Henry VIII and his many wives, but modernized and given a few memorable twists. This was a joy to read as a Tudor-era fan, and it had some quirks.
Pacing: ★★★ 1/2
Wife After Wife is exactly as it's billed on the ticket: Henry VIII is Harry Rose, modern-day media mogul, and this is the story of his many wives.
Now, full disclosure, I love any and all things related to the Tudor time period, include modern retellings. So I loved this for the concept alone. But, separate from the concept, I thought the author's decision to place a Henry VIII-type male character was an interesting one in the context of the #MeToo movement. Was it executed well? That depends.
Harry Rose meets his first wife, Katie—Catherine of Aragon—when he's barely 20 and she's 25. It's the 1980s, and things are going great. Except, that is, for Harry's wandering eye and Katie's fertility issues.
Then Harry meets Merry—Mary Boleyn—when she's married to a closeted gay man and he's still with Katie. Uh oh. A little fun on the side never hurt anyone, right? ...Maybe Katie might disagree.
Ana—Anne Boleyn—is the fashion editor at Harry's company, in charge of running Harry's magazine in the 1990s. So what if she's Merry's sister? Even though Ana's not initially interested in her sister's leftovers, Harry is persistent. And Harry gets what he wants.
And so on...Harry gets what he wants.
The story of Henry VIII and his many wives is relatively popular, so I will stop there at the third famous wife, Anne Boleyn. Now on to some thoughts!
I thought Wife After Wife did a few things incredibly well, including the characterization of all of the women in Harry Rose's life. They were complex, they were products of their decades, and they struggled to maintain a life in the vortex of a supremely powerful and egotistical man.
My problem with Wife After Wife lies with Harry Rose. Harry reads just like Henry VIII to a fault. During the Tudor time period, yes, men could do what they wanted and women just had to take it—they had no agency at all. But in the 1980s? The 1990s? The 2010s? I struggled with Harry's stagnate personality as not only did it not age well with the times, it also became increasingly hard to read his sections. Harry never grew, never changed...he just kept sleeping with all of these women, cheating, lying, and then victim-blaming his wives for problems that were clearly started by him.
Wife After Wife kept this portrayal accurate to the historical reference, but I found it increasingly hard to believe that these women in the 1980s-2010s just let him get away with it, and let him continue to believe his own deluded version of himself. It works with a king, but you'd have to suspend your believe further to believe that it works seamlessly with a more modern couple. I'm not sure if it would have been possible to portray Harry in a satisfying way AND keep him historically referenced, but it did cause a sticking point in my reader enjoyment.
However, other than that this novel was a lot of fun. Let's bring back the Tudors in modern fiction some more—I love it!
Thank you to Berkley for this title in exchange for an honest review.
Gorgeous writing, extremely suspenseful. The Alaskan wilderness and one woman's drive to find answers gives this narrative its propulsive drive.
Villain(s)/Reveal(s): ★★★ 1/2
It's 1941. Elisabeth Pfautz is living at home in Tanacross, a barely-there outpost of rural Alaska with her husband, John, and their young daughter, Margaret. They've been in Alaska for a while now, following John's teaching posts wherever they lead, and Elisabeth is just along for the ride with an unhappy marriage, a gloomy home life, and the ghosts of the unsolved secrets of her past.
Elisabeth's twin sister, Jacqueline, disappeared when she was a child.
I'll be right back, don't worry.
Jacqueline never came back, and after decades of searches in the Pennsylvania town where it happened, the case has gone cold.
In Tanacross, Elisabeth meets a stranger and he needs a place to stay for the night. She offers him their spare room despite her reservations, as her home is the unofficial B&B when Tanacross gets white guests.
The stranger, Alfred, is odd. He's a German during a time when to be German is to be the enemy, and frankly, he's creepy. By the next morning, Alfred's murdered Elisabeth's neighbor in an act of (seemingly) cold blood. He's immediately whisked to Fairbanks and interred in the prison.
But Elisabeth begins to receive letters from the murderer in jail. Alfred claims to know what happened to Jacqueline, and he can prove it. To Elisabeth, this permanent hole in her life sucks her into Alfred's narrative, and Elisabeth finds herself responding to his letters and following his bread crumb trail.
What happened to Jacqueline?
First off, let me say that this is some of the most gorgeous and suspenseful writing that I have read in a literary suspense novel in quite some time. For the writing quality alone, this novel is worth the read. Fleischmann can weave his words together with a flourish.
