitious, shy, intimidating, wonderful Chloe Fong to take in the burdens of being a duchess?

But though he’s tried, he can’t live without her. So he enlists her to help him make a list of qualities he will require in a wife. And hopefully by the end of it, she’ll realize that there is only one woman in the world that list could describe.

This historical romance is everything you can expect from Courtney Milan: funny, sexy, layered, and chock full of interesting characters who both challenge and support the heroine and hero. It unfolds at a slower pace than some of Milan’s earlier books, so it may not snag all Brothers Sinister fans, but I personally found it a relaxing comfort read.

YESTERDAY IS HISTORY by Kosoko Jackson

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On the way back from the hospital, Andre’s dad asks him if he’s in pain. Of course he’s in pain. He may be cancer free, but he’s still got a new liver, and after living with it for six months, he’s pretty sure the dull ache in his gut is his new normal.

But what happens when they get back to the house is definitely not normal. He lies down for a nap, and wakes up in the 1960s. It’s still Boston, but not his Boston. Still his house, but not his house. In fact, it seems to belong to an attractive and somewhat odd boy named Michael who isn’t quite curious enough about how a boy from the 21st century ended up on his front lawn. As it turns out, the young man who donated Andre’s new liver belonged to a family of time travelers. And as Andre grows increasingly attached to Michael in his past, in the present, he must navigate the fraught relationship with Blake: his donor’s brother who is still grieving and resents being assigned to help Andre acclimate to time travel.

An original premise, heart-fluttering romance, thought-provoking themes, a funny and spirited narrator–this novel is a winner from page one. A true delight to read. The humor and quirky sci-fi angle cushion the heavier themes and subject matter. But the sci-fi is more than a gimmick. The shifts from past to present mirror symbolically Andre’s internal struggle to figure out what he wants from his future. Though it likely won’t satisfy hard sci-fi readers, fans of YA literary and realistic fiction will definitely want to pick this one up.

GROWN by Tiffany D. Jackson

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Enchanted needs to sing like she needs to breathe. The white girls at her school say she sounds like Beyonce, but that’s only because they don’t know many Black singers. Enchanted’s passion is the classic singers–the ones she and her grandma used to sing along with–Gladys Knight, Aretha, Nina Simone.

When she auditions for Music LIVE, the judges aren’t impressed with her dated sing choice or her timid performance, but 28 year old superstar Korey Fields is. He convinces her parents to let Enchanted tour with him, his newest protege. But there’s a darkness to Korey that Enchanted didn’t see at first, and the whirlwind that she thought would lead her to fame and love instead carries her down into terror, abuse, and ultimately a pool of blood on the floor of Korey’s penthouse.

I cannot adequately express how powerful and moving this book is. Enchanted’s voice is so strong. Even with the immense power her abuser holds over her, even when she is confused and heartbroken and doubting herself, she holds on. She fights when she’s able (and when she isn’t able to fight emotionally, mentally, the author makes it very clear that it is NOT her fault that she is in this situation). And she survives.

And the community around her! Reading this book as an adult and a parent, I wept at some of the scenes where her parents defend her. Jackson incorporates their voices directly through police interview transcripts and minutes of mom group meetings to provide a deeper perspective on how a whole community is affected by and responds to the violent abuses of a powerful man. Not all adults react in a positive way, but many do–from the parents, to the psychiatrist, to the flight attendant who notices something amiss. A reader will come away from this book knowing that there is help out there. That they are not alone in their experiences and they do not need to be alone in their rescue and recovery. As dark as the subject matter is, a reader will come away from this book with hope.

TW: This book could definitely trigger survivors of sexual violence and/or abusive relationships, but FWIW it didn’t trigger me. I think it was the strength of Enchanted’s voice and the knowledge from Chapter One that she will escape–that there will be some form of justice–that kept me from going to a dark place. But every survivor’s journey is different, so definitely exercise caution.

A STUDY IN SCARLET WOMEN by Sherry Thomas

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Charlotte Holmes is utterly unsuited to marriage. She thrives on intellectual puzzles, little to no conversation, and an unhealthy sweets consumption that frequently leads her perilously close to her Maximum Tolerable Chins; none of this would endear her to the typical Victorian husband. She fended off marriage proposals bravely until her 25th year, under the assumption that her father would honor his promise to pay for her education. When he reneges, she does the only logical thing: renders herself ineligible for marriage through a sexual liaison with an unprincipled and unhappily-married gentleman.

Alas, his domineering mother catches them in the act, and scandal ensues. Charlotte flees her irate parents, only to discover that it is far more difficult than she expected for a “fallen woman” to find work. Furthermore, when the unhappily-married gentleman’s mother winds up dead, Charlotte’s sister becomes implicated in a murder inquiry. With the help of the widowed Mrs. Watson (a middle-aged former actress) and her old friend (and love of her life) Lord Ingram, Charlotte sets out to do what she does best–observe, make conclusions, and solve puzzles that baffle even the most intrepid and clever police inspectors.

