The Girl the Sea Gave Back Review

The Girl the Sea Gave Back by Adrienne Young.

I’ll start off by saying I absolutely adored the cover for this book, it was what first attracted me to it. A girl in Viking-esque style stepping out of a choppy sea? Amazing. As usual I did no research on this book before reading it, and therefore had no idea this was the second in a series. Thankfully it doesn’t directly follow on from the previous book, because that would have been very confusing. Instead the main character from the previous book appears as a very minor relation to one of the main characters in this book, Halvard. This review is a bit messy, but so were my thoughts about this book so it couldn’t be helped. The synopsis:

For as long as she can remember, Tova has lived among the Svell, the people who found her washed ashore as a child and use her for her gift as a Truthtongue. Her own home and clan are long-faded memories, but the sacred symbols and staves inked over every inch of her skin mark her as one who can cast the rune stones and see into the future. She has found a fragile place among those who fear her, but when two clans to the east bury their age-old blood feud and join together as one, her world is dangerously close to collapse.

For the first time in generations, the leaders of the Svell are divided. Should they maintain peace or go to war with the allied clans to protect their newfound power? And when their chieftain looks to Tova to cast the stones, she sets into motion a series of events that will not only change the landscape of the mainland forever but will give her something she believed she could never have again—a home.

Now, if you’ve read the first book, I’m assuming you went into this book knowing about the history between all the clans and who the Svell are. I didn’t, and if you are going to read this book, I highly recommend reading The Sky in the Deep first. You can read this one and understand it, but it takes some detective work to have any idea what’s going on.

Some basic details I picked up were that Tova comes from a territory not connected to the mainland, from a people called the Kyrr. They’re mysterious and no one messes with them. On the mainland there are the Svell, who Tova lives with, and the Nadhir, who are made up of two joined clans, the Aska and the Riki. Some people called the Herja attacked the Nadhir a while ago. While this book is described as a standalone, I think I would have got less distracted by random details if I had read the first one.

The book is written in first person from two perspectives, Tova and Halvard. Tova is a Truthtongue, which means she can read the runes. The Svell hate her and think she is an insult to their god, so want to kill her while their Tala (holy person) keeps her alive for his own uses. Tova is uniquely in tune with the spinners, who control the destiny of gods and men. She can sense the web the spinners weave, and occasionally hears things. I did a bit of research and while the spinners are called the Norns in Norse mythology, they are roughly equal to the fates in Greek mythology. This book definitely felt more historical fiction than fantasy. Halvard is the heir to the Nadhir chieftain and the link to the previous book.

The writing of this book was the best bit about it. There were some stereotypical features such as memory flashbacks to provide background to Halvard and Tova and some outsiders who save the day, but the plot got better as the book went one, with the mysterious Kyrr who Halvard knows and the brief encounters between Tova and Halvard before they meet properly. I really enjoyed the simple, evocative descriptions of setting and the vivid writing of action, the mixture of fate and free will, inevitability and brutality.

The ending was my favourite part of The Girl the Sea Gave Back. That sounds like an insult, but I don’t mean it as one, it’s just the book took me a while to get into and everything pulls together very dramatically near the end. It had the contrast between Tova and Halvard tentatively trusting one another, Tova finally not feeling like an outcast and a great final battle. There was a bit of romance if you like that kind of thing, although I slightly thought Tova and Halvard should be left as friends. Overall I would recommend this book, but only after reading the first one. Would I survive? Maybe not, I’m not a particularly violent person.

Storm’s Clouds Review

Storm’s Clouds by J.W. Golan

I could not wait to get into this book, and thankfully I had it within arm’s reach when I finished Storm’s Herald. Like I said in my review of Storm’s Herald, I did indeed receive Storm’s Herald and Storm’s Clouds in exchange for review, but all opinions expressed are my own! VERY IMPORTANT NOTE: this review does contain a spoiler for the first book (Storm’s Herald). Nothing that will change the plot dramatically or ruin it, and I did suspect this once I was about ¾ through the book, but if you want to read it completely spoiler free then don’t read this review! All my other reviews are spoiler free unless explicitly stated.