In fact, at times I forgot that I was reading a mystery/thriller, and completely engrossed myself in the literary suspense. This is less a "whodunit" and more of a character study of Elisabeth and Alfred, complete with beautiful described scenes and flashbacks.
However, I will say that I found the ending to be not quite...what I expected. Considering the near-flawless writing and the fantastic characterization of Elisabeth, I was a bit surprised by the direction taken at the end. Again, the "whodunit" was not the driving force for my reading experience, but I still found the reveal(s) to be a weaker ending. Why did we make that final choice?
Overall—what a read. I hope others enjoy this interesting tale set in one of America's most memorable landscapes, as it is such an impressive debut. I'm incredibly interested to see what Fleischmann writes next.
Thank you to Berkley Publishing Group for an ARC of this title in exchange for an honest review.
A marriage on the brink. A last chance effort to improve their communication before it snaps. Tension so thicc. Angst. Fluff. Humor. This romance was HOT, complex, and made me cry from happiness more than once.
Sexy times: oh mama
Character arcs: ★★★★
Oh oh oh, Tessa Bailey, this was so good. Thank you so much for writing this. The romance between these two characters was so perfect, so sweet—ok, also seriously intense and sexy—that now I don't know how to read other contemporary romances.
Maybe I'll just avoid the genre until the next one in this series comes out.
Y'all think I'm kidding, but I'm not--Love Her or Lose Her was absolutely jaw-dropping.
If you weren't a huge fan of Fix Her Up, I'd really encourage you to check this one out anyway. A lot of the things Fix Her Up did that polarized readers (ahem, the pet name being a big one, I believe) are fixed (pun intended) in this one. This isn't about two characters with undiscovered compatibility, and it doesn't feature an age gap, wage gap, or experience gap.
In fact, there are NO gaps--this is about a 10-year established relationship between two high school sweethearts who never, ever thought they'd get to this point: they're on the brink of a separation.
Years of dwindling open communication and misunderstood desires have lead Rosie and Dominic Vega to a marriage of silences. They're both unhappy, but afraid of broaching the subject because they're both worried of the conversation they'll have if they do. Will their marriage crack? Will they break it if they acknowledge the elephant in the room?
Love Her or Lose Her follows Rosie and Dominic in alternating chapters, giving us the full, 360 perspective on their feelings while they decide to pull the plug on the silence and figure out how to fix their marriage, or whether to call it quits.
I could not get enough of this story. Given the tough emotional opening, Love Her or Lose Her was surprisingly funny, uplifting, and happy. Rosie and Dominic are one of my favorite fictional romantic couples—mainly because they're so singular. I don't think I've read a duo with this much personality, and their love for each other made my heart ache in the best way.
A casual warning: This book is SEXY. If you're not a fan of graphic sexual content, I would give this a library try before taking the plunge. I loved it a lot and the plot definitely balances out the romantic/sexual moments, but when we arrive, we ARRIVE.
Thank you so much to Avon via NetGalley for an ARC of this title in exchange for an honest review.
The perfect cocktail: a spooky, decaying motel in the middle of nowhere. A night shift clerk. Murder. Dual-timelines. Ghosts. Welcome to the Sun Down Motel.
Plot: ★★★★ 1/2
I have been so excited to read this latest Simone St James novel, it's kind of surreal that I've finished it. Haunted hotels are one of my favorite tropes in fiction, so let's put the mild disclaimer here that I was basically guaranteed to—at minimum—enjoy this at the 3 star level for setting alone.
The Sun Down Motel is the kind of place your mother would worry about you frequenting. It's decayed, it's filled with characters of the night, and it's known to be haunted.
It's also the place where Vivian Delaney disappeared in 1982. One night, she vanished—and was presumed killed. It turns out many young women in the town of Fell, New York, met grisly ends during that time.
Is Fell just a dangerous town, or is there something else coming for these girls?
Told in a dual-timeline with Vivian Delaney in 1982 and her niece Carly in 2017, The Sun Down Motel really maintained my attention. I loved the unfolding of the plot via the two POVs, and felt the author really nailed the suspense as information was revealed in a way that provided the reader with more information than the protagonists knew, and vice versa. St. James knows how to keep you invested in the mystery, that's for sure.
If I had to pick a weak spot, I'd say the characters were the least interesting part of the entire thing. I loved the setting (obviously, see above) and I loved the murder mystery itself, but I could honestly take or leave Carly—she could have been anyone. Vivian had more originality, but not much more. The most intriguing characters were one the side—I loved Marnie, the freelance photographer who interacts with Vivian in 1982, and Nick, who interacts with Carly in 2017.
