Reading Fanatic ReviewsAll Literary Fiction Review (including Chick Lit)
L’Agent Double by Kit Sergeant
Breathtaking Book of Real WWI Female Spies
Oh, my gosh! What an utterly fantastic book, a genuinely gripping read! I had read the previous book in the series about the Civil War female spies, but I believe that this book even surpasses that one. This book tells the tales of three female spies during World War I, one who may be perhaps the most notorious female spy ever, Mata Hari. The book follows the chronological order of the conflict, so we experience the war as it unfolds through time through these women’s eyes and experiences. While, of course, the conversations and some scenes are wholly fictionalized, the author has done a tremendous depth and breadth of research into these real female spies of WWI. She made these women come alive on the page; their experiences are no less real. I found it easy to empathize with the two women who were on the right side of history. I particularly resonated with Marthe, as I could completely relate to her struggles through the war as I am a nurse myself. In modern times, the nursing ethical code is drummed into us from the first days of nursing school. Back in the day, women who were drawn to nursing might not have been taught ethics directly, but they would have had a moral code that included a depth of compassion and genuine care for humanity to do such a job as it was back then. I could completely understand her struggle with the different parts of herself, the nurse and the spy. I can’t imagine what it would have been like to feel that pull, wanting to do the best for your country and allies but feeling the pain caused by the horrors you had to necessarily inflict on others. Doing what is right is sometimes a choice between the lesser of evils, and that certainly doesn’t make it any easier to swallow.
The author pulls you right into the story, starting with a prologue that describes Mata Hari’s death by firing squad. Each of these women is richly drawn, with some similarities between them but also some striking differences (as you might imagine). Interestingly, their paths crossed at times during the war. The descriptions of all that went on during this massive, war-to-end-all wars conflict (if only!) are completely captivating, keeping your interest (even if you know how it ends!). I absolutely adore that this author has chosen to honor the unsung female heroes (and a few bad girls) who helped shape history. It is fantastic that their stories are being shared in such a way. I find myself wondering what war and heroines this author will pick next. World War II, I imagine?
Ten Things My Husband Hated by Pauline Wiles
Ten Things My Husband Hated*
Chick Lit Romance
This is the first book I’ve read by this author, and I’m glad that we’ve been introduced. The book feels unusual because it is a good blend of chick lit and romance. Usually, a book is one or the other. The first half is heavy on the chick lit. I actually adored the heroine’s group of girlfriends. They helped her see herself more clearly after a very embarrassing moment, and they attempt to help her move on from her past in the way that caring friends do. I actually liked the structure that the author gave this book, with the divorced women choosing to do ten things that her husband hated as an act of defiance and reclaiming her life. The book is quite amusing at first; there’s almost a giddiness about it as the friends start to work through the list. But as the story continues, things get progressively more serious as the new life and the new love that the heroine has found appear to be threatened. I don’t think it’s easy to make that kind of a shift in a book and make it feel believable, so kudos to the author. The heroine had to grow and change in this book, and the author did a good job of showing it in a sometimes amusing and sometimes poignant way.
Northanger Abbey by Jane Austen
Beautiful Cover for a Gothic Classic
This is a new edition of Northanger Abbey that has been given a beautiful and colorful cartoon cover that I believe is meant to appeal to teenage girls. The text inside is Jane Austen’s original. Since Jane Austen’s writings are in the public domain, publishing houses can do things like this. In this case, I think this is a good idea because it would be awesome if Jane Austen could be discovered by the next generation. I myself found Jane Austen when I was around 13 or 14. Pride and Prejudice changed my life. I became interested in writing romances myself and wrote several as a teenager, and I have several ideas for my own Jane Austen-inspired fanfiction that I’ve written and one day hope to publish. I’ve also gotten to know amazing authors in the Jane Austen fanfiction universe, some of whom I consider friends. So I truly hope that young women discover Jane Austen through books like this one.
For those who don’t know, Northanger Abbey is the closest that Jane Austen came to writing gothic fiction. She still has her wonderful insight into the human condition and the state of society and manners at the time. But the gothic twist certainly adds a little fun to the story.
Without Fear of Infamy by Jennifer Soule et al.
Without Fear of Infamy*
Delightful Poetry Collection
I enjoy and have written poetry myself. I don’t read contemporary poetry as often as I’d like, so I was intrigued when I saw this particular book show up on one of my favorite book review sites. I am so glad that I chose to review it. let me tell you why.