Everything is really well explained at the start of the book, not explicitly but through the first few pages of character interaction so if you forgot anything in the previous book you can work it out pretty quickly. Of course, I had finished the other book seconds earlier so that wasn’t such a problem. The chapters in this book are really long, and it can be a bit on the nose sometimes, but there are moments of real humour where I genuinely laughed. I loved that they set off on a quest with no clear plan except ‘find a dragon’ when they had no idea where it was. Again there is a lot of jumping to random perspectives for a few pages to see what is happening elsewhere, but I had got used to it at this point and I could generally tell how they were linked to the main story at this point. There was a lot more of the Fae court and the magic school in this book as well as the quests, including lots of focus on Princess Elise and what she was up to. There was more tension in this book than in Storm’s Herald, which had me reading faster and faster!

THIS IS THE SPOILER. Okay, I’m done yelling about it being a spoiler. What I want to talk about here is Garth. Garth has enough personas to fill a city here people, and they are very varied. Garth is actually Gwythr, a guy who was a hero in the Fae’s war. He’s now human and wanders around as Garth, except when he is Gyaltso, an old dude who turned Kalden’s hair white then straight up left him which I found hilariously random. I have several problems with Garth. The first is quite petty but I think Garth’s nickname of ‘little bird’ for Lynette is so creepy and it made me cringe and my skin crawl every time he said it. Maybe it’s meant to be cute, but NOPE. And even weirder, a trope I hate, is Lynette being *strangely attracted* to the bad guy (Garth) who is nice only to them. I know Garth isn’t technically bad, but he isn’t exactly good either. Also, this isn’t a problem but how does Garth get around so fast? Can he teleport? What?!

Anyway, back to the rest of review. Princess Elise was a lot more prominent in this book and although she was a little irritatingly perfect, I did like seeing what she was up to. It was quite stereotypical that the lady in waiting was a spy, like it wasn’t even subtle. At some points I felt there were too many characters, but if I just thought of the characters from the random jump arounds as one time things it was a lot easier to focus on the main ones. There were some giants who inexplicably spoke like Scottish people. Not sure what was going on there. Then there is Waya. Waya is introduced as a boy and it is later revealed they are transgender, or at least very confused about their gender and sexuality. You see, Waya is in love with a girl, and to impress her parents they go on a quest to act manly. While I liked Waya as a character and I would definitely be interested in knowing more about them and whether they decided to have Garth magically change their body, it did feel a bit like a token because Waya is the only character I can think of who is on the LGBTQ+ spectrum.  Once again in this book time jumps around with no respect for how much time it seemed had passed.  One minute I’m chilling, and the next two years have passed, and I am like WHAT.

In conclusion I really enjoyed Storm’s Clouds. Especially the sentient library which moves books around to mess with the librarians. I could read a whole book about that library. I really liked the ending, and I very much need to know what happens next. Would I survive this book? Yeah I would, I’m living in that library.

Storm’s Herald Review

Storm’s Herald by J.W. Golan

Happy Easter everyone! Or just happy Sunday if you don’t celebrate Easter, I hope you have a great day with chocolate regardless. If you want to read these books, Storm’s Herald is free as an ebook on Amazon 10-12th April, and Storm’s Cloud 24-25th April.

I received both Storm’s herald and its sequel, Storm’s Clouds, in exchange for a review. All views expressed are honest and my own. I have a very terrible habit of writing notes while I’m reading a book, then writing the actual review quite a while afterwards. It means that sometimes my notes are very vague and incomprehensible, but not this time. I had so much fun rereading the notes I made, I think they are possibly some of the best notes I’ve ever made. And you can’t have good notes without an interesting book to make them on, so kudos to Storm’s herald. Here’s the synopsis:

A peasant girl who dreams of becoming a sorceress, a boy who imagines himself a knight – trailed by a ruthless mercenary armed with an ancient sword.

All Lynette wanted was to leave her boring village life – to attend the Fae Academy and become a Druid priestess like her teacher before her. Her clumsy attempts at magic are a reminder of how much she has yet to learn. But if they would only accept her, if the Fae Kingdom – closed to human visitors for centuries now – would only just open its doors, she is certain she could become a master of the magical arts.

Yet her journey puts her on a collision course with a reawakened evil – offering a king’s ransom for the recovery of a long-lost relic. Treasure hunters of every variety – werewolves, mercenaries, common thieves and undead alike – are soon locked in pursuit of its promised riches. Together with Baxter, a young squire who fled his own kingdom, and Eirlon, a gnome who trades in rare antiquities, Lynette is drawn unwillingly into the hunt for the elusive relic.

