A princess who is second in line to the throne. A hot Scot. A Roman Holiday-esque adventure. A murder mystery.
This gorgeous book has it all—and it’s certain to hit the spot for all of those people who love their romance with a hefty dose of suspense and/or royal aficionados whose heartstrings are still resonating from all the love and romance on the other side of the pond (must be nice).
Theodora “Thea” Isabella Victoria knows how to play the role of princess because, in her words, “I really was a princess. I had the tiara, the palace, the framed certificate, and everything.” But in a real departure from a princess story, Thea’s fiancé, Christian Fraser-Campbell, a duke, abandons her at the altar, resulting in her ignominious exile to Perpetua, a territory of Drieden (the name of her kingdom), for four months.
After returning to the palace and her responsibilities as second in line to the throne, she escapes to a bar—as she is sometimes wont to do when her life’s demands become too much. There, she meets a man named Nick who makes her wonder if her betrothed deliberately left her at the altar, or if someone made him disappear. Now the hunt is on, and our runaway princess wants answers as the questions become more and more complicated…
The Royal Runaway kept me engrossed from beginning to end. First, there is Thea, the whip-smart narrator with a dry sense of humor; a beautiful historian of sorts who is also an able escape artist. Then there is the romance (sighhhhh)*, and a conflict between royal duty and the need to escape, which Emory thoughtfully plays up throughout the book.
And it’s all very well done. Somehow the book manages to be both effervescent and weighty, so that I was quickly turning the pages, lulled into happiness by the romance and adventure, and then occasionally shocked by the reminder that the stakes regarding Christian’s disappearance were actually quite high.
In short: The Royal Runaway is a lovely book that packs a wallop.
**The romance scenes in this book are *fade to black*, so this book is highly recommended for those who like to read exciting and charismatic romance stories that are also less explicit.
I’ve always been too terrified to watch scary movies, but give me a good gothic novel and I’m in heaven. Especially a gothic novel with romance. Then I’m there with an awkwardly enthusiastic smile and a glitter covered poster-board.
That’s why I always eagerly anticipate a Susanna Kearsley novel. They have some of the things that I find most delicious in a gothic work: a historical and contemporary timeline, in which the contemporary characters are trying to solve a mystery related to the historical timeline; vividly rendered, atmospheric backdrops, often with supernatural elements, whether it’s ghosts, time travel, mysteriously found artifacts, etc.; romance in both the historical and contemporary timelines. Sometimes it’s doomed, sometimes it’s HEA, but it’s always lovely and fills me with the same happiness I get from a peaceful morning: dew still on the ground, pear-colored light slanting in through the windows, and a cup of coffee in my hand. You get the picture.
Kearsley’s latest, Bellewether, is set in Long Island and revolves around two timelines: one set during the French and Indian War (1754-1763), and one set during present day. In the present-day timeline, Charley Van Hoek has moved to Millbank, New York after the death of her brother to care for her young adult niece, Rachel, and her house, and to be the curator of the Wilde House museum. The Wilde House is famous for being the home of Benjamin Wilde, a famous Revolutionary War hero, and for being haunted. The locals say that you can see a lantern wandering the path from the house to the water, and they attribute the ghost carrying it to a doomed love story: a French soldier who has "signed the paper giving his parole of honor" (basically a POW, in our terms), was held in the home at the end of the French and Indian War, and he and the young woman of the house—who was loyal to the British, the opposing side—fell in love. The legend says that he was murdered by the young woman’s brother when their relationship was discovered.
We get Charley’s perspective, but luckily for us, we also get Jean-Phillipe’s—the French soldier—and Lydia Wilde’s, the young woman. Jean-Phillipe, a soldier born in Canada and fighting for the French, is drawn to Lydia, even though he knows no English and can sense her resentment toward his presence in her home. Lydia is recovering from the loss of her fiancé, who was killed by the French during the French and Indian War.
Did Jean-Phillipe and Lydia have a romantic relationship, despite the odds against them? Did it end in both of their deaths, as the legend says? Is there a ghost at Wilde House?
