The Revenant

Rating: 4 out of 5.

I grew up watching old Westerns on TV with my dad, and I’ve always had a special place in my heart for the stories about the gold rush and the fur trade in the U.S. It fascinates me that there was a period of time in which much of this country was unknown to settlers and danger lurked everywhere. Once in a while I enjoy media that portrays the wild, untamed land and the (often violent and unfair) treatment of the Native Americans realistically. I believe that The Revenant does this quite well, though I am no expert on the accuracies of the novel.

The Revenant is based on the real-life account of Hugh Glass, a trapper in the Rocky Mountain Fur Company, though the author admits to being creative with Glass’s story when the recorded history of his life gets fuzzy. The Rocky Mountain Fur Company was trapping beaver and avoiding hostile Native American tribes when suddenly Glass was attacked by a mother bear. Glass was mauled into unconsciousness. His fellow trappers tried to take care of him and revive him, but it became clear that carrying Glass around was slowing the group down and winter was on their heels. When it was clear that Glass was not recovering, the leader of the group tasked two trappers with staying behind with Glass until he died so that they could bury him with dignity. However, that doesn’t happen, and the two men leave Glass to die in the forest. Glass miraculously survived and began a quest of seeking revenge on the men who betrayed him.

At the end of the day, this is truly a story of revenge. Glass could have survived and went about the rest of his life in peace, but he didn’t. He risked his life to chase down the two men that betrayed him. While that may not be the smartest decision for his continued wellbeing, it makes for a very interesting tale. The book is violent, obviously. The land itself does not have any mercy. Glass and his group fight against wildlife, the elements, and hostile tribes. And of course the white men themselves always find a reason to fight one another. Although not every part of the plot may be the truth, the author weaved together his research of this man and time period to make an engaging story. The novel’s pacing was dynamic. One moment everything would be peaceful and then sudden violence would break out. Other moments would have slowly building tension with a satisfying climax. I liked many of the characters in the novel and thought the author did a great job of brining them to life on the page. However, I wouldn’t get too attached to any one of them… it’s a harsh existence!

One aspect I didn’t like was that a lot of Glass’s past before joining the Rocky Mountain Fur Company was glossed over in a “tell instead of show” way, but I can forgive this because going into too much detail would distract from the main plotline, yet leaving it out completely would leave Glass’s characterization lacking. At the end of the novel the author suggests books for further reading about Hugh Glass, which I appreciated. I also found the ending to be less than satisfying after the long journey that Glass had. Still, this is also something I have to forgive since most of the book is written from historical accounts, and real life doesn’t always end up the way we think it should.

I gave The Revenant four out of five stars. It was a lot of fun and had me on the edge of my seat. I haven’t watched the movie based on the book yet, but I hope to do so soon.

My Mistress’ Eyes are Raven Black

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

Thank you to Turner Publishing for providing a free ARC for my review.

I was given this book for review several weeks ago, but I got a bit too busy, so I’m breaking my “every other Sunday” schedule to get this review out a bit sooner.

The setting is 1920 on Ellis Island. Immigrants are pouring into New York Harbor with just the clothes on their backs and dreams of a new life. World War I is over, but the world is still feeling the aftereffects, and as we all know, old hatreds and fears die very slowly. Stephen Robbins has a special talent for finding people, and when his mysterious contact shows up at his workplace with the story of a pregnant Irish girl gone missing, he somewhat reluctantly takes on the task of finding her because he is dealing with his life issues. Stephen stumbles upon not just one strange vanishing but several. He, along with Lucy Paul, one of the nurses on Ellis Island, work together to get to the bottom of the disappearances.

I’m not a big fan of books that deal with the World Wars, but this book focuses on the aftermath of WWI, which I found to be a more unique perspective. In the 1920’s (like now, and probably like always) racist, classist, ableist, and of course religious tensions divided people, and this tension is a major theme of the novel. Some of the characters working on Ellis Island have strong opinions about who should be considered an American. In many ways the book felt timeless because we’re still dealing with these prejudices today (which is also depressing– do we ever learn from history?). The antagonists in the novel are disturbing because their motivation is so realistic, especially considering the arguments regarding immigration we have seen in the past few years. I’ve always found that the most chilling “bad guys” are not fantastical monsters; instead they are regular people with monstrous motives.

