Review: My Cousin Rachel

5604250My Cousin Rachel by Daphne du Maurier

Genres: Historical Fiction, Fiction, Classics
Maturity Level: 3
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Rating: ⋆⋆⋆⋆


I threw the piece of paper on the fire. She saw it burn …Orphaned at an early age, Philip Ashley is raised by his benevolent older cousin, Ambrose. Resolutely single, Ambrose delights in Philip as his heir, a man who will love his grand home as much as he does himself. But the cosy world the two construct is shattered when Ambrose sets off on a trip to Florence. There he falls in love and marries – and there he dies suddenly. In almost no time at all, the new widow – Philip’s cousin Rachel – turns up in England. Despite himself, Philip is drawn to this beautiful, sophisticated, mysterious woman like a moth to the flame. And yet …might she have had a hand in Ambrose’s death? 


What a unique love story! Even though I felt like I kind of knew what to expect (curse you movie trailer!!!!!), it kept going in directions that took me by surprise. However, I didn’t find the atmosphere quite as brooding and mysterious as I expected to, which was a little disappointing.

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Review: The Essex Serpent

32075861The Essex Serpent by Sarah Perry

Genres: Historical Fiction, Fiction
Maturity Level: 4+
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Rating: ⋆⋆⋆


Set in Victorian London and an Essex village in the 1890’s, and enlivened by the debates on scientific and medical discovery which defined the era, The Essex Serpent has at its heart the story of two extraordinary people who fall for each other, but not in the usual way.

They are Cora Seaborne and Will Ransome. Cora is a well-to-do London widow who moves to the Essex parish of Aldwinter, and Will is the local vicar. They meet as their village is engulfed by rumours that the mythical Essex Serpent, once said to roam the marshes claiming human lives, has returned. Cora, a keen amateur naturalist is enthralled, convinced the beast may be a real undiscovered species. But Will sees his parishioners’ agitation as a moral panic, a deviation from true faith. Although they can agree on absolutely nothing, as the seasons turn around them in this quiet corner of England, they find themselves inexorably drawn together and torn apart.


The Essex Serpent was one of those books that was obviously trying to be “literature” and attempting to win awards, but I’m not sure it succeeded. Instead of feeling like beautiful prose, to me it came off as pretentious and contrived. I mean, it’s all right there in the description, isn’t it? “Two extraordinary people”. What’s so extraordinary about them?

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Review: Mr. Churchill’s Secretary

10161216Mr. Churchill’s Secretary by Susan Elia MacNeal

Series: Maggie Hope Mystery
Genres: Mystery, Historical Fiction, Fiction
Maturity Level: 3 maybe?
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Rating: ⋆⋆⋆⋆


London, 1940. Winston Churchill has just been sworn in, war rages across the Channel, and the threat of a Blitz looms larger by the day. But none of this deters Maggie Hope. She graduated at the top of her college class and possesses all the skills of the finest minds in British intelligence, but her gender qualifies her only to be the newest typist at No. 10 Downing Street. Her indefatigable spirit and remarkable gifts for codebreaking, though, rival those of even the highest men in government, and Maggie finds that working for the prime minister affords her a level of clearance she could never have imagined—and opportunities she will not let pass. In troubled, deadly times, with air-raid sirens sending multitudes underground, access to the War Rooms also exposes Maggie to the machinations of a menacing faction determined to do whatever it takes to change the course of history.

Ensnared in a web of spies, murder, and intrigue, Maggie must work quickly to balance her duty to King and Country with her chances for survival. And when she unravels a mystery that points toward her own family’s hidden secrets, she’ll discover that her quick wits are all that stand between an assassin’s murderous plan and Churchill himself.


While perhaps not the most well-written book of all time, Mr. Churchill’s Secretary was a lot of fun. Maggie Hope was spunky and easy to relate to, and not too caught up in romance for a young woman. The plot was intriguing, moved quickly, and I often found I had a hard time putting the book down. However, I was often confused by the frequent point-of-view change, and the repeated period cliches in the dialogue were distracting. I was also distracted by the irrelevant references to British literature, as if Maggie somehow had to prove that she was living in War-Era Britain. But if you’re looking for a quick read and a little light entertainment, Mr. Churchill’s Secretary is perfect.

Review: My Lady Jane

22840421My Lady Jane by Cynthia Hand, Brodi Ashton, and Jodi Meadows

Series: The Lady Janies
Genres: Young Adult, Historical Fiction, Fantasy, Fiction
Maturity Level: 3
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Rating: ⋆⋆⋆⋆


The comical, fantastical, romantical, (not) entirely true story of Lady Jane Grey. In My Lady Jane, coauthors Cynthia Hand, Brodi Ashton, and Jodi Meadows have created a one-of-a-kind fantasy in the tradition of The Princess Bride, featuring a reluctant king, an even more reluctant queen, a noble steed, and only a passing resemblance to actual history—because sometimes history needs a little help.

At sixteen, Lady Jane Grey is about to be married off to a stranger and caught up in a conspiracy to rob her cousin, King Edward, of his throne. But those trifling problems aren’t for Jane to worry about. Jane is about to become the Queen of England.