Hounded by goblins, ogres – and darker things – Baxter carries his own burdens: secrets that have made him the enemy of the crown. And then there is Garth, the mysterious mercenary who both frightens and intrigues Lynette: the weapons-master armed with an ancient blade – snatched from the hand of a long-vanished fae prince.

Willingly or not, Lynette, Baxter and Eirlon must together solve the riddles behind the relic – and stay one step ahead of the ruthless killers that pursue them.

Like many a fantasy, and lots of books now I think about it, Storm’s Herald begins with introductions to various different viewpoints over the first few chapters. Quite quickly I understood the basic worldbuilding and the traditional type of fantasy I was reading. Slightly uncommonly, new points of view were introduced throughout the book, sometimes only for one chapter. These were usually to show what was happening somewhere else in the world, but sometimes I found the switching too frequent, so it took me longer than usual to properly get to know the characters. Slowly all of the various characters crossed each other’s paths, and for once there was none of the hiding information from these people are clearly on your side. I was very thankful for that, because nothing irritates me more than a character being unnecessarily reticent as a plot device. The storytelling is not very complicated, but the story was good, and it was fun and easy reading.

Let’s move onto the characters. There were four main viewpoints I could identify, with several minor ones who would appear once or twice like Kalden. The main viewpoints were Lynette, Elise, Eirlon and Baxter. I don’t know if I have a favourite, but I like them all in different ways and by the end of the book I was very interested in seeing what happened next. The story begins with Lynette, a normal girl with magic her half-fae teacher is teaching her to control. After some *events* Lynette sets off to the Fae-gate from which she can enter the fae lands and join the magic school. Lynette is the typical beautiful, magical peasant in many ways and she does get attached to a very dodgy guy, but when he first meets her in the forest and is very creepy (in my opinion), she doesn’t put up with it which I applaud.

Baxter is apprenticed to a knight and is very accepting of his master being a horrible person because of his nobility but apart from that he’s quite a nice guy. He’s just a regular, hardworking human who predictably ends up with a crush on Lynette, but the focus on the romance is very minor. Eirlon the gnome is pretty cool. A chill guy, albeit with a minorly annoying habit to keep things to himself. Elise is the fairy princess, heir to the fae throne. She doesn’t take any rubbish from anyone and despite her insecurities she pretty much does what she thinks is right. I’m down with that. The other character mentioned in the synopsis, Garth, I have a LOT of opinions on but that would be spoilers so that will be going in my next review. The fae are what you would expect of fae in a traditional fantasy, with longer life spans, few children, attuned with nature and big fans of trees.

This is not a particularly descriptive book in terms of physical descriptions of people/settings, but personally I actually tend to pretty much read those and forget them anyway unless they’re long and lyrical, so I didn’t mind. The one thing that threw me in this book was the passing of time. From one chapter to the next 9 months could have passed and there would only be a brief mention of it which was a bit wild, but once I got used to it, I just rolled with it.

When I got to the end of the book, I was very thankful to have the sequel next to me because I really wanted to know what happened next. I was left like what?!?! But ready to read the next one. Would I survive? I think I would, if I stayed out of the way of goblins.

Two Dark Reigns Review

Two Dark Reigns by Kendare Blake

Two Darks Reigns is the third book in the Three Dark Crowns series by Kendare Blake, a Fantasy YA series with four books plus novellas told in the present tense. I read Three Dark Crowns a couple of years ago now, along with the sequel, so as usual I decided not to read a summary of the previous books and jumped straight into the third book in the series. How badly could it go?

Synopsis:

Queen Katharine has waited her entire life to wear the crown. But now that she finally has it, the murmurs of dissent grow louder by the day. There’s also the alarming issue of whether or not her sisters are actually dead—or if they’re waiting in the wings to usurp the throne.

Mirabella and Arsinoe are alive, but in hiding on the mainland and dealing with a nightmare of their own: being visited repeatedly by a specter they think might be the fabled Blue Queen. Though she says nothing, her rotting, bony finger pointing out to sea is clear enough: return to Fennbirn.

Jules, too, is in a strange place—in disguise. And her only confidants, a war-gifted girl named Emilia and her oracle friend Mathilde, are urging her to take on a role she can’t imagine filling: a legion-cursed queen who will lead a rebel army to Katharine’s doorstep.

This is an uprising that the mysterious Blue Queen may have more to do with than anyone could have guessed—or expected.

