Book Review: The Cottingley Secret by Hazel Gaynor

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Genres: historical fiction; contemporary; magical realism

Why I read it: Cottingley fairies! I’ve known that story since I was a kid, and I’ve seen the pictures loads of times, so when I saw the word “Cottingley” in a book title, it was immediately added to my TBR and I entered the ARC giveaway on goodreads.

Who I’d recommend it to: If you like the blending of old and new stories (switching between present and past with connecting threads), a teeny bit of magical realism, and/or the mystery of the Cottingley fairies, you might like this.

My rating: ★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆ (3.5 stars)

Goodreads | Barnes & Noble | Book Depository | Amazon


What it’s about:

1917… It was inexplicable, impossible, but it had to be true—didn’t it? When two young cousins, Frances Griffiths and Elsie Wright from Cottingley, England, claim to have photographed fairies at the bottom of the garden, their parents are astonished. But when one of the great novelists of the time, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, becomes convinced of the photographs’ authenticity, the girls become a national sensation, their discovery offering hope to those longing for something to believe in amid a world ravaged by war. Frances and Elsie will hide their secret for many decades. But Frances longs for the truth to be told.

One hundred years later… When Olivia Kavanagh finds an old manuscript in her late grandfather’s bookshop she becomes fascinated by the story it tells of two young girls who mystified the world. But it is the discovery of an old photograph that leads her to realize how the fairy girls’ lives intertwine with hers, connecting past to present, and blurring her understanding of what is real and what is imagined. As she begins to understand why a nation once believed in fairies, can Olivia find a way to believe in herself?


Review:

This took me ages to get through, but it was not the book’s fault, it was me. I’ve been in this awful reading slump all year for specifically SFF books, and, while this one isn’t super fantasy-ish, it was close enough for my slump to prevent me from making it very far in. (Then my surgery happened and that made it take even longer. Ugh.)

Anyway… As I said, I entered the giveaway for this because I saw the word “Cottingley” and, paired with that cover, I was sure before I even read the description that it would be about the Cottingley fairies, which I had a bit of an obsession with as a child. If you haven’t heard of the Cottingley fairies, google it. If you have no interest at all in what happened, I’d say skip this book. But, if you’re even just a bit curious, you might like it.

The story alternates between present day with Olivia, and events from the early 20th century recorded in a memoir later in life by Frances Griffiths. Olivia is still reeling from the recent loss of her grandfather when she finds out he left her his bookshop, Something Old. But that isn’t all he left her. He also left her a cat, Hemingway (who lives in the bookshop), and a manuscript. Within the manuscript, Olivia finds links to an old photograph she had as a child, and, later, connections to her own family. As she reads the book, peculiar things begin to happen in her own life that may or may not have logical explanations.

Along the way, she learns not only about the people in the story, but also about her family and herself. She’s been dealing with a lot, and some of her indecision and uncertainty really annoyed me for a while, even though I guess it was kind of understandable. So, when she finally starts taking control of her life, I was happy for her. Olivia is not my favorite character, and I actually found her a little boring at times, but by the end of the book I was definitely rooting for her.

For those of you who don’t like romance, don’t worry, it’s not really a part of this story. It’s there, kind of, but it isn’t a major plot point or anything and almost no time is spent on it. This is mostly about family and connections and accepting who you are and learning to stand on your own.

I expected to really love the Cottingley parts of this book, but I didn’t. (I did like them, I just didn’t love them.) It was an interesting way to go about mingling past and present in a historical fiction novel, but some of it seemed to drag by (that could have been the slump, though). I can’t imagine what Frances’s life was like, dealing with her father being away fighting in the war, and having her entire life altered so drastically. So, I felt for her, but her narrative wasn’t as compelling as I hoped it would be. Elsie honestly kind of irritated me, and most of the other characters didn’t leave much of an impression (they were minor). The exception to that was Ellen. My heart broke for her and I wanted the fairies to be real, just for her.

