Operation Return to Hogwarts: Year One

Hogwarts, Hogwarts, Hoggy Warty Hogwarts. Like millions (billions?) of other readers around the globe, Harry Potter has my heart and has had it for years. I remember when I first discovered it – my mom bought the Sorcerer’s Stone for my 9th birthday. It had only been out a few months at this point and was starting to gain a following, but I was completely unfamiliar with it and, honestly, wasn’t too interested in opening it so I held off for a bit. When I finally did sit down to read though, it was all over for me. I was sold.

Eventually AOL created HP message boards and if anyone remembers Leah Riddle or Loki Riddle, HIIII~ I ended up meeting some of my very best friends there and a decade+ later our friendships are still going strong (take that, you naysayers that insist real friendships can’t be formed online.) In 2008 a friend and I flew to Chicago to take part in Terminus, a convention where we jammed to wizard rock, got sorted into houses, attended a ball, and even played Quidditch – our team reached the semi-finals and even went up against a professional team. We made it to the Chicago papers too! (I’ll definitely have to do some tbt photos on instagram, that week was an absolute blast.

ANYWAY, I love Harry Potter. A lot. Yet I haven’t read the series since Deathly Hallows came out eight years ago. With each release I would go back and reread the previous books in the series, but once it was all said and done a part of me was terrified of revisiting these books. Would they still hold up after all these years? Would it feel different reading them ‘alone’ instead of with millions of other people at the same time?

Over the weekend I made the decision to finally – finally – start from the beginning and I feel absolutely ridiculous for being so worried. I actually jumped into Chamber of Secrets immediately after finishing Sorcerer’s Stone and that’s something I NEVER do. I never ever EVER binge read series in one go. At least not since blogging – years ago I loved to do it and this weekend I discovered why I loved it so much.

I decided to do a mini series dubbed Operation Return to Hogwarts to jot down my thoughts/feelings/whatever else I want to discuss. These won’t be actual reviews – plenty of those exist.

I DIDN’T REALIZE THE WRITING WAS SO YOUNG. The first thing that stuck out for me when rereading SS was just how young the style was. Naturally, Harry is only 10/turning 11 in this book, but I now completely understand why adult readers who had never read the series find it a bit hard to get into. As someone who loooves Middle Grade, though, I didn’t mind, I was just a bit surprised. As he ages the writing style and voice matures as well (and as Jo became more experience, I suppose) so it would make sense that I forgot about the younger tone.

I FORGOT ABOUT A TON OF CHARACTERS. Minor ones though, I promise! Hahahaha, it’s not like I forgot about Dumbledore or anyone – but instead secondary characters like Mrs. Figg (how did I forget about Mrs. Figg??) and Norbert! ♥ Norbie I’m so sorry.

MCGONAGALL IS KIND OF A B. At least in the opening scenes/early chapters. When I think of her, I imagine a total BAMF and was shocked when I noticed her characterization here was more severe than I remembered. Also, when she and Dumbledore meet on Privet Drive (just before Hagrid drops off a baby Harry) their interactions/conversations felt really odd. As though they didn’t know one another and hadn’t been working together for years. Maybe that’s just me being overly critical these days. Either way, in the beginning of the book I felt as though McGonagall (one of my favorite characters) was set up to be a character to dislike.

I GOT THE BOOKS MIXED UP. Obviously not the Big Pictures (I know the Triwizard Tournament doesn’t take place in the second book, etc) but small things I misremembered. The zoo scene with the snake, in my mind, happened in CoS. I was shocked while reading about detention in the Forbidden Forest. Somehow I connected that to Aragog and convinced myself that happens in PoA. Having read the scene, however, I feel like an idiot. I’m discovering all sorts of details I knew at one time but had forgotten over the years.

I’M HOME. After all these years, Harry and Hogwarts hold such a large part of my heart and all weekend I was kicking myself for waiting so, so long to return to these books. Now that I have, I think I’ll have a hard time tearing myself away to read other books!

sailing the high seas.

Last week I turned 27 and for my birthday I wanted to do something a bit low key and relaxed. The day before was Labor Day and we had a big family get-together complete with cake and the day before that, my super awesome amazing friend made me probably the best cake ever (why yes, that is Tom Selleck – check out Cake Wrecks if you’re unfamiliar with its origins!) so for my day, I wanted to do something completely different.

