Review: Bringing Down the Duke by Evie Dunmore

Bringing Down the Duke (A League of Extraordinary Women, #1)
Bringing Down the Duke
by Evie Dunmore

Unexpected and brilliant. This is not your standard historical romance.


THE BLURB

A stunning debut for author Evie Dunmore and her Oxford Rebels, in which a fiercely independent vicar’s daughter takes on a duke in a fiery love story that threatens to upend the British social order.

England, 1879. Annabelle Archer, the brilliant but destitute daughter of a country vicar, has earned herself a place among the first cohort of female students at the renowned University of Oxford. In return for her scholarship, she must support the rising women’s suffrage movement. Her charge: recruit men of influence to champion their cause. Her target: Sebastian Devereux, the cold and calculating Duke of Montgomery who steers Britain’s politics at the Queen’s command. Her challenge: not to give in to the powerful attraction she can’t deny for the man who opposes everything she stands for.

Sebastian is appalled to find a suffragist squad has infiltrated his ducal home, but the real threat is his impossible feelings for green-eyed beauty Annabelle. He is looking for a wife of equal standing to secure the legacy he has worked so hard to rebuild, not an outspoken commoner who could never be his duchess. But he wouldn’t be the greatest strategist of the Kingdom if he couldn’t claim this alluring bluestocking without the promise of a ring…or could he?

Locked in a battle with rising passion and a will matching her own, Annabelle will learn just what it takes to topple a duke…


MY REVIEW

I read a lot of historical romances so I went into this thinking it would be the usual, funny, flirty, light and fluffy read I’ve come to expect but this was so much more.

The blurb does make you think it’s going to be a classic enemies to lovers story (which I do love) or maybe a fairy tale romance with echoes of Beauty and the Beast, there is after all an unconventional heroine who is tasked with changing the view of the brooding hero but it goes a lot deeper than this.

Annabelle Archer does have a bit of a Belle feel to her, she’s the brilliant but poor daughter of a clergyman who after her father, who she was very close to, dies is forced to rely on the charity of her not very nice cousin. But Annabelle wants more out of life than being an over-educated scivvy so when she gets the opportunity to be one of the first women admitted to Oxford University she jumps at it. There’s just one problem, her studies are sponsored by the women’s suffrage movement and she’s been given the job of convincing one of the most influential men in the country to support the cause.

Her target is the elusive Duke of Montgomery, a rich and powerful man who has been tasked by the Queen with making sure the very conservative and traditional Tory party win at the next election. He has a lot at more at stake in this than just keeping the Queen’s favour however and regardless of his own beliefs or his growing attraction for Annabelle he can’t risk failure.

Two people on different sides who can’t help falling in love, so far so tropey right? And it does have a lot of the standard romance scenes, there are misunderstandings, arguments, a rescue (or three) and even the trapped together but it plays around with them and openly acknowledges them for what they are. Our damsel chides herself for falling into the clichés and knows she can’t count on a man to rescue her.

I really loved Annabelle, she is not as naive and innocent as she first appears. She knows from personal experience how dangerous this man’s world is for a single woman with no fortune, family or name to protect her. I liked how independent she was but what I loved was how self aware she was. Annabelle knows that with her relatively low social standing a Duke is not going to marry her but she doesn’t want to just settle for the first man who offers protection and she won’t sacrifice her principles or what little freedom she has. I also loved how loyal she was to her friends and how she constantly tries to protect them.

Sebastian (the Duke) is a little more difficult to like. He’s very reserved, principled and thinks that he knows best about everything. He’s unwilling to compromise or risk his position and reputation and holds himself (and everyone around him) to a ridiculously high standard. There are reasons for this and as these are revealed and his character develops he does grow on you but I’m still not wholly sure I liked him.

With their respective positions this is a relationship that’s doomed from the get go and I loved how realistic the story was around that. Any fantasy around love conquering all is quickly dispelled and while there are some wonderful moments between them reality very quickly comes crashing in to sour them. The obstacles between them seem insurmountable and I genuinely had no idea where the story would go. The chances of it ending badly were just as high as everyone living happily ever after.

