The English Wife

It’s no surprise that I love Lauren Willig. Especially her Pink Carnation series, but her standalones as well. I love how readable her books are, while still being full of historical information and literary references. Kind of like reading “chick lit” but with much more substance. When I saw Willig was coming out with a new standalone novel, I knew I had to try and get it off Netgalley, and I was lucky! I downloaded The English Wife a month or so ago, but didn’t start it until last week.

The English Wife opens with the death of Bayard Van Duyvil, the heir of an old Knickerbocker family in New York City in 1899. The rest of the story follows his sister Janie trying to discover the truth behind the murder, and also jumps back in time to when Bay meets his English Wife.

It took me a while to get into the book, but once I got through the introduction I was hooked. Willig does a wonderful job weaving together the two storylines and maintaining the mystery and making (almost) every character sympathetic (or at least understandable). Usually, when a book has two different storylines I like one better than the other, but not here. The mystery kept me on my toes, and remained true to the era and the story. I also love the amount of detail Willig puts in her novels, from the copious amount of research to the inclusion of other pieces of literature (in this case Shakespeare).


Mr. Churchill’s Secretary

I’m being lazy today. I blame it on the lack of coffee. So, I’m going to copy and paste the Goodreads blurb of Mr. Churchill’s Secretarythe first in the Maggie Hope Mystery series by Susan Elia MacNeal, and my short Goodreads review.


For fans of Jacqueline Winspear, Laurie R. King, and Anne Perry, Mr. Churchill’s Secretary captures the drama of an era of unprecedented challenge—and the greatness that rose to meet it.

London, 1940. Winston Churchill has just been sworn in, war rages across the Channel, and the threat of a Blitz looms larger by the day. But none of this deters Maggie Hope. She graduated at the top of her college class and possesses all the skills of the finest minds in British intelligence, but her gender qualifies her only to be the newest typist at No. 10 Downing Street. Her indefatigable spirit and remarkable gifts for codebreaking, though, rival those of even the highest men in government, and Maggie finds that working for the prime minister affords her a level of clearance she could never have imagined—and opportunities she will not let pass. In troubled, deadly times, with air-raid sirens sending multitudes underground, access to the War Rooms also exposes Maggie to the machinations of a menacing faction determined to do whatever it takes to change the course of history.

Ensnared in a web of spies, murder, and intrigue, Maggie must work quickly to balance her duty to King and Country with her chances for survival. And when she unravels a mystery that points toward her own family’s hidden secrets, she’ll discover that her quick wits are all that stand between an assassin’s murderous plan and Churchill himself.

In this daring debut, Susan Elia MacNeal blends meticulous research on the era, psychological insight into Winston Churchill, and the creation of a riveting main character,  Maggie Hope, into a spectacularly crafted novel.

My Review:

If I had half stars I’d give it 2.5

This series has been on my radar since publication in 2012(ish) but after reading this one I won’t be reading the rest. Which is unfortunate, because this is right up my alley, and it even says right at the top “for fans of Jacqueline Winspear,” and I definitely fall into that category. But MacNeal’s writing is awful, there are too many characters, it jumps from one narrative to the next with no break in the page so it’s hard to tell what’s going on, and the story goes well beyond where it should have ended. With that said, once I got into the mystery I had to know what happened (which is why it’s 2.5 stars).


Graphic novels are not my forte. However, I read a few this fall, including Wonder Woman, which I already blogged about.

In addition to Wonder Woman I read the first Amulet book, The Stonekeeper by Kazu Kibuishi in September. When I worked at the school library in Louisiana back in 2011 and 2012, all the kids read Amulet. I could not keep those in stock or in good condition. However, I personally never had an interest in reading the series.

I have to say, I still don’t really have an interest, but it was a slow evening in September and a kid returned a copy, so I decided I should finally give it a go. The artwork is lovely, but for me, the story is too weird. The world they are in is full of talking robot things and moving houses and eerie landscapes. I guess I see the kid appeal, but it’s not for me.

