Category: Fiction

Review: Mr. Dickens and His Carol


Mr. Dickens and His Carol

“Bah! Humbug!”

I have been dying to get my hands on this book for what seems like forever. It’s been much hyped in the bookstagram community, so when my library hold finally came in I rushed right over to get it. I enjoy reading holiday books, but I don’t generally go for the plucky, romantic books. (But you can bet I’ll be watching Netflix’s A Christmas Prince real soon.) Samantha Silva’s Mr. Dickens and His Carol is not that kind of book (although it is a wonderfully sweet story), and I absolutely loved it. If you’re looking for a well-told, historically-based holiday story, this is it!

. . . for the truth at the bottom of every illusion, every fiction, every lie: our own great desire to believe.

Mr. Dickens and His Carol, part fact part Silva’s imagination, begins with Charles Dickens himself in a holiday slump. He is sick of Christmas excess, sick of his family and friends always needing money from him, and sick of his publishers hounding him to write a Christmas book he doesn’t want to write. (And giving him only two weeks in which to write that book.) He isolates himself in a hotel room to write the book, for which he has little inspiration, and spends his nights taking long walks around London to try and clear his mind. On one of his walks, he meets a mysterious woman named Eleanor Lovejoy who challenges Dickens to re-think what he believes about Christmas, family, friendship, and love. Their friendship sparks a Christmas story that changes everything.

This is a feel-good story that isn’t cheesy. Dickens wants to believe in the spirit of Christmas again but is unable to because of all the pressure placed on him by everyone around him. That’s something we can all relate to on different levels. In her Author’s Note, Silva includes which parts are completely true, including the situation (A Christmas Carol was written out of financial necessity, and Dickens was under immense pressure) and some of the characters’ lines. She fills in the gaps to create a magical, sentimental story of how Dickens may have been inspired to write this story in her imagination.

This a beautiful story of love and family, of the Christmas spirit, and of a man who needed to find himself to break a serious case of writer’s block. I want to know more about Dickens and the history of A Christmas Carol now, and I’m already looking up more books about the subject! (There’s also a great twist that completely surprised me because I was so caught up in the story and how good the writing was. I didn’t see it coming at all!) Mr. Dickens and His Carol is a perfect holiday read, and I would recommend it to anyone.

⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Review: The Deal of a Lifetime


The Deal of a Lifetime

I was born here but I’ve never gotten used to it; Helsingborg and I will never find peace. Maybe everyone feels that way about their hometown: the place we’re from never apologizes, never admits that it was wrong about us.

Fredrik Backman is one of my favorite writers, and a true wordsmith. I fell in love with A Man Called Ove (My review of that book is HERE.), and I’ve fallen head over heels for his new Christmas novella The Deal of a Lifetime.

The story begins with a father writing a letter to his son on Christmas Eve. Instead of a typical feel-good letter, the father is writing to tell his son that he has taken a life. Throughout the course of the novella, we meet a 5-year-old girl with cancer, a mysterious woman who drifts in and out of the picture, and find out why the narrator feels he failed as a parent. When he is given the opportunity to commit a selfless act and save the little girl, he has to see what his life was really worth before he can make the deal. Thus, he writes a letter to his son, examining his entire life.

This book yanked at my heartstrings right from the introduction. I was hooked before the book had even begun. Backman gets the feelings of a man trying to do right, and the strange feelings that accompany returning to a hometown that you might never have felt at home in, exactly right. This novella is only 65 pages long, but I smiled, I laughed, and I definitely cried.

The book is so short, and I don’t want to give the entire plot away, so just know that it is the story of a man desperate to fix things in the past, and the deal a parent is willing to make to achieve those changes. The Deal of a Lifetime is a beautiful, warm, and emotional story, and if you really want to feel something, with a little holiday thrown in, I beg you to pick up this book. I don’t think you’ll be disappointed!

⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

 

Maybe all people have that feeling deep down, that your hometown is something you can never really escape, but can never really go home to, either. Because it’s not home anymore. We’re not trying to make peace with it. Not with the streets and bricks of it. Just with the person we were back then. And maybe forgive ourselves for everything we thought we would become and didn’t.