I’d really love to read Frances Griffiths’s own book (books?) about the Cottingley fairies, though, to see how much of the truth made it into this book. I do know that at least some of the “memoir” in this book lines up with what Frances said after confessing about the photographs.

For those who don’t know or care to look it up, Frances and Elsie confessed in the ’80s that they had faked the photographs. Why did they wait over 60 years? Because they’d fooled the world. Even Arthur Conan Doyle was taken in by their story, and subsequently wrote a couple of articles about it featuring the now famous photographs. (Yes, that Arthur Conan Doyle. He was a spiritualist and actually wrote a book about fairies called The Coming of the Fairies, though not many people know about it now.)

Basically, even though we know it was a hoax now, it’s still fascinating to read about, if you’re into this kind of thing. As for the fifth photograph (“The Fairy Bower”), I like to think Frances was telling the truth about that one.

…perhaps believing in fairies was more important than seeing them. In belief, there is hope and wonder. In seeing, there is often question and doubt.

Whether you believe/want to believe in fairies or not, this is still a great historical fiction novel, and I do recommend it. The writing is enchanting all on its own, the story has just a touch of magic, and the characters are so alive and believably human.

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Must Read Mondays: August 28th

must-read-mondays

Must Read Monday is a weekly thing I do here to recommend books I’ve read and enjoyed. I might sometimes throw in something I gave 3 stars to, but for the most part they’re books I gave a 4-5 star rating to. That doesn’t mean they’re necessarily amazing literature, but it does mean I liked them enough to recommend them to other people.


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Garden Spells; links to goodreads

When I read it: July 2014

Genres: magical realism; fantasy; romance

Recommended for: If you liked the movie (or book), Practical Magic, or if you generally enjoy magical realism, check this out.

 

Goodreads | Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Book Depository

 

 


What it’s about:

In a garden surrounded by a tall fence, tucked away behind a small, quiet house in an even smaller town, is an apple tree that is rumored to bear a very special sort of fruit. In this luminous debut novel, Sarah Addison Allen tells the story of that enchanted tree, and the extraordinary people who tend it.…

The Waverleys have always been a curious family, endowed with peculiar gifts that make them outsiders even in their hometown of Bascom, North Carolina. Even their garden has a reputation, famous for its feisty apple tree that bears prophetic fruit, and its edible flowers, imbued with special powers. Generations of Waverleys tended this garden. Their history was in the soil. But so were their futures.

A successful caterer, Claire Waverley prepares dishes made with her mystical plants—from the nasturtiums that aid in keeping secrets and the pansies that make children thoughtful, to the snapdragons intended to discourage the attentions of her amorous neighbor. Meanwhile, her elderly cousin, Evanelle, is known for distributing unexpected gifts whose uses become uncannily clear. They are the last of the Waverleys—except for Claire’s rebellious sister, Sydney, who fled Bascom the moment she could, abandoning Claire, as their own mother had years before.

When Sydney suddenly returns home with a young daughter of her own, Claire’s quiet life is turned upside down—along with the protective boundary she has so carefully constructed around her heart. Together again in the house they grew up in, Sydney takes stock of all she left behind, as Claire struggles to heal the wounds of the past. And soon the sisters realize they must deal with their common legacy—if they are ever to feel at home in Bascom—or with each other.


I adored this book, and I think it was my first Sarah Addison Allen read. I actually put off reading any of her books for a while because they were compared to Practical Magic, which I liked, but didn’t love (I thought the movie was better, I’m sorry). In my opinion, Sarah Addison Allen’s books are way better and I recommend them anytime I come across someone else who enjoys magical realism.

It’s been a few years, so the specifics of this book are kind of faded in my memory, but I still think about the Waverly family all the time, and I’ll probably re-read this at some point.

 


If you’ve read this one, what did you think of it? And if you’ve read some of her other books, what’s your favorite?

 

First Lines Fridays: August 11th

first-lines-fridays

First Lines Fridays is a weekly feature for book lovers hosted by Wandering Words. What if instead of judging a book by its cover, its author or its prestige, we judged it by its opening lines?

