Crossings – Alex Landragin

crossingsHow to even describe this book?

It’s actually three interlinking stories spanning time from the 1700s to WWII, from the Pacific Islands all over the world, ending in France. Or, at least, that’s how I read it. It may be different for you.

The preface explains two ways of approaching the story: the usual cover-to-cover way, or, the way I read it, the Baroness Sequence, that hops around to different parts of the story. And yes, you can read it on your Kindle that way. It’s quite easy, as the publisher has little “go here” links when you have to jump to a different page. Which manner should you choose? I don’t know since I only read the Baroness Sequence, but it made my brain explode in the best way possible, so I have to recommend it.

This book is perfect for people who devoured The Seven ½ Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle, or Ship of Theseus, or any kind of non-linear brain-ache, even House of Leaves. The characters at the beginning of the story introduce the reader to their gift of “crossing”, which is essentially souls trading bodies. These souls then have to hop into different bodies to escape murderers, or track down a lost love, or escape physical infirmity. I was delighted and enthralled the entire time. It was thrilling, engaging, and stimulating. I took eight pages of notes. If you read that and think, “Oh, YAY! I can’t wait to get started!” then this is the perfect book for you.

Many thanks to Netgalley for the advance copy in exchange for my review.

Simon the Fiddler – Paulette Jiles

simon

Set in post-Civil-War 1860s Texas, the story follows Simon, a fiddler recently deserted from the Confederate Army who wanders through small Texas towns eking out a living playing fiddle in bars and public houses with his two companions, Doroteo and Damon. Simon falls in love with Miss Doris Dillon, a young Irish immigrant under contract as governess to Colonel Webb, a lecherous tyrant. Simon and Doris are separated, and the book spans Simon’s life trying to woo her from afar while dodging bar fights and alligators.

Jiles’ writing is sublime. She obviously does her research, but the story was never pedantic. The descriptions of the second-hand clothes the men wore riddled with bullet holes, the dust and grime that covered their hands, the heat and sickness pervading the small towns were absorbing. I was quickly immersed in the kaleidoscope of Simon’s life, each incident bringing twists and changes as he squeaked through one trouble after another. At the core of this novel is the volatile time period and the treacherous Texas environs. The book isn’t so much plot driven as it is simply an experience. Jiles captures the west in uncertain political times, describing the unpredictable lifestyle of the characters against a barren and often dangerous landscape.

Many thanks to LibraryThing and William Morrow / Harper Collins for the advance copy in exchange for my review.

The Animals at Lockwood Manor – Jane Healey

81fPbnDoPxL1940s, London, during WWII: Hetty Cartwright is in charge of an unspecified museum’s natural history collection that is evacuated to a country estate, Lockwood Manor, for safety during the Blitz. Lord Lockwood is tyrannical and dismissive, and his grown daughter, Lucy, is still under his thumb while in mourning for her mother’s recent death. This book has all the elements that make me excited to read: Gothic undertones, historical museum collections, a mysterious death surrounded by rumors of a haunting. As the book progressed, however, the suspense lessened and it became more of a battle of wills between the monstrous Lord Lockwood and the ineffectual Hetty Cartwright.

In retrospect, the book may have been improved with additional characters (something I rarely think is the case), who may have offered some red herrings or engaging side plots to allow the storyline to be more multifaceted.

The setting is dark enough to keep an atmosphere of intrigue, and the story, though it becomes sluggish in the middle, is original in its elements. The narrative becomes practically a pastiche echoing Daphne du Maurier, though not like that’s altogether a bad thing, as she’s one of my favorites.

I liked it, but I didn’t love it. I’m still going to keep Jane Healey on my radar.
Many thanks to BookishFirst for this advance copy in exchange for my review.

Things in Jars – Jess Kidd

9781982121280_p0_v3_s550x406Jess Kidd is an auto-buy author for me. If she writes it, I must read it immediately.

Kidd describes Victorian London with witty aplomb; the sights, surely, but more so the stench and emanations of its denizens. There is so much stink in this book I could taste it, and I mean that in the most complimentary way. There are botched surgeries, festering skin infections, and delectable, if not a little bit hallucinogenic, pipe tobacco. I was often curled up reading this romantic phantasmagoria thinking, “Damn, I love this!” Also, bring a highlighter on this adventure. My vocabulary increased threefold.

The whole story is a mystery involving a kidnapping of an otherworldly, sinister child. The child looks like an angel, but on close inspection really looks more like a corpse. And don’t get too close – she’s likely to snatch at your fingers with her pointed teeth. Draped behind the plot is the backstory of our protagonist, red-headed Bridie Devine, and how she came to be one of the most skilled surgeon’s assistants cum detective. Her seven-foot-tall sidekick, Cora, is a force to be reckoned with as well.