Last week I read Spinning by Tillie Walden as my book about sports for Book Riot’s Read Harder Challenge. Spinning got a lot of buzz, and I have no interest in reading about football or baseball, so it seemed like the perfect solution. Spinning is ostensibly about Walden’s figure skating youth with practices before and after school, but it’s also about depression, sexuality, and being a high schooler. I found the subject interesting, but there were so many random asides and spreads it was hard for me to keep track of the plot. Mostly, I impressed that Walden wrote this at such a young age!


Big Little Lies

After hearing so much about the TV show, Big Little Lies, I decided I had to read the book. I actually listened to the book, which was kind of nice, because the narrator has an Australian accent. However, towards the end I could hear every lip smack and swallow and that drove me nuts.

I was expected to enjoy the book, but I wasn’t expecting it to be quite so dark. I think Liane Moriarty did a great job with the emotional aspects of the book, especially the ones we usually don’t even want to admit to ourselves.

I then tried to watch the series, and for me, it fell super flat. I think Reese Witherspoon as Madeline was really harsh. She’s too skinny and too perfect. In my mind I pictured someone a bit more flamboyant — Jane  describes her as a “shiny girl” (I think), so I never got the impression that Madeline’s outfits and accessories were particularly trendy or classy like they are in the show. I imagined a blond, older version of Lorelai Gilmore. And I don’t buy Adam Scott and Reese Witherspoon as a couple, although I can’t quite pinpoint why.

However, I loved Nicole Kidman as Celeste. Since I knew she played the part, I think I had Kidman in my mind while reading.

I have to admit, I didn’t finish watching the show. I started, and then my dad stayed with us for two weeks and helped us with our basement remodel, and it didn’t seem like something he’d be interested in watching. Then I forgot about it, and then it went way overdue, and I had to return the DVDs to the library. Oh well… maybe I’ll try again in a few months when the wait list is shorter. I clearly wasn’t compelled to binge it like everyone said I would. Although the music and scenery were amazing!


A few weeks ago I was catching up on podcasts while driving to my parents and Jeff and Rebecca from Book Riot talked for a long time about romance authors and the lack of diversity in romance. This piqued my interest, and decided to read one of Beverly Jenkins’ novels. I’m trying to read more diversely in terms of author and protagonist (but mostly #ownvoices), and also genre. I’m doing a lot better with #ownvoices than I am with genre, so this seemed like a perfect opportunity to combine both.

I also decided to use a Jenkins novel for the prompt “a best seller in a genre you don’t normally read.” And let me tell you, it was difficult figuring out which books exactly are best sellers. Everything says, “Beverly Jenkins, USA Today bestselling author,” but I could never find out which books were bestsellers. So, I went with one of the most recent publications: Forbidden.

Forbidden follows Eddy and Rhine (who apparently was briefly introduced in another novel way back in the 80s) in a booming mining town in Nevada post-Civil War. Eddy is determined to make her way to San Francisco and start a restaurant but finds herself alone and close to death in the desert. Rhine is a scion of respectability and money in town, but he harbors a deep secret. Rhine was born a slave, the result of abuse between the slave owner and his mother, and is now passing for White. Rhine rescues Eddy and instantly feels drawn to her, but in order to be with her he must sacrifice all he has worked towards.

While I wasn’t a huge fan of Jenkins’ writing style, I like how seamlessly she weaves history in with the plot. The last few pages are full of notes and bibliography, so she clearly did her research. I’m also ashamed to realize just how little I know of postbellum history, aside from the highlights featured in textbooks.

Through Smart Bitches Trashy Books I found an interview with Jenkins from Jezebel and I thought this bit was most illuminating:

You’ve talked a little bit about what draws you to the nineteenth century—why does the postwar period to the end of the century interest you so much as a writer?

There was so much going on and it’s not a typical time that we know about, regardless of what race we are, and I think the more we know about each other the better off we’d all be. And it also has its parallels with the twentieth and the twenty-first century. Because right after the Civil War you had those great gains with Reconstruction—this huge amount of Black men in Congress and representatives through the states, you had the lieutenant governor in Louisiana, you had Black folks in positions of power and businesses and colleges going up. And then when Reconstruction died in 1876, everything started to unravel. You had the rise of the Klan and you had the Redemption period. And lynchings and blood and death and destruction. And folks said we’ve got to leave the South. They moved into places like Kansas, Nebraska, Iowa, Colorado, California. Which is where I set my very first book, Night Song, in one of those Black townships in Kansas.