The Rules:

  • Pick a book off your shelf (it could be your current read or on your TBR) and open to the first page
  • Copy the first few lines, but don’t give anything else about the book away just yet – you need to hook the reader first

Finally… reveal the book!

 


Fairies will not be rushed. I know this now; know I must be patient. 


 

 

Interested? Keep reading to find out which book this is from.

 

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The Cottingley Secret by Hazel Gaynor

 

32600721What it’s about:

1917… It was inexplicable, impossible, but it had to be true—didn’t it? When two young cousins, Frances Griffiths and Elsie Wright from Cottingley, England, claim to have photographed fairies at the bottom of the garden, their parents are astonished. But when one of the great novelists of the time, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, becomes convinced of the photographs’ authenticity, the girls become a national sensation, their discovery offering hope to those longing for something to believe in amid a world ravaged by war. Frances and Elsie will hide their secret for many decades. But Frances longs for the truth to be told.

One hundred years later… When Olivia Kavanagh finds an old manuscript in her late grandfather’s bookshop she becomes fascinated by the story it tells of two young girls who mystified the world. But it is the discovery of an old photograph that leads her to realize how the fairy girls’ lives intertwine with hers, connecting past to present, and blurring her understanding of what is real and what is imagined. As she begins to understand why a nation once believed in fairies, can Olivia find a way to believe in herself?

Goodreads | Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Book Depository


This was another goodreads giveaway win for me, and I’m so excited! I’ve always been fascinated by the Cottingley fairies story, and I’ve read a lot about it online over the years.

(I was actually supposed to start this last month and review it for release day on the 1st of August, but the unexpected ER visit and surgery kind of threw off my reading schedule :/ )

Book Review: Exit West by Mohsin Hamid

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cover; links to goodreads

Genres: literary fiction; magical realism; contemporary

Why I read it: The description. I’m a sucker for magical realism, and this sounded like something very relevant right now.

Who I’d recommend it to: I think this is one that I would recommend on a case by case basis, after getting an idea of the kinds of books a person usually like or dislikes. I don’t think it’s something everyone will enjoy.

 

My rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ☆ (actual rating more like 3.75/5 stars)

 

Goodreads | Amazon | Book Depository | Barnes & Noble


What it’s about:

In a country teetering on the brink of civil war, two young people meet—sensual, fiercely independent Nadia and gentle, restrained Saeed. They embark on a furtive love affair and are soon cloistered in a premature intimacy by the unrest roiling their city. When it explodes, turning familiar streets into a patchwork of checkpoints and bomb blasts, they begin to hear whispers about doors—doors that can whisk people far away, if perilously and for a price. As the violence escalates, Nadia and Saeed decide that they no longer have a choice. Leaving their homeland and their old lives behind, they find a door and step through.

Exit West follows these characters as they emerge into an alien and uncertain future, struggling to hold on to each other, to their past, to the very sense of who they are. Profoundly intimate and powerfully inventive, it tells an unforgettable story of love, loyalty, and courage that is both completely of our time and for all time.


Review:

I think the description was a little deceiving for this one, but I’m not entirely unhappy about that. The idea of the doors appearing transported people to other places sounded fascinating to me, but I wasn’t thrilled by the idea of reading a love story. **Possible spoiler alert** It wasn’t really a love story, though, or at least not for most of the book. Or, possibly more accurately, this wasn’t a love story The Notebook, or something like that.

My feelings are still so conflicted about this book. I loved a lot of it, but at the same time, I had a difficult time getting through it. Overall, it was a very well told, beautifully written, story, so I think my issue with struggling to finish it goes back to the description and my expectations. I spent a lot of the book just feeling a little confused. The description isn’t inaccurate, but it was a bit misleading. It might also have been the writing, which I enjoyed, but it just didn’t work for me as much as I would have liked.