There are inclinations of magical realism, as there are in all of Kidd’s books. Evil mermaids (“merrow”) who can drown people on dry land, curious grotesque specimens in jars, and a ghost with the most winsome personality and animated tattoos that you can’t help but fall in love with him. My favorite character was little precocious Myrtle and her one-eyed doll, Rosebud.

Things in Jars requires a keen reader, as Kidd can be subtle in revealing plot twists. This is not a book to be rushed through, and I think it’s best taken in large doses, not unlike a pipe full of Dr. Prudhoe’s Bronchial Balsam Blend, in order to follow the different characters and the nuanced relationships among all of them. The kidnapping and the motives behind it have very deep roots.

Highly recommend. I want to go back and start it all over again. I did not want to leave the world of Bridie Devine. Many thanks to Atria Books / Simon & Schuster for the advance copy in exchange for my review.

Abigail – Magda Szabo

abigailI love a good boarding school story, and Abigail does not disappoint. Set during WWII in Hungary, young Gina Vitay is sent away to the Matula, a strict Protestant all-girls boarding school. Gina tries to adapt to her new austere circumstances, cut off from everyone she loves and the luxurious life she’s used to, but soon the girls who once her friends label her as a traitor, and she’s ostracized. Her only comfort is confessing her troubles to Abigail, the stone statue in the garden, and plotting her escape from the Matula.

As the story progresses, the outside world sneaks its way in to the Matula, and the war begins to cause upset among the lives of both the girls and the teachers. Gina also comes to learn that her role in her father’s military mission is much greater than she realized, and some of the teachers are involved.

I don’t want to give too much away and risk spoilers, but there’s more than meets the surface in this book. It’s deeper than a coming-of-age story. I can see why this is one of the most popular classic novels in Hungary, as it provides a unique perspective of the war and how it affected ordinary Hungarian citizens.

Many thanks to Edelweiss and Random House for the advance copy in exchange for my review.

All The Ways We Said Goodbye – Beatriz Williams, Lauren Willig, Karen White

goodbyeWhen these three women collaborate, the results are always stellar! I love to take a break and just relax with a good story by these authors.

The story spans three time points in history, following three different women, all of whom are linked together:

In 1914, Aurelie, descended from French nobility, has escaped Paris to a small village to stay with her father at his ancestral home. When the Nazis invade their hamlet, Aurelie has to fight to save the villagers from starvation. A German soldier starts to pay her special attention . . .

Later, in occupied France during WWII, Daisy, Aurelie’s daughter, becomes a member of the French Resistance. Family secrets come to light, and Daisy becomes deeply entrenched in a love affair and her husband’s dealings with the Nazis.

Then, 1964: Babs uncharacteristically flees to the Ritz in Paris to meet an American with ties to her late husband, Kit. Babs learned while her husband was ailing that his true love was La Fleur, a fellow resistance fighter he worked with in Paris during the war. She wants to learn more about this mysterious woman, who is revered in France as a brave spy for the Allies, and to find the truth about her husband’s role in the war.

All three of the stories intertwine, and I loved following the connections and revelations as they unfolded. The time periods allowed for dangerous situations for these characters to learn that when pressed they can muster the courage they need. Of course, some plot points were predictable, but the pacing was steady enough to keep me reading. The point of view among the three stories jumped around between first person and third person, which was sometimes jarring, but also helped me keep the time periods straight.

I’m always delighted to crack open historical fiction by these three women as I know I’m in for an enjoyable story with some twists and turns.

Many thanks to Edelweiss and HarperCollins for the advance copy in exchange for my review.

Nottingham – Nathan Makaryk

nottinghamThis is one of those kind of books where you’re going to be immersed and involved for quite some time, so you’ll have to put all other books aside and know that you’re in it for the long haul. Makaryk has breathed new life into this story. This is not the tired story of the plucky hero versus sinister sheriff you’re used to.

Nottingham reads like a blockbuster movie. There’s constant action and switching of characters’ perspectives. The third person omniscient point of view allows the reader to get into the heads of the heroes and villains alike; however, no one in this story is all good or all bad, which affords this story some depth. At times, those who first appeared to be villains are allowed some sympathy, while our heroes sometimes become selfish and power-hungry.

This is a quintessential epic tale of adventure. It is a tad too long, and maybe paring it down a bit would have helped propel the momentum that lags at times, but I was still riveted to the pages and enjoyed being carried along on this twisting adventure.