And when it came down to it, there was only one thing I had in mind: a Gateway Clipper trip! It had been years since my last ride (a field trip in elementary school!) and it’s something I’ve always wanted to do again. For those of you who aren’t from Pittsburgh, the sightseeing tour encompasses our three rivers: the Monongahela, Allegheny, and Ohio, and we basically get to learn about the history of Pittsburgh. Y’all know I’m a big history buff, so this was totally up my alley!

Pittsburgh played key roles in the founding of our nation and, while we didn’t visit any of the sites, I highly recommend stopping by the Fort Pitt Block House if you’re in the area! When she wasn’t pointing out buildings and other landmarks, our tour guide talked about Lewis & Clark – their journey west began in Pittsburgh!

Now it’s been said that Pittsburgh is the City of Bridges, but I hadn’t realized just how many we have: 446, more than any other city in the world! Take that, Venice! It’s actually pretty funny – for a city so dependent on bridges, Pittsburghers tend to stick to ‘their side’ of the river. I live up the Ohio and, were it not for work, I would happily avoid crossing it (seriously, the tunnels and traffic are a nightmare.)

The whole trip lasted an hour and I could have easily stayed another five just soaking up the sights and breathing in the history. It was an absolute blast and the weather was sunny and gorgeous (my birthday tends to mean WINTER IS COMING and the very next day it was rainy and in the 60s ha!) and I can’t wait to go back again. Plus spending all day exploring the town with this cutie didn’t hurt either ♥!

The Sea Keeper’s Daughters by Lisa Wingate

The Sea Keeper’s Daughters by Lisa Wingate
Pub. Date: September 1, 2015
Source: ARC won via a GoodReads giveaway (Thank you, Tyndale!)
Summary: Restaurant owner Whitney Monroe is desperate to save her business from a hostile takeover. The inheritance of a decaying Gilded Age hotel on North Carolina’s Outer Banks may provide just the ray of hope she needs. But things at The Excelsior are more complicated than they seem. Whitney’s estranged stepfather is entrenched on the third floor, and the downstairs tenants are determined to save the historic building. Searching through years of stored family heirlooms may be Whitney’s only hope of quick cash, but will the discovery of an old necklace and a depression-era love story change everything?
Genre: Historical Fiction, Christian Fiction

The sea whispers, and so does its Keeper. For all the generations, in the old world and the new, we have been His daughters.
We have come full circle, and now the sea has called us home.

Whitney Monroe is disastrously close to losing her business. While her first restaurant, Bella Tazza 1 is doing great, it’s the recently opened Bella Tazza 2 that’s causing grief for her and her cousin. With another restaurateur breathing down her neck (and keeping the local law force close at hand) Whitney feels hopeless – even more so after receiving a panicked phone call from Denise saying equipment needs replaced – and fast.

Having inherited an old hotel, Whitney makes the trip from Michigan to the Outer Banks to comb through what’s left of the place…and finally make her stepfather move out. While the two were never on good terms, it was her mother’s funeral that really showed Whitney Clyde’s true feelings and she’s ready to take what’s her no matter who decides to get in the way.

Whitney’s plan doesn’t go quite as smoothly as she had hoped however. Her arrival is met with caution and suspicion – the first floor of The Excelsior is home to several shops and those owners aren’t exactly happy about the potential loss of their livelihood that the sale of the building could bring. Things are even more complicated when Whitney uncovers several letters from a relative she never knew existed.

Okay, time for a confession. Lately I haven’t been reading series in order. …and by lately I mean the past few years. Whoops! I began the Chicago World’s Fair Mystery series with book two, which I suppose isn’t too bad when I jumped into Aunt Dimity with book 20! The Sea Keeper’s Daughters is the third book in Wingate’s Carolina series and for that reason I was a little hesitant to pick it up. As it turns out, it’s a series that, while connected, can easily be read as separate, standalone novels. Having read this one, I’m now VERY interested in going back to read the previous two: both The Prayer Box and The Story Keeper feature elements that are called upon in this novel and I would love to discover more!

