Mini Reviews #5 | The Secret She Keeps & The Poisonwood Bible

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Two books that I read while being on vacation… wanna know what I thought of them? Let’s see…

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Agatha is pregnant and works part-time stocking shelves at a grocery store in a ritzy London suburb, counting down the days until her baby is due. As the hours of her shifts creep by in increasing discomfort, the one thing she looks forward to at work is catching a glimpse of Meghan, the effortlessly chic customer whose elegant lifestyle dazzles her. Meghan has it all: two perfect children, a handsome husband, a happy marriage, a stylish group of friends, and she writes perfectly droll confessional posts on her popular parenting blog—posts that Agatha reads with devotion each night as she waits for her absent boyfriend, the father of her baby, to maybe return her calls. When Agatha learns that Meghan is pregnant again, and that their due dates fall within the same month, she finally musters up the courage to speak to her, thrilled that they now have the ordeal of childbearing in common. Little does Meghan know that the mundane exchange she has with a grocery store employee during a hurried afternoon shopping trip is about to change the course of her not-so-perfect life forever…

The Secret She Keeps was a compelling and thoroughly addictive read that I enjoyed while on vacation. I had previously read another book by Michael Robotham, and it was quite different, to be honest. What I liked the most about this one were the two distinct voices. I greatly appreciate when an author makes me care for a character who isn’t a really good person. The way this book was written, you couldn’t help but feel sorry for them.

As for the plot, I can’t say the book was particularly original. I had read similar stories in the past and I was almost glad that the “twist” was revealed at about 40%, as I had suspected it from the beginning. The second part of the book was less psychological and more “classic thriller”, so I knew there wouldn’t be any surprises left, which was kind of a disappointment. Still, I enjoyed reading this one a lot and I explained the entire plot to my friends, so I think that’s a pretty good sign.

Netgalley, Little Brown UK, 2017

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This story is told by the wife and four daughters of Nathan Price, a fierce, evangelical Baptist who takes his family and mission to the Belgian Congo in 1959. They carry with them everything they believe they will need from home, but soon find that all of it – from garden seeds to Scripture – is calamitously transformed on African soil.

The Poisonwood Bible is celebrating a brand new edition featuring this strikingly beautiful cover. This is not a new book: it came out in 1998 and it’s already considered a classic. I read this book because I wanted to dive into a completely different story and I got exactly that.

This was a fascinating tale featuring a Baptist family who moves to the Belgian Congo and tries to settle down there. The father is a preacher and his mission is to convert the whole community into Christianism. The story is told from the four daughters’ points of view and despite some sad scenes, I found the narration pretty amusing. My favorites were Adah and little Ruth May. Rachel was fun to read because of her shallow personality, but on the other hand, I didn’t like Leah at all, and she was probably the main protagonist.

My only problem with Poisonwood Bible was the length. I usually avoid longer books because I don’t think I enjoy them as much as I would if they were shorter. This was exactly what happened here. My initial enthusiasm gradually decreased when I got to a point where I thought the book might be ending but there were actually many pages left. So I struggled a lot and I’m quite sad because I think I would’ve absolutely loved this if it had been around 350 pages.

Faber & Faber, 2017

Review: The Vanishing of Audrey Wilde by @evepchase @MichaelJBooks

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From the present day . . . Applecote Manor captivates Jessie with it promise of hazy summers in the Cotswolds. She believes it’s the perfect escape for her troubled family. But the house has an unsettling history, and strange rumours surround the estate. To the fifties . . . When teenage Margot and her three sisters arrive at Applecote during the heatwave of ’59, they find their aunt and uncle still reeling from the disappearance of their daughter, Audrey, five years before. The sisters are drawn into the mystery of Audrey’s vanishing – until the stifling summer takes a shocking, deadly turn. Will one unthinkable choice bind them together, or tear them apart?

The Vanishing of Audrey Wilde was a lovely historical mystery book that I knew I’d like as soon as I read its synopsis. You know I can’t resist a good gothic mystery set in a big house and Applecote Manor gave me exactly that. A disappearance, some creepy scenes and a secret kept during fifty years.

Jessie, her husband, her teenage stepdaughter and their little daughter move to Applecote Manor after several years in London. While we learn about their lives, we also travel back to 1959 when the Wilde sisters moved to that same house to live with some relatives when her mother decided to flee to Morocco. Their uncle Perry and aunt Sybil are still traumatized by the disappearance of their 12 year-old daughter Audrey five years ago. No one knows what happened to her.

