Book review: When We Fell Apart by Soon Wiley

When We Fell Apart by Soon Wiley

My rating: 4 of 5 stars


This is the debut novel of the author (and full disclosure: the author was my son’s favorite high school English teacher).
Reading this novel is like peeling an onion–you think you know what’s happened and what’s going to happen, but then you peel off a layer of the story and another layer appears, giving a different angle and additional depth to the story.
The story takes place in Seoul and is about a search for identity and belonging and what those two words mean to a person who appears to have both but has neither and to a person who thinks they have neither but actually has both. The journey by the main characters is a journey of continuing revelation about the façades people erect about themselves and others and what happens when those façades are torn away.
This is a stunning debut novel, and the themes of identity and belonging are universal and resonate, no matter the setting. I can’t wait to read the author’s next book, and I highly recommend this one!




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Book review: Cleopatra’s Daughter by Michelle Moran

Cleopatra’s Daughter by Michelle Moran

My rating: 5 of 5 stars


I have really enjoyed all of Michelle Moran’s books that I have read, but this one is one of my favorites. Of course, it helps that I love reading about ancient Egypt. This book is about Cleopatra’s daughter, Selene, and what befell her after Octavian conquered Egypt. The descriptions of Egypt and Rome during Selene’s time period were fascinating, and even more interesting were the machinations and power struggles surrounding Octavian, involving not only his advisers but his family members as well.
I liked this book so much that I ordered a hardback copy of it (I originally read it on my Kindle). Any book that I willingly add to the already large amounts of clutter in my house definitely deserves a place of honor!



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Book review: Sweet Revenge by Andrea Penrose (A Lady Arianna mystery)

Sweet Revenge by Andrea Penrose

My rating: 4 of 5 stars


The debut novel of the Lady Arianna Regency Mysteries (I think my theory is that if I keep discovering new good series, I will never run out of books to read. I think I will never run out of books to read anyway, but that’s a different matter altogether.)
This series is actually an earlier series from the same author as the Wrexford & Sloane series. Both of these historical mystery series have a female protagonist that is “modern,” in that the character does not consider herself bound by the female norms of the times. Both do it because they have no choice–life has dealt each a bad hand.
Lady Arianna has accumulated some interesting skills as part of her unusual childhood, and these skills come in handy in her initial quest to seek revenge for her father and then in her subsequent quest to find a murderer.
This is a grittier, darker Regency mystery series, more along the lines of C.S. Harris’s Sebastian St. Cyr series (although not quite as dark) then Georgette Heyer mysteries. The perspectives of hero and heroine are interesting and unusual, and the mysteries are well crafted. I am thoroughly enjoying this series!



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Book review: Castle and Key by W.R. Gingell

Castle and Key by W.R. Gingell

My rating: 4 of 5 stars


This is the latest (but hopefully not the final!) book in the author’s Two Monarchies series. I have loved all of the books in this series and highly recommend that you read them. This most recent book is the story of Susan Farrah and is an intricate tale of a Bluebeard-like villain, magic, and romance. It is a delightful read, full of drama and fun.
The series is best read in order if you want to experience the most out of the characters. The author has a vivid and whimsical imagination that she transfers well onto paper. This book (and the series) is highly recommended!



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Book review: The Second Empress by Michelle Moran

The Second Empress: A Novel of Napoleon’s Court by Michelle Moran

My rating: 4 of 5 stars


Michelle Moran is one of my favorite historical fiction authors. She does impeccable research, and the historical characters come alive in her books. This book is no exception, even though it isn’t my favorite historical period. There has been so much written about Napoleon (and, to a lesser extent, Marie-Louise) that I find the era somewhat over-chronicled.
That being said, this was an excellent book. Since it was not written from Napoleon’s perspective, it was interesting to see his character formed in the reflection, as it were, of the people surrounding him. That was a clever touch and made the book (and the character of Napoleon) much more interesting.
If you enjoy the Napoleonic period, this is a must read. And for fans of excellent historical fiction, you just need to add Michelle Moran to your list of must read authors.