For a debut novel this truly is impressive. The pacing is spot on and the writing is witty and clever. What I love most though is how accurately it captures the attitudes and issues of the time. I will confess to being largely ignorant of what it was really like to be a woman in that time or even the challenges the women’s suffrage movement faced. Most historical romances tend to pick different time periods when women were happier or at least more accepting of their lot. I think the author did a wonderful job of portraying the challenges of the time without glossing over them.

Overall this was an absolutely wonderful and unexpected read and I highly recommend.

My rating: 4.5 of 5 stars

Thanks to the publisher and netgalley for providing me with an advance copy. This has in no way influenced my review.

Review: The Glass Woman by Caroline Lea

The Glass Woman by Caroline Lea
The Glass Woman
by Caroline Lea

This was one occasion when choosing a book based on its cover worked out so well. The Glass Woman is a truly compelling and atmospheric read. The wonderful writing weaves together historical fiction, mystery and a touch of the supernatural to create a chilling and addictive read.


THE BLURB

1686, ICELAND. AN ISOLATED, WINDSWEPT LAND HAUNTED BY WITCH TRIALS AND STEEPED IN THE ANCIENT SAGAS.

Betrothed unexpectedly to Jón Eiríksson, Rósa is sent to join her new husband in the remote village of Stykkishólmur. Here, the villagers are wary of outsiders.

But Rósa harbours her own suspicions. Her husband buried his first wife alone in the dead of night. He will not talk of it. Instead he gives her a small glass figurine. She does not know what it signifies.

The villagers mistrust them both. Dark threats are whispered. There is an evil here – Rósa can feel it. Is it her husband, the villagers – or the land itself?

Alone and far from home, Rósa sees the darkness coming. She fears she will be its next victim . . .


MY REVIEW

This was one of those books I picked up on a whim based on a very pretty cover and a blurb that made it sound like just my type of read and boy was I right. There was something so compelling about the writing that from the very first page I was hooked and more or less devoured the whole thing in a day.

The story is set in Iceland in 1686 and begins with the discovery of a woman’s body trapped in the ice off the coast. It then flashes back to six months earlier to another small settlement where young woman Rosa agrees to marry a wealthy stranger who can ensure her mother gets the food and fuel she needs to survive the harsh winter. Rosa has led a relatively sheltered life, innocent and naive she knows very little of the world and even less about her soon to be husband.

Despite this and the rumors around what happened to his first wife she leaves her home and everything she knows behind to start a new life with this man in a remote and fiercely religious community where she is made to feel like an outsider. Isolated and alone, strange things start to happen that make her question just who this man she married is, what he’s hiding, and why the village seem to be afraid of him and his strange apprentice Petur. And I think it’s probably best I stop there as if I say anymore I fear I’ll give something away and I feel it’s better you discover it for yourself.

What I can say is that it’s an intriguing mix of historical fiction, mystery and thriller but with the suggestion that there may be supernatural forces at work. The author picked the perfect setting and time period for this story and the writing is absolutely wonderful. There’s such a great sense of place and it’s very easy to imagine life in this community or in Rosa’s case on the outskirts of it. It’s a cold and forbidding place, with a real feel of remoteness and isolation. From the very start there’s a tense and chilly atmosphere and the author somehow manages to maintain this even when there’s not a lot of action.

The story is told primarily from the point of view of Rosa and follows her as she travels to this strange new place and tries to figure out what’s going on. Interspersed with this are brief chapters set after the discovery of the body, told from the point of view of husband Jon. I did prefer Rosa’s chapters but the little hints and suggestions of what’s to come from Jon do make for an addictive read.

I don’t want to go into too much detail about the characters as again I feel it’ll give too much away but I loved how complex they were and how they developed over the course of the story. No one is wholly good or bad and actually it’s very difficult to get a handle on who they really are and whether they can be trusted. Even Rosa is the typical unreliable narrator as while she’s likeable and comes across as very meek and naive for a lot of the story, she’s also intelligent and determined. She’s superstitious and seems to have an active imagination and a fondness for stories which make it hard to tell at times what is real and what’s in her head.

I did love the way the author worked folklore and mythology into the story and in particular the clash between these old ways and the strict religious beliefs that forbid any kind of superstition or traditional practices, viewing them as blasphemy or witchcraft.

Overall this may not be a fast paced, action packed read but it’s a truly compelling story that had me gripped from the very start till the very end. It was unexpected and unlike anything I’d read before and I kind of loved it.

