Officially the first book I've read that's set before the 1800s, The Borgia Confessions was an extraordinarily well-researched depiction of the infamous Borgia family during Rodrigo Borgia's reign as Pope in the 1490s. Fictional storylines weaved with factual events, characters were pulled from their place in history and reanimated at Palombos hand; made flesh again to relive their sordid tales and commit their heinous crimes.
I'm not the first to admit that I knew absolutely nothing of Cesare Borgia (the eldest son), his siblings, or his parents before I began reading Palombo's detailing of Rodrigo Borgia's rise to the prestigious and powerful title. I researched whilst reading, and found that it really added to the experience, and filled in the very minimal blanks in the plot. As the author took some scandalous liberties with the storyline, I wanted to make sure I knew the basic and general lay of the land (character and scandal-wise). I liked that once I did that, I found that I cared very little for the strategic scenes about war, invasions and attempts to overthrow existing rulers (though my brain would have melted regardless), and instead enjoyed the power and lust-fueled relationships that Palombo handed to me.
I found it the most excellent choice to use Cesare, and a fictional lady servant Maddalena, as the two perspectives throughout the narrative. As a reader, I was able to glimpse both sides of the political turmoil, one view coming from the comforts and false sense of security on the inside, and the second, from the general public during some significant changes to their lives. It's when these worlds collide that things get interesting, more dangerous (and to much a readers' dismay, lustier--though I thoroughly enjoyed these bits).
I can only write this review as a lover of fiction, and an appreciative student of accidental learning through said fiction. I don't seek out the historical fiction genre, but I know a book deserving of praise when I see one, and The Borgia Confessions is definitely not to be missed by those who are truly fans of both historical fiction and the lives, and misdeeds, of the Borgia family.
-------------------- * I received an egalley from the publisher via Netgalley to participate in the blog tour*...more
This is my second book by this author, the initial being
The First Mistake
, and while I enjoyed the suspenseful moments and cliff-hanger chapter ends in that one,
The Half Sister
fell short in both in it's promoted genre (thriller), and in the execution of it's synopsis.
More aptly described as a family drama, this narrative begins with an interrupted dinner to beat all others, as sisters Kate and Lauren and their mother Rose are visited by Jess, a woman claiming to be their half-sister and deceased father's third child. Dual perspectives are given to the sisters, as we follow a paranoid and disbelieving Kate, and an elated and sympathetic Lauren. Family secrets are brought to light, while long-held assumptions are put to rest. And inbetween it all, we follow a pair of woman who are struggling with the things that are all too (unfortunately) common: infertility and domestic abuse. The mystery behind Jess's appearance is just that, mysterious, and never quite ventures into the thrilling.
I want to say that I might have appreciated The Half Sister more if it had a contemporary cover, and simply promised a saga of sorts; a hidden family past that those involved wanted to keep hidden, but alas, the genre wasn't the only issue. Jones can write a book, that is not a debatable fact. Many individual moments in this narrative were fraught with the right amount of tension; with dialogue fitting to it's cause. The entire book, as a whole, was compulsively readable, but broken down there were holes too big to ignore, and repetition that had me skimming instead of reading.
The biggest qualms came in the way the triggers were handled, and the slippery way the final twist was revealed. Lauren spent the entirety of the book in a domestic abuse situation, one in which was handled too loosely and distractedly in my opinion. There was a scene in which she has chance to explain to her mother exactly what's been happening, but never fully does. I found this to be a reoccurring theme in the book as well: characters hiding things for no logical reason. By the time the big reveal arrived, there were more questions than answers, and I closed the book feeling like I missed something that I was supposed to understand 5-6 chapters prior.
With all of that said, I'll round out the trio of Jones' work by reading The Other Woman next, and will continue picking up whatever she puts out. This one just didn't work as well for me, sadly.
-------------------- *I received an egalley from the publisher via Netgalley in exchange for an honest review*...more
What, in the floppy-eared hell, did I just read?! This book was an entirely different breed of weird, and I mean that in the most complimentary and fascinating way. It was a sub genre mash-up of dark academia and fantastical horror, combined with metaphorical and self-reflective bits that damn near blew my whole mind. Without question, Bunny is one of the most oddly satisfying books I have ever read.
