The King at the Edge of the World by Arthur Phillips
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
There is so much to love about Arthur Phillips’ newest novel The King at the Edge of the World . It is a historical fiction and transports the reader back to the Elizabethan era, a time when a person’s religious beliefs could mean the difference between life and death. This is also a time when the arts became accessible to more of the population; music, painting and theatre were used to shape personal views and impression. Phillips harnesses this time of expression and uses it throughout the novel to build intrigue and mood. In my opinion, the addition of theatre and stage plots within the novel adds to its reliability as a historical fiction by creating a sense of realism and presentism.
Mahmoud Ezzedine, one of the main characters, finds himself quite literally forced into the lives and castles of Queen Elizabeth I of England and King James VI of Scotland. As a medical doctor, Ezzedine was a gift by the Turks with the intention that he might promote good health and establish relationships between England and the Turks in Constantinople. Later he is regifted by England to Scotland. One review online compares Ezzedine with Gulliver in Gulliver’s Travels . I think this is an accurate analogy because like Gulliver, Ezzedine is able to critique and relay an outsider’s perspective on both English and Scottish society without being accused of choosing a side. It is for this reason that the ending of the novel doesn’t make sense to me. It seems disjointed from the rest of the larger theme. Without giving too much away, if Ezzedine character represents a critical, impartial outsider, then there must be an ending corresponding with his implied role.
My second biggest critique of this novel is that a good portion of this novel is not about King James VI. The title implies a story about a king and I found more than half of the story was not about him but about England and the Turkish empire. King James VI is also a secondary and not well developed character, at least in my opinion. We learn about what he does, his daily routine, but not who he is and what his relationships are like. I wish the story between Matthew Thatcher and King James VI began earlier in the plot and we were able to delve a bit deeper into who he is, possibly even explore more about his relationship with his wife. For this reason I gave the novel 4 out of 5 stars.
Should you read this book? I think so. I was surprisingly intrigued by the plot and Phillips’ writing demonstrates passion, research and experience. I also really love the cover!
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The King at the Edge of the World by Arthur Phillips
I honestly really loved this book and I think it is perfect for a YA audience. A Song Below Water is filled with themes of friendship, love and relationships mixed with a touch of magical realism. Effie and Tavia are as close as sisters can be and yet they each have unique qualities and interests. Their everyday lives are made even more challenging with the addition of magical powers as they learn to use them carefully amidst rolling and uncontrollable emotions. In their hometown of Portland, regular people outnumber a handful of “unique” people with exceptional powers and abilities. Tavia is a siren. She is one of many who are required to keep their powers hidden because of the fear and prejudice against them. This is a novel about racism and sexism, but the through-line is subtle and doesn’t overwhelm the plot. I think these are important topics and I was initially worried that this novel might be too heavy but it was actually quite engaging and upbeat.
The two main characters struggle through friendships, betrayal, love and family dynamics while remaining optimistic and hopeful for something good to come out of it all. And then there is the Gargoyle; who wouldn’t love to have a Gargoyle keeping them safe and watching over them from a distance?
I think even adolescents who aren’t into fantasy would still love this book. Effie and Tavia exist in more than just a fantasy world, their world is relatable to everyday life and the supernatural is weaved throughout a believable and complex plot. That is a challenge for every author who writes magical realism; it takes skill to make the unbelievable become ordinary and rational.
I would highly recommend this book, mostly for adolescents who enjoy fantasy mixed with relationships and friendship. I also want to thank Macmillan-Tom Doherty Associates and NetGalley for the opportunity to read and review this book.
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My rating: 3 of 5 stars
I will be honest and say I had a hard time finishing this book. There were too many characters and too many flashbacks (especially in the beginning) for the story to really take hold and draw me in. The beginning of the novel had strategically placed flashbacks to provide the reader with information but they were not believable and came across as forced information. It wasn’t until near the end when I really started to care about how everything was going to fall into place. I can’t even say I was satisfied with the ending.
