Welcome to our first Book Reviews post. At the beginning of each month, I will be rounding up five of the books I’ve read in the previous month and will be reviewing them for you guys! Next to the title and author of each book I’ve given each book a rating of one to five stars (* to *****) based on my overall reaction to the book, and whether I would recommend it to a friend. Kelly’s Note: I try not to give spoilers for books if I really like them and recommend them to others. But, if I really loathe a book (*), be on the lookout for some spoilers. You’ve been warned!
Now, let’s get to the books!
The Devil’s Web, by Mary Balogh (*)
Category: Historical Romance
Unfortunately, I did not like this book, at all. The “Web” series is difficult to read in general, but of the three books, this is the worst. The intense hatred James Purnell has in this book and in The Gilded Web (the first book in the series) is quite ridiculous. He wants to make everyone around him miserable and can’t just tell Madeline how he feels all because of some tryst with a young lady when he was younger? It seemed like a whole lot of build up for nothing. Each and every character is completely overblown and out of the ordinary. And why do we get into the heads of every character we meet? I felt like I was trying to keep 10 different stories going on at once in my head throughout the book.
I also have to say that, quite honestly I expected a lot more of Mary Balogh than to use rape as a story arc in her books, only then to have that character forgiven at the last moment because the woman somehow still loves her rapist. It’s just ridiculous. Poor, silly Madeline just gives up on life and agrees to James’ marriage proposal because he *kinda* rapes her after his father’s death and she fears she might be pregnant as a result. This doesn’t really make sense to me, but okay, I can understand the fear given the time period this is taking place. But then, in an effort to explain her reasoning to…herself, she exclaims that maybe she is trying to punish herself too, and that’s why she accepted the proposal. So, which is it? The fear of pregnancy, a desire to punish herself, or somehow, that she loves James despite not being kind to her at all and being a general ass the entire time she has known him? And later, when James, her now husband, does actually rape her, how does she find it within herself to forgive him in the end because she really is pregnant this time? Given her actions immediately following the rape, this makes no sense.
By the end of the book, it felt like Balogh was just trying to wrap things up in a neat little bow, but felt no need to go back and make her story make any sense whatsoever. I just don’t understand what was trying to be achieved here. I’m glad this is the last book in the series because I don’t think I’d be able to finish any others, even to find out what became of the many side characters.
Would I recommend this book to a friend? Heck no, don’t bother, but do give her other many series a chance. I think you should start with The Proposal, the first book in the Survivor’s Club series.
As Bright as Heaven, by Susan Meiser (****)
Category: Historical Fiction
I found this book so interesting! It’s set in 1900s Philadelphia which I found fascinating since I live right outside of Philly and I love reading about its history. World War 1 is raging in Europe, America is just entering the war, and then a flu pandemic breaks out not only in Philadelphia, but all over the world. The story is told from the perspective of a mother and her three daughters, which I found great as a mechanism to keep the story moving forward, and it kept the story from focusing too much on war and what the men were up to, which I enjoyed. Polly is a strong woman who has recently lost a child, and she looks at the move to Philadelphia as an opportunity to reinvent herself. She takes a leadership role in their new home, and I think it was very strategic how she went about it; this is a smart woman who knows how men think and operate. Her three daughters, Evelyn, Maggie, and Willa, are young when the story starts and are trying to adjust to live in this new city when yet more tragedies erupt all around them.
Not many people know the history and stories surrounding the Spanish Flu crisis in 1918; I know I certainly didn’t. I found that the author does a great job fusing actual history with a compelling story to give us new perspectives on this time in world, and American, history. So many more people died of the Spanish Flu in 1918 than died from fighting in WWI, did you know that? That’s crazy. Having read this story, I plan to seek out many more that highlight this period in history.
Cons: Just one thing really, but as soon as we meet Ursula, it was kind of obvious who she was meant to be. I mean I did, and I was reading this book pretty quickly.
Would I recommend this book to a friend? Definitely. You might even find yourself wanting to research the topic further after finishing it!
