January Releases eARC Reviews: Miss Austen & How Quickly She Disappears

miss austen gill hornbyMiss Austen by Gill Hornby

Rating: ★★★☆☆

Categories: Historical Fiction

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I received an advance copy via Edelweiss in exchange for an honest review.

Miss Austen is the story of Cassandra Austen, who famously destroyed most of the letters exchanged with her sister Jane. I enjoyed the witty dialogues, so very like the way the books are written, and I think it’s where it shines. I was however bored with it rather soon, despite its attempts at making a (fictional) dramatic account of Cassandra’s love life, Jane’s depression and jealousy of other women. All the characters seem to be taken right out of Jane Austen’s novels (on purpose, I assume), all wit and clear heroines vs antagonists, which did not work well for this novel, in my opinion. I hoped for more well-rounded characters. I was engrossed by the story at times, but much too often I was simply bored. The predictability of the plot (which, considering it’s based on real events, can’t be avoided) was not helped by the writing, or the characters. If you’re craving some Austen in your life, I think you’ll enjoy this, especially how much you see of Cassandra in this. I itched to know more about their real lives. The novel, although witty and loosely based to real events from the Austen family’s lives, did not feel quite strong enough. Continue reading

Review: 10 Minutes 38 Seconds in This Strange World, by Elif Shafak

10 minutes and 38 seconds in this strange world elif shafak

Rating: ★★★☆☆

Categories: Literary Fiction, Contemporary, Historical Fiction

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Leila is dead – but her brain still shows activity for another 10 minutes and 38 seconds; and in those moments after death, she remembers the tastes and smells that bring her back memories from her childhood and then eventually becoming a prostitute in Istanbul.

This is a book that had everything to become an instant favorite for me. It tells the story of Leila, who worked as a prostitute in Istanbul, but also of her five closest friends, all of which are part of minorities living in the margins of Istanbul, and each one will probably end up in the Cemetery of Companionless, a real cemetery in the outskirts of the city for those who are unclaimed or unwanted. I liked how much diversity in the characters and their personalities there was – I also liked how Leila was strong and kind, despite all the things she goes through. Continue reading

Mini-Review: The Man Who Saw Everything, by Deborah Levy

the man who saw everything deborah levy

Rating: ★★★★☆

Categories: Literary Fiction, Contemporary, Historical Fiction, M/M

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In The Man Who Saw Everything, Saul Adler goes to East Germany in 1988 to do research and in exchange write a favorable report about the GDR. That is the very short description I can give about the plot of this book, but it is so much more than that.

Saul is a historian, a narcissistic, gorgeous-looking man whose narrative is deeply unreliable and it was both strange and fascinating to read. He’s clearly obsessed with himself and his own beauty, but also constantly defies gender in a nonchalant manner. He was one of the most interesting narrators I’ve seen in a long time. Little by little, we piece together what happened in East Berlin, the fate of the people in his life, but we’re never really sure if we’re reading the absolute truth. I found myself laughing sometimes, and at other times my heart broke to tiny, tiny pieces, which is a feat for a 200-page book! This engrossing, brilliant read was such a highlight for literary fiction this year for me, and I highly recommend it.

Review: The Tiger’s Wife, by Téa Obreht

the tigers wife tea obreht

Rating: ★★★★☆

Categories: Historical Fiction, Literary Fiction, Magical Realism

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Natalia’s grandfather has died suddenly in a faraway city, away from his family and keeping secret from his wife the true extent of his illness. Natalia hears the news and knows where he was going: to meet the deathless man. The war is over, the country has been divided and she must find his things so that the family can mourn him appropriately – and in this journey, she remembers the story of how her grandfather met the deathless man, and the tiger’s wife.

The review below has spoilers – if you want to go into the book knowing not too much about it, please consider skipping this review. Continue reading

Mini-Review: Purple Hibiscus by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

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Rating: ★★★★☆

Genres: Historical fiction

I’ve read Chimamanda’s books by the inverse order of publication: so this one was my most recent read by her, and one can definitely tell how much richer her writing has become with each book. This was such an engaging read, so heart-breaking and beautiful.

Purple Hibiscus follows the story of Kambili, a fifteen-year-old girl who lives under the strict rules of her father, a wealthy and deeply religious man. Due to a coup that puts Kambili’s family in danger, she and her brother Jaja stay with their aunt and her children, whose lives are filled with laughter, struck by poverty and so entirely foreign to both of them.