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Book review: The Frangipani Tree Mystery by Ovidia Yu

The Frangipani Tree Mystery by Ovidia Yu

My rating: 4 of 5 stars


A new author! And a new mystery series! (For me, anyway.) The setting for this series is in 1930s Singapore, when Singapore was a British colony. It’s a period and place in history that I know very little about, and I love how I can learn more about it while enjoying a well-plotted, well-placed mystery. (Dead bodies always make learning history more fun.)
The heroine of the series is Chen Su Lin, a young orphan girl from the powerful Chen family. She assists the Chief Inspector Thomas LeFroy with a murder investigation by providing local insights and sharp observations.
The description of Singapore and its stratified society is fascinating without being too preachy. Su Lin is a lovely, smart, and interesting narrator. And I have found a new fun and engaging mystery series!



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Book review: Beyond by Mercedes Lackey

Beyond by Mercedes Lackey

My rating: 4 of 5 stars


Prequels are difficult. Because the readers (assuming they have read the subsequent books) know how the book turns out, it’s difficult to build up suspense. And origin prequels are especially difficult because everything isn’t supposed to work quite as smoothly as in the subsequent series (temporally speaking, not publication date speaking), and the author has to be cognizant of that when developing the origin story.
All of those caveats aside, if you are a fan of the Valdemar novels by Mercedes Lackey, this is quite a nice origin prequel. The author wisely focused on character development and the origin story rather than the buildup of suspense. If you haven’t read any of the Valdemar books yet, this is a good place to start. (The Heralds of Valdemar series and “By the Sword” are my personal favorites.)
I certainly will be reading the next book in the origin series to see how Valdemar develops and grows.
(I’m actually giving it 3.5 stars, which is impossible to do on Goodreads. :))



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Book review: Jane and the Man of the Cloth by Stephanie Barron

Jane and the Man of the Cloth by Stephanie Barron

My rating: 3 of 5 stars


I had read the first of this series a long time ago because it’s Jane Austen and a mystery, what is there not to like? But as I recall, the debut novel didn’t grab me, and as my TBR list grows daily, I set this series aside. But the author also writes the Merry Folger mysteries set in Nantucket (as Francine Mathews), which I’ve really enjoyed, and I thought I’d give this series a second chance.
My impression of this book is more positive than my memory of the first novel in this series. The author incorporates phrases from Jane Austen’s works into the books, which is fun for Jane Austen devotees. In addition, this book has an interesting plot and while I don’t think the culprit was difficult to pick out, I like the indirect tribute to “Pride and Prejudice.”
It’s a nicely themed series and this book, at any rate, is a quick and engaging read.




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Book review: Crying in H Mart by Michelle Zauner

Crying in H Mart by Michelle Zauner

My rating: 4 of 5 stars


I was really looking forward to reading this memoir, and it did not disappoint. Michelle Zauner isn’t perhaps the most likeable person, especially as she relates her childhood, but she is bluntly honest about herself, her relationship with her mother, and her life. A lot of her experiences resonated personally with me, but even if you aren’t the child of immigrants or of mixed race, the themes she writes about–love, family relationships, grief–are universal. The author and her family expressed much of their love through food, and the author’s descriptions of cooking her way through grief were especially poignant.
It’s a straightforward read, and anyone who has dealt with the death of a loved one, especially a parent, will find much to relate to in this breathtakingly honest and heartbreakingly honest memoir. I highly recommend it.



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Book review: Cinderella Must Die by W.R. Gingell

Cinderella Must Die by W.R. Gingell

My rating: 4 of 5 stars


A re-telling of the Cinderella fairy tale that turns everything you know on its head. In this version, the evil stepsisters are good, and Cinderella is bad. Now the stepsisters are accused of escaping from prison, killing Cinderella, and are on the run. (Just for the record, the statements are true, false, and true.)
The re-telling is creative, imaginative, and fun. The story is irreverent, humorous, and a sly dig about confirmation bias. The romance is a bit deliberately topsy-turvy and quite fitting given the topsy-turvy nature of the story. The book is an enjoyable read and makes you think about all of those traditional fairy tales and how they could be turned upon their heads in a re-telling.
I’ve greatly enjoyed all of this author’s fantasy stories. (I haven’t yet embarked on her urban fantasy series yet.) And I look forward to reading more of her work!



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