Fates and Traitors by Jennifer Chiaverini

img_2927“Let history decide what to make of the misguided, vengeful man who had killed a great and noble president. That was not the man she had known and loved. She had already said all she ever intended to say about the assassin John Wilkes Booth.”

Fates and Traitors is a new historical fiction novel that looks at the life of John Wilkes Booth through the story of four significant women in his life: his mother, his sister, his love interest, and his confidant. Jennifer Chiaverini creates an in-depth look into the lives of these women and their relationship with John Wilkes Booth.

First we meet his mother, Mary Ann, who of course adored her children. The story goes back to before John was born and to Mary Ann’s complicated affair with John’s father, which shows a woman very much devoted to her family. We are then introduced to John’s sister, Asia who idolized her brother, and Lucy Hale, who was courted by John Wilkes Booth. He and Lucy were secretly engaged and Chiaverini’s fictionalized version of their relationship provides an interesting perspective. Lastly we meet, Mary Surratt, who was the owner of a boardinghouse where John planned much of his acts. The author also includes the perspective of John Wilkes Booth himself along with alternating perspectives to conclude the novel and show the aftermath of Wilkes’ actions.

This is a detailed and descriptive historical fiction novel that paints a portrait of a man’s life through those who played a significant part in it. The individual perspectives and stories of the four women are each fascinating in their own way and create a view of Wilkes’ life that is not typically explored. An intriguing take and depiction of an infamous historical figure.

*Book provided by publisher for an unbiased review.

The Book Club Murders by Leslie Nagel

blog“In a charming cozy mystery series debut, Leslie Nagel’s irrepressible small-town heroine finds that her fellow mystery book club members may be taking their Agatha Christie a bit too literally—and murder a bit too lightly.”

Charlie Carpenter runs a vintage clothing store in the town of Oakwood, and in an effort to increase her clientele she became a part of Agathas Book Club. A book club that reads a selection of mystery novels, including  of course the works of Dame Agatha Christie. The members are not Charlie’s cup of tea, being composed of privileged ladies who are prone to gossip. When a series of murders take place, Charlie discovers that each crime scene mirrors that of a book on the club’s reading list. She soon becomes a part of the investigation alongside Detective Trenault with whom she has a rocky history with.

This is a cozy little mystery and a nice, light read. The premise is fun and appealing, especially for an Agatha Christie fan. For me there are two key things that made it a must-read; a murder mystery book club, and the Agatha Christie connection. While I typically enjoy fun mysteries such as this, I was not able to get into The Book Club Murders as much as I would have liked. The mystery itself is interesting, however the protagonist comes across as whiny and immature in her attitude. Also, the romantic connection and behaviour along with the internal and external dialogue comes across as quite silly. As a reader it took me out of the story and I was not as invested or as interested in the actual mystery. Overall, a nice read with an interesting concept that ultimately did not match my reading preferences.

*ARC provided by NetGalley. Publication date: September 27, 2016.

Dear Mr. M by Herman Koch

img_2822“Dear Mr. M,

I’d like to start by telling you that I’m doing better now. I do so because you probably have no idea that I was ever doing worse. Much worse, in fact, but I’ll get to that later on….

Yes, I have certain plans for you, Mr. M. You may think you’re alone, but as of today I’m here too…”

Sometimes I have to admit defeat when it comes to a book, and unfortunately this was one of those times. After more than halfway through Dear Mr. M, I had to step away as it was increasingly becoming a very tedious read. But perhaps the reasons I could simply not get into this novel, might be the reasons why others may enjoy it.

Mr. M is a teacher and novelist who is falling into obscurity. He had one bestselling novel many years earlier called The Reckoning, which told the story of a teacher’s disappearance after having had an affair with a student and who was last seen at a cottage where the student and her boyfriend were staying. The novel, while sold as a work of fiction, looks to have been based on real people and events, and in present day Mr. M is being watched and carefully observed by a young man. This is where the novel begins, and later switches to different perspectives from people who have been tied to events described in The Reckoning. 

This novel is complex and slow-paced. The narration at the beginning is quite compelling as the young man watching Mr. M is describing his observations, thoughts, and conclusions. It’s unsettling and sets the perfect atmosphere for a gripping psychological thriller. However, as the narrative progresses it begins to meander and the various trains of thought become increasingly more difficult to follow. There are portions of the novel that I found intriguing, and the characters themselves are interesting, but the overall density of the narrative was a little too much for me.

*E-copy provided by NetGalley for an unbiased review.

Monsters: A Love Story by Liz Kay

img_2830“It’s interesting, isn’t it, to watch this character attempting to reconstruct herself, quite literally, in the midst of this chaos?”

Enjoyable, entertaining, and just plain addictive.

This novel took me completely by surprise, and from the moment I picked it up I could not put it down. I started it on a Saturday evening and found myself completely glued to it, telling myself “just one more chapter,” “just one more page,”until I could no longer keep my eyes open. Then first thing Sunday morning my nose was back in the book until I turned the last page. This does not happen often for me, and in fact it is quite rare, with few books having captured my attention in such a way.

It’s a simple story about a woman named Stacey who is grieving the sudden and unexpected loss of her husband and raising two young boys. She is a poet with several published collections, however at this point in her life she finds herself unable to write and is feeling quite stuck. One day, she receives an email about interest and an offer to make one of her books of poetry, Monsters in the Afterlife into a movie. This sets up a series of trips and encounters with A-list movie star, Tommy DeMarco, resulting in a tumultuous relationship.

This is not a sweet or romantic “love story,” but rather a story of two screwed up individuals who find a kind of solace in each other, and what unfolds is a highly dysfunctional relationship. Stacey and Tommy are not particularly likeable characters, and as the title suggests, there are monstrous qualities to both individuals. It is not a relationship you necessarily root for or against, but rather keep turning the pages to see how and where the rollercoaster will go. Because, even though the two characters may have unlikable qualities, they are compelling. Monsters: A Love Story is a highly enjoyable novel and the perfect escape read.

The Dollhouse by Fiona Davis

blog“The Dollhouse. . . . That’s what we boys like to call it. . . . The Barbizon Hotel for Women, packed to the rafters with pretty little dolls. Just like you.”

The Dollhouse is set in the 1950’s at The Barbizon Hotel for Women, home to women working towards success in New York City, which included models, secretaries, and editors. It focuses on a woman named Darby who arrives at Barbizon in 1952 to attend secretary school. While overwhelmed with the city and feeling out of place among her model roommates in the beginning, Darby soon befriends a hotel maid, Esme, and discovers a world she never thought she would experience. Jump forward to 2016, where a journalist named Rose becomes curious about her new, mysterious neighbour in what used to be The Barbizon Hotel and has since been turned into a condominium. The story jumps back and forth in time from Darby’s time at Barbizon to years later when there are rumours and an investigation into an incident that had occurred during the 1950’s at the hotel, that Darby was involved in.

I found this to be a compelling novel based around a very fascinating time and place in history. It provides a great sense of what it would have been like during that era and the characters themselves are quite interesting. Particularly enjoyable is exploring Darby’s story and experiences in 1952 and the characters surrounding The Barbizon Hotel for Women. While the present day storyline has its moments, I did find that certain aspects of Rose’s life as well as actions somewhat distracted from what I felt was a really strong narrative of Darby’s life. There is a parallel between Rose and Darby that is created, however, as Rose does not come across as a particularly sympathetic character, that parallel is not as successful as it could have been. We do get a better understanding of Rose as the novel concludes and the stories wrap up. Overall, I found The Dollhouse to be a very enjoyable read.