The answers are in Bellewether.
Though I was a little bemused (perhaps even slightly disappointed) by one plot element (DM me for spoiler-y details!), on the whole this book was exactly what I was craving and expecting. A compelling mystery-romance that kept me engrossed to the very last page; two haunting stories that intertwined; and richly developed historical details that made me think about how we write our history, and that prove once again how wonderful of a storyteller Kearsley is.
Pssst! If You Like This Book, Try: Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier, any Kate Morton book, The House at Tyneford by Natasha Solomons, and All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr.
**I was given an ARC of this book from Netgalley, but all opinions provided are my own.
So I'm posting this a little later than I expected. But, you know. Life got in the way.
I have no memory whatsoever of requesting this book from my library, but I’m so glad that I did. If you’re looking for a mystery with complicated characters doing what they can to live with their pasts and survive in their present, then this book is calling your name. Do you hear it?
Police Detective Casey Duncan reveals to a therapist at the beginning of City of the Lost that she killed her former boyfriend. She shot him after he left her to be mercilessly beaten by men who were angry that he was selling drugs on their turf—and she was never charged with the crime. This is a long-standing pattern of behavior for her, of revealing what she did to therapists and waiting for the consequences to catch up to her. In her case, those consequences could come through the law, or through her former boyfriend’s family, who are members of an organized crime syndicate.
So when Casey’s present-day lover is shot when he tries to protect her, she’s very upset, but not entirely surprised that her former boyfriend’s family has finally figured his death out and come for revenge. Concurrently, Casey’s best friend Diana’s abusive husband attacks her again, and Diana begs Casey to move with her to a city she’s heard about, where it’s possible to entirely disappear. Wanting to protect the man who was shot trying to save her and her best friend, Casey reluctantly agrees to move to this community in the wilds of Canada.
Still with me?
This community of roughly 200 people is completely off the grid, completely hidden from outsiders. But they do have some pluses, including an attractive—and extremely complicated (read the second line of the post)—sheriff, Eric Dalton, who isn’t happy about Casey’s presence and who gives her 6-months before he sends her back home. There’s also the small matter of a proportionately high number of people being killed in this community, for no clear reason that Eric or others can determine.
Can Casey crack the case? Is it possible for her to change Eric’s mind, and does she want to? And more important for her own development, can she come to terms with what she’s done?
As with the finest of mystery novels, the mystery here is secondary to Armstrong’s skilled characterization of people who have made tremendous mistakes but who have much to offer each other and themselves.
And if you enjoy this one as much as I did, check out the sequel: A Darkness Absolute. It’s on my To Read list.
Dennis Lehane’s Since We Fell is the kind of book that I get really excited about. Marvelous characterization and a tense, surprising plot=a happy Jess. This book did not go where I thought it would, and after I finished the last sentence, I was left thinking about what had happened and wondering where the characters would end up next. I’m still thinking about it.
The book opens immediately following the moment that Rachel has “shot her husband dead.” Rachel reads the emotions on her husband’s face—his “anger,” his “outrage,” his “determination.” Then “He looked right at her as the most incomprehensible of emotions staked its claim and subsumed all others: Love.”
From the moment I finished reading this formidable prologue, I was racing with questions. Starting with, of course, why Rachel shot her husband. Why and how they ended up there. If she loved him too. If I would remain invested in a story when I knew so much about the characters’ fate from the first pages. The answer to the last question was a resounding and enthusiastic YES!
Immediately following the prologue, Lehane’s narrator moves into an exploration of Rachel’s childhood, as the daughter of an impressive and yet hard to love therapist. In contrast to the opening pages of the novel, these next pages take on a John Irving-esque storytelling quality. While that might sound like some kind of narrative let-down—coming as it does immediately after Rachel has shot her husband—it wasn’t at all. Instead, Lehane offers a lovely treatment of a domestic drama—a drama that we see will have profound implications on Rachel’s life and which might help to explain how exactly she ended up shooting her husband.
