Things in Jars by Jess Kidd

BLOG“A cloth covers the jar that Bridie took from the bookcase in the nursery, and Ruby is thankful for this. For the contents have the ability to rearrange even a dead man’s sense of reality. As with all terrible, wondrous sights, there is a jolt of shock, then a hypnotic fascination, then the uneasy queasiness, then the whole thing starts again; the desire to look and the desire never to have looked in the first place.”

Bridie Devine is a well-known detective who takes on a case involving the kidnapping of Christabel Berwick, the secret daughter of Sir Edmund Berwick. Few people were aware of her existence but it becomes clear that the girl possesses supernatural qualities, which have drawn the attention of collectors who specialize in oddities. Bridie is intent on finding the child and uncovering the truth behind her disappearance, especially as Sir Edmund himself proves to be less than forthcoming. But in order to do that she will need to reconnect with parts of her past that she had long buried. To assist her is Cora, her seven-foot tall housemaid with a sharp tongue, and Ruby, a tattoo-covered ghost. What unfolds is a story of secrets that blends light and dark along with the surreal.

‘’The woman is made of boot polish and pipe smoke, clean cloth and the north wind. And as for the dead man walking behind her, well, he means no harm.’’

Initially I was just going to read a chapter of this book to get a sense of the story because I wasn’t sure what exactly I was in the mood to read. But then I just kept reading and reading well into the night. The writing is lovely and completely drew me in. I am generally not a fan of very descriptive writing styles, but here there was this perfect balance of imagery and story progression. My absolute favourite aspect of a novel is compelling characters, and Things in Jars delivers that as well. Bridie especially is intelligent, brave, and a wonderful protagonist. What I enjoyed the most was the dialogue and banter between characters, particularly with Bridie and Ruby, the ghost. In fact that part of the story I found to be really touching. And Cora is the kind of friend you definitely want to have. There is the mystery aspect of the story, but there is also time spent going back to Bridie’s childhood and discovering how it may relate to present day events. Even though I am such a big fan of mysteries, I found myself mostly drawn to the characters and the strangeness of the things presented in this world. Some things made me chuckle and there were moments that left me feeling unsettled. As with any story that utilizes magical realism, it was strange and bizarre, but written in a way that gives that nostalgic feeling of fairy tales. I am eager to read many more books by this author.

The Book of Summer by Michelle Gable

BLOG“Physician Bess Codman has returned to her family’s Nantucket compound, Cliff House, for the first time in four years. Her great-grandparents built Cliff House almost a century before, but due to erosion, the once-grand home will soon fall into the sea. Though she s purposefully avoided the island, Bess must now pack up the house and deal with her mother, a notorious town rabble-rouser, who refuses to leave.”

Michelle Gable is the author of one of my favourite books of 2016, I’ll See You in Paris. Her newest release, The Book of Summer, takes us to Nantucket and tells the story of a family and their summer home, from present day struggles to the people and events of the past. In present day, Bess is back on Nantucket and dealing with the events surrounding the slow demise of Cliff House due to erosion, and her mother’s battle to save their cherished summer home. The novel also flashes back to Bess’ grandmother, Ruby Packard and her life as a young newlywed and navigating life at the start of WWII. Also throughout the novel are entries from a guest book kept at the Cliff House, which Bess and family had come to refer to as The Book of Summer.

There are many aspects of this novel that are quite appealing, and there is a charm and likability to a number of the characters throughout. The issues surrounding erosion on Nantucket along with the history of Cliff House and the significance of this home to Bess’ family is what captured my attention the most. I did find it difficult to connect to any of the characters, which kept me from truly engaging with the stories throughout. As I mentioned, there is definitely a certain charm to these characters, but that does get kind of lost in the dialogue, which is full of expressions and lingo that I assume is of that region and also time period in regards to the 1940’s era. The book is very dialogue heavy, which is not something I typically enjoy, so that combined with the content of the dialogue itself kept taking me out of the story and made the characters feel far too unbelievable. Unfortunately, The Book of Summer simply did not work for me.

*ARC provided by NetGalley for an unbiased review. Publication date: May 9, 2017.

The Other Einstein by Marie Benedict

img_3128In 1896, the extraordinarily gifted Mileva is the only woman studying physics at an elite school in Zürich. There, she falls for charismatic fellow student Albert Einstein, who promises to treat her as an equal in both love and science. But as Albert’s fame grows, so too does Mileva’s worry that her light will be lost in her husband’s shadow forever.”

The Other Einstein is a historical fiction novel that attempts to bring to life the story and perspective of Albert Einstein’s first wife Mileva Marić during their time together. Mileva was a talented physicist in her own right and there is much debate and speculation as to how much she contributed to Einstein’s work and discoveries. The novel does have brief mentions of Mileva’s upbringing and early love of science, however it focuses almost entirely on her courtship and tumultuous relationship with Einstein.

The Other Einstein provides very little in terms of the story of “the other Einstein,” and instead provides an account of a highly dysfunctional relationship and lacklustre romance. Mileva is a fascinating person and a great subject for a work of historical fiction, however, she comes across as frustratingly meek in contrast to Einstein’s egotistical and condescending nature. There is a considerable lack of depth and nuance as one character is a constant victim and the other a villain. There is no real connection between the two, especially as Einstein transforms from a young and quirky University student into an arrogant and self-centred jerk. Their exchanges become increasingly more awkward as the story goes along, especially as it becomes peppered with the use of cringeworthy nicknames in almost every piece of dialogue. Unfortunately this novel fell short of what is a very interesting and compelling subject.

*ARC provided by NetGalley. Publication date: October 18, 2016.

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 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.