I also enjoyed the protagonists. Stephen is certainly an interesting character. He appears in the novel with a specific job to do, but it is clear that he has development off the page that fleshes him out more. The same can be said for Lucy. Lucy and Stephen worked together well, and I liked that their respective talents were utilized throughout the plot. It felt like one could not have solved the mysteries without the other. There is a bit of a romance within the novel, and though it wasn’t a major point of interest to me, it didn’t take over the plot and it felt genuine if perhaps a bit quick for my taste. But keep in mind I’m not a big fan of romances in general, so your mileage may vary.

The plot was interesting, and though I saw a few events coming, I wouldn’t call it predictable. Even when I thought I knew where the story was going, I still had questions about exactly how these things would play out, and I was surprised by some of the answers. I wasn’t entirely on board with the plot’s pacing though. There was a very dramatic event around halfway through the book, and after it happened, I was surprised that there was so much of the book left because it felt like things could wrap up rather quickly afterwards. After this tense event there was a lull in the pacing and the book left the mystery/thriller genre and started to feel like a courtroom drama, which I’m not as into. However, there were a lot of reveals during this time. Then tension built up again, and the sort of “second climax” at the end of the novel wrapped up quickly.

I found My Mistress’ Eyes are Raven Black to be a very solid historical mystery that had me turning the pages fast once I got into it. I gave it three and a half stars out of five.

The Pull of the Stars

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

Yes, I know I said I would start writing reviews on Sunday mornings instead of Saturday mornings now, but it was a holiday in the U.S., so that is my excuse for again being a day late. Incidentally, I had a great holiday yesterday– I went for a 5 mile hike in a local park, had an ice cream cone afterwards (cookies and cream with a waffle cone!), and did some upkeep on my plants. So, I’m sorry but not too sorry for taking a day off. I hope my fellow Americans also had a relaxing holiday.

I read The Pull of the Stars on a whim. I have been enjoying having an audiobook to read while I water my plants (I have a lot of plants now), and since I have read a few books by Emma Donoghue before (Room and The Wonder), I thought I would try this author again. The Pull of the Stars takes place in Ireland during 1918, when the world was at war and also battling an influenza pandemic. In the book we follow Nurse Julia Power who works in a very small ward for women who are pregnant but also have the flu. Everyone in her hospital is stretched thin and works long, hard hours. The hospital is even desperate enough to employ a feminist rebel doctor, Dr. Kathleen Lynn. When Julia finds herself in charge of her ward one day, she is given a helper, Bridie Sweeney, who she quickly becomes close to. The book follows Julia and the lives of the women, both patients and staff, who get her through the days ahead.

I would say that the characters and themes are the main draw here, while the plot is rather subtle. Julia and Bridie tend to the women and their babies while also battling the women’s’ flu symptoms. It is interesting to see how both flu and childbirth were dealt with during this time and despite the shortages from the war. It is tough to read at times because of this, but it is also hard to listen to how women were treated in general. Throughout the book we see Julia, who wasn’t the most “traditional” woman to begin with, have her eyes opened to the atrocities that women and children in her country face every day. There are only a few major plot points, but it can be quite tense to read how Julia and Bridie’s quick thinking impacted the fates of the women in their ward.

I liked all of the main characters: Julia, Bridie, and Dr. Lynn. As It is very interesting to see how both Dr. Lynn and Bridie influenced Julia’s perspective of the world. Julia and Bridie have good character development and form a great relationship throughout the novel. I liked Dr. Lynn because she was sure of herself and her opinions despite those around her judging her, but she wasn’t given a lot of time on the page. The patients in the ward are featured too, but they weren’t fleshed out very much. I have a hard time remembering their names, but I do remember their stories and backgrounds. One is wealthy, some have had many children while others are first timers, and another is an unwed mother. They felt like they were there to show the reader how different women are viewed and lived at this time rather than being fully formed characters.

I am finding it a little difficult to justify why I gave the book a three and a half out of five stars when I haven’t really said anything negative about it, but my ratings are always partially due to my enjoyment of the book. I wouldn’t say I enjoyed this read, but it was insightful. And though it touched on many important themes (healthcare, grief, feminism, etc.), it didn’t do anything too unique and it didn’t emotionally impact me as much as I thought it would. This is a pretty dreary novel overall, though it ended on a somewhat hopeful note. If you like female-led historical fiction that focuses on everyday life during a time period, The Pull of the Stars might be more for you.