Then She Was Gone: A Novel, by Lisa Jewell (***)
Category: Suspense/Psychological Thriller
The story of a teen-aged girl from a semi-privileged background that vanishes into thin air, or does she? Told from the perspectives of 4 different characters, this story kept me wanting more and more. Even with 2 jobs and a blog, I found myself finishing this book in 3 days, not something I usually do anymore. So I think that goes to show you that I found this book interesting. The differing perspectives kept the story moving and took it to a level that it might not have achieved if it had been told from only 1 perspective. Also, the jumps in the timeline kept it interesting and gave us insight that we would not have otherwise been privy to if it had been told in a linear fashion.
I liked our protagonist, Laurel, despite her seeming like a pretty crappy mom and wife. I mean, after Ellie’s disappearance she basically forgets about her other two kids and her husband. I’ve seen this in a lot of female characters when they’re left putting the pieces of their lives back together after the disappearance of a loved one, but, in reality, how would you react if one of your children, especially your favorite child, disappeared and there was nothing you could do to find them? I bet you would either give up on life entirely and shut out everyone else in your life, or you’d pull your loved ones around you a little tighter and cling to them for life. So I can understand Laurel’s actions following the disappearance to a degree.
Cons: I did find it easy to predict some of what happened, and there were some glaring holes in the plot that I found myself questioning long after I finished the book, but, overall, I thought it was a good read. I won’t give spoilers for the things I predicted because I actually liked this book and want people to read it. Also, Ellie was just too darn perfect from Laurel’s descriptions of her. I can definitely see why her other daughter, Hanna, was both in competition with Ellie for everything and also ended up hating Laurel after Ellie disappeared. I don’t think it is necessary for the character that disappears to always be a “golden child,” like they are in so many suspense stories. For once, I’d love to read a story about a troubled kid/adult who disappears, but the people they love still fight like crazy to find them.
Would I recommend this book to a friend? Yes, but with the caveat that it will be a little predictable if you’ve read other suspense/psychological thriller-type books. If you’re looking for a faster-paced thriller with complicated characters that just could.not.put.down, you should read Emma in the Night, it’s amazing! I finished it in under a day.
Roomies, by Christina Lauren (***)
Category: Contemporary Romance/Chick Lit
Typical of most contemporary romance novels, this was a really quick read. The story of a young woman who marries a stranger she has had a crush on so he can stay in the country and pursue a career in Broadway music. I enjoyed the “backstage” look into the theater that this story provided, but some of the characters were trite and a little stereotypical. Like Brian. I mean, come on, of course the protagonist needs a boss that she hates, right? But he’s written in such a way that makes me almost feel bad for him. He was forced to give Holland a job because of her uncle, and I assume he has a stressful job as it is. I don’t know, maybe I was just looking for something to not like about this book, but I just did not enjoy the way some characters were portrayed.
Cons: There was nothing really controversial in this book, but I felt like there was too much thrown into the last couple chapters. We meet family members that have never been seen before, a lot of time passes in the span of pages, and I feel like the reconciliation of the characters at the end happened way too quickly.
Would I recommend this book to a friend? Sure. It’s a quick read, so you’re not committing too much time to something that you may end up not liking. I doubt I will seek out other books from this author, though.
The Pursuit of Mary Bennet (***)
Category: Historical Fiction
A continuation of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice from the perspective of of the long neglected Mary Bennet. I found this story to be mostly believable because I’ve always wanted Mary to have a bit of backbone in her. She may come off as a bit rude and overwhelmingly as if she hates her sisters, but after being neglected by her entire family for so long, I can only imagine what I would have done in a similar situation.
I really enjoyed that it seemed as though she disliked Mr. Collins and no mention was made of a lingering disappointment that they had not wed. The new characters introduced to the story were believable enough, and I like that they looped more troubles back in for Lydia and Wickham (I mean, they definitely deserve their share of hardships).
Would I recommend this book to a friend? If you’re a fan of Pride and Prejudice re-imaginings, then definitely, otherwise you might not understand what is happening with some of the characters.