While Whitney was a wonderfully crafted character and I enjoyed reading her story, it was Alice’s story that truly lured me in. Whitney’s grandmother married into the Benoit family, a family full of wealth and power. What Whitney never knew was that Ziltha was a twin and it’s that sister’s letters that are uncovered in a musty, long-forgotten hotel room. As the scraps are pieced back together, Whitney realizes just how different the twins were. Whereas Ziltha was prim and proper, Alice took her young daughter and left home to travel through the Blue Ridge mountains and collect folklore as part of FDR’s Federal Writers Project. After her husband committed suicide when the stock market crashed, Alice was left to find a way to support herself and her daughter and so she signed on for a dangerous task that saw several encounters with Ku Klux Klan members, she received numerous threats, and she met people she never would have come across otherwise. Her story was fascinating and I kept turning the pages, eager to get back to her letters. Her tales of the Melungeon people and the doors in the mountains and the artifacts she brought back had me absolutely captivated and I couldn’t get enough – especially once Roanoke legends were introduced. (From The Story Keeper‘s blurb, I have a feeling that book will focus more on these stories so you better believe I’ll be getting my hands on a copy of that one soon!)

As she digs deeper into Alice’s story, Whitney must make a decision: sell the items she’s found and use the money to save her restaurant? And what of The Excelsior? There’s already a developer who’s practically written up all the necessary paperwork for the sale. …but selling the building would mean utter ruin for the people she’s come to know. This part of the novel was a bit obvious, you can easily figure out the outcome, but the journey was worth it.

The Sea Keeper’s Daughters surprised me – in a good way! Going in, I expected a fairly typical, easy read and got so much more. I discovered a part of history I knew very little about, I was enchanted by the folklore passed down through the generations, I found myself riveted by these characters and their stories from the present day to the Gilded Age and Depression and even Roanoke! I wish I could have learned more about two of the characters (minor characters, but I was very intrigued by the circumstances that led to their deaths) but overall, The Sea Keeper’s Daughters was an absolute delight and I look forward to reading the other two books in this series!

a YA take on Outlander…with Vikings!

Avelynn by Marissa Campbell
Pub. Date: September 8, 2015
Source: ARC via publisher (Thank you, St. Martin’s Griffin!)
Summary: It is 869. For eighteen years, Avelynn, the beautiful and secretly pagan daughter of the Eadlorman of Somerset has lived in an environment of love and acceptance. She hasn’t yet found a man to make her heart race, but her father has not pressured her to get married. Until now. With whispers of war threatening their land, her father forces Avelynn into a betrothal with Demas, a man who only covets her wealth and status. The dreaded marriage looming, she turns to her faith, searching for answers in an ancient ritual along the coast, only to find Alrik the Blood-Axe and sixty Viking berserkers have landed.

Alrik is unlike any man she has ever known, strong and intriguing. Likewise, he instantly falls for her beauty and courage. The two stumble into a passionate love affair, but it’s more than just a greedy suitor who will try to keep them apart. As the Saxons and Vikings go to war, Avelynn and Alrik find themselves caught in the throes of fate. Can they be true to their people as well as to each other?
Genre: YA, Historical Fiction, Romance

When I first received this book I mentioned that, while I’m not familiar with historical romance, summer seems like the perfect time to get lost in a love story – and now that I’ve read Avelynn I still stand by my first impression. This was a ‘perfect-place-at-the-perfect-time’ kind of read for me: with temperatures in the 90s and a nice long weekend ahead of me (and a birthday!) I wasn’t in the mood for a heavy story. Enter Avelynn.

It’s the 860s, a time of fierce religious upheaval. As the daughter of a powerful Saxon earl, Avelynn is expected to be a devout Christian…though she secretly practices the ancient pagan rituals, just as her mother did before her. With rumors spreading of a Viking invasion and the unexpected announcement of a betrothal (her father has always been extremely lenient, allowing the years to pass without marriage, allowing Avelynn to have her say when it came to suitors) Avelynn’s world is suddenly rocked to its core. A series of highly symbolic dreams sends her searching for answers. Answers that come in the form of a ship with blood-red sails and a dangerous Viking.

Caught off guard by the band of warriors, Avelynn is convinced she’ll be taken prisoner – or worse. What she doesn’t expect is to instantly fall for Alrik, and their seemingly fated meeting begins a passionate (and highly secret) romance. With the Saxons and Vikings on the brink of war (and Avelynn’s forced marriage looming overhead) could the two ever hope to find a way to be together?

