After Midnight – Review

“Alix knew she was in trouble.”

We open with that line, immediately pulling us into a story full of scandal and intrigue. Alix, blackmailed into impersonating her twin sister Lily, begins her misadventure by thinking Lily’s husband Nicholas to be an oblivious fool. Lily has assured her he pays no attention to her and will be completely unaware that she isn’t Lily. Alix agrees because she has to, and only hopes she can find the piece of paper hiding somewhere within the house that will free her of the ridiculous sham.

“It was not a dream that memory returned to her, but the deplorable act of the outrageous scheme that ensnared her.”

It’s difficult to unthread all the plots within this novel, without giving too much away. The base of the story, the blackmail, is very well done, and feels realistic when reading. It is easy to see the scandal Lily creates, the selfish person she is, and how she can corral Alix into participating in this scam.

“She was worse than a siren, simply devouring any man foolish enough to look at her.”

Nicholas, however, is far from dull, obtuse or unaware, and quickly begins to notice that things with his dear wife are not at all what they should be. It takes him quite awhile though to fully piece together what he thinks is happening. I really enjoyed how his disgust and contempt for his wife clouds his judgement and thinking. Not because it simply works to move the plot along, but also because I felt his struggle. What would it be like to live with someone you couldn’t ever trust, so much so, that you constantly second guess and are suspicious of every little thing they say or do?

“She turned to her minions and left him gazing after her in puzzled silence. He could barely stand to look at her, and yet he was as dazzled as if he had glimpsed the sun eclipsing clouds in her eyes.”

While impersonating Lily, Alix begins having nightmares, and her murky past starts to become somewhat clear to both us, and to Alix herself. Her uncle, Quentin, makes a journey to France in order to help uncover the secrets that Alix is desperate to remember.

There are a lot of side plots happening in this novel, and for the most part, they were easy to keep track of, and made the novel much richer for them. The one I didn’t quite understand was Robert’s role. I didn’t really understand role he played in the grand scheme of the novel, and within the specific plot he was written into. Most of the pieces with him felt unnecessary to me, and it felt like the pieces of the puzzle that he revealed, could have been more impactful through Quentin.

I also got frustrated with Quentin’s story. After all the time we spend with him, I felt like there still weren’t many answers of what actually happened that caused him to flee to England with his niece in tow, and live as a servant for two decades. It felt very vague, and everything in France wrapped up a little too easy for him to have been worried literally about dying if they came back.

The history, the touch of romance and all the scandal and intrigue made the book fun to read. I wanted to know what happened to Alix the entire time, and the pacing of that story unfolds nicely. I also really enjoyed Jenny, her maid. The relationship they develop, even knowing that Jenny has been in on it from the beginning, was quite lovely to read. In upcoming books, I hope that the tiny nugget of mystery that was written about why Jenny works for Lily comes out. That tiny detail drove me crazy. I wanted to hear more about that story!

“Times change.”

“And history remains.”

“It depends on who’s writing it.”

Overall, this book was very enjoyable. It ends rather abruptly, which felt less like a cliffhanger and more like hitting a brick wall, but there is a sequel coming June 2018, so at least there are answers coming! There are many, many things I need to know about. And if the book picks up where this one left off, I have no doubt that more scandal, mystery and intrigue is sure to follow!

If you enjoy historical fiction full of multi-threaded plots and mystery, this book is definitely for you. The added scandals of nobility make it even more fun to read! I look forward to reading the sequel next summer!

Thank you BookSparks for sending me a copy to read and review!

The Cottingley Secret – Review

“The soul of the fairy is its evanescence. Its charm is the eternal doubt, rose-tinted with the shadow of a hope. But the thrill is all in ourselves.”

The Cottingley Secret is part historical novel, part contemporary novel, where the two stories intersect and meet together in the end.

In 1917, two girls brought together by the Great War find a little bit of magic in the garden by their home. Frances Griffiths was ripped from her home in South Africa when her father was called to war. She and her mother move to Cottingley, England, where she and her cousin Elsie Wright become as close as sisters.