When you look at the structure of the novel, there wasn’t really a central climax or even rising action. There were constant little fights between the characters, mostly between spouses, but not really any main plot to grasp onto as a reader. Reading this novel was like having a bird’s eye view of three different couples going through the motions of life and martial problems. Yes, the characters were likeable, especially Nell. However, there were times when family friends and the children’s friends all completely lost or uninterested me because there were too many names thrown around. I kept wondering where the story was going and if there was going to be a point to all the madness.
I appreciate the opportunity to read an advanced copy of this novel and generally I am a light critic. However, I feel Grown Ups was missing something major, a main plot element, and without it, the reader cannot be drawn into the story. As readers, we want to envision a part of ourselves when reading a book, but more importantly, we also want to escape reality, even if for just a few moments. By giving us martial problems without some element of thrill or excitement, a story just ends up being a retelling of everyday occurrences.
I would still recommend this book, but it was not my favourite. I am left feeling as though the story could be better, and be fixed into a really amazing novel.
Thank-you to NetGalley and Penguin Random House Canada / Doubleday Canada for the opportunity to read and review this upcoming novel by Marian Keyes.
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My rating: 4 of 5 stars
I really loved reading The Woman on the Windowsill: A Tale of Mystery in Several Parts. It reads as an account of life in Guatemala in the 1800s. I appreciate the author’s in-depth analysis of crime, social thought and class/gender divisions within the culture at the time. As I was reading, I found myself considering how much time and effort Sylvia Sellers-García must have spent researching for this book. Her research goes beyond the events surrounding the severed body parts and encompasses many of the aspects of everyday life in Guatemala at the time. Having a Bachelor’s degree in Anthropology, I am fascinated by many of the avenues Sellers-García explores when considering gender roles, the concept of violence and the role colonialism played in the formation of Guatemala city’s criminal governance. The descriptions of Guatemala City, the San Juan de Dios Hospital, the residential areas and cemetery help to develop a setting that makes you feel like you are walking through 19th century Guatemala. The brief glimpses of the past from the hospital records and criminal cases also really caught and held my interest as a reader.
The historical information and the evaluation of viewpoints at each stage of the investigation deserves a 4/5 for me on my overall rating of this book. It was historically fascinating to read and taught me many things about Guatemalan history that I was not aware of. On one side, I absorbed all of the intriguing the content in this book, but on the other side, the format left me wanting more of a narrative to keep it cohesive. I will be honest in saying it reads more like an essay or a research paper, than a novel or book. The chapters are almost irrelevant; the last chapter especially deviates too far from the core investigation to keep the narrative cohesive. The epilogue brings it back somewhat, at least in my opinion. I was hoping for more of a narrative fictional or non-fictional from this book which is why I have only given it 4 out of 5 stars.
I would still highly recommend this book to people, especially those who share my passion of history in Central and South America. I have been to Guatemala City and Antigua and The Woman on the Windowsill: A Tale of Mystery in Several Parts really brought me back to recalling my own experience in these cities. I had the opportunity to stay for a night in the home of a resident of Guatemala City. Their home’s vast and elaborate interior was exposed upon entering through large wooden doors fronting an otherwise average street. I recall being amazed at how large and welcoming the home was and how I never would have been able to guess what it held inside just passing by on the street. So I want to thank Sellers-García for bringing back some of those memories for me. I also want to thank NetGalley and Yale University Press so the opportunity to read and review this book!
~Expected Publication October 17, 2019
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
I will definitely be recommending Christmas Shopaholic to my friends this Christmas (and will probably gift a few copies to people too). It is a fun, energetic Christmas story will all the right elements of the seasonal shopping fiasco! Every family experiences similar holiday challenges of what gifts to get, how to decorate, a menu that will please everyone and Becky goes through all of that and more. It is definitely all about Becky and includes her usual unrestrained spending habits only elevated to match the Christmas shopping frenzy and Becky’s desire to try to please everyone. There are food planning disasters, family fighting and Christmas concert mishaps.