My rating: 4.5 of 5 stars

Thanks to the publisher for providing me with an advance copy via NetGalley. As always all thoughts are my own.

Review: The Devil Aspect by Craig Russell

The Devil Aspect by Craig Russell

The Devil Aspect cleverly combines horror, murder mystery and historical fiction to create a read that is both fascinating and disturbing.


THE BLURB

A terrifying novel set in Czechoslovakia in 1935, in which a brilliant young psychiatrist takes his new post at an asylum for the criminally insane that houses only six inmates–the country’s most depraved murderers–while, in Prague, a detective struggles to understand a brutal serial killer who has spread fear through the city, and who may have ties to the asylum 

In 1935, Viktor Kosrek, a psychiatrist newly trained by Carl Jung, arrives at the infamous Hrad Orlu Asylum for the Criminally Insane. The state-of-the-art facility is located in a medieval mountaintop castle outside of Prague, though the site is infamous for concealing dark secrets going back many generations. The asylum houses the country’s six most treacherous killers – known to the staff as The Woodcutter, The Clown, The Glass Collector, The Vegetarian, The Sciomancer, and The Demon – and Viktor hopes to use a new medical technique to prove that these patients share a common archetype of evil, a phenomenon known as The Devil Aspect. As he begins to learn the stunning secrets of these patients, five men and one woman, Viktor must face the disturbing possibility that these six may share another dark truth.

Meanwhile, in Prague, fear grips the city as a phantom serial killer emerges in the dark alleys. Police investigator Lukas Smolak, desperate to locate the culprit (dubbed Leather Apron in the newspapers), realizes that the killer is imitating the most notorious serial killer from a century earlier–London’s Jack the Ripper. Smolak turns to the doctors at Hrad Orlu for their expertise with the psychotic criminal mind, though he worries that Leather Apron might have some connection to the six inmates in the asylum.

Steeped in the folklore of Eastern Europe, and set in the shadow of Nazi darkness erupting just beyond the Czech border, this stylishly written, tightly coiled, richly imagined novel is propulsively entertaining, and impossible to put down.


MY REVIEW

Set in Czechoslovakia in 1935 the Devil’s Aspect cleverly combines a gruesome murder mystery with psychological theory while delving in detail into a history and a place I knew very little about. It asks the question of what is it that drives someone to do evil things. Does everyone have the potential for both good or evil or is there some kind of external force that can drive someone to commit the most horrific of crimes?

It truly is a fascinating read as in addition to exploring the various psychological theories I feel like I also discovered so much about Eastern Europe in the period just before the second world war. I have to confess my knowledge of this time (and place) is almost non existent but through this story it seemed like the author truly brought it to life. Capturing the melting pot of different cultures, ethnicities and religions as well as the ever present threat of the Nazi’s and the knowledge of what’s to come. It makes for a truly ominous setting.

Add to that an asylum set in a castle that would give Dracula’s a run for its money in terms of its history and the superstitions surrounding it and a killer who seems to imitating Jack the Ripper and you have a dark, disturbing and often grotesque read with a gothic feel to it.

The story itself is told primarily from the point of view of two men. The first, Viktor is a psychiatrist who takes up a position at an asylum made infamous for homing the six most feared serial killers in Czechoslovakia. He hopes through treating them to find evidence on his theory of the devil aspect, a common link that can explain why they committed such heinous crimes. The second pov is that of Smolak, Kapitan of detectives in Prague who is leading the hunt for a brutal murderer leaving bodies all over Prague.

The narrative flips back and forth between the two men as we discover more about them and their work before the threads slowly start to come together and Smolak finds that Viktor may be able to help him catch this new serial killer before the body count grows higher.

I have to admit I found myself more drawn to Smolak’s story than Viktor’s. Viktor’s does have a bit of a Silence of the Lambs feel to it as he interviews each of the serial killers residing in the asylum, learning the details of the crimes they committed and trying to identify the reason behind it. However, while I did find the stories of the killers compelling I’m not wholly convinced the level of detail or psychoanalysis was necessary. I also found Viktor a little on the frustrating side as his determination to prove his theory leads to some reckless and dangerous actions.