Present day introduces us to Olivia Kavanagh. Olivia finds herself back in Ireland after the death of her grandfather. She learns that she inherits his bookshop, Something Old, and with it, a number of financial problems. Somehow, her grandfather knew she would need time and space to set her course, and also leaves her a manuscript. Olivia finds herself falling into the past and reliving the grip of a nation in a frenzy over fairies.

This book is simply magical. Personally, I am a fan of books that take two different times and somehow write a compelling story that makes them relevant to each other. Something about connecting the past to the present is really appealing to me. Gaynor executes the weaving of these two times and these two stories so beautifully. Each is it’s own story, but also reliant on the other. You want to know what’s happening in both, and wonder all the way through how they are connected.

It isn’t necessarily a mystery, as enough large clues are given so that you can draw the conclusions on technical relationships. But it is the mystery of magic in both stories that make them so unique and such a pleasure to read.

“It is only by believing in magic that we can ever hope to find it.”

I didn’t know going in to this book about The Cottingley Fairies. As I was reading, I found myself going online and reading more about it. This is one of my favorite things when reading historical fiction. When an author takes real events and works them into a story. It feels so much richer to me when you read about a time, or an event, or a person and get to immerse yourself in a possibility of the past.

What I find so completely magical about this book, and about the original story, is that it really becomes less about the actual fact of the fairies and more about the idea of believing in the fairies.

“If we can believe in fairies, perhaps we can believe in anything, even in an end to this damned war. And wouldn’t that be something.”

I loved that at every turn in this book, it didn’t matter if you believed in fairies or magic or not. It became about the ability to believe in possibility. Francis needed to believe in the possibility of her father coming back. She had to wish for it, and in order to wish for something, you have to believe in magic. For Olivia, her wishes required less magic, but belief nonetheless. She needed to remember that she can be whoever she wants, and do whatever she wants. She simply needs to believe that she can.

It’s books like these that make reading so magical to me. We are always urged to grow up and to focus on reality. We forget that there’s a magic to life, even if we don’t expect fairies to greet us in every garden. There is a gift in not knowing what’s going to happen next, and we can find enormous power in simply believing that anything is possible. It’s a wonderful reminder to read a book and be gently reminded that we can create magic in our own lives every day.

“Make-believe keeps us going at times like this. We have to believe in the possibility of happy endings, sure we do, otherwise what’s it all for?”

Francis and Olivia both need to believe in their own happy endings. Which is true of all our lives. We are the bearers of our own magic. We can determine if we believe in the possibility of something, or if we can’t. And our fates will follow our beliefs. So many things we take for granted today would be considered magic centuries ago. Lights that turn on with a switch, or movement. A machine that allows us to talk to anyone in the world, anytime we want. Movies, television, phones, heat, air conditioning. These are all things no one would have dreamed of. Until someone did.

This is the magic that Gaynor brings to life in her book. It is the magic of what could be. The magic of what we can’t imagine yet. It tells a tale of fairies, yes. It weaves a story about a little girl who saw fairies and the choices she made afterwards. It is fiction, wrapped with a touch of reality. Yet it still pushes us to close our eyes and remember the days of our own youth. When we believed in magic and possibility.

Were the fairies of Cottingley real? Was it all a hoax? And, really, does the answer matter at all? Like any good story, it isn’t the details that matter. It is how we feel when we close the pages. We each have magic inside. We simply have to choose to ignite it.

Thank you BookSparks and William Morrow books for sending me a copy to read and review for FRC 2017.

The Address – Review

“We all have our own magnificent prisons, even the queen, I’d venture.”

I love how fitting this quote is for both narrators in The Address. Each woman, separated by a hundred years, is trapped in a prison unique to them.

Sara, a woman in the 1880’s, running a hotel in England before being hired to run a new Apartment building in America is prisoner to the edicts of her time. A woman can only do so much, say so much, and really, are quite powerless in a male dominated society. Not quite nobility, yet not quite working class, she isn’t sure where she fits and only wants to find her way.

“Her mother had done her a disservice, constantly reminding her of her blood connection to nobody, while at the same time cursing her bastardy. She didn’t know where she belonged.”