I liked this one. A lot. While I can see it being hit-or-miss with other readers (this book has lots of big, strong men making all the decisions deemed too hard for Avelynn’s pretty little mind to grasp) I was completely, thoroughly, 100% along for the ride. Like I said, I wanted something I could get lost in and lost in I got! I have a feeling this review will be little more than me rambling about how much I enjoyed it, as opposed to an in-depth look at the story. Sorry!

That Avelynn is a debut is astounding! Marissa Campbell paints such a richly detailed picture that I had assumed she’s been writing for years. She clearly did her research and it shows. From the time period and tensions between the Saxons and Vikings to the religions depicted, I was instantly enchanted and if this is her first novel I cannot wait to see where she goes from here!

Perhaps this is a horribly ignorant thing for me to say seeing as how I don’t really read the genre, but I always imagined historical romance (particularly those fabulous bodice rippers) to skimp a little on the character growth, opting instead to focus solely on the swoony romance. I expected Avelynn to follow suit and I couldn’t be happier to admit just how wrong I was! Avelynn started out as a girl whose only care was whether or not she would fall in love. By the end of the novel she’s taken command of her father’s estate while he’s at war, has delivered justice in spades, carves her own identity and solidifies her faith, and goes to battle. Yep. She dons a sword and shield and leads her men to the field. I was NOT expecting that one, so thank you, Marissa Campbell for making a total fool out of me for my silly ideas and putting me in my place!

I had one minor issue with Avelynn and that was the cover. Multiple times throughout the novel it’s stated how long her hair is. A woman isn’t to cut her hair until her wedding and Avelynn’s is down to her knees. The cover features a girl with long hair, yes, but certainly not long enough. That said, she does cut her hair (or, rather, it’s cut for her by the slimy Demas) so perhaps the cover reflects that? A super tiny issue I know, but one I felt I should point out all the same. Covers are important, people!

With comparisons to Outlander, I was immediately intrigued but would have never imagined I’d end up so lost in Avelynn‘s pages. Marissa Campbell has crafted a beautifully researched world full of intrigue and power and I was SO there. While the romance was a bit too quick, I nonetheless stood in their corner cheering them on (and I should point out that the romance is extremely detailed! Definitely for older readers!) I’m absolutely impressed with Campbell’s debut and am thrilled to see what she tackles next – a sequel, perhaps??

weekly wrap-up 9/6


Happy Sunday! I still haven’t properly introduced Baylor have I? Will definitely have to do so soon!

How was your week? Go anywhere exciting? Read anything good? It seems like the book community is nothing but Queen of Shadows (is it shadows? I don’t know what else QoS could stand for sorry!!) right now and I’m feeling like the only one who hasn’t read those books. whoops!

Nowhere Girl by Susan Strecker
With the new house and Baylor, I severely cut back on the books I’ve been requesting/accepting. I made an exception for this one and it sounds like such a Leah read (it doesn’t hurt that it’s from one of my favorite publishers!) Even in death the bond between twins isn’t broken and now, years later, the surviving sister is still searching for answers. Lately I’ve been going back to my roots with thriller-y crime novels and Nowhere Girl is perfect for me right now! Thank you, Thomas Dunne!

In Case You Missed It
While I don’t think this needs to be stretched into a trilogy I was immensely impressed with Hester Young’s The Gates of Evangeline in which a journalist is sent down to the Louisiana bayou to look into a 30-year-old cold case involving a wealthy plantation family. There’s a paranormal element I thought was fun, though I could have done without the tacked-on romance. Still, if you’re looking for a gritty novel that reads like true crime, this is the book for you!

Anyone who knows me knows I am ALL about historical fiction. Unfortunately, Laura Amy Schlitz’s The Hired Girl was so far off the mark and made me feel extremely uncomfortable, particularly when the main character decides to convert the Jewish family (who took her off the streets and into their home) to Christianity. And of course there’s a boy she all but throws her life away for. Nope. This one is just plain bad.

I know Lauren DeStefano is pretty popular with the YA crowd, but I found her new Middle Grade novel, A Curious Tale of the In-Between to be absolutely charming! A little girl has the ability to see ghosts and when she makes friends with a real boy she wants to use her ability to help him. It’s really wonderful and such a quick read – though I’d suggest younger readers would want a parent around due to some of the heavy subject matter.