Fingersmith

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Fingersmith is a historical fiction novel set in Victorian England and filled with twists, devious plots and people, betrayal, and a female/female romance. Sue Trinder was raised on the harsh side of London by a house of thieves. Her mother figure buys and sells orphans, her father figure is a fence for stolen goods, and her friends are all swindlers of some sort. One night a family friend called Gentleman enters Sue’s home and offers her a partnership. He plans to seduce a rich heiress with Sue’s help. Sue is to become the heiress’s maid and help convince her to marry Gentleman, then he will claim that the heiress is insane, put her into an asylum, and split the girl’s money with Sue. The plot gets complicated when Sue finds herself falling for the heiress and when some long held lies start coming to the surface.

I’ve read a couple other novels by Sarah Waters, so I am definitely a fan of her work. Each novel I have read is unique, character driven, and even if the plot is rather “quiet,” I still find her books difficult to put down. Fingersmith was no different. Many readers may find the book slow. A lot of time is spent with Sue and the heiress, Maud. The girls slowly become friends, and maybe something more, but you can tell that both girls are also hiding parts of themselves. This is one reason that I could not put the book down. I really wanted to know what was going on between the characters and their pasts. Both Maud and Sue are heavily developed throughout the novel and many secrets are revealed in time. Side characters are also given a lot of care, and it is the side characters that are integral to many of the plot’s twists. I won’t say too much about this, but no one is who they appear to be.

Plot-wise, again, the novel could be a bit slow for some readers. There isn’t a lot of action in the first half or so, and the main setting is in Maud’s uncle’s manor with a very structured daily routine. The novel begins with Sue’s perspective. We see Gentleman’s plot through her eyes up until the plan is complete. Sue’s perspective ends on a huge cliffhanger, but the next section is in Maud’s perspective, leaving the resolution of the cliffhanger up in the air for quite some time. Much of Maud’s past is talked about, but what I found most interesting about Maud’s section of the book is that we see many of the same events from Sue’s section through Maud’s eyes. This allows the reader to see inside both of their hearts and minds. For example, Sue’s perspective may make it sound like she has kept a cool head during an event, but when reading from Maud’s view, Maud actually noticed that Sue was not as calm as she appeared. I really love when authors show two sides of the same event like this. The latter half of the book has more action, intrigue, and satisfying reveals. And I adored the ending.

I would highly recommend this book if you are looking for a slow burn female/female romance that has a twisting and complex plot that is just as important, if not more important, than the romance itself. I gave the book a perfect score because even though I don’t tend to like romance, I like when romance is done like this.

Shades of Milk and Honey

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I recently discovered a book recommendation service called Tailored Book Recommendations (TBR) from one of my favorite YouTube book reviewers, Kayla from BooksandLala. She did a video in which she used the service, read the recommended books, and reviewed the experience. I thought it was a great idea, so I also used the service. I specified that I wanted recommendations that were a mix of historical fiction and fantasy because I love that mashup of genres. So, I was recommended three books by the service: Shades of Milk and Honey, The Night Tiger, and The Tiger’s Daughter. I will be reviewing all three on my blog so that you can get a sense of the recommendation service experience. I’m of course not sponsored by them. I just wanted to try something new!

This novel takes place in Regnecy era England in which magic exists and is considered a worthy skill for a woman to have. Jane Ellsworth has just about given up on finding a husband for herself because of her plain looks, but her younger sister, Melody, has a few possible suitors. Jane is a skilled glamourist, meaning that she can use magic to create sensory experiences to entertain at parties, cloak herself in darkness, or make a room look, smell, and feel like another place. Melody is very beautiful, but she lacks talent at glamour and is jealous toward her talented older sister. Jane gets caught up in her sister’s scheming and a friend’s secret, and along the way she just might find love of her own.

I liked this novel, but it didn’t blow me away. The overall tone of the story is light. No one is saving the world from an ancient evil. Instead, the plot is more concerned about who will end up marrying who and if so-and-so’s party will be a success or not. The stakes were low, but the reading experience was actually fun and relaxing. My main complaints are that I wanted to know more about the interesting magic system, I wished the writing and plot had more depth, and that the romance was less of a plot point.

The main characters were developed well enough, but I wouldn’t have minded spending more time with them and the secondary characters to learn more about them. Jane is our main character, and she is level-headed, talented at glamour, and cares a lot about her friends and family. Her sister, Melody, is a little more flighty and flirty, and she loves having the attention of her suitors. The men in the story could have been fleshed out more though. One man is a young, handsome playboy, another is a mature and polite gentleman, and another is a mysterious and prickly glamourist. I was happy with the romantic outcome, but I’m just not one for romance, especially when the romance is really the driving force of the novel.