Of course no one would believe the deductions of fallen woman and society scandal Miss Charlotte Holmes. The mysterious, bedridden, (entirely fiction) Mr. Sherlock Holmes however….

Sherry Thomas breaks out of the romance genre with a thrilling, funny, well-plotted, and (yes) romantic mystery series with a strong cast of characters and an immersive historical world that will keep readers rapt and turning pages. I read them all, then immediately read them again. Can’t wait for another LADY SHERLOCK book!

A Study In Scarlet Women (The Lady Sherlock Series Book 1) - Kindle edition  by Thomas, Sherry. Mystery, Thriller & Suspense Kindle eBooks @ Amazon.com.

THE HOUSE IN THE CERULEAN SEA by TJ Klune

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Linus takes his job as a case worker investigating orphanages for magical youth very seriously. He does his work thoroughly, accurately, and impersonally. And it’s precisely his thorough, accurate, and impersonal track record that prompts Extremely Upper Management to offer him a temporary, top secret assignment: to spend a month evaluating an exclusive seaside orphanage for extraordinary magical youth (including, among others, the Antichrist). Although initially overwhelmed by the unusual assignment, Linus finds that the magical youth–and their exceptional caretaker, Arthur–are working their way into his heart and threatening his objectivity as a caseworker. And as his impersonal lens cracks, he must question the truths he’s been taught, the morality of his own work, and how far he is personally willing to go for love.

A well-deserved award-winner, THE HOUSE IN THE CERULEAN SEA is a quirky, funny, sweet, thought-provoking social-commentary with equal parts humor and heart. Highly recommend for adults and older teens–anyone who likes stories that are a little weird and a little magical with a healthy dose of undermined social norms and queer romance.

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EVVIE DRAKE STARTS OVER by Linda Holmes

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Evvie Drake was leaving Tim. She was literally in the car, her suitcase packed in the trunk, when her phone rang. There had been an accident. Her husband was dead.

One year later, Evvie’s life does not resemble the freedom she imagined she’d find without Tim. Her family and friends think it’s grief, but really it’s something else. Guilt. Guilt for the lack of grief. Guilt that she ever wanted to get away from Tim, who was in everyone else’s eyes, completely and utterly perfect. Guilt for the remote possibility that the universe had known she wanted to escape and had taken the matter into its own hands.

But when she takes in a former all-star baseball pitcher as a lodger, Evvie gradually begins to enjoy life again. Because Dean is full of possibility–new friendship, new project, new distraction. What Evvie doesn’t count on is that in trying to fix Dean’s life, she may have to confront the darkness in her own past and the ghosts Tim left behind.

An engaging contemporary romance, EVVIE DRAKE is a fun read and great book club book for groups that enjoy “women’s fiction.”

A CURIOUS BEGINNING by Deanna Raybourn

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Veronica Speedwell has no interest in becoming a mother of six. So she tells the Vicar’s wife after her Aunt Nell’s funeral. After all, with Aunt Nell gone, she no longer has ties in England and can immediately undertake another of her expeditions to the tropics, her bread and butter as a lepidopterist hunting rare butterflies. And while she’s abroad, she can engage in some healthy and commitment-free sexual release with a like-minded, anonymous man or two. Marriage to a boring English gentleman with a sizable brood of his own? Thank you, but no.

But before Veronica can embark on her expedition, she is assaulted by a thug and then rescued by a middle-aged German baron who claims to know her parents–of whom Veronica has no knowledge herself. The baron escorts her to London, leaving her in the care of a taxidermist and naturalist named Stoker. Before he can return for her, however, the baron is murdered. Fleeing for their own safety, Veronica and Stoker form a reluctant alliance to find the baron’s murderer and Veronica’s assailant–and on the way, discover a startling truth about Veronica’s parentage.

A suspenseful, action-packed mystery with a touch of romance, A CURIOUS BEGINNING starts off a series with a delightfully nonconformist Victorian feminist for a narrator and a surly but noble love interest/partner in slightly-criminal-criminal-investigation. Very fun read with plenty of thrills to keep you turning pages!

(Just FYI, Book 4 is my favorite.)

THE CROCODILE ON THE SANDBANK by Elizabeth Peters

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At 32, Amelia Peabody is undeniably a spinster–and she intends to stay that way. To escape the host of unwanted and opportunistic suitors that descended after her father’s death, she takes her sizeable inheritance and sets off on a journey to explore the world.

She never gets past Egypt.

When she stops to tour Amarna, she and her companion, Evelyn, learn that the archaeologist Evelyn loves–and his infuriating brother, Emerson–have been hit with a fever. In the course of nursing (the ungrateful) Emerson back to health, Amelia gets swept up in a thrilling mystery involving a (seemingly) animated mummy that will draw her closer to her one true love (Egypt) and the man that unfortunately seems to meet her at every turn.

One if my favorite, favorite book series ever, Amelia Peabody starts out as Victorian romantic suspense, through later books fall solidly in the mystery category. Intentionally over the top, and an inevitable page turner, this is a great, classic read for anyone who loves mystery with a dash of romance or romance with a dash of mystery.