Smolak was for me the more likeable of the two, he has this world weariness to him but never judges things at face value or jumps to the easy answer. I found his investigation into the murders of several women by a killer known only as Leather Apron to be fascinating. He’s very methodical in his approach and despite an ambitious deputy who seems determined to push him out he doesn’t go for the quick or the easy. It was also wonderful to explore the Prague of that time with him as he travels around the city, visiting crime scenes and following up leads.

The mystery itself is very well done with the author leaving little hints and clues along the way as to who the culprit may be while also throwing in the odd red herring to throw you completely off track. I did guess pretty early on who the killer was, I’ve read a lot of similar type mysteries, but the story was no less gripping for it and there were still a few little surprises in store along the way.

If I had one main criticism of this book however it’s that I found it a little on the slow side. With the level of detail needed around the history of the time, the place, the people and psychology it’s unlikely it could ever have been a fast paced, edge of the seat read but there is the odd occasion where I felt there was more detail than needed (although I suspect this is personal preference). As a consequence it fell a little short of the terrifying read promised, although it is often chilling and disturbing.

Overall I’m very glad to have read this truly fascinating and often disturbing story. I would recommend to anyone who likes historical crime fiction.

Thanks to the publisher and NetGalley for providing me with a copy of this book. This has in no way influenced my review.

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Review: The Silence of the Girls by Pat Barker

The Silence of the Girls by Pat Barker
The Silence of the Girls
by Pat Barker

The Silence of the Girls by Pat Barker is a wonderfully absorbing and intense read that presents the story of the Trojan War from the female perspective. The descriptions are incredibly vivid and it’s a fascinating story but I wish the author had fully committed to the female point of view despite the limitations this would have put on the narrative.


THE BLURB

From the Booker Prize-winning author of Regeneration and one of our greatest contemporary writers on war comes a reimagining of the most famous conflict in literature – the legendary Trojan War.

When her city falls to the Greeks, Briseis’s old life is shattered. She is transformed from queen to captive, from free woman to slave, awarded to the god-like warrior Achilles as a prize of war. And she’s not alone. On the same day, and on many others in the course of a long and bitter war, innumerable women have been wrested from their homes and flung to the fighters.

The Trojan War is known as a man’s story: a quarrel between men over a woman, stolen from her home and spirited across the sea. But what of the other women in this story, silenced by history? What words did they speak when alone with each other, in the laundry, at the loom, when laying out the dead?

In this magnificent historical novel, Pat Barker charts one woman’s journey through the chaos of the most famous war in history, as she struggles to free herself and to become the author of her own story.


MY REVIEW

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Historical settings and stories of war are not something that have ever really interested me but I have always had a fascination with the Greek myths and the Trojan war in particular. I’ve probably been a little guilty of romantacising it and if I did I think it’s safe to say The Silence of the Girls very quickly dispelled these notions of noble heroes and battles fought in the name of love. The picture Barker paints is dirty, degrading and it has to be said depressing. The “heroes” Achilles, Agamemnon, Paris and even Odysseus are for the most part proud, violent and easily offended thugs.

However the focus of this story is not supposed to be on them. This is the story of the women who are caught up in this war between men. Told primarily from the point of view of Briseis, wife of one of the Trojan kings, the story follows her journey from young and noble Queen to a slave, nurse and pawn in the battle between Agamemnon and Achilles.

It’s a wonderful concept and the first part of the story makes from some gripping and intense reading. Suffice to say life is not easy for women in this time regardless of their position in society. Treated like possessions to be used or traded they are never really free. Their value is dependent on how attractive they are and only those who are young, beautiful and connected to a powerful man will ever have some kind of security.

The descriptions in this book are incredibly vivid and it’s very easy to imagine yourself there with Briseis. The battle at the very start of the book where Briseis’s husband and brothers are brutally slaughtered was especially vivid (and horrifying) but what stood out the most to me were the descriptions of the Greek camp with its casual violence, filth, smell and rat problem. I can very honestly say I’m glad to never have to experience it.

Unfortunately however, while it starts strong I felt it lost its way in the second part when Achilles point of view was introduced. He’s such a powerful and intriguing character that he seems to take over the story, pushing Briseis to the side, which to my mind defeats the purpose of the story. He is a fascinating character and there is something both troubling and tragic about him but this was supposed to be the women’s story and it felt like it became centered on him. His relationship with Patroclus, his grief, his vengence and his acceptance of his fate. It’s a great story but for me shouldn’t be the focus of the book.