I also wish that there had been more suspense tied to the spooky elements. In other books with ghosts/etc, the atmospheric angle of the haunting is used to aid the suspense, and provides a mystery element in itself—i.e. what is making that noise? who is that? etc. In this, the ghost angle is figured out pretty early on and then just...taken in stride? I wish it had been more mysterious, and a bigger portion of the plot.
Oh, and the murderer(s)? Yes. That was GOOD. I really liked the whodunit reveals, and it definitely lived up to the concept.
What a twisted nightmare. A fairy tale you'd never want to meet.
Warnings: Very graphic in the medical sense
I almost hesitated to rate this the full 5 stars because it's such a twisted speculative novella, but at the same time I think it's one of the most singular things I've ever read, so sue me. I loved it.
Follow Me to Ground is witchy, spooky, medically graphic, and disturbing. It follows the life of two non-humans, a father and a daughter, who live in a fairy tale-type scenario where they are the mystical healers that the town goes to when they're desperate. Ada and her father bury people in The Ground behind their cottage and heal their insides by scooping out the illness (literally).
Ada and her father aren't human, and they don't pretend to be.
Enter Samson, a local boy/man who captures Ada's ageless young girl/woman attention. (The hyphens are because the ages in this story are described in both ways...it highlights the overall fluidity of this story.) Samson and Ada begin an affair.
What started out off-kilter and uncomfortable gets even more so when Ada and Samson's love affair begins to fracture at the edges, and all is not what it seems. Is Samson a good man? What's up with his pregnant sister, who lives with him alone? What will Ada do when confronted with Samson's attentions vs. her nonhuman ties to The Ground?
Written with a one-of-a-kind narration and crackling tension-filled sentences, this is the kind of story that stays with you. If you liked Wilder Girls for its unflinching acceptance of body horror and its lack of explanations, you'll like this. If you liked Seanan McGuire's short stories on fairy tales best left alone, you'll love this.
I don't know what it says about me that I appreciated this story, but damn this was weird and awesome.
Thank you to Scribner for an ARC of this title in exchange for an honest review.
This was not at all what I expected. A lot more swearing, a lot more body humor, and a LOT more swamp-lifestyle dialect and bizarre POVs than I was prepared to read. It was good? But not for me?
Concept: super original
Writing: really polarizing
Overall impression: not for me, but probably a great book for its audience
Highfire comes out on January 28, 2020!
Highfire is the first adult fantasy novel from the acclaimed author of the Artemis Fowl series. I read Artemis Fowl ages ago, and I vaguely remember liking it.
Don't get it twisted—this book feels like a completely different species.
Vern is the last dragon on Earth. Except he's not really the visual of a dragon that we're used to. He's a 7-foot-tall, tusk-y, scaly interpretation of a dragon that honestly feels like a gargoyle. But that's not the main point—the main point is that Vern is sentient, old as hell, and is wasting away his twilight years as the vodka-drinking king of the alligator swamps of rural Louisiana.
Everett "Squib" Moreau is a kid born out of the swamp, with a rough-and-tumble upbringing filled with swearing, hard times, and a bit too much dynamite for the average kid—he's now down to 9 fingers. He's struggling to avoid the attention of the local cop, and he's definitely not prepared to meet Vern.
Regence Hooke is the crooked law of Squib's small town, and he's not exactly a well-adjusted man. Alright, let's admit he's a full on clinical psychopath. He's got a plan to make the swamp his illegal kingdom, and he's got it in for Squib, not the least of which because Squib's mom is on Hooke's "to-do" list. (Yeah, there isn't a more pleasant way to say that. Hooke is nasty, and being in his head makes you want to shower afterwards.)
I can be honest and say that I've never, ever read a book like this. Highfire is so breathtakingly original that I think all fantasy fans should give the first chapter a try, just to see what the author has done with the writing style and concept.
I like my fantasy with more, well, fantasy? I'm also not a fan of body humor (pee jokes, bodily fluid jokes, etc.), and I'm definitely not a fan of Hooke's POV and rape-y overtones, so 1/3 of the story was an automatic fail. Without Hooke's POV, this story might have been 4 stars.
I'd say if you're a fan of extremely dialect-driven narration, body humor, and/or unique fantasies, try this out!
Trigger warnings: Suicide attempt depicted, and graphic rescue scene. Dialogue about suicide. Internal rape dialogue. Extreme violence.
Thank you to HarperCollins for this giveaway ARC!
Amy Imogene Reads
Just someone looking for her own door into Wonderland.