Through Kambili’s perspective you get little by little glimpses of the abuse she and her family suffer, and what it can do to a person. Her narration is filled with both awe and fear for her father, and it’s very moving. I expected this book to be more depressing, but it really isn’t; there is hope and growth and love. I was wondering if the length of the book wouldn’t leave too many things out of it and feel too rushed, but it didn’t feel like that at all. It definitely stays in your mind for a really long time after you finish it. This was powerful and heartbreaking, although I loved her other books a lot more than this one, I highly recommend it!

eARC Review: Girl, Woman, Other, by Bernardine Evaristo

girl woman other bernardine evaristo

Rating: ★★★★☆

Genres: Literary Fiction, Contemporary, Historical Fiction

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I received a free copy of this book from Edelweiss in exchange for an honest review.

Girl, Woman, Other (Winner of the Man Booker Prize of 2019) tells the story of twelve people whose lives intertwine, each of them experiencing the country they all live in at some point (UK) in a unique way, through different years and from different backgrounds.

This brilliant book certainly left an impression on me – telling the story of twelve different, unique people is no easy task, especially making the reader connect and empathize with each of them. The narration flows from one to the next, connecting them sometimes in subtle ways to each other, bringing to life their pain, their energy, their strength and their mistakes. Some chapters ended bittersweet. I did discount a star because sometimes the dialogue felt a little bit too script-like, a little too neat, and like some characters had a bit more depth than others. Which is to be expected from a cast of twelve main characters, I expect, but still from some of them I wanted more. Continue reading

Review: Proper English, by KJ Charles

proper english kj charles

Rating: ★★★★☆

Genres: Historical F/F Romance, Murder Mystery

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Proper English is the story of Pat, a sensible young woman, who’s going to the country house of Earl of Witton for a shooting party. She’s also meeting her old friend, Jimmy, and his new fiancée. The problem? It might just be worst party of all time, as tensions grow and secrets are spilled out, revealing shocking betrayals, and worse – they’re all stuck together through a storm that might last several days. And Pat has yet another problem: Jimmy’s fiancée, Fen, is a lovely, beautiful girl, and Pat has never met someone quite like her. When a body is discovered in the house, Pat and Fen must do what they can do find the murderer. Continue reading

eARC Review: The Bird King, by G. Willow Wilson

the bird king g willow wilson

Rating: ★★★★☆

Genres: Historical Fiction, Fantasy

Goodreads

I have received an eARC of this book from Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.

I’ve owned an eARC of this book for such a long time, but then got less enthusiastic about it and forgot it existed for months. Then I read someone say that this author’s books were fast-paced and quick to read and I decided well – might just pick it up. I’m so glad I did!

The Bird King is the story of Fatima, a concubine to the last Sultan in a reign at war with Spain, and Hassan, a mixed-blood map-maker who has magical abilities. When the Spanish Inquisition demands that Hassan, who they deem a heretic sorcerer, be given to torture and certain death, Fatima knows she must run away with him, even if it means treason and never seeing again the palace she calls home. But it means to her also freedom, and that is something she’s willing to give up a lot for. Continue reading

Mini-Review: White Houses, by Amy Bloom

white houses amy bloomRating: ★★☆☆☆

Genres: Historical Fiction, LGBT+

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White Houses tells the fictionalized version of the true story of Eleanor Roosevelt and journalist Lorena Hickok’s affair in the 1930s all the way the end of Roosevelt’s life.

I bought this book on a whim, as it was not really on my radar at all, but a FF book with real historical characters, glamour and political drama? I was sold immediately.

I enjoyed reading this book and ended up finishing it in a day – it’s around 200 pages only, so easy to fly through. Still, I found myself not really excited about the story and not really feeling emotionally connected to the characters a lot. Eleanor was such an interesting character, but her personality and her relationship with Hick felt told rather than shown. I really hoped for more glamour and more political drama.

The book spends pages and pages on Hick’s childhood and teenage years, but it all felt sensationalized and not entirely true either. The entire circus part was not something I could find about her when doing a quick research, and I would much rather have had more of the book dedicated to the Depression and to Eleanor’s political career.

All in all, while an interesting book, I was hoping for something different, and it failed to wow me.

Review: Tangerine, by Christine Mangan

tangerine christine manganRating: ★★★★☆

Genres: Mystery, Historical Fiction

Goodreads

In Tangerine, Alice is unhappy with her life in Tangier, Morocco. The beautiful, warm city cannot seem to let her breathe and she loathes to leave her flat – but the arrival of her old friend Lucy is about to change all of this, although perhaps not for the better.

This is a very atmospheric, glamorous read, one of those books set in the suffocating heat that make you feel suffocated, too. I didn’t know what to think of this book in the beginning, the plot and writing style giving off vibes of The Talented Mr. RipleyBased on a True Story and Bitter Orange, so it did not feel original. The plot twists were not difficult to foresee either and, although entertaining, I did not think the book was particularly unique or excellent. Continue reading