After Rachel’s mother dies, she hires a man named Brian to find out who her father, James, is. This private investigator, Brian, becomes a steady presence in her life, even if from afar. He helps her find James. He emails her sporadically to compliment her journalism. He is nearly one of the only people in her life who encourages her after she experiences an on-air melt-down. And when Rachel becomes agoraphobic—her world shrinking down to the safe walls of her apartment—it’s Brian who is patiently there for her.
But Brian has secrets, and job or no job, Rachel is still an investigative journalist. Who is this man she married? Who has been the one person who has supported her unceasingly and patiently, but who has, undeniably, lied to Rachel? The pacing of the plot winds up again, inexorably taking us to that moment in the prologue—that moment that I forgot about for much of the book because Dennis Lehane is a wizard who made me forget that that explosive moment was coming.
Since We Fell is an inventive, nuanced love story unlike any that I’ve ever read before.
I received a complimentary subscription to Book of the Month for a month, and I selected Since We Fell. All opinions included in this review are my own. Book of the Month is a monthly subscription service which offers a curated list of hardback books, all selected by fantastic judges. You can select one book per month, or you can skip that month, if you'd like (you can also add an extra book for a fee). Shipping is free. Book of the Month is running a promotion this month: Sign up for a 3-month membership for $10 per month.
Need to Know: A cinematic, tense murder-mystery that probes at questions surrounding the lies and truths of friendship and the secrets we keep.
From the opening lines of The Dry—a gruesome meditation on the blowflies swarming around the dead bodies of the Handler family—to the last stirring, powerful lines, I was hooked into this murder-mystery. This book offers a tense, mesmerizing ride; it's an extraordinarily focused mystery that also manages to be tender and empathetic to many of its characters.
When the novel opens, Luke Handler, his wife, Karen, and their young son, Billy, have been shot and killed. All signs point to Luke as being the perpetrator of the murders. Aaron Falk, a police officer who lives in Melbourne and who was once Luke’s best friend, returns to Kiewarra for the funeral. While there, he’s enlisted by Luke’s parents to investigate what happened.
Complicating Aaron’s presence there is the fact that when he and Luke were teens, one of their closest friends, Ellie Deacon, was found dead. The people of Kiewarra suspected the two young men, but Luke and Aaron avoided any further suspicion by using the same alibi. The problem is that they weren't being honest about where they were the day that Ellie died.
The questions surrounding the whodunits drive the plot forward and double the tension. Could Luke have murdered his wife and son and killed himself? Are the Handler murders and Ellie’s death related in some way?
Underpinning all of these questions is the drought in Kiewarra, a drought that’s devastating the community. That’s making people act in unexpected ways. That’s creating near boiling conditions where anything could happen, particularly when the Handlers have just been killed and the person suspected of killing Ellie Deacon is walking in their community again.
The Dry is such a good mystery. Finely crafted and well-written, with a compelling plot that doesn’t skimp on thoughtful characterization. Some of the scenes in this book, particularly regarding the child Billy, are incredibly difficult to read; partly because, plot aside, these were characters that I cared about. But don’t let that stop you from reading this really great book.
The Need to Know: It’s Always the Husband was like candy to me: a delicious treat that I quickly gobbled up.
Last weekend I raced through Michele Campbell’s It’s Always the Husband, a compelling, dramatic mystery that reminds me so much of one of my favorite shows, How to Get Away with Murder (HTGAWM). Like HTGAWM, It’s Always the Husband focuses on a small group of friends who attend a private school together. Booze, drugs, sex, and drama abound.
Also like HTGAWM, eventually the characters in It’s Always the Husband find themselves confronting something much darker than the jealousies, insecurities, and resentments that underlie their friendship.
In It’s Always the Husband, Aubrey, Jenny, and the beautiful, charismatic Kate don’t have a perfect friendship. But they’re college freshmen roommates, and they’re the closest friends each of them have.
