Book Review: The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo

The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo
Taylor Jenkins Reid

My Edition:
Paperback, 389 pages
2017, Washington Square Press
ISBN: 9781501161933

Film star and Hollywood highlight, Evelyn Hugo has survived seven husbands. In her old age, long since retired from acting, she decides she’s ready for her memoir to be written and she picks reporter Monique Grant for the job. Monique is puzzled, but ready to launch her career with the story of a lifetime. Evelyn’s story is more complex than Monique ever imagined and tied up with it is the celebrity’s reason for picking Monique to tell her story.

While I do enjoy the occasional Hollywood-based historical fictionesque books (see The Swans of Fifth Avenue) or ones that delve into the lives of the social elite (see also The Devil Wears Prada, Gossip Girl and maybe even The Nanny Diaries) The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo wasn’t initially on my radar. Then people started talking. Then people with very similar reading tastes to my own started talking. I finally decided to give it a shot…

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Book Review: Snakes & Stones

Snakes & Stones
By Lisa Fowler

My Edition:
Hardcover, 287 pages
2016, Sky Pony Press
ISBN: 9781510710313

Chestnut Hill travels with her three younger siblings and father selling “elixir” to anyone their father can trick. But Chestnut is working on her own scheme – to get back to her mother, who their father stole the children from. After one of Chestnut’s stunts lands her father in jail, she learns that her life is not quite as it seems.

For some reason, I thought there was a supernatural element to this book – there isn’t, but I wasn’t disappointed by that. This book is set in the south during the early 1920s. Chestnut has a strong, backwoods accent, yet instead of being distracting or hard to decipher, it felt genuine and earnest. She is around twelve and is tasked with caring for her sister and two brothers, seven-year-old triplets, while they travel around the southern states in their father’s caravan selling his lies.

Chestnut hates her situation in life, not just because she knows they’re lying to strangers, or because they never seem to have enough food to eat and that their clothes are falling apart, but because she feels her daddy stole her and her siblings away from their mama one day while she was out of the house. Chestnut is doing her best to leave some sign of where they’ve been and where they’re going, in hopes that her mother, who must surely be searching for her children, will find them.

I loved Chestnut. She is honest and caring and strong-willed. She is realistically annoyed by her siblings (I certainly wanted to smack them), yet does everything she can to take care of them. Her mixed feelings in regards to her father and how she feels about her place in the family lend depth to the story and her character. I don’t think the story would have been nearly as powerful if it had a third person narrator.

My only real issues with this book come from the ending. Without saying too much, we find out more about Chestnut’s father’s way of life and I felt like I was supposed to see him in a new light. In regards to some aspects I did, however, I also thought he was a huge hypocrite. I have issues with the way things concluded with Chestnut’s mother. There’s one quote in particular that felt incredibly unbelievable, but unfortunately, I can’t share it without ruining the end.

While things didn’t wrap up in what I would consider a very satisfying manner, I still thoroughly enjoyed this book and the overall tone. I wouldn’t be me if I didn’t also mention what I consider to be a fabulous cover as well! This is a solid middle-grade story and I found the time period refreshing, as I feel like I’ve been reading either modern or complete fantasy reads lately.  I definitely recommend it!

I received this book for free from Sky Pony Press in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review. All opinions in this post are my own.
You can check out the book’s Facebook page.

Book Review: The Bookman

The Bookman
By Lavie Tidhar

My Edition:
E-Book, 384 pages (paperback)
2016, Angry Robot
ISBN: 9780857665973

It is the 19th century and a lizard queen rules an England where a mysterious assassin kills his targets with book and authors live alongside their fictional creations. Orphan, is just that – but happy enough, living in the basement of a bookstore and working up the courage to ask Lucy to marry him. But when The Bookman strikes, targeting Lucy, he tears apart Orphans life and now Orphan must set off on a strange journey filled with automatons, pirates (both lizardine and human), Martian probes, criminal masterminds and The Bookman himself, if he ever wants to bring Lucy back.

So, if you know me at all (even via the internet), you know I couldn’t resist a book with book in the title! Especially a fantasy one!

This book is a wild mix of alternate history, sci-fi and Victorian fantasy, sprinkled with odes to a wide array of classic fiction, especially Shakespeare. In fact, there were so many references to other works of fiction that I’m sure I didn’t pick up on them all, but it was fun to spot how Tidhar calls out to those books, be it in the form of a character cameo, plot theme, or even a shop or pub.

This book is challenging to describe, as there are so many characters and plot points that Tidhar weaves into a story about revolution, equal rights, space exploration and of course, love.

In short, a race of anthropomorphic lizards landed on Earth and took over the line of succession in England. There are those who are opposed to them, chiefly, The Bookman. He is a skilled assassin who uses books as his deadly devices. When Orphan’s fiancé, Lucy, is killed when The Bookman foils the launch of the lizard’s Martian probe, Orphan is pulled into the revolution between humans, lizards, automatons and The Bookman.