This story was brutal at times, and very timely with the social commentary. It’s a dystopian, in a way, but not the kind you’re probably used to. Instead of some mythic, possible future (however distant or near), this book is much closer to the harsh realities real people are living in today. Though the country Saeed and Nadia are from isn’t named, it’s easy to draw parallels between their lives and the current Syrian refugees situation.

The refugee and immigration aspect of this was heartbreaking, mostly (although not entirely), and that alone would be enough for me to recommend this book to a lot of people. You want to see things from another perspective? Read this. I too often hear people talk about immigrants like they’re all less than human, and lump them together in some awful category (terrorists, etc.), and I think, or hope, that books like this might help people like that to see things differently. The world needs a lot more compassion, and hopefully things like Exit West will inspire more people to look beyond their prejudices and hate and be more sympathetic and kind.

Following Nadia and Saeed was kind of an emotional roller coaster. There were highs and lows, intense moments, quiet moments, and everything in between. I never had any idea what would happen next, or how things would turn out in the end. I liked both characters, and they both seemed so realistic. These were probably two of the most human characters I’ve ever read about, now that I think about it, and I was rooting for them throughout the entire book. I didn’t care much, either way, if their romantic relationship worked out or not, I just wanted them to find peace, safety, and happiness.

 

I thought this book was going to try to pack too much into too little space (the book is just a little under 250 pages), but that fear was unnecessary. I never felt like too little attention was given to any feeling or situation, even the little snippets we got of what other doors were like for other people from other places. Those bits were a little strange at first, but still enjoyable, and I actually kind of wish there had been a bit more to them.

I’m afraid to say much more because I don’t want to spoil anything for anyone, so I’ll just conclude by saying that, yes, I would probably recommend this.


If you’ve read Exit West, what did you think of it?

 

First Lines Fridays: June 16th

first-lines-fridays

First Lines Fridays is a weekly feature for book lovers hosted by Wandering Words. What if instead of judging a book by its cover, its author or its prestige, we judged it by its opening lines?

The Rules:

  • Pick a book off your shelf (it could be your current read or on your TBR) and open to the first page
  • Copy the first few lines, but don’t give anything else about the book away just yet – you need to hook the reader first

Finally… reveal the book!

 


In a city swollen by refugees but still mostly at peace, or at least not yet openly at war, a young man met a young woman in a classroom and did not speak to her. 


 

 

Interested? Keep reading to find out which book this is from.

 

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Exit West by Mohsin Hamid

30688435What it’s about:

In a country teetering on the brink of civil war, two young people meet—sensual, fiercely independent Nadia and gentle, restrained Saeed. They embark on a furtive love affair and are soon cloistered in a premature intimacy by the unrest roiling their city. When it explodes, turning familiar streets into a patchwork of checkpoints and bomb blasts, they begin to hear whispers about doors—doors that can whisk people far away, if perilously and for a price. As the violence escalates, Nadia and Saeed decide that they no longer have a choice. Leaving their homeland and their old lives behind, they find a door and step through.

Exit West follows these characters as they emerge into an alien and uncertain future, struggling to hold on to each other, to their past, to the very sense of who they are. Profoundly intimate and powerfully inventive, it tells an unforgettable story of love, loyalty, and courage that is both completely of our time and for all time.

(Cover links to goodreads)

Goodreads | Amazon | Book Depository | Barnes & Noble


I can’t even remember how this ended up on my radar because I feel like I’ve seen it everywhere. However I found out about, I read the description and was intrigued, especially when I saw it shelved as “magical realism,” because I’m always looking for more great magical realism reads. I have some theories about how that part will play out, but I’ve only read the first page so far, so I guess I’ll have to wait and see if I’m right.


Have you read it? What did you think of it?

 

Book Review: Burntown by Jennifer McMahon

 

Genres: mystery/thriller/suspense; a little horror; a touch of paranormal

 

Why I read it: I really liked The Winter People, so when I saw Jennifer McMahon’s newest book on NetGalley, I had to request it, and was lucky enough to be approved for an e-ARC.