Middle Grade + ghosts = ♥

A Curious Tale of the In-Between (Pram #1) by Lauren DeStefano
Pub. Date: September 1, 2015
Source: e-ARC via netgalley (Thank you, Bloomsbury!)
Summary: Pram Bellamy is special–she can talk to ghosts. She doesn’t have too many friends amongst the living, but that’s all right. She has her books, she has her aunts, and she has her best friend, the ghostly Felix.

Then Pram meets Clarence, a boy from school who has also lost a parent and is looking for answers. Together they arrive at the door of the mysterious Lady Savant, who promises to help. But this spiritualist knows the true nature of Pram’s power, and what she has planned is more terrifying than any ghost.
Genre: Middle Grade, Paranormal

Oh, Middle Grade. Oh, my heart. While I haven’t read DeStefano’s Chemical Garden or Internment Chronicles series, the second I came across this one – a Middle Grade novel about a girl who can talk to ghosts – I was utterly charmed. And because of that, this review will be less SRS CRITICISM and more whee ghosties.

From the very first paragraph I was hooked: Pram had already died once before she was even born. While still pregnant, Pram’s mother committed suicide, and by the time she was lowered from the tree Pram was also dead. Miraculously she was revived but since then Pram has had a special ability: she can see things no one else can. Now, living with her aunts (for she never knew her father, a sailor), she spends her days out by the lake with her best friend Felix. Because Felix is a ghost, Pram’s aunts have simply assumed for years he was nothing more than an imaginary friend…but now Pram is getting older, too old to still be playing with figments of her imagination and the decision is made to send her to school.

While at school, Pram meets a boy. Clarence has also lost his mother and is determined to find a way to make contact with her. Together they find themselves at the door of a mysterious woman who claims she can contact the spirit world. Little do they know what’s in store for them.

I’ve been holding off on reviewing this one for a few weeks now. While I absolutely adored this book, there really isn’t much to say and for that reason I kept putting off writing down my thoughts. Please don’t get the wrong idea though – everything about A Curious Tale of the In-Between was wonderful, there simply isn’t much more I have to say apart from how much I enjoyed it.

Lauren DeStefano wrote about painful and scary topics like suicide and loss and she did so with grace and respect. In her author’s note she discusses how this book came to be and it makes it all the more lovely and bittersweet. While I completely agree with other reviewers that younger readers shouldn’t read this one alone (subject matter for one, and, well…it can be a bit scary too!) I still highly recommend it to readers of all ages and at a time when I’m craving standalones, I couldn’t be more thrilled that this one is a series!

historical fiction gone wrong aka The Hired Girl

The Hired Girl by Laura Amy Schlitz
Pub. Date: September 8, 2015
Source: e-ARC via netgalley (Thank you, Candlewick Press!)
Summary: Fourteen-year-old Joan Skraggs, just like the heroines in her beloved novels, yearns for real life and true love. But what hope is there for adventure, beauty, or art on a hardscrabble farm in Pennsylvania where the work never ends? Over the summer of 1911, Joan pours her heart out into her diary as she seeks a new, better life for herself—because maybe, just maybe, a hired girl cleaning and cooking for six dollars a week can become what a farm girl could only dream of—a woman with a future.
Genre: YA, Historical Fiction, Religious Fiction, Romance

Fourteen-year-old Joan lives for reading. While she might not have much – and in all honesty, what farm family does? – she has a few cherished books that she constantly revisits time and time again. After her father pulls her out of school to take over the housework (Joan’s mother recently passed) she doesn’t feel her life could get any worse. …until the day her father burns her books for daring to ask for a few dollars. Refusing to stay under his roof a moment longer, Joan secretly plans her escape and runs away from her tiny community in Pennsylvania to Baltimore where she hopes to find work and carve out a life of her own. A life that doesn’t include chicken coops.

Sounds interesting, right? Yeah I thought so too. And you know what? For the first part it was! Then we took a severe detour and I have no idea what happened, the book went in a completely different direction and I couldn’t be more disappointed.

You see, Joan is all of fourteen. Yet she’s easily able to convince a strange man she’s eighteen (and that her name is Janet Lovelace) and he invites her back to his home where he says he’ll convince his mother to hire her own as a kind of life-in maid. She soon discovers this family is Jewish and I started feeling a little queasy. I had every finger crossed, hoping this wouldn’t turn out bad. I’m no stranger to religious fiction and in fact enjoy it a good deal, but Janet’s new-found fervor seriously put me off. Her mother had been a practicing Catholic before she passed and was the only member of the family to hold any faith. Janet decides she wants to become Catholic and the family gives her Tuesday afternoons off in order to receive instruction from the local priest. All well and good. What didn’t sit well with me was that Janet decided she would convert the family to Christianity. The way Janet discusses Judaism and the Rosenbachs was extremely uncomfortable too:

I don’t mean that in an anti-Semitic kind of way, because the Jews are good and noble-hearted and love God.