I was very intrigued by the magic system, but the explanation for it was a little vague. It seems like it has something to do with being able to see and bend strands of light like strings of thread? There was a lot of talk about light and how the threads could be “tied off” to do certain things. Though I do not need a Brandon Sanderson-style magic system where all the rules are laid out, I would have liked to know more about how the glamour worked because many times Jane could see the inner workings of the magic, but the reader was not given much information about how she could do this or what it looked like to her. How the magic was used was also very cool. There were a few parties and gatherings in the book and the entertainment for the parties could be a short play put on with glamour or the party location could be spiced up by using glamour to make the room look and smell like a forest. There are several books after this first one, so maybe the magic and world are expanded more later on, but I don’t think I am interested enough to continue reading.

With the world on fire, it was nice to escape to a simpler time with a low stakes story. I gave Shades of Milk and Honey three out of five stars.

To the Bright Edge of the World

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To the Bright Edge of the World has a lot going on at once, but it works so well. The main story is twofold. Colonel Allen Forrester has been sent by the U.S. government to explore the untouched reaches of Alaska in the 1880’s. His wife, Sophie, stays at the army barracks in Portland, Oregon while Forrester completes his mission. Both characters keep journals and occasionally write to each other. These letters and journal entries are in chronological order, and the “meta story” is that it is now current day. One of Forrester’s descendants, Walt Forrester, is now an old man, and he wants to give his uncle Forrester’s collection of  belongings to an Alaskan museum. Walt sends the objects to Josh, the museum curator. Both Walt and Josh also send letters to each other, giving rise to their own stories and troubles in the present while they speculate on Allen and Sophie’s story from the artifacts and letters left behind. On top of the two timelines of correspondence, the novel is interspersed with other artifacts, pictures, and poems that make the two separate stories feel realistically tied together.

This book does so many things right or near-perfectly that it was easily a five star read for me. The main characters, Allen, Sophie, Walt, and Josh had easily distinguishable and unique voices. There were a few letters and entries from side characters that rounded out parts of the narrative, and they, too, had unique and engaging narrative voices. I was a little worried that I would miss not having as much exposition in a novel that takes place in the beautiful Alaskan wilderness, but the characters actually describe a lot of sights and sounds vividly in their writing to each other. Allen is exploring the wilderness, so his descriptions are actually needed in journal entries to feel faithful anyway. Sophie is a bit of an artist, so she also provides lyrical descriptions in her journal entries. All of the characters do a fair bit of reflection and introspection in their journals as well, so it is easy to see inside their minds. I adored how you could read between the lines in their writings and see even more of the story unfold. If a character’s journal entry is short, lacks certain events other characters mention, or if they skipped a few days of writing, it makes you wonder what happened that day and why they excluded something. The depth of the world and the characters’ lives travel far outside of what is written on the page.

I have to mention the amount of indigenous people and their culture in the novel. I was a little worried that they would not be portrayed well. I’m not an indigenous person, so I cannot say for sure if this is true, but I felt like the author did a good job of representing their unique cultures in a respectful and educational way while still maintaining an entertaining story. Allen Forrester meets several tribes on his journey through Alaska, and Josh, the museum curator, is an indigenous descendant who gives a more modern-day perspective of what it is like being indigenous in Alaska.

Perhaps this isn’t my most critical review, but I was just so surprised that a book that I have owned since 2016 was a five star read for me! I have thought about this novel a lot since I read it. It was a very engaging, descriptive, realistic, and rather uplifting read that fits the winter season well.

Daisy Jones & The Six

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I loved Taylor Jenkins Reid’s previous release, The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo. I loved Evelyn because it focused on a time period I’m fascinated by (old Hollywood), it had a great romance, and the twist caught me by surprise at the end. It just worked as a great novel. The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo was a real chick-flick style page turner, but it also had a considerable amount of depth to the plot and its characters. I saw a lot of similar things I liked while reading Daisy Jones & The Six, but it didn’t quite hit the same marks as The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo.

Daisy Jones & The Six are a fictional rock ‘n roll band from the 70’s. The Six began as their own band, but some collaboration with Daisy, sparked by their shared record label, catapulted the band and Daisy herself into true stardom. The book is in an interview style, taking place many years after the band broke up. Members of The Six, Daisy, their producers, managers, and a few other characters pop up here and there to tell the band’s story. Like any real band from this time period, everything is about sex, drugs, and rock ‘n roll.