Who I’d recommend it to: Fans of her other books. People who like mysteries, etc., and magical realism.

Publication date: April 25th, 2017
Publisher: Doubleday
Pages: 304 ebook | 336 hardcover

My rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ☆ (3.5 stars)

 

 

Goodreads | Amazon | Book Depository | Barnes & Noble


What it’s about:

Eva grew up watching her father, Miles, invent strange and wonderful things in the small workshop behind their house on the river that runs through their old mill town. But the most important invention of all was the one that Miles claimed came from the mind of Thomas Edison himself–a machine that allowed one to speak with loved ones long passed. Smuggled out of Edison’s laboratory, the blueprints were passed down to Miles, and he’s been using them to protect Eva, her mother, Lily, and her brother, Errol, ever since.

Then, one night when a storm is raging and the river is threatening to flood, the machine whirrs to life on its own. Danger, it says. You’re in terrible danger. The next thing Eva knows is waking up on the side of the river and seeing her mother’s grim face. Eva’s father and brother are dead, their house has been washed away and an evil man is searching for them both. They need to hide.

Eva changes her name to Necco–a candy she always loved–and tries to put everything in her past behind her as she adapts to her new life off the grid. But when her boyfriend is murdered and her mother disappears, she knows that the past is starting to catch up to her.

What really happened the night of the flood? As Necco searches for the truth, her journey unites her with two women who are on desperate quests of their own. And as the trio follows the clues to solving the mystery of Necco’s past, they discover that sometimes it’s the smallest towns that hold the strangest secrets.


Review:

I’m going to start with the bad/what I didn’t like about this book

 

There wasn’t much, honestly. I did have an e-ARC, so it’s possible that my complaints were addressed before publication (I haven’t had a chance to check a finished copy).

First, I think I’m going to stick with listening to Jennifer McMahon’s books, instead of reading them, from now on. I think her writing style is wonderfully suited for audiobooks, because it really paints a picture of exactly what’s going on. However, that’s not something I’m a huge fan of, generally, while reading. It’s a “telling, not showing” kind of thing, I think. I actually don’t mind some telling, but it was a little much in this book, and some of the descriptions of things went on a bit longer than I would have liked. This is a very small complaint and it’s probably just me being too nitpicky.

My biggest complaint was actually in the last few pages of the book. There was a slur (“It sounded like g***y music…”), which I find in books all the time. It annoys me, but I let it slide with older books. But these days, there’s not much of an excuse for that kind of thing to slip by because 99% of the time there are definitely other words that can be used to describe something. I won’t try to really explain in depth why it’s a slur, because I don’t want to speak for anyone, but here’s a very brief article on it to get you started, and a quick google search can show you more. Basically, no, it does not mean you’re “free-spirited,” or anything like that.

I am not a big fan of multiple points-of-view, and this book has them. It wasn’t bad, but it did slightly irritate me. That’s totally a personal preference thing, though, so if you don’t mind them in general, you’ll probably be fine with the way they’re handled in this book.

 

Now, on to what I did like, characters, etc.

 

The story of the machine was really interesting, and (I think) actually based a bit on fact. I haven’t dug into this to check out facts, but I’m pretty sure that Edison really did have plans and a possible patent to create a device that would–if successful–allow the living to contact their dearly departed. Unfortunately, it wasn’t a big feature in the book, even though pretty much the entire plot centered around it. Still, it was very cool to read about when it was mentioned.

The way the past and present and various character connections were woven together was interesting enough to keep me reading almost non-stop after about the halfway point. (It did take me a little while to really get into the story, but I think that was just my mood.) I’ll admit that I actually had everything worked out before the big reveals of all the twists, but I was fine with that and it didn’t detract from my enjoyment of the book.