This story definitely feels like a YA, but that’s what it’s meant to be, and I enjoyed it. At times it felt a bit slow and meandering, especially nearer the start, yet as I got more into the story, I found myself really wanting to know what all the mysterious dreams and signs meant. Through Arsinoe’s dreams we are shown the events of the life of someone in the past who I grew to quite like.  I’m a big fan of the story being focused on three sisters and their relationships with each other as well as the overarching plot, which I’ll be honest I did not see coming. From the first book I did not expect to end up here, yet I was equally interested in all the viewpoints and there was the occasional cliff-hanger which I’m almost always down for.

The main characters of the story are the three sisters, Queen Katherine, Princess Mirabella and Princess Arsinoe (both supposed to be dead, along with Jules who grew up with Arsinoe with the naturalists. My favourite character was Braddock. If you’ve read the previous books, you know who I’m talking about. I stand by my choice. Also, while I wasn’t such a fan of Jules in the previous books I grew to like her a lot more in this one. I’m also very into the setting, because while the ‘magic island hidden from the mainland’ trope is a common in fantasy, I liked the way Kendare Blake decided on its relations with the mainland and the way it is set up.

In conclusion while I am not as obsessed with the series now as I was when I read the first book, this is still an interesting series and I will definitely be reading the final book to find out what happens to all the characters and see how the author chooses to resolve the plot. Would I survive? Yeah, probably. I think I’d be a naturalist or poisoner.

To Kill a Kingdom Review

To Kill a Kingdom by Alexandra Christo

I absolutely LOVED To Kill A Kingdom. I’m a huge fan of retellings done well, and this bewitching dark retelling of the little mermaid was both brilliant and felt different to the original. The main thing to take away from this review was I had great fun reading this book. It was the first time I’ve read a book in one sitting in a while, I just couldn’t put it down!

The Synopsis:

Princess Lira is siren royalty and the most lethal of them all. With the hearts of seventeen princes in her collection, she is revered across the sea. Until a twist of fate forces her to kill one of her own. To punish her daughter, the Sea Queen transforms Lira into the one thing they loathe most—a human. Robbed of her song, Lira has until the winter solstice to deliver Prince Elian’s heart to the Sea Queen or remain a human forever.

The ocean is the only place Prince Elian calls home, even though he is heir to the most powerful kingdom in the world. Hunting sirens is more than an unsavory hobby—it’s his calling. When he rescues a drowning woman in the ocean, she’s more than what she appears. She promises to help him find the key to destroying all of sirenkind for good—But can he trust her? And just how many deals will Elian have to barter to eliminate mankind’s greatest enemy?

Like a lot of fantasy stories, the first chapter or so had a bit of explanation but the way it was weaved into the story was not at all boring. We get introduced to the two main viewpoints, Elian and Lira pretty early in the story so we get lots of time seeing their individual sides of the story. Alexandra Christo balances the fairytale feel to the story perfectly with and edge of cruelty which stops the story being to sickly. There’s plot twists, marriage alliances, disguises, sirens pirates and a magic quest for a crystal. What more could you ask for in a fairy-tale fantasy? The enemies to lovers trope is a common one but I thought it was done really well here, slowly enough that it didn’t feel like two characters being shoved together and then you get partway through the book and they’re in love and I’m in love and there’s so much romantic tension. It made me very happy, I smiled most of the way through this book.

There are two points of view in To Kill a Kingdom, and if you asked me to choose one I would have a very hard time. I liked the narrative voice of the siren Princess Lira, her development from cruelty throughout the book, but Elian’s crew completely stole my heart. Elian is a prince who adores the open sea and killing sirens, and to begin with their POVs are completely contrasting with the darker Lira and more noble Elian. That being said they are both bloodthirsty from the beginning. What better to bond over than violence and murder? There is some great banter, lots of romantic tension and a pirate crew I would die for. If Alexandra Christo would like to write a book solely on that crew, I would definitely buy it. The setting comprises of several different kingdoms, each with fairy-tale aspects that match their name in some way. For example, Prince Elian is from Midas, a kingdom of gold. The kingdoms are wonderful, nothing too complicated but described succinctly to perfectly capture the mood of the place.

In conclusion this is a brilliant standalone fairy-tale retelling with what I thought was a pretty perfect ending. Would I survive this book? I reckon I could live in Midas or one of the other kingdoms without too much trouble. Not the sea though. As I have previously mentioned, I get seasick.