There was a lot I liked about Daisy Jones and the Six, but it wasn’t perfect. I had several people recommend the audio book over the physical copy because the audio book has a full cast narrating it. I imagine it would have been very immersive to have a different voice for each character, and it would have worked well with the interview style of the novel, but I had not trouble with the physical copy myself. Even without a full cast narrating it, I thought each character had unique voice and style of speaking. I did not have much trouble differentiating between them, and with such a large cast, that takes some real talent, especially when the whole book is essentially dialogue. I do wish that there was a little more orienting information or exposition throughout the novel. There was some at the start of each chapter but not much. I like having a clearer picture of each character and where they are. The characters do discuss what they looked like or the location they were at at the time, but I found myself missing a little more description.

Two areas in which I think this novel really excelled was with the characters and how the story was told. As I said before, the characters all felt very unique and were easy to tell apart just from their dialogue. I also liked that each character had their own motivation and backstory that made sense with their personality and the way they handled issues. I have read several nonfiction books about bands from the 60’s and 70’s, and I had to remind myself a few times that Daisy Jones and the Six weren’t a real band. The characters felt real, their band’s story felt real, and the time period itself could be easily felt and was a fairly accurate representation in my opinion.

What I liked even more was the structure of the plot. Since everything is told in an interview style, one character may retell an event one way, while another character has a completely different view of the event because of what they were feeling at the time, a perceived slight they felt someone did to them, or because they were dealing with something else entirely and barely remembered the event in question. I loved seeing the misunderstandings and differences in memory that the characters had. That not only felt realistic, but it also gave a lot more depth to the plot. Whose version of an event is to be believed? Is someone lying about an event to protect themselves or someone they care about? Is what really happened some combination of multiple characters’ views, or is no one correct at all? These questions rattled around in my head as I read, and it made the whole book more interesting. I loved reading between the lines.

I gave Daisy Jones and the Six four out of five stars. It was a very engaging read, and it was just a well written novel. There was an attempt at a twist near the end that echoed something from The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo. I disliked it and didn’t think it made nearly as much of an impact as the twist in Evelyn, but as always, your mileage may vary.

Homegoing

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This book has been sitting on my shelf for at least two years. Everyone praised the book when it came out, but I never felt the urge to pick it up because I knew it would not be an easy read. And it wasn’t, but it wasn’t supposed to be. Homegoing discusses the slave trade, family, racism and discrimination, the criminal justice system, motherhood, and so much more. Somehow the novel is able to highlight these issues using a human touch and an engaging and heartbreaking narrative. Though the characters are fictional, their stories hold many truths.

Homegoing tells the story of two half-sisters separated by chance, Effia and Esi. The novel covers 300 hundred years and alternates chapters between each sister’s line, following one child from each side of the family tree. We begin in Africa where the sisters were born. One sister marries a British slaver, while the other is enslaved and taken to America. We follow Effia and Esi’s descendants throughout history as the African tribes fight against each other and the white men and as America fights for civil rights.

For a book that attempts to comment on so many of these issues, it succeeds in doing so without being preachy. As I said, each chapter focuses on a different member of the family, so unfortunately, the time spent with each character is rather small. Some of the earlier ancestors, Effia and Esi especially, have longer chapters, while the chapters get a bit shorter as the book comes to a close. However, once you progress to the next person in the family, there are references to and appearances of past characters to tie things together. A lot happens off-page because of this, so sometimes assumptions must be made about what happened to previously featured characters.

This is an important book, now more than ever, as the U.S. president attacks people for not being “American enough” or tells them to “go back to their own countries.” Homegoing explores what home can mean to different people as well as how difficult it can be to fit in because of one’s skin color. I cannot believe this is the author’s debut novel because it feels so polished. Despite there being so many characters, I can still clearly remember my favorites. I may not be able to remember all of the characters’ names, but I can remember the plot from most of the chapters. And, if the alternating times and characters sounds confusing, there is a family tree in the physical copy of the book at least.

If I had to pick out something I thought could have been better, I would have to say the ending. The whole book packed a punch, but that left the ending feeling slightly unsatisfying in comparison. I’m honestly not sure how I would have made it any better though! So, I had to rate Homegoing a perfect five out of five stars. Such an impressive debut that was certainly worth the hype in my opinion.

The Immortalists

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A few months ago, I picked this up, liked the first chapter, and then put it down because I became too busy. Earlier this month I picked The Immortalists up again, and I regretted it. Not because it was horrible. I simply did not get along with it at all. Why? Well, it’s definitely a “me” thing. If you are not in good place mentally, you may want to avoid this one for now. It could be triggering to anyone who is sensitive to reading about grief, trauma, suicide, self harm, or abortion.