I felt for Necco and Theo so much, and I liked both of them a lot. I think I might have enjoyed the multi-POV more if it had been just the two of them. Necco was such a strong young woman, and my heart kept breaking for her. And Theo, oh gosh. I related a little too much to her a few times, and my heart broke for her, too. I’m not exactly sure how realistic all of their actions and reactions were to the things going on, but it was at least mostly believable, I think. If a sequel to this ever came out, and Necco and Theo were in it, I would definitely read it to find out more about how their lives are after the end of this book.

Pru…well, I’m honestly not sure what to say about her. I feel like she was more and less fleshed out than Necco and Theo (I’m not sure if that makes sense, sorry), and I didn’t really end up caring much about her. I felt bad for her, and I was a little proud of some of her actions. She just wasn’t my favorite. But, the circus stuff was cool, and I‘m hoping she found a happy ending because I have nothing against her, I just never loved her.

The Fire Eaters were pretty great. I loved them and I would read a book just about them. I kind of wish we’d learned more than we did, but I’m also happy with most of their story remaining a mystery.

The personal mythology that’s going on in this book is fascinating, in my opinion. The way facts and lies and twisted truths are intertwined was really well done and kept me wanting more. The stories people told others and themselves, the lives they invented, etc. It was all really good, and made me think about my own and those of other people.

 

And now the things I didn’t love or hate, but still want to talk about

 

I won’t say much about the other characters so I don’t spoil anything, but I wish we’d learned more about the villain.

I still want to know the real, whole story about the elephant. I can make assumptions, but I want to know for sure.

There’s also something that wasn’t fully settled (for me, at least) that I’m really curious about concerning Necco, and Matthew’s family. Actually, there are a few things that weren’t talked about by the end that I wish had been, but I guess they’re not super important to the plot. There were just some loose ends I would have liked seeing tied up. I can’t say more without possibly mentioning spoilers, ugh. (I have a few of my questions in the spoiler tags on my goodreads review.)

Would I recommend it? Probably. I didn’t love this one, but I don’t feel like I wasted my time reading it, and I mostly enjoyed it. It just didn’t wow me as much as I’d hoped it would.


If you’ve read it, what did you think of it? Are you planning to read it, if you haven’t yet?

ARC Review: The Romance Reader’s Guide to Life by Sharon Pywell

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Genres: historical fiction; romance; mystery; magical realism(?)

Why I read it: The cover caught my eye on Net Galley, and the description sounded really interesting.

Who I’d recommend it to: Historical fiction fans (around WWII era), people who enjoyed The Lovely Bones, maybe fans of The Princess Bride, and probably romance lovers who like romances that aren’t just romances.

Publication date: April 4th, 2017
Publisher: Flatiron Books
Pages: 304 ebook | 320 hardcover

My rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ☆

Goodreads | Amazon | Book Depository | Barnes & Noble


What it’s about:

Neave and Lilly Terhune couldn’t be more different. Lilly is a beauty who runs through men like water. Neave, having been told at an early age by their mother that she will not be able to get by on her looks, always has her head in a book. Her favorite is The Pirate Lover, a romance novel about a young woman who refuses marriage to the highest bidder and instead escapes to the high seas where she meets the love of her life.

During WWII, when the men are gone, both sisters start working. But when the servicemen return and take back their jobs, Neave and Lilly are left with few options besides marriage. But they have other ideas. They start to build a makeup business (think Avon in its early days) and soon have a hit on their hands. But just as their business is truly taking off, Lilly disappears and Neave must figure out what happened. Luckily, she has Lilly’s assistance helping from above, even if she doesn’t know it quite yet.

Alternating between the sisters’ story and that of Neave’s beloved Pirate Lover book, Sharon Pywell shows how all romantic relationships have dark undercurrents, how even the most cerebral amongst us can enjoy a swashbuckling, page-turning romance, and how sometimes the guiltiest of pleasures might contain essential kernels of truth.


Review:

I almost skimmed on by this one (having seen the word “romance” in the title) while I was browsing Net Galley, but the cover hooked me. I saw the (possible) pirate ship, became curious, then I read the description and I knew I had to read it. I’m going to preface the rest of this by saying that I am not much of a romance reader. I can enjoy romance in books, and I like a few romances I’ve read, but it’s not a genre I read much of.