What makes it more frustrating though is that the author brings in Achilles point of view then doesn’t use it to let the reader experience some of the key events. I often felt like I was with the wrong narrator. I wanted to be with Achilles when he goes up against Hector but instead we’re with Briseis. Similarly, we kind of miss the final big battle and only hear myths and rumours of what happened. I feel like if the author wanted to tell the story from the female point of view she should have committed to it, and yes we would have missed some key scenes, but we kind of did anyway. I would have preferred it if she’d brought in a different female perspective, possibly someone remaining in Troy.

The writing is however wonderful with vivid descriptions and a really intense feel to it. It’s often violent, disturbing and kind of gross but I became completely absorbed in this story and the world. My only complaint was the use of some modern slang in the dialogue which I found a little bit jarring. I do get what the author was attempting but the inclusion of phrases such as “cheers lads” and “gagging for it” didn’t feel natural and knocked me out of the story.

It is a brilliant version of the story and I loved that we finally got the female perspective on it. I just wish the author had committed to the idea a little more.

Thanks to NetGalley and the publisher for providing me with an advance review copy. All views are my own.

Review: The Governess Game by Tessa Dare

The Governess Game
The Governess Game
by Tessa Dare

The Governess Game is yet another brilliantly fun historic romance from Tessa Dare. I loved the little nods to one of my favorite classics (and a certain movie with an iceberg).


THE BLURB

He’s been a bad, bad rake—and it takes a governess to teach him a lesson

The accidental governess

After her livelihood slips through her fingers, Alexandra Mountbatten takes on an impossible post: transforming a pair of wild orphans into proper young ladies. However, the girls don’t need discipline. They need a loving home. Try telling that to their guardian, Chase Reynaud: duke’s heir in the streets and devil in the sheets. The ladies of London have tried—and failed—to make him settle down. Somehow, Alexandra must reach his heart . . . without risking her own.

The infamous rake

Like any self-respecting libertine, Chase lives by one rule: no attachments. When a stubborn little governess tries to reform him, he decides to give her an education—in pleasure. That should prove he can’t be tamed. But Alexandra is more than he bargained for: clever, perceptive, passionate. She refuses to see him as a lost cause. Soon the walls around Chase’s heart are crumbling . . . and he’s in danger of falling, hard


MY REVIEW

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I really, really love Tessa Dare’s books and her latest is no exception. I wouldn’t say it’s my favourite, that honour goes to the first in this series, The Duchess Deal, but it does have all the things I love, a sweet but feisty heroine, a troubled hero, quite a few funny moments, a bit of drama and a lot of chemistry.

This time around there is a very Jane Eyre feel to the story as Alexandra Mountbatten, orphan making her own way in the world accepts a job as governess to the two wards of soon to be Duke and rake about town Chase Reynaud. She’s trying to make enough of a living to be independent and he’s looking to get the two wards he’s been landed with, who are not the best behaved, shipped off to school. Neither are really looking for a relationship but as you can probably guess sparks fly between them.

I really loved Alex as a character. She’s clever, caring, a little naive and wonderfully unconventional. She also doesn’t let her financial situation or the hardships of her past hold her back. She has no experience as a governess but seems to instinctively know how to help Rosamund and Daisy who it’s safe to say have some issues (doll Millicent dies of some horrific disease most days).

Chase, I have to admit, I had some reservations about initially. The rake thing doesn’t really do it for me, but as the story progressed he did grow on me. It’s also difficult to resist someone who’ll eulogize a doll so eloquently and hilariously (in case you can’t tell those doll funerals were a highlight of the story for me) and there are reasons for why he behaves as he does.

The biggest draw was however the relationship between Alex and Chase. There is some brilliant banter between them and some serious heat. I just loved how their relationship developed and changed. There aren’t many surprises (there’s no mad wife locked in the attic for example) but it’s an enjoyable journey.

If I had one criticism of this story it’s that there are certain elements that are becoming very familiar from Dare’s other books and it’s starting to feel a little formulaic (sorry). I suppose there is a limit on how unique they can be but if like me you’ve devoured a large number of them in a short space of time they start to all feel quite similar. Certain characters seem to keep popping up.