In the ‘70s you had African Americans retaking their places in Congress and in the Senate and in local elections. So there’s a parallel in us rising and then the ‘90s and stuff started to sort of peter out again. It’s an up and down cycle. Great things happening in both centuries, both bittersweet.

Overall, I really enjoyed the experience reading Forbidden and am definitely going to check out another of Jenkins’ books.

Airplane Reads

My husband and I flew out east for a wedding/leaf peeping trip (what a weird phrase, by the way) last weekend and I devoured two different YA books. YA books are the best for flying, I’ve found. At least the fluffy ones.

On the plane ride out I read The Statistical Probability of Love at First Sight by Jennifer E. Smith. A year or so ago I read This is What Happy Looks Like so I knew what I was getting into with Love at First Sight. The Statistical Probability of Love at First Sight is the story of Hadley and Oliver, who meet by chance (Hadley missed her flight and was put on Oliver’s) at an airport and find themselves sitting next to each other on the trip from New York to London. As the title suggests, they fall in love. It’s a very sweet story, and exactly what I was looking for, so I forgave the too-quickly-wrapped-up-ending. The sweet love story and the angsty family drama play off each other nicely and I imagine would have been very appealing to teen me (it certainly appealed to adult me, so I have to assume).

On the plane ride back, I read Rebel Mechanics by Shanna Swendson and even downloaded the sequel, Rebel Magisters on overdrive during our layover. Rebel Mechanics introduces us to an alternate universe. What if the British ruling class were magic, and that’s why they controlled the colonies? If that happened the American Revolution would not have turned out the way we know it today. What if, the Industrial Revolution occurred because the non-magical people were finding ways to build machinery that would give them the same sort of power as the Magisters (the magical people)?

I don’t think I’ve ever officially read a Steampunk novel before and I loved the concept! The writing and the characters certainly left something to be desired. Which is unfortunate. Rebel Mechanics is a very clean and chaste YA novel. Not that all romances need bosom heaving, but this one seemed particularly full of romantic tension and I kept waiting for characters to make moves, and it was very frustrating. Kiss! Declare your feelings! At least hug. It doesn’t help that the characters themselves reminded me a lot of those found in The Pink Carnation series, which is for adults and therefore the romance has more adult content. So with that comparison in mind, I kept waiting for things to happen (that never did).

My guess is that Rebel Mechanics did not perform well sales wise, as according to Goodreads, the sequel was self-published. And you can tell. Although that didn’t stop me from reading the two books in two days.

I originally checked out The Statistical Probability of Love at First Sight and Rebel Mechanics for the “book with a red spine” category on the PopSugar Reading Challenge. In the end, I used The Statistical Probability of Love at First Sight for the “book involving travel” category, Rebel Mechanics for the “book with a red spine category” and Rebel Magisters for “a steampunk novel.”  

I believe I originally had Rich People Problems as my “book involving travel,” but The Statistical Probability of Love at First Sight seemed more fitting. I like to play around with the categories as I read and fill in the slots. So many can fit for so many different categories!

I Hate Everyone But You

I have many thoughts on I Hate Everyone But You by Gaby Dunn and Allison Raskin, so let’s see if I can make sense of them.

Told in a series of texts and emails it was hard to distinguish characters at first. Once I got over that I got sucked in to the story. On the one hand, nobody is a particularly likable person and the love interests are pretty terrible. However, at 18 you aren’t always a very nice person and we all make questionable romantic choices at first. Both Gen and Ava are relatable in their own way (one has anxiety and some other mental health concerns, while the other is discovering her sexuality and the queer community) and the novel addresses issues that many teens are facing/will face as they mature in a way I don’t think many other novels address.

The only downside (or I suppose you could say it’s a positive) is that without chapters there’s no good stopping point. Because of this I ended reading the whole thing in one day.

Gaby and Allison also have a pretty popular YouTube channel, which I tried watching after reading, and I have to say, I like the book a lot more.