Fast forward twenty-two years later, and now Kate is dead. Who did it? And why?
Campbell does an excellent job of using flashbacks to illuminate her characters’ deepest motivations and desires. These are characters that I didn’t feel protective of or emotionally drawn to, but layered, complicated characters who, at their core, want something more than acceptance: an acknowledgement of their superiority.
Even more important in terms of this murder-mystery plot, Campbell’s ability to hold these various threads of the story together so skillfully means that the reader has suspicions about what happened to Kate and why, but no real certainty until the book’s last pages. As Campbell suggests through her portrayal of Aubrey, Jenny, and Kate and their dangerous friendship, any number of characters might have had motive—to use the police vocab—to kill Kate.
If you’re in the mood for a moody, dramatic murder-mystery that’s centered on a rich portrayal of a female friendship, check out It’s Always the Husband.
**I received a complimentary copy of Michele Campbell’s It’s Always the Husband from SheSpeaks but all opinions included here are my own. This book will be released on 05/16/17 and is available for pre-order today.
The Need to Know: Sherry Thomas is such a great writer and you and I need to read all of her books now.
I’m a big fan of most literary retellings. I love it when beloved literary institutions are melted down and re-shaped into something new—without completely losing the spirit of what made the initial text so beloved in the first place. In today’s market, it seems that Sherlock Holmes’ retellings are particularly prolific, but Sherry Thomas still makes hers unique, fresh, and captivating in A Study in Scarlet Women.
It’s England, 1886. Charlotte Holmes has always struggled with how to relate to others. She’s been gifted with “discernment,” a gift which is not always welcome when she shares what she has discerned with others. She also doesn't want to marry. Let’s see, how does she put it? Oh yeah: “I do not like the idea of bartering the use of my reproductive system for a man’s support—not in the absence of other choices.”
When her father breaks his promise to allow her to continue her education, Charlotte determines that the only way out of her stifling home is to be ruined by a married man. She succeeds in her mission, but news of her ruin is unexpectedly spread thanks to the man’s mother, Lady Shrewsbury. Charlotte’s parents determine that they will exile her, but Charlotte sneaks out of her home before they can and seeks her fortune alone in London.
But there are a couple of big problems. One, everyone seems to know what happened, thanks to the man’s mother, Lady Shrewsbury. Second, Lady Shrewsbury died the day after Charlotte was ruined, and members of society look upon Charlotte's sister, Livia, suspiciously. But Charlotte has noticed that two other members of the upper-class have fallen prey to similar deaths as Lady Shrewsbury, so she writes to a newspaper as Sherlock Holmes, an alias that she infrequently adopted earlier to help with other mysteries.
Charlotte/Sherlock’s official detective career is born, and the stakes are huge. If she fails, her sister will forever be suspected of a crime, Sherlock will be disgraced, and she, Charlotte, will be left with a stultifying job that doesn’t fulfill her.
Along the way, Charlotte joins forces with Mrs. Watson, a maternal, wise, and inventive woman who takes in Charlotte when she needs help most.
That's what I adored most about A Study of Scarlet Women--how ingenious and strong the women are. Charlotte doesn’t take her independence in the manner which I would have most liked (I couldn’t help thinking about and sympathizing with the man’s wife), but she is determined, brilliant, and caring, and I rooted for her later success. Without getting into the specifics, the friendship that she finds with Mrs. Watson--another outsider--is an inspiring reminder of how women help each other.
And the writing in this novel is fantastic. I found myself highlighting various lines, like this gem of Mrs. Watson’s: “Do not undervalue what you are ultimately worth because you are at a momentary disadvantage.” Oh, okay, that's only a fabulous piece of advice that I should have a print of so that I can remind myself every day....
This was such a fun, bold (and, at times, even sensual) read, and I enjoyed every minute of it. I'm very much looking forward to the sequel.
**This post contains affiliate links and I will be compensated if you make a purchase after clicking on my links.
Um, what just happened? Wait a minute. What?! No!