Despite this though I would really recommend to anyone who loves a historic romance. I should also add that while this is the second in a series it can easily be read as a standalone, although The Duchess Deal is brilliant so you should read it too.

Thanks to NetGalley and the publisher for providing me with an advance copy. As always all views are my own.

Review: Invictus by Ryan Graudin

InvictusInvictus by Ryan Graudin

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Perfect for fans of TV shows like Firefly, I absolutely loved this story about five teens travelling through time stealing artifacts.

There’s something instantly engaging about Graudin’s writing and as someone who isn’t generally a fan of historical fiction I absolutely loved the mix of history and science fiction. There’s plenty of action, a few unexpected twists, a teeny tiny bit of romance and a fantastic cast of characters.

The only bad thing about this book is that it’s a standalone and not the first in a series.


The Blurb

Time flies when you’re plundering history.

Farway Gaius McCarthy was born outside of time. The son of a time-traveling Recorder from 2354 AD and a gladiator living in Rome in 95 AD, Far’s birth defies the laws of nature. Exploring history himself is all he’s ever wanted, and after failing his final time-traveling exam, Far takes a position commanding a ship with a crew of his friends as part of a black market operation to steal valuables from the past.

But during a heist on the sinking Titanic, Far meets a mysterious girl who always seems to be one step ahead of him. Armed with knowledge that will bring Far’s very existence into question, she will lead Far and his team on a race through time to discover a frightening truth: History is not as steady as it seems.


Review

Have you ever started reading a book and known from the very first page you were going to love it? That was exactly what happened to me with Invictus.

I’m a big fan of time travel stories so this was always going to be right up my street but there was something instantly likeable about Graudin’s writing style and I loved the cast of characters she created. When it comes to TV I’m a big fan of sci-fi shows like Star Trek, Doctor Who and Firefly and this definitely has that kind of vibe about it. It really reminded me of Firefly in particular with the crew of the Invictus travelling through time stealing artefacts and trying to avoid the authorities.

I loved each and every member of the crew but most of all I loved the camaraderie between them. There’s a good mix of personalities represented from Farway, the self assured, risk taking captain who can adapt to pretty much any situation to Gram, his quiet and genius best friend and engineer, to Eliot who always seems to be a step ahead and full of secrets. My favorite character however had to be Imogen, Far’s cousin and the historian on the crew. She’s just so bright, positive and devoted to her fur baby, Saffron the red panda. They definitely bring the joy and fun to the story. Medic Priya was probably the hardest to warm up to but I think that was simply the nature of her character, calm and a little detached.

The story is told from the POV of each of the crew members as well as brief chapters from a couple of other characters so you definitely get to know them all well. Personally I loved Imogen and Gram’s chapters the most but I would happily hang out with all of them and just really want to join the crew.

The story itself is fast paced and takes a few unexpected turns. I was drawn in from the very beginning and found it almost impossible to put down. I do love stories with time travel but I get the feeling most writers avoid them because of the sheer volume of work involved. There are multiple time periods historical and future as well as the scientific theories and rules to get right. Honestly I’m exhausted just thinking about it but the author handles it brilliantly.

Everything hangs together beautifully. Every time period visited is created with care and feels real. The sci-fi elements are handled especially well. A lot of thought and research has clearly gone into the science and theories behind time travel (As well as the other tech). It all makes sense and even complex theories are made understandable to non science readers like myself.

I thought the author picked the perfect time periods to visit too. I loved that a big chunk of the book is set in Rome, ancient and future. It’s just such a dramatic and epic time period and the fact that you get to experience the gladiators fighting in the arena is incredible. There’s just so much emotion about the whole thing and it literally had me on the edge of my seat.

Despite being very fast paced and action packed the author has done an incredible job of packing in plenty of emotion. I found myself very attached to the crew of the Invictus and was rooting for them all the way. There’s a little bit of romance but it doesn’t take over the story and is very sweet and believable (I totally shipped it). There is also a lot of humor and some truly heart breaking moments (I cried, on the train).

Basically I loved it from the very start to the very last page. Definitely one I’d recommend particularly if like me you’re a big fan of time travel and aren’t scared of a little bit of scientific theory.

 firefly malcom reynolds GIF

OK I couldn’t resist a Firefly Gif 🙂

Thanks to NetGalley and the publisher for providing me with an ARC. As always all thoughts are my own.