This story reminded me a lot of The Lovely Bones (well, what I remember of it, at least, because I read it about 13 years ago), which doesn’t bother me because I enjoyed that book as well, but maybe this won’t be for you if you hated everything about The Lovely Bones. The similarities are there, but this didn’t read like it was trying to imitate anything else. It was unique and strange, a little confusing at times, but ultimately quite enjoyable. I’m not always a fan of stories told from multiple points of view, but this is an example of it being done well.

I think this could have been a five star book for me, but I didn’t love any of the characters. I wanted to, but I didn’t connect much to any of them, and at times I just didn’t like any of them. I related to Neave in some ways, with her bookish and headstrong nature, but sometimes she didn’t seem quite real enough for me, like there was something missing. By the end, I felt like she was finally starting to stand on her own two feet more, but before that, it felt more like she was living in her sister’s shadow. She was independent, and capable of taking charge, but I think she lacked the confidence she needed until close to the end.

Lilly annoyed me, but eventually she grew on me a little. I still don’t love her, but I like her more. In some ways, I understood her more than Neave, even though I’m more like Neave. I’m not sure if that was because of how she was written, or if she reminds me of people I’m close to in real life, but I feel like she was a bit more fleshed out than Neave. Lilly’s perspective was strange, and there were some things that were not really explained. That would usually annoy me a lot, and feel lazy, but in this particular story, I think it worked. I would still like to know more about “Where she is now,” but I’m not too bothered by it.

Their other siblings and the rest of the minor characters had enough development to fit into the story, but I wish we’d gotten a bit more time with some of them. I really wanted to know more about Ruga, in particular.

While I know that the 1930s-1950s was a drastically different time in many ways, and people thought differently about a lot of things then, Neave and Lilly’s parents really annoyed me. There were a few things they said about certain things (that I won’t say because spoilers) that made me so angry, and I was glad to see my feelings reflected in Neave’s reactions and thoughts. Maybe I’m reading too much into this, but I felt like this book also functioned as social commentary on present issues concerning gender roles and expectations, and the way women are treated. This was set decades before I was even born, but from what I know based on TV, things I’ve read, and anecdotes from people who were around then, it seems reasonably accurate, and the fact that women today are experiencing the same issues they were dealing with 60 years ago is disturbing.

But, on the more positive side of things, the independence Neave and Lilly had was refreshing. It was nice reading about two driven women who built their business from the ground up and were successful, whether they were married or not, at a time when it was pretty much unthinkable for women to be so independent. The way they used it to help empower other women and help them was also great.

Woven throughout Neave and Lilly’s story is that of The Pirate Lover, a fictional romance novel Neave has read and re-read many times and loves. It’s full of typical romance tropes (the distressed heroine, the rakish and wealthy hero, the abominable villain, blossoming love, fighting evil, etc.), and it’s wonderful. It’s meant to be very trope-y, and because of that almost satiric storytelling, it’s delightful. (I wouldn’t mind reading it if it were a real book.) The events of The Pirate Lover are reflected in Lilly and Neave’s story in increasingly more unsettling ways throughout the book, and I think Sharon Pywell did an amazing job with entwining these two narratives.

I had a difficult time trying to nail down some genres to categorize this one as, because it’s a bit genre-defying. While it does use a lot of romance novel tropes, there’s also some drama, crime, mystery, magical realism, and probably others. It’s definitely not a book I’ll soon forget, and I’m so glad I managed to get an ARC. This isn’t really relevant, but I have to say that I actually squealed when I read the title of the final chapter. I thought that quote would make an appearance somewhere in the book, and I was so happy to see it!


I have to recommend this book, even if you–like me–are not a romance reader. It was such a unique story, and I think it could appeal to a lot of different people.

If you read it, I would love to know what you think!