It’s New York City in 1969, and the Gold children, Varya, Daniel, Klara, and Simon, escape their parents’ apartment long enough to visit a woman who is rumored to have the ability to predict the day you will die. The children receive their predictions with mixed reactions, but such a simple and supposedly “fun” outing ends up complicating all of their lives for many years to come. The Immortalists follows the Gold children into adulthood as they experience the unique challenges that the 80’s, 90’s, and the new millennium brought to the United States. The novel is broken into four parts, with each part following one of the Gold children.

Fortune telling, death days, family, and historical fiction, it all sounds great! The reality is that this is really just a historical fiction family saga with a little magical spice thrown in. That’s still an interesting premise, but if you are excited about this being a magical realism novel, you might be disappointed. After the fortune teller gives them their death dates, the rest of the novel focuses on the characters’ adult lives. Though the day of their deaths obviously play a large role, it is more of an underlying driving force than being in the forefront of the plot.

I really enjoyed seeing different parts of the country at different points in time. We get to see New York in the late 60’s and early 70’s and San Francisco and Las Vegas in the 80’s and 90’s. Although the book was not very descriptive or atmospheric, it was nice to see such an interesting historical backdrop to the family drama. The family isn’t overtly dysfunctional, but as time goes on, it is easy to see the cracks in the family’s foundation, which is what the novel is mostly about. The family as a whole have some issues with communication and openness, but more and more issues crop up as their death dates approach.

I couldn’t help thinking that a lot of what was predicted became a self-fulfilling prophecy. In particular, a couple of the children made some (in my view) very odd, out-of-character, and just plain bad choices that led to very bad things happening. A few of the family members likely had some mental illnesses and issues with trauma, but I had a hard time believing some of the characters’ reactions and actions. I know I’m speaking in extremely general terms here, but hey, that’s the trade off when I try not to spoil anyone!

The family is Jewish, and I liked that their faith actually played a role in how they processed their problems and viewed the world. Each child of the family even had a different way of viewing and utilizing their faith, and some were more optimistic than others, of course. There were also some very beautiful lines and some interesting connections between main and side characters. The characters were all pretty “gray” in that no one was always perfect or good. They made mistakes and did morally questionable things, but no one was painted as a true bad guy either. There are touches of levity and humor, but the novel as a whole I would describe as melancholy.

The book is about life, and life isn’t always great. The choices you make can be far-reaching, and the impact certain people make can change the course of another’s life. The book is often sad, but if you have recently lost someone, I could see how it may also be comforting. For me, it was not, but everyone copes differently. I hesitate to rate this one. For pure reading enjoyment, 3/5 stars. However, the book was not bad, but as far as family sagas go, it was solid but not standout.

The Essex Serpent

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Cora Seaborne’s husband has passed away. She isn’t terribly upset about this, but she knows she should act the part of the bereaved widow. Cora is a free spirit who enjoys nature and science. A woman being interested in these “masculine” subjects is frowned upon in 1890’s England, but she does not care. Upon hearing about the sightings of the “Essex serpent,” Cora moves herself, her son, and her female companion to the countryside to investigate the serpent. However, Cora finds much more than a mythical beast. She finds love, friendship, and her identity.

If I had to describe this novel in one word, I would choose slow. The pace of the plot and character development is steady but slow, which may turn off some readers. If you want to relax, enjoy beautiful writing, and read about some Victorian romantic drama with a touch of feminism, I would say that The Essex Serpent is a good fit. Personally, while I enjoyed what read, I had to push myself through the first 100-150 pages. I listened to most of the novel on audio book just to get into the story. However, once I become attached to the characters, it became a much more enjoyable reading experience.

Despite my summary and most blurbs going on about Cora, there are at least a dozen other characters in the novel that get not insignificant page time. Most of them are well developed with their own beliefs, personalities, and relationships. (There are a few that I would have liked to see more of, particularly Cora’s son.) There are also love triangles and romantic pairings everywhere. The book is less about the mythical serpent and much more focused on the relationships (both romantic and not) the characters have with one another. This is not a bad thing, but it should be said so that no one gets the wrong idea about the plot. Yes, the serpent is alluded to often and has an effect on the townspeople, but it seems secondary to the lives of the main characters.

I was slightly disappointed by The Essex Serpent, but I had very high expectations for the mythological aspect of the novel. This is much more of a Victorian romance with a bit of folklore thrown in. Still, I would give The Essex Serpent a 3.5 out of 5 stars for its beautiful writing and strong characters.