The House on Foster Hill by Jaime Jo Wright
Kaine Prescott has traveled to the ends of the earth (also known as rural Wisconsin) to try to put the suspicious death of her husband behind her. Unable to convince anyone–including the police–that his death was anything other than a tragic accident, Kaine throws her energy into rehabbing the ancient and rundown Foster Hill house, long abandoned and rumored to be haunted. Meanwhile, in 1906, a young woman named Ivy finds the body of a young woman hidden in the hollow tree at Foster Hill. Obsessed with uncovering the girl’s identity, Ivy finds herself in greater and greater danger the more she learns.
This book sounded like such fun. I don’t mind a dual narrative when done well, and I settled myself in for an entertaining haunted house read. Unfortunately, the book fiys more closely into the Christian romance category than anything resembling horror or suspense. I enjoyed the historical half of the narrative for the most part, but I found modern-day Kaine hard to like or care about (aside from her dog).
In the end, this book just wasn’t for me. I’m not a fan of romance most of the time, and I just … don’t really enjoy majorly religious protagonists. I wish the book had billed itself less along haunted house lines and had a blurb that more closely described the plot.
A copy of this book was provided by the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.
The Way to London: A Novel of World War II by Alix Rickoff
Lucy Stanhope is a spoiled debutante living the good life in Singapore in the early years of WWII. Her mother is a selfish narcissist, and her step-father is a lecherous creep, and Lucy has no problems defying them or society to live the way she wants. However, when the weight of scandal becomes too much, Lucy finds herself packed up and shipped off to Nanreath Hall in England. Going from the tropical luxury of Singapore to the dreariness of war-time Britain is a kick in the teeth for Lucy. When she befriends a young war orphan, the two make plans to escape the drudgery of the country for London. The perilous journey across a war zone will force Lucy to face her priorities in life, and to confront her mistakes.
This is a beautiful, vividly written book. Rickoff has put an enormous amount of effort into packing every page with an incredible amount of historical detail. You can almost smell the tropical flowers on the breezes of Singapore, and feel the clammy touch of the fog in England. The story is slowly paced, allowing plenty of time to take in the story and get to know the characters.
That being said, this book wasn’t really up my alley. I’m not really one for romances (though if I were going to pick a romance genre it would likely be historical romance). It also kind of irked me that as rich in detail as most of the book was, the author is still relying on the “spoiled brat of a woman is made pure and whole by the love of a noble man” trope, which is nearly as bad as “the pure and virtuous woman finds the strength to tame the wild, uncouth man” trope. For all the detail and time spent on the setting and getting to know our main characters, the interaction between Lucy and her foil/savior, Michael, is uncomplicated and a bit flat. You know through all the sniping that they’re going to wind up together in the end, though I have to admit there were other contenders I was rooting for, and one (from her time in Singapore) whose story would (in my opinion) have been a bit more interesting.
So in all, this is a well written book in a genre I don’t have a lot of patience for. If you’re generally a fan of romance novels, or are into the WWII setting, this might be a good title for you to try.
An advance copy of this book was provided by the publisher in exchange for an honest review.
The Merchant’s Pearl by Amie O’Brien
Leila (formerly Sarai) is a missionary’s daughter sold into slavery after the death of her parents. Living in the cosseted and catty world of the Turkish Sultan’s harem, her main goal has been to remain unnoticed by the Sultan and his princes until she can make a claim for her freedom. When Prince Emre, the Sultan’s second son, claims her as his newest concubine, all her hopes seem to have been dashed. But Emre has been in love with Leila for years, ever since a disastrous attempt by his father to “gift” her to him. Despite Leila’s fear of physical intimacy, and her hesitation to tie herself into the place of a concubine, a rapport grows between the two. Meanwhile, the increasing instability of the Turkish empire in the face of the Industrial Revolution may provide them with a way out of their respective gilded cages.
O’Brien does a great job setting her story inside a well-researched and lovingly crafted historical setting. Her central characters, Leila and Emre, are crafted with multiple dimensions and feel more real than the typical heaving bosom and tall dark and handsome from romance novels. The story is, overall, more complex than many in the genre.
Ultimately, though, this book just didn’t capture me. The more modern speech was a bit jarring at times, but I can concede the use in these days and times. I’m tempted to think that the problem was on my end, I feel that romance novels for me can be hit or miss. However, I would still recommend this book to fans of historical romance. O’Brien clearly has talent as a writer, and aficionados of the genre will find a lot to like in the book.
A copy of this book was provided by the author in exchange for an honest review.
To Capture What We Cannot Keep by Beatrice Colin
This is nice little historical romance set in the waning days of 19th century France, as bohemians and the bourgeoisie struggle to find a path into the modernizing world. The story blends historical events and people with a fictional plot. We follow Caitriona Wallace, a young Scottish widow tasked with chaperoning two wealthy siblings during their grand European tour. While taking a hot air balloon ride to see Paris from above, Caitriona encounters engineer Emile Nouguier (a real person), who is partnered with Gustav Eiffel to help build the now-famous tower for the Paris World’s Fair of 1889.
What happens next follows fairly standard romantic faire: Caitriona, well-bred widow brought low by the death of her husband, and Emile,treading the line between bourgeois and bohemian, develop a fondness for one another, but must decide whether flouting propriety and convention, and the repercussions sure to follow, is worth a love affair.
I enjoyed this book, more for the rich historical detail than the plot (but then again, I am much more interested in history than in romance). Paris during the late 1800s was a fascinating time, and I loved that this story was set against the construction of the Eiffel Tower, which was hugely controversial in its day. For the most part, the characters are well drawn and interesting, though Caitriona’s two wards, Jamie and Alice Arrol, are self absorbed and clueless enough to thoroughly annoy.
In all, most readers of historical fiction and/or historical romance will like this book. The heroine is smart and relatable, and the romance sweet rather than sordid (while avoiding becoming saccharine).
An advance copy of this book was provided by the publishers via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. To Capture What We Cannot Keep will be available for purchase on November 29th, 2016.