Burial Rites by Hannah Kent, a Review

17333319

“Of all the names, one is a mistake. One is a nightmare. The stair you miss in the darkness.” – Burial Rites by Hannah Kent

Set amongst the desolate landscape of rural Iceland, Hannah Kent weaves the tale of the final days of an accused murderess, Agnes. The last woman to face capital punishment in Iceland (which is historically correct), Agnes has been condemned to death for two murders, and is sent to live as a ward of a bureaucrat and his family until her execution.  Initially feared by her domestic captors, all is quickly revealed to be not as it seems as she begins to make peace with her fate.

Though the story seems like it should be predictable and uneventful, Kent spins a story that draws the reader in and does not let them go until the final pages. Her words are vivid, and she does a good job of using them selectively to convey rich emotions and scenery. In some chapters I could almost feel the Icelandic cold nipping at my fingertips, or smell the hints of a smoky cooking flame and fish hanging out to dry. Having only visited Iceland briefly, I found it easy to envision the isolation of the small communities — in fact, the landscape was very much one of the featured characters. One of those books that is immensely satisfying despite much action or adventure, it is the perfect book for a wintry weekend.  (Though I recommend waiting to read it when you’re looking for something descriptive and smooth vs. action and adventure packed.) Easy to digest, it has been well edited and was definitely a nice read for transitioning over to fall.

Available from Amazon.com (or the New York Public Library, where I got my copy). xo The Book Bird

Until You’re Mine by Samantha Hayes, a Review

I can’t believe that it’s already time to start planning my 2014 book list! How time flies! I was fortunate enough to get my hands on this excellent thriller courtesy of NetGalley and am almost tempted not to write a review as you’ll have to wait until next April to pick it up.

Here’s my one piece of advice when you start Samantha Hayes’ “Until You’re Mine,”: Stick it out, it is worth it.

When Claudia hires Zoe as a nanny, all the foreboding signs are there that things are not going to go as planned. From the creepy prologue to the introspective first person narratives, it is very clear that things are not going to be as they seem. Claudia’s life is all “too perfect,” and Zoe seems more than just a little damaged. The sense of dread that builds in the first few chapters was almost enough to turn me away, but I am very glad I ended up pressing forward because all my “theories” were pleasantly torn apart.

I hate to do this, and loathe those that use other authors or novels to describe or lend some type of credence to another work– but the only way I can describe this book is to say it’s “Gone Girl-esque.” You think you know where the story is going, but oh, you don’t. To avoid giving away any spoilers, all I can say is that this is one twisty-turny book. While not necessarily as tight as “Gone Girl” (ugh, there I go again!),

Available for pre-order from Amazon.com, this book will release in April 2014.

xo The Book Bird

*DISCLAIMER: I received an advance copy of this novel from the publisher via NetGalley.*

Mrs. Poe by Lynn Cullen, A Review

16130398Two stars, one because I found the premise interesting, and another because as I couldn’t finish the last 2/3rds of the book, I’d like to give it the benefit of the doubt that it gets better. 

The story of a poetess who encounters and strikes up a complex relationship with Edgar Allen Poe and his wife, Virginia, I couldn’t tell you whether this is actually accurate or not. Why? Because after hitting 27% I still didn’t have any more information than I had started with by reading the book blurb, and I had lost all motivation to persevere onwards. Perhaps, to quote The Raven, “Nevermore…” 

Oh, where to start on my disappointment– this was one of the books that I was indeed most excited about for fall. In fact, when I first got my hands on a copy, I may have let out a little squee. Alas, that excitement dissipated rather quickly. The writing is bland, uninspired and drags. I also found that Cullen uses several pieces of dialogue that in my mind do not fit in with the period.  Considering all of the wonderful personalities at her disposal, I struggled with the fact that the whole plotline felt so flat. 

Available online from Amazon.com for pre-order. 

xo

The Book Bird

*DISCLAIMER: I received a copy of this book via NetGallery for advance review from the publisher.*

Margot by Jillian Cantor

17347640

Wow. I did not have high expectations going into this book– Cantor takes on a serious challenge, change history and tell the story the sister of one of the world’s most recognized diarists. And let me tell you, she pulls it off with grace, solid writing, and compassion for her characters. Margot, which imagines the “what if” life of Anne Frank‘s older sister, transports readers to 1950’s Philadelphia where Margot, now Margie Franklin, has attempted to rebuild her life.  For those that have ever encountered the complexities of sibling love/rivalry, the complex feelings Margie has towards her sister will ring true.

What I appreciated most about the book was the tasteful way in which Cantor approaches her re-write of history. She creates beautiful, believable characters, and treats her subjects with respect. I greatly admire the fact that she sought to make her novel multi-dimensional, and not a flimsy foray into historical revision.

SPOILER:
I also want to note, while typically not a fan of happy endings, I was very pleased that Cantor grants Margie/Margot one. If you are concerned about picking up this book and dealing with a soul-crushing ending, have no worries.

A must-read for fall.

Available from Amazon.com

xo The Book Bird

Historical Fiction Must-Reads for Fall 2013

There’s something about the first hints of fall in the air that make me drive into book hoarding mode like a squirrel preparing for winter. Thus, I’m already finalizing my “hit-list” by genre for the next few weeks. What’s on it? Check out my current historical fiction to-reads below and make sure to add The Book Bird to your RSS feed or follow us on Twitter (@thebookbird) for updates.

16130398

Mrs. Poe by Lynn Cullen
Available October 1st.
Edgar Allen Poe, an affair, a plotting wife… what more could you ask for? I am obsessed with 19th century New York (see my other pick below, Seven for a Secret if this is your thing as well), and was fortunate enough to get my book hungry hands on an advance copy of this one. Stay tuned for a review!

 

51GB0e6EGBL._SY346_

Seven for a Secret by Lyndsay Faye
Available September 17th.
The sequel to the well-received Gods of GothamSeven is already getting rave reviews. Detective Timothy Wilde is back, patrolling the lawless neighborhood of Five Points in 1840’s New York City. Wilde and his brother Valentine are incredibly well-fleshed out characters, and I am so excited about where their adventures will take them next. (Also, I found it incredibly amusing to imagine the bustling neighborhood of Chelsea as farmland, hehe.) A must for NYC historians and those who love a good detective novel.

16130692
Queen’s Gambit by Elizabeth Freemantle
Available now.
This one made our “Six Tales of Tudor England” list — Queen’s Gambit follows Catherine Parr as she navigates the plots and intrigues of Henry VIII’s court.

 

What’s on your fall reading agenda?

xo The Book Bird

I Sincerely Doubt This House is Haunted….

Image

Like many gothic house novels John Boyne’s “This House is Haunted” left me feeling far from chilled. Having come off the creepy ride that was Marisha Pessl’s “Night Film” and the excellent “After Her” by Joyce Maynard, I was hoping that “This House is Haunted” would require me to keep a light on while I read, however I was sorely disappointed.

Let’s be real– writing a gothic novel that centers around a decrepit, possibly haunted, house is hard. In my experience as a reader I have only encountered one or two novels that have done this well. While I was willing to forgive Boyne for not living up to this part of the bargain, the complete blandness of his characters made me put this one down after about 30%. I mean this in the kindest way possible, but some authors should stick to writing protagonists who share their gender.

Unfortunately life is too short to waste time on mediocre novels. Will I ever know if the house was haunted? Probably not. Do I care? No, not really.

“This House is Haunted” will be available from retailers October 8th, 2013.

xo The Book Bird

Disclaimer: An advance copy of this novel was provided to me for review by the publisher via NetGalley.