Bailey, living in the 1980’s, isn’t as constrained by society as Sara once was, but finds herself in a prison nonetheless. Hers are more self imposed though, the bars made up of the drugs and alcohol she is addicted to. Bailey is also trying to find her way, wanting to know who she is and where she comes from, since her familial past has always been shrouded in mystery.

There is quite a bit to enjoy in this novel. First, historical novels are always a favorite of mine to get lost in, especially one as rich as detailed as the one Davis creates. It isn’t just the time and place that we get a sense of, but also, how difficult it was to simply be a woman. Sara, no matter how successful she is, continues to find herself at the mercy of men. The pieces focused on the asylum are chilling but again, convey a realistic sense of injustice women faced constantly.

Sara and Bailey are connected to each other, though neither knows it. Bailey unravels the mystery of the Dakota and her great-grandfathers murder, while Sara gives us the added details leading up to the murder. This is something else I love in novels. When we get to see a mystery from multiple perspectives, each chapter giving us another sliver, another glimpse, each section strategic in it’s reveal.

I quite enjoy when novels intertwine stories like this. At the beginning we think we know the story. We have the answer, and are simply filling in the details. Except, as the story proceeds, more questions emerge. It’s fascinating to me, because I think this is how history happens. We think we know answers. We think we know the facts. But just because a narrative fits, it doesn’t mean it’s the truth.

Using the Gilded Age was also brilliant. There is underlying discussion on things we desire. Sometimes we want what we can’t have. But we also tend to glamorize those things. Think that they are better and more perfect, than perhaps they really are. Sara wants Theo to be her partner, her husband, her everything. She sees his wife as cold and distant, unappreciative of what she has. Bailey wants to belong by blood, not just name, to the Camden family. She sees her cousin Melinda as spoiled and shallow. Each wants what they don’t have, focused so intently on what they’re missing, perhaps they don’t see what they have in front of them.

“You know, I never really thought about the fact that it was called the Gilded Age, as opposed to say, the Golden Age. That the era was all about money and the illusion of success, as opposed to offering anything truly valuable. Reminds me of New York City these days, to be honest with you.”

So much of the Gilded Age was seen as shiny on the surface, yet harsh underneath. A pretty exterior to cover the plainness below. And so much of the plot fits that description. The surface shows one thing, while hidden beneath is where the truth lies.

Theo, it turns out isn’t quite all that he seems. And neither is his wife. These lies and manipulations unfold leaving Sara to make a quick decision that impacts everyone far into the future. This one decision, her choice, impacts Bailey profoundly.

Anyone trying to uncover the hidden truths of the past will struggle with never actually knowing the entire truth. We can only see what is left to us, and decipher these clues as best we can. Sometimes we may get close, other times the truth is nothing near what we could ever have guessed. And I love it when authors are able to give us a story that shows this struggle.

Davis is able to give us a sense of both the 1880’s and the 1980’s. Times both known for excess in New York, yet she gives us the perspective of women trying to fit into those worlds. We see the dark side of the city, the pieces that these times would want us to overlook and forget. There is an allure to success, but there is also always a cost.

I also really liked how Davis used the idea of legacy. The important families in the 1880’s were defined by their legacies. It was often the most important thing to them. What people would think, who would carry their names forward and what history would say about them. By the 1980’s, many of the families in Sara’s time have died out, or faded into obscurity. Buildings have changed, the city has changed, the legacy isn’t what their ancestors dreamed.

Bailey wants to find her history, even though her personal legacy is embroiled in bitterness and anger. Her father wants nothing to do with the Camden’s, believing his grandfather was shunned and rejected. The legacy of even the building, The Dakota, changes over time. In Bailey’s time it is in the midst of evermore change as the shooting of Lennon has once again marked it’s exterior.

This book is an excellent examination of women’s role in society. Their power and powerlessness, both in equal measure. It’s a look at what we want, and what happens when we get it. Can women be passionate without being insane? Can we be successful without losing ourselves? What are we willing to lose to keep the ones we love safe? How far will we go for that love?

The Address shows how strong women have been throughout history. It gives brilliant insight into the roles of women versus men, rich versus poor, and the lengths we go to for love.

This book goes on sale August 1.

Thank you to Penguin Random House, Dutton Books and the First To Read program for giving me an early copy in exchange for an honest and unbiased review.