Samantha Mackey is a grad school student at Warren University. Perpetually intimidated by her peers, and making little to no progress on her work, she spends most of her days in self-sabotaging conversation with her best, and equally as dark-minded friend, Ava. Their most favored target for mockery is a group of women on Samantha's campus who call themselves the "Bunnies". Perfectly groomed, sickeningly sweet, and irritatingly cliqué-y, the Bunnies are both a wonder and a source of frustration for Samantha, so when they extend an invitation to join them for a weekly writing session (dubbed the 'Smut Salon) at their home, she decides to feed her curiosity. The further into the Bunny hole she falls, the further away she gets from reality, and the once-cherished friendship she held with Ava. Escaping their clutches comes with a price, one that Samantha could not have seen coming.
Bunny is one of those books that can be so many different things depending on it's reader. For me it was social commentary on the dangers of a hive-mind, especially on those who are more mentally susceptible to it's mechanisms. Awad was brilliant in her choice to use fantastically horrible elements to symbolize influence and desperation. I found myself in Samantha during so many moments that I literally had to stop reading at those points. I think the best word I saw used to describe this book was "bonkers", because it was, it was absolutely insane, all while being incredibly purposeful in it's madness.
Dialogue is among the most important check boxes for me as a reader, and unfortunately, not many authors have checked it. Awad checked it. She checked it with a gigantic, perfectly inked, check mark. It's no easy feat to be metaphorical, symbolic, dark, AND witty. Bunny was successful in being all 4 of those things. I'd be hard-pressed to read another book like it this year....more
God this was uncomfortable to read, but when I was done, I kept going back to the last page, willing more words to appear. I didn't want to be done with Vanessa's story; call me a sadist but I was addicted to her troubled mind. If that's not the mark of an extraordinary book, then clearly I'm not cut out for this reader life. I feel ill-equipped to review a book as intentionally controversial as this, but I will try my most intellectual best.
It's 2000: 15-year-old Vanessa begged her parents to be enrolled at Browick boarding school. Intelligent past her years, and self-admittedly dark of mind and tortured of soul, Vanessa spends her days separate from her peers and generally withdrawn from the outside world. Timidly at first, and then all at once, she begins attracting attention from her 42-year-old English teacher Jacob Strane (Mr. Strane). What unfolds from this point forth is hard is digest, and even harder to write about.
It's 2017: 32-year-old Vanessa is in denial, convinced that the 'love story' she shared with Strane is so far removed from the accusations that have surfaced about him. A number of women are claiming that Strane sexually abused them during their own years at Browick, and one in particular, Taylor Birch, is using social media as her megaphone and has asked Vanessa to join her. Out of misplaced loyalty, and her own rose-coloured memories, Vanessa is adamant on avoiding the media frenzy, and the requests to speak out about a moment in her life where she felt like anything but the 'victim'.
I've never read Lolita, I'm not certain that I'm at a place in my life where I can appreciate that book for its art and ignore my repulsion for its subject matter. My Dark Vanessa was its safe reverse, in the sense that it was from the perspective of a seemingly consenting "nymphet", and while I was still wholly taken aback at times, I read it with a compulsion that not many books before it has elicited. I was propelled forward by a desperate need to watch Vanessa untangle what was surely repressed trauma; acts she performed out of fear or intense pressure. What instead took place was a deep dive into what it means to be a victim, and all of the expected and unexpected reactions that come with that label. There are so many prompts in this narrative for important discussions surrounding abuse, consent and an imbalance of power. It's wild to know that Russell began writing this book decades before the #metoo movement, years before so many voices found strength in shared injustices. I keep thinking about how My Dark Vanessa might have been received, had it been published back then. I am even more excited to read the conversations that it will spark now.
-------------------- *I received an egalley from the publisher via Edelweiss in exchange for an honest review*...more
It's never easy to review a book that had good intentions; a book that set out to cast a huge spotlight on a still largely ignored social injustice. Fowler attempted that with A Good Neighborhood, and while her writing was purposeful, it lacked so much of what was needed for a heavy topic.
The Whitman family has recently moved into their rebuilt home in the sprawling and coveted neighborhood of Oak Knoll, North Carolina, much to the annoyance and frustration of next-door neighbor, and professor of ecology, Valerie Alston-Holt, but to the extreme pleasure of her 18-year-old son, Xavier. Pleasure because the Whitman family includes 18-year-old Juniper, who Xavier immediately falls for. As their romance blooms innocently in the background, the forefront is filled with the legal clashing of Valerie and Brad Whitman, after Valerie opens a civil case against Brad for the destruction of some beloved greenery in her backyard. Disturbing secrets are leaked and relationships are tested in this narrative that strives to go beyond surface-level issues, and straight into those that are begging for more awareness.