Orphan’s journey is not unlike that of Homer’s in the Odyssey, with notes of Orpheus’s journey to bring back Eurydice and a smattering of several popular classic adventures. He quickly realizes he’s a pawn in a large game and constantly battles with his own moral compass as he struggles to decide which of the many sides of the revolution to support, all while really striving to be united with the woman he loves.

My favorite portion of the book was actually the Sherlock subplot. Moriarty is Prime Minister and a staunch supporter of the lizards, while Irene Adler is chief of police and Mycroft is well, Mycroft, with his eyes and ears everywhere! No offense to Orphan, but I would have gladly tossed him aside for a full novel on Doyle’s characters running wild in the world Tidhar created.

Tidhar is excellent with his descriptions – even if I didn’t always fully understand what was happening, I could easily picture how it was happening. Here’s one of my favorite descriptions – I love the mental image I created from this:

“Things lived down here. For one crazy moment he had the notion of a vanished tribe of librarians, lost in the deep underground caverns of the Bodleian, a wild and savage tribe that fed on unwary travelers.”

I mean, what’s a better image than rabid librarians!?

I have to say, the “final battle” if you will, left me a little underwhelmed and mildly confused. In the 2016 reprint edition there’s also an extra novella, Murder in the Cathedral, included which details Orphan’s time in Paris (which is glossed over in the main story) and while it was interesting, it felt out of place after I had finished the story. I had a hard time going back to that point in the story after it had already concluded and perhaps it would have been more impactful if it were included in the main narrative, but then again, it might have felt like the story was being sidetracked.

If you’re looking for an epic literary adventure that no only tips its hat to classic literary adventures, but thoroughly integrates familiar characters, or you’re into alternative history with a little sci-fi twist, I would recommend you give The Bookman a try!

I received this book for free from Angry Robot in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review. All opinions in this post are my own.
You can visit Lavie’s page on the Angry Robot site or check out his own website, or follow him on Twitter (he’s pretty funny).

Book Review: The Last Kingdom

The Last Kingdom
By Bernard Cornwell

Not My Edition:
Hardcover, 333 pages
2005, HarperCollins
ISBN: 0060530510

It’s the year 866 and Uhtred, son of a nobleman in Northumbria, is captured by a Danish chieftain after his father is killed in battle. Earl Ragnar raises Uhtred as his own son as the Danes raid across England, carving out their own territory. Uhtred grows up divided between his loyalty to his country and to the people who raised him and if he ever wants to win back his father’s land, he must make a choice.

Confession: I watched the show first and loved it.

I was trolling Netflix late one night, looking for something specific (I forget what, but it did have the word “last” in the title) and The Last Kingdom was suggested to me in lieu of what I wanted. It appeared to be about Vikings and whatnot, and the main character was pretty hunky and had long flowy hair, so I decided to give it a go. I’m glad I did!

I don’t typically watch TV shows anymore because I don’t have the attention span to focus on too many episodes – even this show, which has only one season right now, comprised of eight episodes, took me over a month to get through. But in the end, I was left wanting more and after tweeting about it, my buddy Jacob let me know it was based on a historical fiction series by Cornwell. I should have known it was a book first!

Well, I enjoyed the book just as much as I enjoyed the show, though I have to say, I’m glad I watched the show first. I don’t want to blather on about the show forever, but I will say that it did add some character depth and development that the book didn’t offer (while of course skimping in other areas). I also enjoyed their casting, so I didn’t bother trying to alter my mental images, especially after finding out Beocca is written as a cross-eyed redhead and Uhtred is blonde.

The story is told by Uhtred in his later years, so he drops little hints about situations that happen later in life, which kept me on my toes as to where his journey might take him. This first book does focus heavily on his childhood (the show speeds him up to about eighteen or so pretty quickly) and as a result, I was able to better understand his motivations and the divide he felt between being English and Danish. Uhtred does have a bit of a sense of humor as well and I chuckled more than once.

I don’t have anything in particular to say about the writing style itself. Cornwell didn’t blow me away and I wasn’t particularly moved during certain scenes (whereas the show affected me more powerfully thanks to their excellent character development), yet I was immersed the entire book and I can’t wait to read further so I can surpass the show and find out what happens!

This is a solid start to what I hope will be an excellent series. I especially enjoyed the different time period, as I haven’t read a lot of historical fiction based this early in time. If you’re interested in some Viking action, I’d recommend this!

You can find Bernard’s website here.

Book Review: Risuko

pic from NetGalley

Risuko
By David Kudler

My Edition:
ARC e-book, 230 pages (paperback)
2016, Stillpoint Digital Press
ISBN: 9781938808340 (paperback)
Expected Publication Date: June 15, 2016

I received this book for free from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review. All opinions in this post are my own.