Those were some of my responses to the end of Sarah Pinborough’s thriller/mystery Behind Her Eyes. I had been warned that the ending has a killer twist, so I had my eyes open, my senses on full alert, my imagination rattling off the dozens of possibilities for the novel’s ending. But still I was surprised (and also horrified, if I may be honest) once I reached the last page and realized that it was over.
But let’s start at the beginning.
This is the basic plot: Single mom Louise kisses a stranger named David who it turns out is married, and it also turns out, is her new boss. David is a psychiatrist who is married to Adele, a beautiful woman who chiefly stays at home during the day. Louise and Adele become friends. Louise and David begin sleeping together.
Are you still with me?
Then Louise gets the sense that there’s something wrong with Adele and David’s marriage. To be specific, that there are several things wrong, and that something very dark lies at the center of that wrongness.
Louise is sleeping with David, and friends with Adele, and her complicated feelings for both people means that she’s even more conflicted about who the guilty party in the marriage is.
It's hard to reveal too much about the plot without ruining the book. A big part of the fun and the mastery of Pinborough's storytelling is how marvelously she has structured the book. We read Louise’s perspective and we read Adele’s, we read from a notebook that Adele has gifted Louise, and we jump in time from the present moment to the past. The structure of the book ensures that the reader’s tension is amped up to the thousandth power. We see the lies that each character tells to herself and to others, and we see the manipulations and the violations.
Pinborough skillfully plays with the reader’s expectations, heightening the drama and the anxiety within the story and all the while leading us to a truly explosive ending.
You don’t know how many times I wanted to talk to the characters while reading this book. It was frustrating and also wonderful.
If you’re in the mood for a beautifully written, smart thriller, check out Sarah Pinborough’s Behind Her Eyes.
I got my copy of the stellar book, Behind Her Eyes, from the Book of the Month Club, a site that I’ve praised on the blog before. When you subscribe to Book of the Month, you select one book a month from five options, all carefully selected by a panel of prestigious judges. The book offerings are diverse, but if you’re not enticed by any of the options, you can choose to skip a month and save your book for another month. I subscribed to the three-month plan, and chose Behind Her Eyes the month that it was offered. If you subscribe and select a book, your hardback book will ship to you in a cute box with a cute bookmark, and then you can add your pretty copy to your bookshelves with a feeling of supreme joy.
This month (March 2017), Book of the Month is offering two special deals. Check them out below.
3-months Membership For $9.99 Per Month + Free BOTM Tote
$5 for 1-month memberships
The Need to Know: I stayed up until 1:06 this morning reading this book and wiping tears from my cheeks. So yeah, I really liked this book.
The first sentence of The Orphan’s Tale by Pam Jenoff is “They will be looking for me by now.” Immediately I was hooked.
In the opening pages of this thrilling story, an unnamed narrator has snuck away to an exhibit called “Two Hundred Years of Circus Magic.” The narrator glances at the exhibit’s photographs before locating a railcar, where she opens up a compartment in the back, hoping to find something which is not fully revealed to the reader. But there’s nothing there, “and the dream I had that it might hold the answers evaporates like cool mist.”
This kind of narrative is one of my favorites: a frame story told from the perspective of an elderly person, about to reveal her life’s greatest secrets—if only to the reader—and a passionate, tender inner story that is slowly built on until the book’s last revelations.
After the prologue, The Orphan’s Tale is told from two different perspectives, Noa’s and Astrid’s, both of which are rooted in the WWII period. Noa is a young Dutch woman who was thrown out of her parents’ home after she became pregnant with a German soldier’s baby. She ends up in Germany, alone, until in an impulsive moment she takes a Jewish baby from a railcar which the Germans are sending east.
A series of events lead her and the baby to a famous circus, where she meets Astrid.
Astrid’s husband, a member of the Reich, cast her aside because she is Jewish, and she returns to the winter quarters of her family’s circus, the only home she has ever known. Her family’s circus is no longer in operation because her Jewish parents and siblings are gone, but Herr Neuhoff, their former circus rival, offers her a job as an aerialist--her previous role in her family's circus--and she accepts.