My two biggest critiques about the novel would be the setting and the predictability. When I think about the story, nothing about the setting jumps out at me or was particularly memorable, it seemed to fall short of the normal holiday ambiance one might expect in a Christmas novel. In addition, the events in the novel are predictable and maybe too much so for my taste. I like the silly, OMG moments Becky has, I am just not sure they need to be as predictable and foreshadowed as much as they are because it takes away from some of the humour.
However, despite my criticisms, I still would highly recommend Christmas Shopaholic to my friends this Christmas. It is festive and witty novel that brings a joyfulness to the crazy shopping season we all experience.
I also want to thank NetGalley and Random House Publishing Group for a chance to read and review this book!
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
Fatal Inheritance checks off ALL of my “summer read” boxes! This story is light-hearted with an adventurous heroine who is off to discover the secret behind her unexpected inheritance. The setting is the delectable French Riviera and the author definitely delivers on character development, plot and setting. The scenery enticed me and left me dreaming of the Mediterranean coastline and the essence of the holiday lifestyle of the elite.
In the beginning, Eve, the main character is slightly naive, trusting and vulnerable. However, through her journey we see a new Eve emerge who is quite audacious and self-sufficient. She meets so many fascinating people along her journey and Eve discovers the world can offer her so much more than she has imagined. I almost envision this novel as a coming of age book; Eve is realizing the world is much bigger and more exciting than she has been lead to believe. The author does a great job at integrating each of the supporting characters into the plot and making them unique and memorable. Noel is brooding and mysterious while at the same time he makes the reader want to know more about him. And don’t even get me started on Sully! I love his quirkiness and his ability to connect everyone who comes in contact with Villa La Perle.
I generally judge a book by the way in which I am captivated by the story as well as how I feel after finishing it. With Fatal Inheritance I was sad to have the story end; I wanted to find out more about Eve’s adventures and what else lies ahead for her. I also read the novel quite quickly which is often a good sign that it is entertaining enough for me to want to keep reading. The plot is full of twists, secrets and excitement. There are dinner parties to attend with famous people whom Eve has never imagined she would ever cross paths with. I also appreciated the theme of “love” throughout; it was definitely something people lost hope in during this time in history.
If you are looking for an enchanting, adventurous read while sitting at the beach this summer, I would highly recommend Fatal Inheritance!
I appreciate being able to read an ARC of Fatal Inheritance and I would like to thank NetGalley and the Publishers Simon & Schuster Canada / Washington Square Press for the opportunity to read and review it.
My First Impressions of the New Mystery Series: The Addie Foster Mystery Series by Kimberley O’Malley
Death Comes in Threes (Addie Foster Mystery Series Book 1)
Death Comes in Threes is my first time reading one of Kimberley O’Malley’s novels. I was intrigued by the story from the beginning and Addie is a very fun, witty and likeable character. Grey is Addie’s supportive and easy going BFF who is there for her on a moments notice. Throughout the short time period taking place in this book, Addie has some very frightening and unexpected events happen. She rides through them like a trooper and seems to come out unscathed. The inserting of a handsome Detective also always helps!
Some of the things I like about this novel are the energetic and funny characters. I love the Aunties and the dogs; albeit the thread of the two dogs I felt might have been overdeveloped. The novel was easy to read and the dialogue flows smoothly and naturally. The cover is also eye catching and makes you want to pick it up to see what it’s about.
Some of the areas of Death Comes in Threes which fall flat for me are the mystery plot development, the overuse of some narratives and the length of the book. The mystery in the book isn’t very deep and could use a bit more complexity and intrigue. I want to know more about the three strangers and their deaths and not just a quick note saying they died, end of the story. I also wish there were a few more chapters. The third death was rushed and seemed like the author just wanted to end the book so #3 mystery man is found dead. If the story is called “Death Comes in Threes” I want to know about what happens to them, not in a weird way, but have more of a story behind it.
Secondly, certain elements in the narrative were overused. Addie doesn’t need to stand by the door to dismiss the dark brooding Detective every time he comes to see her. Furthermore, every character in the story doesn’t need to stop and say how cute her dogs are, we get it.