Murasaki, called Risuko (Squirrel) because of her talented climbing skills, finds herself tied to a rich woman’s litter and walking through war-torn lands to her new home after her mother sold her. Confused, upset, alone, and unable to say goodbye to her mother and sister, Risuko has no clue what awaits her at the end of the journey. Along with a few other teenagers, she’s brought to a strange school where no one will speak about what everyone is training for. Risuko has no choice but to adjust to her new surroundings and uncover the mystery of her new benefactor.

I was intrigued by the premise of this book, especially because I enjoy Asian historical fiction and I haven’t read many young adult books in this setting. Also, the cover art is gorgeous (even though I didn’t have a physical copy to drool over)!  However, I was underwhelmed by the story and writing. I’m so indifferent about this book, it’s actually quite hard to review it. I don’t think it’s a bad book – I have no desire to go on a tangent about awful characters or stupid quotes. But I can’t really recommend it either.

Risuko was a flat character. Yes, she had a nifty (perhaps semi-supernatural?) climbing skill and she was loyal and determined and kind to her friends, and blah blah, I’ve read a million characters like that. Nothing about her stood out. Her sad backstory didn’t evoke any sympathy as I read and I wasn’t invested in her future. The world building was lackluster but not terrible. Two forces were at war with each other, but it barely touched on Risuko and her “classmates.” Despite the talk of war and a minor skirmish or two, I never felt like any of the characters were in any real danger; nor did I feel like they could have any effect on the outcome. Lastly, the mystery surrounding the true purpose of the school felt like anything but a mystery as a reader, so when Risuko finally puts all the pieces together all I felt was frustration that it took her so long to figure it out.

This book was decent enough – it was a fast read and I’m not mad that I spent time reading it. In the end, I didn’t learn enough about the world and its rules (is there magic?), so I was never invested. It will be part of a series, but I won’t be continuing.

Book Review: Sisi

Sisi
By Allison Pataki

My Edition:
ARC paperback, 436 pages
2015, Dial Press
ISBN: 9780812989052 (hardcover)

I received this book for free from LibraryThing in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review. All opinions in this post are my own.

Empress Elisabeth, known as Sisi, is married to Franz Joseph, the ruler of Austria-Hungary. She’s known to her people as the “fairy queen” and her incredible beauty is widely known. But as a free spirit and wandered, she is often chided and criticized for not standing by her husband and children. Sisi struggles to stand by her family while weathering rumors of love affairs and the impending troubles of the First World War and she’s torn between wanting to be true to herself and needing to do her duty. 

This was an engaging read, primarily because Pataki made Sisi so relatable.

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Book Review: White Collar Girl

White Collar Girl
By Renee Rosen

My Edition:
ARC e-book, 448 page (paperback)
2015, NAL
ISBN: 9780451474971 (paperback)

I received this book for free from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review. All opinions in this post are my own.

Jordan Walsh comes from a family of reporters and writers, and after her brother’s tragic death, she is determined to make it to the city desk at the Chicago Tribune. But it’s a man’s world and Jordan must fight to cover breaking news stories rather than society weddings or write articles about the different ways a woman can wear her slip. Jordan struggles to get her male co-workers to take her seriously, while at home she deals with her distant parents, who have yet to recover from the loss of their son. Amidst the drama, Jordan begins to land breaking stories that could prove to further isolate her from her family and co-workers. 

This was an enjoyable read, though nothing ground-breaking or mind-blowing. I liked Jordan, though she had her moments when I wanted to reach into the pages and shake her and say “Girl, what are you doing?!”

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Book Review: Circling the Sun

Circling the Sun
By Paula McLain

My Edition:
ARC e-book, 384 pages (hardcover)
2015, Ballantine Books
ISBN: 9780345534187 (hardcover)

I received this book for free from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review. All opinions in this post are my own.

From Amazon: Brought to Kenya from England as a child and then abandoned by her mother, Beryl is raised by both her father and the native Kipsigis tribe who share his estate. Her unconventional upbringing transforms Beryl into a bold young woman with a fierce love of all things wild and an inherent understanding of nature’s delicate balance. But even the wild child must grow up, and when everything Beryl knows and trusts dissolves, she is catapulted into a string of disastrous relationships.

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Book Review: Rebel Queen

Rebel Queen
By Michelle Moran

My Edition:
ARC e-book, 386 pages (hardcover)
2015, Touchstone
ISBN: 9781476716350 (hardcover)

I received this book for free from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review. All opinions in this post are my own.

From NetGalley: When the British Empire sets its sights on India in the mid-nineteenth century, it expects a quick and easy conquest. India is fractured and divided into kingdoms, each independent and wary of one another, seemingly no match for the might of the English. But when they arrive in the Kingdom of Jhansi, the British army is met with a surprising challenge. Instead of surrendering, Queen Lakshmi raises two armies—one male and one female—and rides into battle, determined to protect her country and her people. Although her soldiers may not appear at first to be formidable against superior British weaponry and training, Lakshmi refuses to back down from the empire determined to take away the land she loves.

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