She was overjoyed to hear from me, but I think she is a little prejudiced, because she’s worried that the Rosenbachs are educating me so they can convert me to Judaism…Maybe she’ll let me teach her about the goodness of the Jews.

The entire book was full of little mentions of how – gasp! – Jewish families are just like everyone else! Perhaps I’m taking it a bit too personally, but Janet’s constant remarks did not go over well with me.

The other issue I had was with the love interest. Because of course there’s a love interest. And of course it’s one of the sons. Differences in social status is one of my all-time favorite tropes, but it fell flat here. Also, I felt more than a little icky: David is going on 21. Janet is 14. As it turns out, spoiler alert! he was never interested in her and simply ‘kissed her accidentally.’ Whoops! Of course by this time Janet was madly in love to the point where she began saying things like:

My love for him was so pure that I wanted to give him everything, even if I lost myself.


“Oh, David, don’t you see? You’d still be free, because we wouldn’t be married. And nobody would blame you. They’d blame me, because they always blame the girl. I’d be the one taking the risk, and I don’t care about being depraved, because it doesn’t feel depraved, not when we’re in love-“

Girl, no.

The one bright spot in The Hired Girl was that Janet wasn’t a dainty, wispy girl. She grew up on a farm and had the body to show for it. She had rough, calloused hands, square shoulders, and a thick neck. That said, she kept being referred to as an ox.

Don’t waste your time with this one.

The Gates of Evangeline by Hester Young

The Gates of Evangeline by Hester Young
Pub. Date: September 1, 2015
Source: ARC + finished copy via publisher (Thank you, Putnam!)
Summary: When New York journalist and recently bereaved mother Charlotte “Charlie” Cates begins to experience vivid dreams about children she’s sure that she’s lost her mind. Yet these are not the nightmares of a grieving parent, she soon realizes. They are messages and warnings that will help Charlie and the children she sees, if only she can make sense of them.

After a little boy in a boat appears in Charlie’s dreams asking for her help, Charlie finds herself entangled in a thirty-year-old missing-child case that has never ceased to haunt Louisiana’s prestigious Deveau family. Armed with an invitation to Evangeline, the family’s sprawling estate, Charlie heads south, where new friendships and an unlikely romance bring healing. But as she uncovers long-buried secrets of love, money, betrayal, and murder, the facts begin to implicate those she most wants to trust—and her visions reveal an evil closer than she could’ve imagined.
Genre: Mystery, a hint of the paranormal, Southern Gothic

I spot the fence first, its black metal pickets flashing through the trees. The winding road suddenly straightens, and there before me, between two massive stone pillars, are the gates of Evangeline.

Charlie once had it all: a wonderful husband, a little boy she adored, a glamorous job writing for a women’s magazine (okay, maybe not so glamorous) – but then tragedy struck. Now she’s grieving the all-too-soon and completely unexpected death of her child while her husband (now ex-husband) begins a new family with his new wife. And her journalist position? The magazine has recently been purchased and the staff have all been given a heads up that very few of them will be kept on with the new owners.

So when she gets an e-mail from an old boss at a pulpy crime magazine, Charlie wastes no time in weighing her options – or, rather, she wouldn’t if she had any options. The project she’s pitched, writing a book about a thirty-year-old cold case, sends her down South to the Louisiana bayou and into the gilded gates of the famed Evangeline estate.

Thirty years ago the youngest Deveau child, Gabriel, simply vanished. His bedroom door was locked just like it had been when the family went to sleep, no windows were broken into, not even a bark from the family’s dog. Naturally the family (and staff) all had seemingly airtight alibis: the two socialite daughters were celebrating their sweet sixteen with a big bash, the parents had been away, the eldest son had been with a friend. With no evidence (and at a time before DNA testing) the police had nothing to go on. Now, thirty years later, the twins (now in their forties but with their former It Girl mentality ever-present) want an exclusive tell-all to be published…and that’s where Charlie comes in. Little do the Deveaus know, however, is that since accepting the position Charlie has been experiencing rather odd dreams. Dreams of a little boy on a boat, a little boy crying out for Charlie’s help.