First, I like the format of the book. In the PDF version I received, each poem is allowed its own page or two, as required, with plenty of white space around it so you can just focus on the poem. These poems vary in length, structure, and creativity with punctuation and other language effects. Honestly, that is what I love about poetry. I think it is the most playful of the word arts but can also be the most serious in terms of the subject. I love the heightened effect of language that the sparseness of poetry evokes. And when poets can actually make us see their world and feel their experience even with the economy of language, it is a beautiful thing to behold. I found many such moments in these poems. I thoroughly enjoyed this collection, and if you enjoy contemporary poetry, I suggest you give it a try.
The Favored Wife by Amy Pennza
The Favored Wife*
Will She Ever Be Free?
What a gripping story! I’ll admit that I don’t usually read serious fiction most of the time. Generally, I prefer light and fluffy historical romance. But something about this book when I saw it at a book review site caught my eye. The author did a fantastic job of showing the intricacies of a polygamous religious marriage. We see it all through the eyes of the youngest wife, somewhat ironically called “the favored wife” in the title. She has grown up within this religious sect so knows nothing else. When she gets a job in the outside world to help support the family (because she hasn’t been able to have children), she is definitely a naïve person, not even knowing what we consider to be common cultural references. Her world had been her “husband” Thomas, his other wives, and the children. The author paints a pretty harsh picture of dominance and submission and not just between the husband and the wives but within the sister-wife hierarchy. It is a brutal world that the heroine lives in. I don’t want to give too much away, but the megalomaniacal tendencies of the husband are seen through to a nasty conclusion that forces a separation between the heroine and the world that she has known. This is an emotionally charged read and not an easy one. The characters are well drawn, and we are shown this world in vivid detail through the character’s eyes. The plot is not at a breakneck pace. Rather, things seem to go along somewhat normally, but then bigger events happen. It kept me wondering what would happen next. This is a well-written book, but if you have any triggers about spousal abuse, it would be better if you skipped it.
Culpa by Chloe Helton
The Reign of Commodus, Told from his Sister’s Point of View
I enjoy reading historical fiction, but I will admit that I usually read historical romance. But it is fun to venture out into real historical fiction. I loved that this book is set in Rome just after the reign of Emperor Marcus Aurelius. I’m not usually able to read fiction that takes place in such a distant time. The book marks the beginning of the rule of Marcus Aurelius’ son, Commodus. It is told from the perspective of the new emperor’s older sister, Lucilla. When the emperor was a boy, Lucilla helped raise him. How will it be for her to watch this young man, who has changed since he came back from battle, as he assumes the role of Emperor?
This is not the first book that I’ve read that retells history from the perspective of the women involved. I actually think it’s a great idea for writers because, of course, women were a part of history but are often ignored and even back then were often relegated to smaller roles. But that doesn’t mean that the thinking woman back then couldn’t impact her world and perhaps history, even if she’s not remembered for it. But I digress. For a book of historical fiction, this is written in a very easy style. Some books in this subgenre can be a bit stuffy and perhaps even hard to read. This is a smooth and easy read, and it is quite engaging to enter palace life in old Rome. They’re definitely secrets and intrigue. Lucilla has so much that she needs to accomplish, even if she has to pull the strings in the background and at personal peril. A great historical fiction read.
The Red Pearl by Chloe Helton
The Red Pearl*
Turn for the Worse
I have read one other historical fiction book by this author which I liked immensely. I was not so fond of this book. Let me see if I can put it into words what I didn’t like. I guess I’ll start at the beginning. While this book’s blurb does not state it explicitly, a violent rape is at the core of this story. The author did say “assault” in the book description, but I think when something like this is in a story, the author really needs to put a trigger warning in the blurb because people who have suffered from something like rape most likely do not want to read a story where it is a fundamental, pivotal aspect. We not only see the rape itself but its aftermath as it ripples through the woman’s life. I honestly don’t think it was necessary for the story. The author could have made the heroine a patriot by nature (and in opposition with her neutral husband); she didn’t need to have this sort of impetus. I also didn’t like that it continued on throughout the entire story, the constant threat of the man (as the victim could not bring herself to tell her husband) and the woman’s constant fear.
Parts of the novel are definitely reminiscent of the AMC channel show “Turn,” which I absolutely adored. The heroine, Lucy, is married to a tavern owner, and much of the action of the story takes place in the tavern, The Red Pearl. I don’t like the way that life was portrayed for women in the colonies. I hope it wasn’t accurate. The heroine’s marriage was arranged for her, and her husband mostly sees her as a worker in his tavern whom he has sex with, not the way that we typically see marriage nowadays. The poor woman works really hard, when she’s not attending meetings with her patriot friends (see below), and still he complains—about her cooking, about how long it takes her to hang the laundry, and about how she doesn’t bring enough firewood at the end of the night. Hard to imagine such a marriage.