I don’t know what I was expecting, but it was not this.

In a good way.

My Lady Jane was the most outrageous, hilarious Tudor novel I have ever read. The synopsis says “only a passing resemblance to actual history” which is completely accurate. But that’s a big part of what made this book so enjoyable. As a Tudor England fanatic (or at least a former one) it was so refreshing to read a book that was, first of all, about JANE GREY of all people, and second of all, not so caught up in the scandal of who was sleeping with who in court. Instead this novel was about the major political issue of the day, Catholics vs. Protestants, but re-imagined with fantasy elements that make it more fun for the non-Tudor-obsessed reader.

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Review: The Scandalous Sisterhood of Prickwillow Place

18885674The Scandalous Sisterhood of Prickwillow Place by Julie Berry

Genres: Kids (Middle-Grade), Mystery, Historical Fiction, Fiction
Maturity Level: 2
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Rating: ⋆⋆⋆


There’s a murderer on the loose—but that doesn’t stop the girls of St. Etheldreda’s from attempting to hide the death of their headmistress in this rollicking farce. 

The students of St. Etheldreda’s School for Girls face a bothersome dilemma. Their irascible headmistress, Mrs. Plackett, and her surly brother, Mr. Godding, have been most inconveniently poisoned at Sunday dinner. Now the school will almost certainly be closed and the girls sent home—unless these seven very proper young ladies can hide the murders and convince their neighbors that nothing is wrong. 


I’m not very well-versed in the mystery genre, so the only adult mysteries I had to compare this to were The Hound of the Baskervilles and Ladies No. 1 Detective Agency. So I’m not sure whether Berry’s task of bringing a real mystery novel to the children’s genre was successful or not. It seemed to follow the format of mysteries as I know them pretty well, while adding a sense of humor, a friendship in a way only young ladies can bring, and a mischievous tone. So, all in all, I would definitely recommend this to a young person looking to get in to the mystery genre.

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Review: The Tiger’s Wife

8366402The Tiger’s Wife by Tea Obreht

Genres: Fiction, Historical Fiction
Maturity Level: 3
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Rating: ⋆⋆⋆


In a Balkan country mending from years of conflict, Natalia, a young doctor, arrives on a mission of mercy at an orphanage by the sea. By the time she and her lifelong friend Zóra begin to inoculate the children there, she feels age-old superstitions and secrets gathering everywhere around her. Secrets her outwardly cheerful hosts have chosen not to tell her. Secrets involving the strange family digging for something in the surrounding vineyards. Secrets hidden in the landscape itself.

But Natalia is also confronting a private, hurtful mystery of her own: the inexplicable circumstances surrounding her beloved grandfather’s recent death. After telling her grandmother that he was on his way to meet Natalia, he instead set off for a ramshackle settlement none of their family had ever heard of and died there alone. A famed physician, her grandfather must have known that he was too ill to travel. Why he left home becomes a riddle Natalia is compelled to unravel.

Grief struck and searching for clues to her grandfather’s final state of mind, she turns to the stories he told her when she was a child. On their weeklytrips to the zoo he would read to her from a worn copy of Rudyard Kipling’s The Jungle Book, which he carried with him everywhere; later, he told her stories of his own encounters over many years with “the deathless man,” a vagabond who claimed to be immortal and appeared never to age. But the most extraordinary story of all is the one her grandfather never told her, the one Natalia must discover for herself. One winter during the Second World War, his childhood village was snowbound, cut off even from the encroaching German invaders but haunted by another, fierce presence: a tiger who comes ever closer under cover of darkness. “These stories,” Natalia comes to understand, “run like secret rivers through all the other stories” of her grandfather’s life. And it is ultimately within these rich, luminous narratives that she will find the answer she is looking for.


I’m not sure what to think of The Tiger’s Wife. On the one hand, the story was lovely and intriguing. The way the stories branched off into sub-stories and wound their way back may have seemed unnecessary to some readers, but since that’s how I think it matched me perfectly. But on the other hand, I’m not really sure what the POINT of this book was.

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Review: A Study in Scarlet Women

28588390A Study in Scarlet Women by Sherry Thomas

Series: Lady Sherlock
Genres: Mystery, Historical Fiction, Fiction
Maturity Level: 3+
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Rating: ⋆⋆⋆


With her inquisitive mind, Charlotte Holmes has never felt comfortable with the demureness expected of the fairer sex in upper class society. But even she never thought that she would become a social pariah, an outcast fending for herself on the mean streets of London.

When the city is struck by a trio of unexpected deaths and suspicion falls on her sister and her father, Charlotte is desperate to find the true culprits and clear the family name. She’ll have help from friends new and old—a kind-hearted widow, a police inspector, and a man who has long loved her.

But in the end, it will be up to Charlotte, under the assumed name Sherlock Holmes, to challenge society’s expectations and match wits against an unseen mastermind. 


I am sad to say that A Study in Scarlet Women did NOT meet my expectations for a Sherlock gender-bender. It read more like a semi-romance historical mystery than a sleuth novel.

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