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Review: Little Fires Everywhere


Little Fires Everywhere

All her life, she had learned that passion, like fire, was a dangerous thing. It so easily went out of control.

Celeste Ng’s first book, Everything I Never Told You, took 6 years to write. I’m so glad we didn’t have to wait 6 more from that publication to her newest. Little Fires Everywhere is Ng’s newest masterpiece, and it is just that. She’s managed to do what many authors cannot, and that is to write a second novel that is even better than her first. I was hooked from the first line, and I didn’t want to put it down. This book made me feel all the feelings, and made me question a whole lot about how I see the world and the people living in it.

Rules existed for a reason: if you followed them, you would succeed; if you didn’t, you might burn the world to the ground.

Shaker Heights, Ohio, is a perfectly planned community full of perfectly planned families. Elena Richardson, journalist, mother of 4, wife of 1, grew up in Shaker Heights and returned to start a family right after college. Image is extremely important to her, and she works hard to maintain a shining one. When Mia Warren and her daughter Pearl move to town, looking to start a new chapter in their lives, Elena takes it upon herself to help them out, beginning with giving them a good deal on a rental. But when Pearl and Elena’s children become entwined, Elena starts to wonder about Mia’s mysterious past, and why they don’t really know anything about her. When one of Elena’s friends tries to adopt a Chinese-American baby, Mia and Elena, as well as the entire town, are split on whether or not the adoption should go through. Elena will not stop looking into Mia’s past until she figures out everything, no matter how many lives she ruins along the way.

The first thing that came to mind when I started reading this book was the song Little Boxes. (It was the theme song to the TV show Weeds, and it’s about perfect little box houses all in a row, and all the families looking the same.) Ng’s Shaker Heights is just like the song. Everyone has a large, perfect house, everyone is a doctor, lawyer, or executive, and everyone wants to be the same. Elena’s youngest child, Izzy (who I wanted so much more of), throws a wrench into those plans, and that’s all I’ll say because I don’t want to ruin the plot for you.

This book made me think, and I’m still thinking about it. It made me question my own motives behind the decisions I’ve made, and what kind of judgments I’m willing to pass on people who I’ve never met. Elena wants to be charitable, and she is, but only for certain people who meet certain criteria. She is very quick to pass judgment on other people and their situations, but that judgment changes when she or her family is in a similar situation. Ng really confronts the black and white that most of us use for right and wrong, and delves into all the shades of gray that are in between.

The writing, as usual, is wonderful. Ng moves fluidly between the characters’ past and present, and does so so seamlessly that not only did I not feel removed from the main story, I didn’t even realize it was happening. She is such a beautiful writer. (And I mean that in the best way, not in the, “this book is highbrow and no one can really understand it” way.) It is a brilliant, original story, and I literally hugged the book when I finished it and wanted to re-read it immediately.

Little Fires Everywhere is one of my favorite books of 2017, and most likely will be a lifetime favorite. It is heartbreaking and intriguing. It deeply examines familial relationships, as well as the way we pass judgment on other people. Ng shows that sometimes life isn’t just about keeping secrets for secrets’ sake, but about why we keep them, and what lengths we go to to protect our children and family. (And what exactly makes up that family.)

⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ X 1,000

EXTRA!

I have to include my favorite quote here, because it made me tear up when I read it, as a parent and as a fan of Ng’s writing.

“Parents, she thought, learned to survive touching their children less and less. It was like training yourself to live on the smell of an apple alone, when what you really wanted was to devour it, to sink your teeth into it, and consume it, seeds, core, and all.”

Ng is an expert at pinpointing the exact feeling we can all relate to and leaning into it with all her might. If you read this book and don’t feel SOMETHING, well, read it again!

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Review: Abigale Hall


Abigale Hall

In a hidden corner of the Welsh countryside, beneath the dark green hills and stretching deep underground, lies a secret.