It’s a little odd to me that The Gates of Evangeline is slated to be a trilogy – typically mysteries like this are wrapped up within one book and this one was, so I’m not sure what to expect from the other two books. That said, I’m VERY intrigued! Meeting Charlie, I didn’t quite know what I was getting into – especially once her prophetic (? psychic?) dreams began occurring. There’s a very, very fine line when it comes to books like this where a supernatural or paranormal element is present while still being firmly rooted in reality. I’ve found that the story could either come off as campy and hokey or, in a skilled author’s hands, believable. I’m pleased to say this novel falls into the latter category (though I’ll admit I was a little eye-rolly at the end.)

The Deveau family was the real star of the show, from the twins to elder brother Andre (who’s hiding some interesting secrets of his own) to the mother and her severely declining health – both physical and mental. The Deveau patriarch passed on and as Charlie digs into his real persona, not the one shown in the tabloids, she comes to realize this family is not at all what she had assumed. Super vague I know, but I don’t want to spoil this one for anybody! Who wouldn’t want to uncover the dirt on celebrities, even fictional ones??

While the mystery element kept me turning the pages at a blinding pace, I could have done without the romance. Gabriel’s disappearance was more than enough to hold my interest and the romance that springs between Charlie and the gardener felt hurried and tacked on. Love story aside, however, I was thoroughly enchanted by The Gates of Evangeline. This Southern Gothic mystery reads like a true crime novel and had me guessing until the very end (and I feel I owe an apology to certain completely innocent characters I had initially pegged as being guilty!) Though the ending left me wanting – it’s a little too sitcomy for my tastes, especially with the rest of the novel being somewhat gritty – I enjoyed this one immensely and eagerly await the next installment!

weekly wrap-up 8/23

Happy, happy Sunday! If it seems like it’s been a while since I’ve done a weekly wrap-up it’s because I skipped last week. Why? WE GOT A PUPPY! I’ll have a post properly introducing her soon, but that’s Baylor. ♥ Last week involved a lot of running around. Since then, she’s pretty much taken over my instagram account. Love.

The Gates of Evangeline by Hester Young
After losing her child, Charlie begins having extremely vivid dreams of children seeking help. She’s certain she’s losing her mind until she finds herself in the middle of a missing child case. This one is getting some MAJOR buzz and I believe it’s supposed to be a trilogy..? I’m currently reading this one and although I’m only a few chapters in, I’m pretty intrigued! Also, a few days after I received the ARC a finished copy arrived at my door, so keep your eyes peeled for a giveaway! Thank you, Putnam!

Along the Infinite Sea by Beatriz Williams
Autumn, 1966. An affair with a politician that results in a baby. A restored vintage Mercedes. Pepper is sure that the sale of the car will bring in enough money to take care of her child, and she soon discovers the car’s new owner carries some secrets of her own..secrets involving a Nazi husband and a Jewish lover. You KNOW how I feel about WWII novels (♥♥♥) and Ms. Williams comes HIGHLY recommended from a friend, so I’m very, very excited for this one! Thank you, Putnam!

Cleopatra’s Shadows by Emily Holleman
The story of Cleopatra told through the eyes of her younger sister. OH MY YES! After recently listening to The Woman Who Would be King, a biography about Hatshepsut, I’ve become fascinated by the Egyptian kings and queens. Definitely looking forward to this one! Thank you, Little, Brown!

The Lake House by Kate Morton
Kate is one of the authors at the tippy-top of my Auto-Buy list. I love her to pieces and the moment this one showed up on netgalley I immediately requested it. The 1930s. An abandoned house. A missing boy. A seventy-year mystery. At this point Kate could write a phone book and I’d be ecstatic! Thank you, Atria!

In Case You Missed It
I wrote a few mini-reviews! An Aussie historical fiction, the previously mentioned Hatshepsut bio, and a WWII rescue.

A Jennifer McMahon novel was the very first book I ever reviewed here, way back in August of 2011! Four years later she’s become another Auto-Buy author and her latest, The Night Sister, is excellent. Deliciously creepy and kept me turning the pages well into the night (even though I KNEW I’d be even more spooked in the dark!)