Flora, Pam, Margot and Dot were interesting characters and I loved how the author managed to differentiate each one of them, as they all had distinctive personalities. My favorite was little Dot. The mystery as to what happened to their cousin Audrey had me quite intrigued and I admit I didn’t expect the ending, although it didn’t shock me either. I guess it all made sense in the end.

I believe the present storyline was the weakest part. I never lost interest and I finished the book in a day, but I wanted to read more about the four sisters and less about Jessie and Bella. I don’t mind dual storylines but I didn’t think this one was necessary, especially because the mystery didn’t have any effect on the present.

I’d love to read Eve Chase’s previous book, as it also looks appealing and I love stories like this that manage to transport me to another era. Recommended for fans of historical fiction.

ARC, Michael Joseph, 2017

Review: The Floating Theatre by Martha Conway @marthamconway @BonnierZaffre

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When young seamstress May Bedloe is left alone and penniless on the shore of the Ohio, she finds work on the famous floating theatre that plies its trade along the river. Her creativity and needlework skills quickly become invaluable and she settles in to life among the colourful troupe of actors. She finds friends, and possibly the promise of more… But cruising the border between the Confederate South and the ‘free’ North is fraught with danger. For the sake of a debt that must be repaid, May is compelled to transport secret passengers, under cover of darkness, across the river and on, along the underground railroad. But as May’s secrets become harder to keep, she learns she must endanger those now dear to her. And to save the lives of others, she must risk her own …

“And remember to smile”. I must have looked uncertain, for he said: “Just spread your lips and show your teeth”.

This was a fantastic book. I’ve read so many great stories lately that I’m always afraid for the next one. However, The Floating Theatre was just as amazing as its beautiful cover promised. If you aren’t a fan of historical fiction, I guess this is not the right book for you, but if you want to give the genre a chance, I’d highly recommend this one (and Becoming Bonnie! -not that they’re remotely similar-).

As I do every time I read a book based on real facts, the first thing I did when I picked up The Floating Theatre was to search what exactly was that, as I wanted to know what they looked like and what was the history behind them. This book is a beautiful (and sometimes tragic) story about a peculiar theatre company and the underground railroad. However, I feel the need to make things clear: the underground railroad storyline is important but it doesn’t start until 50% into or so, so I wouldn’t say this is a tough read at all. It’s actually quite fun.

Maybe because it didn’t focus only around that, I believe The Floating Theatre is a lovely book. I found myself smiling most of the time and wanting May and Hugo to kiss already, as their relationship was so well-written and sweet, just the kind of “love story” I love to read about. It’s basically a friendship, but you know there’s something more. And it wasn’t obvious or contrived, it felt completely natural.

And speaking of May, May Bedloe might be one of my favorite characters ever. She was so funny! And don’t get me wrong, she wasn’t funny on purpose, she was actually quite serious, yet she made me laugh several times. You see, May can’t lie or smile and she’s always blunt and straight-forward. She likes precision and details and is always honest when people ask her opinion about something. You can imagine that causes plenty of hilarious situations.

My favorite part of The Floating Theatre was the friendship between the company members. They accepted each other for who they were and there were some secondary characters that I really grew attached to, like Leo, for example. There was a sweet surprise moment that got me teary-eyed and I know that if a book has managed to make me emotional it’s because it’s a great story.

This is a book I won’t easily forget.

ARC, Bonnier Zaffre, 2017

Review: A Twist In Time by Julie McElwain @JulieMcElwain

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Former FBI agent Kendra Donovan’s attempts to return to the twenty-first century have failed, leaving her stuck at Aldridge Castle in 1815. And her problems have just begun: in London, the Duke of Aldridge’s nephew Alec—Kendra’s confidante and lover—has come under suspicion for murdering his former mistress, Lady Dover, who was found viciously stabbed with a stiletto, her face carved up in a bizarre and brutal way. Lady Dover had plenty of secrets, and her past wasn’t quite what she’d made it out to be. Nor is it entirely in the past—which becomes frighteningly clear when a crime lord emerges from London’s seamy underbelly to threaten Alec. Joining forces with Bow Street Runner Sam Kelly, Kendra must navigate the treacherous nineteenth century while she picks through the strands of Lady Dover’s life. As the noose tightens around Alec’s neck, Kendra will do anything to save him, including following every twist and turn through London’s glittering ballrooms, where deception is the norm—and any attempt to uncover the truth will get someone killed.