The Middle Ages Unlocked Review

The Middle Ages Unlocked by Gillian Polack and Katrin Kania

I have a habit of picking up very solid historical information books about the middle ages and reading them from cover to cover. It is a slightly questionable technique, especially since some of them are VERY information dense, but I have great fun doing it. As you can see in the image above I used a lot of sticky notes.

The Middle Ages Unlocked was awesome, really informative and jam packed with every type of information you could possibly need about medieval England 1050-1300. The time period you choose for a medieval nonfiction book is very important because there are huge changes that happened over what is quite a large period. This was the first one I’ve read where it considered both Jewish and Christian communities as well as slavery in the middle ages, two things I have never seen much info about. There is even information about measuring things! In conclusion, The Middle Ages Unlocked was very readable, sorted into handy sections and filled with information. If you want information on this time period, this is the book for you.

I’m not sure what else I can say about this without it getting repetitive, so instead I’m going to throw some facts at you from different sections that you can surprise your family with (if you so wish.)

Rich and Poor, High and Low

Rich and well-born people were supposed to be happy and look happy, regardless of their state, as happiness was considered attractive.

The Middle Ages Unlocked

From Cradle to Grave

Pain was often considered an essential part of Christian death because it was thought to be the deserved punishment for sins.

The Middle Ages Unlocked

Death and Taxes You Cannot Avoid

Outlawry meant that the person was considered outside the law and thus had no legal protection from others.

The Middle Ages Unlocked

Crossroads of the Mind

The vast majority of magic practices were considered part of daily life or religious belief and were not regarded as sorcerous.

The Middle Ages Unlocked

Babies were ideally bathed one to three times a day.

The Middle Ages Unlocked

Written and Spoken Words

Dragons were generally considered to be oversized snakes, with wings, a tail, feet and sharp talons.

The Middle Ages Unlocked

The Chalk Pit Review

The Chalk Pit by Elly Griffiths

I cannot believe that this is the ninth book in the Ruth Galloway series I have read! It feels like just yesterday that Ruth was a happily single woman just focused on archaeology at the university. Oh, how times have changed. And yet some things stay the same, and these books have a kind of comfortable rhythm in them so I simultaneously have no idea what is going to happen but feel safe enough with this world that I can slip right back in every time I read a new book. This is one of my favourite series and I am always excited to return.

The Blurb:

Boiled human bones have been found in Norwich’s web of underground tunnels. When Dr Ruth Galloway discovers they are recent – the boiling not the medieval curiosity she thought – DCI Nelson has a murder enquiry on his hands.

Meanwhile, DS Judy Johnson is investigating the disappearance of a local rough sleeper. The only trace of her is the rumour that she’s gone ‘underground’. This might be a figure of speech, but with the discovery of the bones and the rumours both Ruth and the police have heard of a vast network of old chalk-mining tunnels under King’s Lynn, home to a vast community of rough sleepers, the clues point in only one direction. Local academic Martin Kellerman knows all about the tunnels and their history – but can his assertions of cannibalism and ritual killing possibly be true?

As the weather gets hotter, tensions rise. A local woman goes missing and the police are under attack. Ruth and Nelson must unravel the dark secrets of The Underground and discover just what gruesome secrets lurk at its heart – before it claims another victim.

As I was expecting the book started off slowly, but with a few murders to keep you on your toes. With some books a slow start means boring but it never is with Elly Griffiths, it just means it’s intriguing and laying the foundations for the fast paced tension ahead. When the connections begin between all the different, seemingly unrelated areas of the plot I get a little thrill, link after link being revealed yet not coming together to produce a coherent picture then the story picks up and the crimes become more frequent until BAM you reach the climax and I’m so tense I am physically attached to the book.

With subtle humour and more plot twists than I can count I am slowly absorbed into the lives of the characters, yet the domesticity slips away and I end up on the edge of my seat every time. Brilliant. Elly Griffiths truly manages to cover everything in her books, from racism and religion to childcare and Alice in Wonderland. The recurring but not main characters get developed over the years without too much focus taken away from main story, and Griffiths knows the exact moment to switch to the other point of view to keep me on edge and desperate to know what happens in both situations.

If you can’t tell from this review, I love the Ruth Galloway series and I will be reading the next one as soon as I can get my hands on it. Would I survive? In the story I would as long as I was careful, although if I get one more dramatic twist in real life my heart may give out.