 

This is not the sort of book I would usually reach for, even around Halloween. Maybe especially around Halloween. But Madeleine at Top Shelf Text recommended it so highly that I had to give it a try. I’m so glad I did, because while it was an anxiety-inducing novel, it was a really well-written one. Abigale Hall by Lauren Forry is categorized as a suspense novel, but it’s written in the vein of gothic horror novels. If you want a well-written, fast-paced page-turner, this is the one to go for.

17-year-old Eliza and her younger sister Rebecca have orphaned due to various events during WWII. Their mother was killed in the Blitz, their father committed suicide, and their aunt very suddenly and mysteriously decides she can no longer care for them and they are sent to work at a crumbling mansion in Wales. They never see the owner, Mr. Brownwell, and the housekeeper, Mrs. Pollard, is . . . off. Eliza tries to make plans to escape back to London, but when she discovers a book covered in blood, she has to figure out what’s going in the house and why none of the other girls hired in the past are alive.

This book made me nervous when I read it, and I genuinely feared for the safety of the characters. If the plot reminds you of Daphne Du Maurier’s Rebecca, it’s for a good reason. There are definite similarities between the two, and if you like Rebecca you’ll probably like this book too. The story is creepy and mysterious, but it’s not gory, so if gore bothers you (like it does me) don’t let that keep you from this one! WWII is the backdrop of the story, but I wouldn’t say it’s a major theme in the book.

None of the characters in the book are completely likable, but it was ok because the story drew me in so much. Eliza, who frustrated me at the beginning of the book, does go through some necessary character changes, and I was completely on her side by the end. I don’t want to say much about Rebecca, because her role in the story is twisted and interesting, but suffice it to say that she definitely adds to the creepiness and mystery!

Abigale Hall is a great gothic fiction story, and it’s perfect for people who don’t like to read real horror, such as Stephen King. It fits right in with books like Rebecca and Wuthering Heights, but is a bit more modern and fast-paced. Forry is a talented author, and I can’t wait to see what she writes next!

⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

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Review: Lies She Told


Lies She Told

To be a writer is to be a life thief. Every day, I rob myself blind.

When I saw that my friend Stacey at Prose and Palate was a guest judge (AGAIN, because she’s amazing) for Book of the Month, I knew I would selecting whatever book she recommended. So there was no question that for September, my choice was Lies She Told by Cate Holahan. I read this suspense novel in two days, and believe me when I say that I hardly ever read a book that fast. It was so engaging and tense that I couldn’t put it down until I had finished. (Including telling my kids to wait a minute before I read to them, because I had to finish MY book first!)

It’s only a story.

Liza is a novelist whose latest book sales aren’t fantastic. Her publisher is giving her one more chance to write a bestseller, and she doesn’t have time to do it. She and her husband are also trying to start a family, and her husband’s best friend and law partner has disappeared. To cope, Liza disappears into her novel, writing about her main character, Beth. Beth has a new baby and a cheating husband. Her plan of confronting him about it goes awry, and before she knows it, she’s pushing the mistress’s body into the East River. Before long, Liza’s and Beth’s lives intertwine, and Liza has to figure out what is the truth, what is fiction, and whose story she’s really in.

I was hooked on this book from the very beginning. The story is told in alternating chapters between Liza and Beth. Holahan expertly writes the Beth and Liza chapters so that they become entwined, and I kept forgetting which woman I was reading about. It wasn’t frustrating, though, and it added to the tension in a really good way. (The font used for each character’s chapter is different, so there’s always a reminder.) She puts just enough pressure on the characters, both real and fictional, that you feel the tension as they try to figure out what to do. The twist was great, and while I did figure it out before the ending, it really didn’t bother me because I was having such a good time reading and going along on the adventure with Liza and Beth.

There were a few editorial misses (a name changed mid-paragraph, some words were left out) that made the editor in me cringe, but I was ok with ignoring that because I had to keep reading!

Lies She Told is a fantastic suspense novel, and if you’re a fan of this category, I think you’ll love this one!

⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️
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