Last year, I read and loved A Murder in Time by Julie McElwain. It was an amazing experience: a book that was fun, well-written, featuring a kick-ass heroine and wonderful supporting characters. The mystery was engaging and it was a gripping story as well. I couldn’t wait to dive into the sequel, A Twist In Time, and I must say I was not disappointed. This book follows Kendra, who is still stuck in the XIX century, while she investigates another crime with the help of the Duke (now that she’s officially his ward) and tries to save her friend Alec, who has been accused of murder.

I know some of you aren’t sure of these books because of the premise, but really, I’d love to convince you to try this series. They’re not fantasy books… the only magical element is the time travel aspect, which isn’t that important once you’re in the middle of the case. And no, these aren’t romantic books either. There’s a bit of a love story, but it is like 5% of the plot and it doesn’t bother me because I love both characters. These are purely mystery novels. Classic whodunnits. The whole book is basically Kendra and her friends attending parties and questioning the suspects.

I already said this, but Julie McElwain’s novels remind me of Agatha Christie’s Poirot mysteries. Kendra is quite a peculiar character: she always speaks her mind and loves to make up theories that might end up being true. She doesn’t always share her thoughts until she’s sure she’s right, and that is something that she shares with Poirot. I also love how she is a modern woman and refuses to let tradition change her beliefs. When someone (mostly men) questions her abilities, she always knows what to say.

I think I enjoyed A Murder In Time a bit more, but mainly because it was the first one and there were more funny moments because of Kendra’s arrival. However, now, everyone is used to having her around. I think I’d like for more people to know about her secret, as I think it could lead to potential crazy fun situations.

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ARC, Pegasus Books, 2017

Becoming Bonnie (Jenni L Walsh)

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The summer of 1927 might be the height of the Roaring Twenties, but Bonnelyn Parker is more likely to belt out a church hymn than sling drinks at an illicit juice joint. She’s a sharp girl with plans to overcome her family’s poverty, provide for herself, and maybe someday marry her boyfriend, Roy Thornton. But when Roy springs a proposal on her and financial woes jeopardize her ambitions, Bonnelyn finds salvation in an unlikely place: Dallas’s newest speakeasy, Doc’s. Living the life of a moll at night, Bonnie remains a wholesome girl by day, engaged to Roy, attending school and working toward a steady future. When Roy discovers her secret life, and embraces it—perhaps too much, especially when it comes to booze and gambling—Bonnie tries to make the pieces fit. Maybe she can have it all: the American Dream, the husband, and the intoxicating allure of jazz music. What she doesn’t know is that her life—like her country—is headed for a crash. She’s about to meet Clyde Barrow.

I don’t know how I came across this title in the first place, but I’m so glad I did! The first thing that I noticed was the beautiful and shiny cover. The title was appealing too: Becoming Bonnie. I clicked on the link and found out the novel was about Bonnie, from Bonnie and Clyde. Late 20’s, Dallas, Texas. Prohibition and depression. I quickly added it to the TBR. A couple of weeks later I saw the book on Netgalley and immediately requested it. It didn’t have many reviews yet.

As soon as I started the book, I knew it would be a special one. And I know because I hated having to put it down! I was so deeply immersed in the story that I kept thinking about what would happen even when I was at work. And when I wasn’t reading, I was looking for pictures of Bonnie and Clyde and reading their Wikipedia page. I had seen the movie but didn’t remember much about it. Now I want to know everything there is to know about this woman.

I don’t know exactly why I found this story so wonderful, but I guess it just clicked with me. I think Jenni L Walsh is an amazing storyteller. You know when you’re reading a book and absolutely everything makes sense? Sometimes I read novels that I enjoy but I don’t understand certain decisions and find myself wishing some things had been different. In Becoming Bonnie, everything happened just the way I hoped. Bonnie’s coming of age, the events that unfolded, the relationship with her family, friends, and lovers. And the author managed to introduce every historical aspect in a smart and smooth way, so you understood why Bonnie chose to do what she did because of the context and what was going on around her.

This is not a book full of twists of surprises, but the story of a very special girl who’s trying to figure out her life. And despite knowing how it all would end, I still couldn’t get enough of her story. Keep in mind that Clyde doesn’t show up much at first, but I thought he was a great character (at least, for now).

I loved Bonnie. I love how she changed so much from the first page to the last, how she matured, how she became fearless. How she learned to say no, to stand up for herself and discover what she really wanted to do with her life. And I can’t wait to follow her and Clyde’s adventures in the sequel!

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Netgalley, Tor Books, 2017