Review: Alex & Eliza by Melissa de la Cruz

Alex and ElizaAlex and Eliza by Melissa de la Cruz

My rating: 3.5 of 5 stars

The story of the relationship between Alexander Hamilton and Elizabeth Schuyler is not one I know a lot about but I very much enjoyed this fictional account of their romance. It does seem to borrow quite a bit from Pride and Prejudice but, while it’s not the most original or most exciting read, it’s a very sweet period romance.


Synopsis

Their romance shaped a nation. The rest was history.

1777. Albany, New York.

As battle cries of the American Revolution echo in the distance, servants flutter about preparing for one of New York society’s biggest events: the Schuylers’ grand ball. Descended from two of the oldest and most distinguished bloodlines in New York, the Schuylers are proud to be one of their fledgling country’s founding families, and even prouder still of their three daughters—Angelica, with her razor-sharp wit; Peggy, with her dazzling looks; and Eliza, whose beauty and charm rival that of both her sisters, though she’d rather be aiding the colonists’ cause than dressing up for some silly ball.

Still, she can barely contain her excitement when she hears of the arrival of one Alexander Hamilton, a mysterious, rakish young colonel and General George Washington’s right-hand man. Though Alex has arrived as the bearer of bad news for the Schuylers, he can’t believe his luck—as an orphan, and a bastard one at that—to be in such esteemed company. And when Alex and Eliza meet that fateful night, so begins an epic love story that would forever change the course of American history.


My Review

OK, before I start this review I feel like I should really admit that I know next to nothing about American (or British or now I think about it pretty much any) history so I have pretty much no knowledge of Alexander Hamilton. I know there’s a musical which I’m assuming is about him and that loads of people seem to be raving about but I haven’t seen it. What I’m basically saying (in a pretty long winded way) is that I went into this book pretty much blind, with very little knowledge and next to no expectations. I’d seen quite a bit of buzz around it, recognized the author’s name and was just kinda tempted by a historical romance.

I suspect these facts were all to my favor however as a kinda sweet romance set in the eighteenth century is pretty much what I got. If you’re looking for a ground breaking and historically accurate story (or even just a version of the musical) I suspect you will be disappointed (although I’m basing this pretty much on other reviews).

For those like me who are completely clueless, the story is a fictional account of the romance between Alexander Hamilton, aide de camp (personal assistant) to General Washington, and Elizabeth Schuyler, daughter of a prominant General. To me it seemed kinda like Pride and Prejudice during the American revolution (stick with me and don’t throw things, I’m not saying it’s as good).

Elizabeth’s mother could certainly give Mrs Bennet a run for her money in the match making department. She’s absolutely determined to marry off her three eldest daughters as they’re a bit short on cash despite having a prominent name. She takes every opportunity to throw them in the path of any eligible man and is not above a bit of marriage arranging. Elizabeth (or Eliza), like her namesake, is the second oldest daughter, the favorite of her father and is determined to marry for love. She’s not as beautiful as her sisters Jane Angelica and Peggy but she’s more determined, practical and has a bit more common sense.

Unfortunately (or as you’re probably thinking, thank goodness) this is where the similarities to Pride and Prejudice end (well more or less). This does have a little of the social commentary, particularly around the role of women (to marry a wealthy man and have lots of babies), but it lacks a lot of the wit and humor (I know no one can compare to Austen but what the heck I’m comparing them).

It is quite a sweet romance but other than a couple of scandalous incidents, some ungentlemanly behavior and the occasional reference to historical events going on round about them that’s pretty much it.

Eliza wasn’t the most likeable of characters to me. Yes, she’s principled, intelligent and practical but she’s just a little too fanatical about the cause for me and I found myself rolling my eyes when she started preaching to those around her.

Hamilton thankfully makes up for things however and is a very swoon worthy hero (can I say that about a historical figure?). He’s a self made man, a charmer and a bit of a flirt so it was wonderful to see him become so flustered and tongue tied around Eliza (I should add that I have since been on Wikipedia and discovered where his flirting led but let’s not go there).

It didn’t feel like there was a huge amount of story (it’s mostly a ball, a few social occasions, riding around the countryside on horses and Eliza’s efforts to aid the war effort) and it’s not exactly an exciting read but I did enjoy it.

