February 11, 2019

Book Review: The Woman in the Lake by Nicola Cornick


Publication Date: February 26, 2019

Source: Vine

London, 1765

Lady Isabella Gerard, a respectable member of Georgian society, orders her maid to take her new golden gown and destroy it, its shimmering beauty tainted by the actions of her brutal husband the night before.

Three months later, Lord Gerard stands at the shoreline of the lake, looking down at a woman wearing the golden gown. As the body slowly rolls over to reveal her face, it’s clear this was not his intended victim…

250 Years Later

When a gown she stole from a historic home as a child is mysteriously returned to Fenella Brightwell, it begins to possess her in exactly the same way that it did as a girl. Soon the fragile new life Fen has created for herself away from her abusive ex-husband is threatened at its foundations by the gown’s power over her until she can't tell what is real and what is imaginary.

As Fen uncovers more about the gown and Isabella’s story, she begins to see the parallels with her own life. When each piece of history is revealed, the gown—and its past—seems to possess her more and more, culminating in a dramatic revelation set to destroy her sanity.

First, the description for this book touts it for fans of Kate Morton.  I respectfully disagree.  While it has some elements similar to Morton's novels - alternating timelines, a mystery in the past, and complex characters, The Woman in the Lake can't compare to Morton's novels.  The comparison to Susannah Kearsley is a bit more on the nose, as there are supernatural elements woven into the narrative which are never explained to my satisfaction. 

"Her fingers brushed against something soft and smooth, silk, aged and pale yet still retaining the shimmer of gold.

"A sensation shot through her, recognition and dread and a strange sort of excitement.

"The golden gown came free of its wrappings with a whisper of sound that was like the past stirring.  It felt as though it sighed, shivering in Fen's hands. Unconsciously, she held it close to her heart in exactly the same way she had done in her bedroom fourteen years before.

...

"This is yours. Do with it what you think best but be aware of the danger.'"

The novel is written from three different points of view: Fenella in the modern day, Lady Isabella and her lady's maid, Cordelia, in the 1700s.  In both storylines, the female characters are in jeopardy from a lover or ex-lover and must go from a place of helplessness to one of strength.  Ultimately, this is what I liked about The Woman in the Lake - its theme of female empowerment. The last chapters moved fast towards a triumphant conclusion for both storylines. But my interest was piqued by the Author's Note which revealed that Lady Isabella was based on a real-life aristocrat, Lady Diana Spencer (not that one, but an ancestor of hers).  I would wait to research the author's inspiration as doing so might spoil some narrative turns. 

February 4, 2019

Book Review: The Library of Lost and Found by Phaedra Patrick


Publication Date: March 26, 2019

Source: Vine

Librarian Martha Storm has always found it easier to connect with books than people—though not for lack of trying. She keeps careful lists of how to help others in her superhero-themed notebook. And yet, sometimes it feels like she’s invisible.

All of that changes when a book of fairy tales arrives on her doorstep. Inside, Martha finds a dedication written to her by her best friend—her grandmother Zelda—who died under mysterious circumstances years earlier. When Martha discovers a clue within the book that her grandmother may still be alive, she becomes determined to discover the truth. As she delves deeper into Zelda’s past, she unwittingly reveals a family secret that will change her life forever.

At first I had a hard time connecting with Martha Storm, who, despite her last name, is a timid doormat. She lets everyone, including her sister and library patrons, step all over her. She mends people's clothes, vases, does their laundry, keep their goldfish alive. She has no life of her own, too busy trying to please everyone.  I felt extremely frustrated with her.  But then I came upon this passage early on and realized she's good people:

"When Martha stepped inside the library, she closed her eyes and inhaled the earthy, almond scent of books. if she could bottle the aroma, she'd wear it as a perfume. L'eau de la Bibliotheque.

"She took the small battered book from her bag and gave that a sniff too.  It smelled musty and sweet with a hint of something else she couldn't place, maybe amber or cinnamon."

There's more to Martha than the long-suffering librarian.  All the vibrant parts of her personality somehow got suppressed over the years. But when she finds an unusual book that should not exist, all the uncomfortable secrets surrounding her childhood, domineering father, and dead grandmother come to light.  

The Library of Lost and Found went to unusual places and surprised me with the twists and turns of the story. It is heartwarming in the end, but some aspects made me angry and sad, such as Martha's childhood, a study in how to crush a bright and beautiful spirit.  Throughout the book, short, original fairy tales are sprinkled here and there to illuminate or enrich what was happening with scenes in the past.  These were my favorite parts -as the stories were whimsical but multi-layered.  

"The library had been her Narnia, and it still was."

**SPOILER**
I know the reader was supposed to find Zelda charming and eccentric but her stubborness about explaining everything drove me up the wall. 

January 28, 2019

Book Review: Blood Orange by Harriet Tyce


Publication Date: February 19, 2019

Source: Vine

Alison has it all. A doting husband, adorable daughter, and a career on the rise--she's just been given her first murder case to defend. But all is never as it seems...

Just one more night. Then I'll end it.
Alison drinks too much. She's neglecting her family. And she's having an affair with a colleague whose taste for pushing boundaries may be more than she can handle.

I did it. I killed him. I should be locked up.
Alison's client doesn't deny that she stabbed her husband - she wants to plead guilty. And yet something about her story is deeply amiss. Saving this woman may be the first step to Alison saving herself.

I'm watching you. I know what you're doing.
But someone knows Alison's secrets. Someone who wants to make her pay for what she's done, and who won't stop until she's lost everything....

When I picked up this book, I was in a reading binge of psychological suspense and domestic thrillers. I craved nothing else. So I was predisposed to like this novel. However, the protagonist rubbed me the wrong way. I like reading about flawed characters but in a cast of unsavory people and dark and uneasy situations, I like connecting with a somewhat sympathetic heroine. Not in this case - I ended up disliking Alison early on and wanted to shake her at times for the terrible choices she made. I wanted to DNF this book multiple times but I talked myself out of it out of mere curiosity. My genuine need to know the truth overcame my dislike of not just Alison but pretty much every character here. There were twists I did not see coming and I was rewarded eventually for persevering. Secrets abound and the ending is a satisfying one.