After Noa and the baby, Theo, arrive at Neuhoff's circus, Herr Neuhoff tasks Astrid with making Noa an aerialist within a 6-week time period—a task which Astrid resents for multiple reasons, not least because she thinks it is impossible. Will Noa become an aerialist? Will she and Astrid ever trust one another?
But the captivating circus and the performers’ dynamics are only part of the story here. After all the story is set in World War II; two of its main characters are Jewish, and many of the other characters are accomplices to sheltering them, whether they wish to be or not.
This beautiful story moved me in deep ways, and in the final pages, I wiped tears off of my cheeks as I read in bed. Now, hours later, I still feel immersed in the world of The Orphan’s Tale, and I’m also still processing what happened to the nuanced, imperfect, and also noble characters Jenoff created.
I have read comparisons of The Orphan’s Tale to Sara Gruen’s Water for Elephants and Christina Baker Kline’s Orphan Train. I would also add Natasha Solomons’ The House at Tyneford, and Kate Morton’s books, which use the same type of frame structure.
In one way this thrilling, lovely book was easy to read. I raced through its pages. But on the other, there were sections of this book which were truly difficult to read and come to terms with, particularly after I read the “Author’s Note” and learned that a couple of the main plot-points are inspired by real-life events.
The Orphan’s Tale offers the reader a chance to mourn and to celebrate, to become invested in the lives of the characters and to be reminded of our history.
I’m so glad that I found this book.
I received a free copy of this book from Netgalley but all opinions provided in this review are my own.
The Need to Know: An atmospheric, detailed mystery, Brunonia Barry’s The Fifth Petal is a satisfying, juicy book to sink into and enjoy.
At its heart, The Fifth Petal by Brunonia Barry is a murder mystery about who murdered “the Goddesses,” three beautiful young women who were killed in Salem, Massachusetts in 1989 while attempting to consecrate the spot where their female ancestors were executed for supposed witchcraft in 1692.
The answer to this murder mystery is particularly important to Callie Cahill, daughter of one of the Goddesses, who was present at that ill-fated ceremony and only avoided death thanks to “Auntie” Rose, who hid her away before returning to the murder site.
Unbeknownst to Callie, now thirty years old at The Fifth Petal’s opening, Rose is still alive and many of Salem’s residents hold Rose responsible for the Goddesses’ murders, even though there was no evidence that she was their murderer.
When Rose is believed to have committed a fourth murder, this time of a teenager who was threatening her, Callie immediately returns to Salem to clear Rose’s name and to uncover the truth about what happened to her mother and the other Goddesses. One challenge that Callie faces, among many, is that Rose is considered insane by many Salemites, and Rose maintains that a banshee was responsible for all four of the murders.
Though the rich plot of The Fifth Petal is somewhat difficult to summarize, Barry maneuvers the plot and characters deftly, and the book remains suspenseful rather than gratuitously complicated.
Barry’s rendering of Salem, Massachusetts, a city already compelling to many Americans familiar with the barest bits of its history, is smart and thorough, and she has rooted her plot within the occult and religious practices unique to Salem’s history. The ways in which Puritanism, Catholicism, and the occult clash and overlap with each other in The Fifth Petal enrich the reader’s understanding of the characters themselves: their motivations, their fears, and their desires.
I was invested in finding out the answers to the mystery throughout the book, and in true Jessica form, I guessed that several different people were responsible before reading the book's satisfying revelations.
The Fifth Petal is an engrossing, sexy read that is also dense and seemed well-researched.
Fun to read and smart. A great combination, in any book.
I received this book from Blogging for Books for this review; however, all opinions included here are my own.
For more info on Brunonia Barry: http://www.brunoniabarry.com/
About the Author
When my toddler and infant sleep--or are otherwise engaged--I write, read, and eat lots of chocolate.