And thirdly, I just found the story too short. Add in more detail about the mystery. Lengthen the time between events and add a bit more meat and potatoes (this is entirely just my own opinion).
All in all I would love to read the rest of Addie’s adventures to solve the mystery which this novel started. I feel like I have only read half of the story.
I want to thank NetGalley and the Publisher Laurie White / Carolina Blue Publishing for an e-copy of Death Comes in Threes to read and review.
Also upcoming “Dyeing for Change” by Kimberley O’Malley (Addie Foster Mystery Series Book 2)
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
As a newcomer to the Cookbook Nook Mystery Series by Daryl Wood Gerber, I found Wreath Between the Lines a fun, engaging Christmas read. There was plenty of action to the plot and Jenna is a friendly and sweet character with maybe more than her share of curiosity. Because I am new to the series I didn’t fully understand Jenna and her father’s relationship but her father seems to be supportive of all her investigative actions even while he is away on vacation.
The plot jumps right into a murder which happens at Jake Chapman’s home, a rich millionaire who happens to be a friend of the family. Suspicion about the motive for the murder, Jenna jumps right in to solve the case and find out why it appears Jake was the intended target of the attack. This is the point in the story where I find my first major critique. I am surprised at how quickly Jenna accuses everyone around her. She doesn’t seem to have a filter in who she suspects as a criminal and often confronts people directly. I think the story loses a bit of its credibility with Jenna’s immature investigative tactics. This is the first reason I have only given the novel a rating of 4 out of 5 stars.
My second major critique would be wordiness. There are too many descriptions and unnecessary details added which downplay some of the action in the plot. For instance, when Jenna is running to help Jake whose friend has been murdered and strung up by Christmas lights, why do we get a description of Jake’s detached garage? I just feel as though some long descriptions of characters and places are unnecessary or awkwardly placed. The writing is overly detailed to the point where it is excessive. Some of these things might still be edited out before the final copy so I haven’t given too much weight to that in my rating.
All in all, I think I would be happy to give another one of Daryl Wood Gerber’s books a try and would definitely not hesitate to recommend this as a quick and spirited Christmas read.
I also want to thank NetGalley and Beyond the Page Publishing for an advanced copy of this e-book to read and review.
A Moody Fall Read: An Old Manor House, A Tragic Mystery and a Missing Family Heirloom – “The Clockmaker’s Daughter” by Kate Morton
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
Expected Publication October 09, 2018
Birchwood Manor is a brooding historic home with more than a few stories to tell. Birdie, one of the main characters acts like a narrator for the story. We get to know fragmented parts of her story but we also get to see all of the other lives inexplicably drawn to the home as well. Throughout the years people have come and gone, each person unknowingly becoming part of the home’s story.
The Clockmaker’s Daughter is my first read by Kate Morton and I have mostly only positive things to say about it. The novel has such a picturesque setting and who doesn’t love a large historic home just waiting for someone to unravel its mysterious past? As readers we get multiple points of view which gives us a birds eye view of Birchwood Manor throughout its history. However, the alternating points of view can also be occasionally difficult to navigate from chapter to chapter. Some reviewers have mentioned that the story was hard to follow, but I actually enjoyed getting to hear all about the lives of each of the characters. I think Morton did an excellent job at navigating the complex plot while still being able to give us enough about each character to be able to connect with them. Some of the branches in the plot did die off, but I didn’t really miss them and did not feel they added to the success of the book overall.
Elodie is another one of the stories main characters and she is easy to connect with right away. She seems like she is a down to earth girl who just gets drawn into the history of Edward Radcliffe and his family’s story. Edward Radcliffe came from a wealthy family and was an aspiring artist. But how did his life become surrounded in tragedy and what caused his seemingly sudden demise? Elodie finds a leather satchel that hides clues to the Radcliffe family’s tragic history and leads Elodie down a path she can’t help but follow.
I would definitely recommend this book to my friends and think it will be a book which will stay in my memory bank for a while.
I want to thank NetGalley and the Publishers Simon & Schuster Canada and Atria Books