March 2020 Round-up

Here we are again, the end of another month. And what a month March has been! Coronavirus, social distancing, self-isolating, lockdown and no toilet roll (I’m still confused as to why it was toilet roll that people decided to hoard.) Amongst the chaos I have not done a lot of reading, I actually read double the amount of books in January! I’ve tried my best to read a little everyday though and keep going so I think I have enough books to do a roundup! Being in lockdown is surprisingly stressful so I’ve found it quite hard to settle down and read- does anyone relate? Either way life goes on and so do my monthly roundups. THE BOOKS MUST GO ON.

BOOK OF THE MONTH: Dry by Neal and Jarrod Shusterman

What I liked about it: a disaster situation, very appropriate for the current world climate! Gripping. Distinct viewpoints. Atmospheric.

What I didn’t like about it: nothing really, it is well rounded.

My favourite character: Alyssa, she did her best in a hard situation and never abandoned her brother

Position in series: 1/1

Genres: young adult, science fiction, climate change

THE RUNNERS UP:

The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo by Taylor Jenkins Reid

What I liked about it: The glamour, the gayness, how gripping it was. The drama, the mystery and that incredible ending.

What I didn’t like about it: I wasn’t that attached to Monique who was one of the two main characters. A littler more time with her might have improved this, but it might have just taken away from Evelyn which I definitely don’t want.

My favourite character: Evelyn Hugo herself, of course. I do have a soft spot for Harry though.

Position in series: 1/1

Genres: historical fiction, romance, drama

To Kill a Kingdom by Alexandra Christo

What I liked about it: I had fun reading this, the enemies to lovers trope, the tension and the fairy-tale feel.

What I didn’t like about it: I needed more of the sassy crew. Just endless sassy crew.

My favourite character: Lira probably, although I am quite attached to THE ENTIRE CREW.

Position in series: 1/1 sadly

Genres: young adult, romance, fairy-tale retelling

The Mercies by Kiran Millwood Hargrave

What I liked about it: the deliciously descriptive writing, the tension, the immersive intensity.

What I didn’t like about it: the fact that women were ever burned as witches.

My favourite character: Maren, that naïve old soul.

Position in series: 1/1

Genres: historical fiction, LGBT, awesome

In conclusion, I have read a lot of standalone novels this month and they were awesome. If you’d like to try something slightly different, I read both A Smuggler’s Path and A Noble’s Path by I.L.Cruz this month and they were great fun, slightly chaotic fantasy. Remember to wash your hands and stay inside, I hope you’re all well and if you want to talk about anything feel free to message me! Let’s hope April goes a bit better than March 🙂

The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo Review

The Seven Husbands of Evelyn hugo by Taylor Jenkins Reid

I ordered The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo from the library after seeing a recommendation on twitter for F/F February. I didn’t read the synopsis, just went and ordered it, so when it arrived I was a little apprehensive as it isn’t the kind of thing I normally read. However, my expectations were blown out of the park. I adored The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo and would highly recommend it. Here’s the synopsis:

Aging and reclusive Hollywood movie icon Evelyn Hugo is finally ready to tell the truth about her glamorous and scandalous life. But when she chooses unknown magazine reporter Monique Grant for the job, no one is more astounded than Monique herself. Why her? Why now? Monique is not exactly on top of the world. Her husband has left her, and her professional life is going nowhere. Regardless of why Evelyn has selected her to write her biography, Monique is determined to use this opportunity to jumpstart her career.

Summoned to Evelyn’s luxurious apartment, Monique listens in fascination as the actress tells her story. From making her way to Los Angeles in the 1950s to her decision to leave show business in the ’80s, and, of course, the seven husbands along the way, Evelyn unspools a tale of ruthless ambition, unexpected friendship, and a great forbidden love. Monique begins to feel a very real connection to the legendary star, but as Evelyn’s story near its conclusion, it becomes clear that her life intersects with Monique’s own in tragic and irreversible ways. The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo is a mesmerizing journey through the splendor of old Hollywood into the harsh realities of the present day as two women struggle with what it means–and what it costs–to face the truth.