This is a relatively short book, and I don’t feel like the characters developed or there was enough action in the story. The most interesting action took place off-screen, so to speak. So, much of the story is really just showing daily life in the tavern where Lucy is overhearing some Tory plots, which she then turns over to her brother who is in the military. He first doesn’t take her seriously, but mysteriously people act on her information. The book felt mostly just like a series of meetings, of the Tories in the tavern, Lucy with her military contact and former boyfriend, Lucy and her best friend, and Lucy and a group of patriot women. With so much inaction—just talk—I felt like the story just kind of fell flat. For that, and the pervasiveness of the rapist and Lucy’s constant terror of him, I cannot recommend the story.
Entertaining Mr. Pepys by Deborah Swift
Available at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Kobo, Google Play, Thalia, Mondadori, Angus & Robertson, Indigo (Chapters) and Bol.de
Entertaining Mr. Pepys*
Of course I have heard of the most famous diarist in the English language, Mr. Pepys. So, of course, I was intrigued by the concept of this novel, where the life of one of the women mentioned in his diary is explored. Of course, we cannot know as much about Mrs. Knepp as is told in this tale, but oh, what a life she led. I will admit I did not like aspects of this book. I think I have been reading far too many dark romances lately, and I am quite sick of the darkness. As one who reads a lot of romance, I tend to like the relationship aspects of a novel to have a little more lightness to them. This one is quite heavy. I know that this book is meant to be historical fiction, not historical romance. But, still, I would have liked it better without the unpleasant relationships (or at least if they were turned down some.) In fact, I had a hard time getting to the more interesting parts of the book as reading about her marriage and married life was just so terrible. Her husband only wanted a wife for what she could give him: an heir, a cook, and a worker in his business. He didn’t care about her at all, and I found that hard to read. At least in the beginning of the book, too, everyone outside of the heroine is a villain of sorts, from her father who just wants to get rid of her because of his new wife who doesn’t appreciate having his daughter from a former women hanging around to that dreadful stepmother to the abominable husband, his man of business, and his workers. Honestly, I just about gave up on this story because I just did not like this level of melodrama. Once you get to the theater part and the parts with Mr. Pepys, it got more interesting. But I actually didn’t like the book because of all the difficult circumstances the author thrust the heroine into right at the start.
Queen of Martyr by Samantha Wilcoxson
Queen of Martyrs*
Ponderous Start, Odd Time Leaps
I enjoy books that take a fictionalized look at historical characters, so I thought I would enjoy this book. I didn’t know much about the main character beforehand. The author jumped forward a lot in time. Each chapter was months or years distant from the previous and the next. So it felt like the book was just these small vignettes that weren’t really related, so they were hard to pull together. It didn’t feel like a cohesive story. The beginning felt tedious, with all her physical complaints and not liking being at court. I did like the glimpse it gave into the young Elizabeth who became Elizabeth I as well as her aging father, Henry VIII. But the book just felt too disjointed for me to really get into the story and follow the narrative flow.
The Haunting of Hattie Hastings by Audrey Davis
Available at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, iBooks, Kobo, Scribd, Thalia, Mondadori, Angus & Robertson, Indigo (Chapters), and Bol.de
The Haunting of Hattie Hastings*
Unique, Compelling Read
What are unique read! I’m not quite sure what I was expecting after reading the blurb, but the book was different than I imagined. I would definitely still call it British chick lit, but it is very different from the typical of that genre. While it has the paranormal aspect of Hattie’s dead husband’s ghost coming back because he needs her help, it reads pretty much like a straight-up, well-done contemporary story. Everything but the ghost is an accurate reflection of what life could be, like Hattie’s problematic relationship with her son, her dissatisfaction with her job, and some other issues with other friends and family that I won’t spoil for you. The author was even able to make the paranormal aspect of the ghost feel like it could happen in real life. It is surprising how well done this book is with all these seemingly disparate things going on. It has humorous aspects to it, too, but much of it has to do with dealing with loss and grief. Not an easy balance to achieve, as at times it seems that these are diametrically opposed. The book made me laugh out loud on occasion and also made me a little sniffly at times. An engaging and very different read.