I appreciated the back story of Robin and his best friend William de Wendenal, and knowing what they had faced in their pasts while following them through this trial of their friendship and test of morals rounded out the reasons for their actions. The “merry men” were not stereotypes, and each had his own story, loyalties, and reasons for fighting for and against Robin. Nottingham is complicated and bloody, and not everyone gets a happily-ever-after. Definitely pick this up if you want a real story of Robin Hood.

Many thanks to BookishFirst for the advance copy in exchange for my review.

This is How You Lose the Time War – Amal El-Mohtar and Max Gladstone

timewarIn a future at war, Red and Blue are the best agents from their respective sides. Red is from Agency, technological and mechanical. Blue is from Garden, a singular consciousness comprised of the natural and organic. Their job is to alter history through time travel to bend the future to their aims. They travel “strands,” periods of history, chasing each other, stalking each other, and through their rivalry, developing a mutual respect and admiration.

Against strict rules from their commanders, Blue and Red begin corresponding with one another through letters left in the strands. These letters are left in secret places only they will be able to find: tree rings, tea leaves, tiny seeds. The letters gradually become more personal and revealing, ultimately leading to expressing their fears and love for one another.

The story is rife with beautiful imagery, which I reveled in at first, but quickly just left me confused. I loved the landscapes the authors painted, but the flowery prose devolved into such obfuscation that the story was diluted and drowned. It was like reading a fever dream. Picking out the nuanced behaviors of the two characters through the dense, ornate descriptions of their environments became almost impossible. This is not a simple story, nor is it easy to follow. The authors drop the reader into the time war with no backstory, no impetus for the war, and no explanations of the time travel. I had to learn about most of the premise and plot development online while trying to research what was going on in this book after I got lost fairly early on.

5 stars for the imagination of this story, 3 stars for the lack of direction for the reader. I still enjoyed it, however, for its originality and beauty.

Many thanks to Bookish First and Saga Press / Simon & Schuster for this advance copy in exchange for my review.

Time After Time – Lisa Gruenwald

timeJoe, a leverman at Grand Central Terminal in 1938, just fell in love with a charming redhead, Nora Lansing, who appeared from out of nowhere, disheveled and wearing clothes ten years out of style. Joe and Nora have a great relationship, except that due to some mysterious forces, Nora can never leave the terminal.

This book has a lot of things going for it: an interesting historical setting in Grand Central Terminal from the 1920s through the 1940s, an unusual circumstance with Nora, and a sweet romance.

Although it may be considered by some to be a tad on the fluffy side, it’s a charming, engaging story. I looked forward to reading this, and the historical details were eye-opening. I can’t wait to go back and visit the station and look around, recalling the tidbits I picked up from this book. There’s an entire world contained in Grand Central.

Many thanks to LibraryThing Early Reviewers program and Random House for the copy in exchange for my review.

Wilder Girls – Rory Power

wilder girlsHonestly, the best thing about this book is the cover.

The premise has a great hook:  a girls’ boarding school on an isolated island is rife with a sickness called the Tox that turns the girls into monstrosities. Three best friends are enduring their suffering until one of them goes missing.That cover, that blurb, and I was giddy with excitement.

Review in a nutshell: the book starts out intriguing and quickly becomes ridiculous and inexplicable.

There are three main girls the reader follows: Hetty, our main character; Reese, whose father conveniently lives on the island and has disappeared but leaves behind some very useful items in a deus ex machina kind of way; and Byatt, who of the three is the sickest and is taken away and thus gives our other two characters some motivation. There are numerous other girls, but they are indistinguishable, and often times interchangeable.

There is an attempt at an f/f relationship as well, but it was confusing and misdirected, and I couldn’t make sense of it. Is it a love triangle? Unrequited love? I never could tell.

Kudos to the violence, though. There were some well-described grotesque mutations and some action-packed murders, but these bits of excitement couldn’t cover up that the plot isn’t well developed. The Tox is mysterious with no cause or means of transmission and never given an explanation. The fact that these girls’ parents never investigate why they can’t retrieve their daughters who are sick and dying is briefly mentioned and dismissed. The motivations for the villains don’t exist. The girls seem conveniently accepting that they’re starving and horribly ill and just survive from day to day while civilized behavior devolves a la Lord of the Flies. I was willing to let all this go and just ride along, but as I kept reading my questions grew more numerous and quickly overpowered any enjoyment from the story.

I think I would have enjoyed this book when I was much younger (say, around 11), than as an adult. I often enjoy YA, but this is YYA.

Many thanks to BookishFirst for this advance copy in exchange for my review.