The author took the time to add a disclaimer at the start of the book, letting her readers know that she, a white woman, would be writing about black characters within, and assured us that she took the appropriate measures to ensure accuracy regarding their experiences. I appreciated her efforts, but I sadly found that she missed the mark with this novel. The writing was great, and her message, an extremely important one. Overall, I just felt like she lacked realistic emotion and subtleties during moments, and dialogue, where her black characters were suffering the most unspeakable injustices. It was a quick and addictive read nonetheless, I just wish more care was taken with the subject matter and those involved.
-------------------- *I received an egalley from the publisher via Edelweiss in exchange for an honest review*...more
It's important to note that I had not heard of, or seen, this book (or this author) anywhere before I read it. There is rarely a time that I will pick a book up under these circumstances; I've lived a reading life thus far that is so dependent on "what is popular" these days, or books that have the most buzz surrounding it. This is why I found it mildly surprising that not only did I pick up The First Mistake, but I liked that I knew barely anything about it! Who am I !?!
In this adult thriller, Alice is living a coveted life with her husband Nathan, her two daughters, and a successful interior design business that was launched with her late ex-husband, Tom. A small crack in that picture-perfect veneer appears when Alice finds a suspicious item in her husband's car, and thus begins a spiral of events she just can't seem to stay ahead of. Who can be trusted, and how deep is she willing to dig to find answers?
Reading The First Mistake was like cautiously trying out a new dish, and then realizing very quickly that it's delicious and so you start eating faster and faster and then before you know it you've eaten it all and you don't even know how it happened. The cover of this book is so unassuming, and at first glance has you convinced that maybe you're about to consume a domestic drama, maybe a darker romance, but most definitely not a thriller that intensified so satisfyingly with each chapter. Jones has a knack for cliffhangers and shock value. The twists in here were each its own small atomic bomb, and she kept dropping them right until the end. The narrative wasn't psychological (the type of thriller I typically favour), so this meant that the characters weren't complex or particularly outstanding, however, that worked well for this book, where the intent wasn't to build relationships between reader and cast, but rather to keep the readers in the dark just enough to keep them guessing.
The First Mistake is the perfect in-between book you need to propel you on to a heavier or more lengthy one. I will definitely be checking out the author's first novel, The Other Woman.
-------------------- *I received a print copy of this book for review from the publisher in exchange for an honest review*...more
is about the (unfortunate) realistic scenario of racial profiling by a white cop, and the even more unfortunate outcome of that profiling: an innocent black male getting shot to death. Told through three alternating perspectives, we hear from Jade, the victims' older sister, Kelly, his estranged father, and Ryan, the officer that shot him. Together they attempt to paint a larger picture, one steeped in misplaced justice and forced forgiveness.
There is a desperate need for important books right now. There is a gaping void that needs to be filled with literature, both fiction and non-fiction, and with videos, and movies, and television shows, and news reports, and emails, and texts, and damnit actual human beings standing on their roofs SHOUTING about the injustices that our species is enduring. But most importantly the injustices of young black youth, of black men, and of the black community as a whole. There is a desperate need for people with the means to contribute their voices on this matter to use those means. To use them and use them until it helps the next person do the same. Stephen Clark used his means, as a writer, to create a social commentary in
. He shed light on a topic that should be breaking down doors with its force, but sadly still feels as though it falls on deaf ears. I applaud Stephen for writing this book, but as my star ratings have first and foremost always represented my concluding opinion on writing style (based on genre) as opposed to subject matter, I couldn't grant it the 5-stars that my justice-seeking heart would have given it had it come to me as a news report or a documentary.
Stephen Clark wrote like a true journalist, in the sense that telling was favoured heavily over showing:
"As pallbearers carried the casket to the burial site, Kelly and Regina held hands. As his son's casket was interred, Kelly cried and let out a scream. Regina laid her body his coffin and wept".
The entire novel read like a 290-page report, and sadly both characters and storyline suffered for it. I also took issue with the many descriptive and stereotypical ways in which a certain gender was described or represented. There was even some fat-shaming on two occasions whilst describing or referring to Jade's best friend. Hands Up would have benefitted from remaining a depiction of racial profiling and its sometimes tragic consequences, as opposed to attempting to highlight other triggering areas such as self-harm or sexual abuse, which I found to be handled quite poorly by secondary characters.
I really appreciate that Hands Up can be now be counted among the too-few books out there surrounding this topic, but further research was definitely needed in order to turn this into something truly spectacular. More emotion, more sensitivity, and a more genuine delve into the psyche of those who were suffering was needed to make this a true winner for me. --------------------------- *Note: This book was provided to me by the author for free in exchange for an honest review*