I don’t think there was anything particularly stand out about it and I suspect if you’re a big Hamilton fan you’ll be disappointed but if you like a bit of history and a period romance you’ll probably enjoy this.

Thanks to NetGalley and the publisher for providing me with a copy. As always all views are my own.

Review: A Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles

A Gentleman in MoscowA Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Why did I put off reading this book? It’s a slow and quiet story but it’s absolutely beautifully written. It’s full of depth and meaning and such incredibly detailed descriptions that you become immersed in the world Towles creates.

I became far more invested in the lives of these wonderfully rich characters than I could ever have imagined. There’s not a lot of action but there were many moments that were incredibly heartfelt and just completely blew me away.

Read More »

Review: And I Darken by Kiersten White

And I Darken (The Conqueror's Saga, #1)And I Darken by Kiersten White

My rating: 4.5 of 5 stars

When I originally read the blurb for this I immediately thought “must read”. Seriously, gender switching Vlad the Impaler story, how could I resist….and then I saw some of the reviews which weren’t exactly glowing and it gave me pause. Thankfully I trusted my initial instincts and I’m so glad I did as this book is absolutely brilliant.

It’s packed full of action, political maneuvering and intrigue and has some incredible world building and a strong female main character. I can’t wait for the rest of the series.

Read More »

Book Review: His Bloody Project

His Bloody ProjectHis Bloody Project by Graeme Macrae Burnet

My rating: 4.5 of 5 stars

I should have hated this book. It has pretty much everything I avoid when choosing a read, it’s historical fiction, it has an unusual format and worst of all it was on the shortlist for the Man Booker Prize (I have to admit I hear award nominee and avoid like the plague). However, this book proved to be my surprise hit of the year. I loved it and I don’t think I’ve stopped talking about it since.

It’s set in 1869 in a small crofting community in the highlands of Scotland where a brutal triple murder has been committed by 17 year old Roderick Macrae. There’s no question that he committed the crime but there is the question of what drove a shy and intelligent young lad to carry out such a violent crime.

The story is told through a collection of documents beginning with witness statements from the other crofters and Roderick Macrae’s own memoir which describes the events leading up to the event before finishing with post mortem reports, a psychological evaluation and transcripts from the trial.

I think it’s this format that makes this book such a success and is a stroke of genius by the author. Each of the “documents” collected in this novel has a unique voice and perspective on the events which keeps the reader guessing until the end on both Roderick’s motivations and his character in general. They vary in length from a page to almost a third of the book but each and every one is written with such incredible skill that they feel genuine.

The witness statements at the start are among the shortest at a couple of pages each but as well as giving you that individuals perspective on the events, they also create a picture of that individuals character and I could visualize exactly the type of person they were from their words. The post mortem reports are short and factual, as you would expect, but still managed to make me sit up in shock. Reading them I found myself feeling like a detective on the case trying to decipher from the evidence and statements what really, truly happened.

Roderick Macrae’s memoir, written while in prison at the request of his advocate, makes up probably the largest proportion of the first half of the story and is very convincing reading. It gives you a real sense of life in the village and I have to admit had me completely buying in to Roddy’s tale of persecution and feeling sorry for the hard and lonely life he seemed to lead. The murders are described by him in some detail and by the time I got to them I was kind of willing him on. As the perpetrator of these violent acts, and facing a hanging if found guilty, he is however an unreliable narrator and there are some alternative theories put forward which left me questioning his story.

One of these comes from James Bruce Thomson, a psychiatrist brought in by the advocate to try and prove his client not guilty due to insanity. Thomson’s evaluation of Macrae, part of a book he’s written, is included in the collection and presents a very different picture of Roderick. As Thomson himself doesn’t come across as the most likeable character (elitist, rude and arrogant would be a mild description) you can’t really trust his version of events either but it does make you wonder, particularly when he gives his theory on the stand as part of the trial.

I think it was this constant questioning of what really happened that made this such an enjoyable read. I was desperate to talk about it with someone and get their perspective and theories (I think I’m going to suggest it for book club for this very reason). Also, despite my general dislike of historical fiction I think the 1869 Scottish crofting community setting added to the general atmosphere of the story and was so well described that it felt authentic throughout.

This is definitely a book I would recommend (and already have) to anyone and everyone, even if like me they avoid historical fiction and award nominees 🙂