The novel is written in first person, switching from Monique to Evelyn when Evelyn begins to tell her life story, and switching back to Monique at various intervals. The intervals are done by husband, that is to say Evelyn goes through her life husband by husband and pauses after each one while other things go on in Monique’s life. I was hooked by the time I had got 43 pages in (weirdly specific, I know) and to be perfectly honest I was hooked well before that. In the sections where Evelyn narrated, I was spellbound and temporarily forgot that any other plot was going on apart from the telling of Evelyn’s life story. There are also newspaper articles scattered throughout, showing the world’s reaction to what was happening inside Evelyn and Monique’s intense little bubble.

The world of Hollywood that’s portrayed is vivid, glamorous and glorious and exciting and absolutely fascinating. There was not a single moment without drama in the life of Evelyn Hugo and I was gripped, genuinely caring about what happened and desperate for everything to turn out okay even as hints were dropped that something was off. Evelyn’s tumultuous relationships with her seven husbands reveal many secrets, the mistakes Evelyn made and the lessons she learned which she tries to impart to Monique as Monique asks the biggest question on her mind: which husband was Evelyn Hugo’s true love?  Now, I have no idea what one of the notes I made means and I’ve already taken it back to the library, so if anyone decides to pick up the book after reading this review (YOU SHOULD) please explain what this means: ‘Sudden plot twist without actually being a plot twist in the middle’. Enigmatic.

And in the last moments, where it is revealed why Evelyn Hugo chose Monique for her story? Incredible. What an ending. I was happy, then I was sad. Oh my gosh. What a book. Read it. Go for it. I didn’t think t would be my thing either, yet here I am raving about it. This book has love and drama and a strong willed woman living her life the best she can. Would I survive this book? It’s set on earth so I suppose if I’m still alive to write this review then I’d do just fine.

The Mercies Review

The Mercies by Kiran Millwood Hargrave

The Mercies Review

Even starting this review, my emotions were tumultuous. I LOVED The Mercies and putting that love into words was not easy. I’m trying to cobble something together from the notes I made, even though most of them are just me going ‘it’s so beautiful. Incredible. Amazing. Beautiful.’ Not especially helpful, but if you want some escapism during quarantine into a standalone fantasy with a historical element, this is the book for you!

The synopsis:

On Christmas Eve, 1617, the sea around the remote Norwegian island of Vardo is thrown into a reckless storm. As Maren Magnusdatter watches, forty fishermen, including her father and brother, are lost to the waves, the menfolk of Vardo wiped out in an instant.

Now the women must fend for themselves.

Eighteen months later, a sinister figure arrives. Summoned from Scotland to take control of a place at the edge of the civilized world, Absalom Cornet knows what he needs to do to bring the women of Vardo to heel. With him travels his young wife, Ursa. In Vardo, and in Maren, Ursa finds something she has never seen before: independent women. But Absalom sees only a place untouched by God and flooded with a mighty and terrible evil, one he must root out at all costs.

Inspired by the real events of the Vardo storm and the 1621 witch trials, Kiran Millwood Hargrave’s The Mercies is a story about how suspicion can twist its way through a community, and a love that may prove as dangerous as it is powerful.

The Mercies is told in present tense from two viewpoints, Ursa and Maren. I found that I liked both viewpoints equally, possibly with a slight leaning towards Maren. Such tension was built between them from the very first time Maren set eyes upon Ursa, and each worried the other would look down on them for their ways. All the characters in The Mercies are fascinating, the way they group and then break apart, swirling like the currents of the ever-present tide. I was completely drawn up into Ursa and Maren’s relationship, the way they felt and thought about everything so intensely illustrated.

The Mercies would not be what it is without its incredible setting of Vardo, Finnmark. It is so isolated, far from what some would consider civilisation. Kiran Millwood Hargrave beautifully evokes the freedom and fear and danger of the sea, surrounding this community who rely upon one another closely. The little details of the scenery are woven in seamlessly amongst the sea, cliffs, heather, houses and sky immersing the reader in this enchanting tale.

The Mercies is elegantly and lyrically written, emotive and full of desperation, reaching a feverish intensity as the cracks in the community widen and the line between religion and superstition is drawn by the arrival of a man. I forgot everything briefly as I was completely absorbed by the danger brewing on Vardo, thrilled by the atmosphere right from its intense beginning. I adored the ending and it is the perfect atmospheric standalone novel. Absolutely spellbinding.

Would I survive? Absolutely not. I get very, very seasick.

Herself, lost inside his name.

Kiran Millwood Hargrave, The Mercies