Mrs. Sinclair’s Suitcase by Louise Walters was nearly abandoned. Told in two eras, naturally I devoured the WWII story, but the present day one…ugh. I didn’t care for the main character at all, but the grandmother’s story (a loveless marriage, a Polish soldier, a letter from her husband dated after he was said to have died in the war) was too intriguing and I devoured this one in record time.

Mrs. Sinclair’s Suitcase by Louise Walters

Mrs. Sinclair’s Suitcase by Louise Walters
Pub. Date: August 4, 2015
Source: finished copy via publisher (Thank you, Putnam!)
Summary: Forgive me, Dorothea, for I cannot forgive you. What you do, to this child, to this child’s mother, it is wrong…

Roberta likes to collect the letters and postcards she finds in second-hand books. When her father gives her some of her grandmother’s belongings, she finds a baffling letter from the grandfather she never knew – dated after he supposedly died in the war.

Dorothy is unhappily married to Albert, who is away at war. When an aeroplane crashes in the field behind her house she meets Squadron Leader Jan Pietrykowski, and as their bond deepens she dares to hope she might find happiness. But fate has other plans for them both, and soon she is hiding a secret so momentous that its shockwaves will touch her granddaughter many years later…
Genre: Historical Fiction, WWII-era fiction

I feel that an awful lot of my reviews begin with “If you know me, then you know that…” but it’s true: there’s a distinct bent to my reading. I know what I like and rarely stray from that, particularly when it comes to unknown-to-me authors. One of my all-time favorite tropes in historical fiction is the discovery of a letter. Oh, how my heart sings when someone stumbles across a hidden stack of letters from the past! With Mrs. Sinclair’s Suitcase, a letter discovered by a woman’s granddaughter proves very interesting indeed: it’s written by the woman’s husband and dated 1941…a year after he was said to have been killed in the war. COLOR ME INTRIGUED!

In the present day, Roberta is going about her day-to-day job as a used bookseller and spends her nights unlucky in love (she’s currently having a lackluster affair with a married man.) As she sorts through the books the store takes in, she uncovers forgotten mementos of previous lives: a child’s handmade card to his mother, photographs, love letters. What she never expected was to come across a letter of her own. While going through her grandmother’s belongings after moving her to a nursing home, Roberta finds a suitcase belonging to a Mrs. Sinclair and inside a curious letter. You see, the letter is from her grandfather, written to her grandmother. While that isn’t necessarily odd, what’s strange is that the letter is dated 1941…and Roberta had always been told her grandfather had been killed during the war in 1940. Letting her curiosity get the better of her, Roberta spirals down a path seeking answers to questions that might be better left in the past.

I love, love me some dual era novels. You write a novel set during WWII and the present day and there’s an EXCELLENT chance I’ll be drooling all over myself. It wasn’t any different with Mrs. Sinclair’s Suitcase and I was practically foaming at the mouth until I had it in hand and was able to start reading. And here I must be honest: Roberta was such an off-putting character that I nearly abandoned the book after just a few chapters. I was wildly interested in Dorothea’s story (she’s in a loveless marriage and later meets a Polish Squadron Leader after a plane crash practically in her backyard) but nothing about Roberta’s life captivated me. Perhaps this is just a ‘me’ issue: I know exactly what it’s like to work in a used bookstore and discover a wealth of things (both good and hideously disgusting) inside books. Flipping through an 1800s copy of a bible, for example, could reveal numerous letters and odd bits of paper. So perhaps because I know that life it doesn’t seem as romantic and enticing? Roberta’s boss, the man she’s seeing, her coworker’s abortion…none of it interested me and I found myself bored to the point where I seriously considered cutting my losses and moving on to the next novel.

But then. BUT THEN! I don’t know what happened or what changed, but I found that ‘one more chapter’ turned into 50 pages, then 100, finally 200 pages were gone and I had reached the end. I suppose that Dorothea’s story was so enchanting that I was compelled to keep going and going until I could go no more. An unhappy marriage that’s resulted in a handful of miscarriages (and, finally, a stillbirth.) A plane crash that left no survivors. A handsome (and much younger) Polish soldier thanking her for her bravery and courage in attempting to save the pilot. It was all so fascinating and I felt all the emotions I think I was meant to feel for Roberta’s plights but never felt. Had the novel been solely about Dorothea I would have been one happy girl.

I found it odd that Roberta’s chapters were written in first-person while Dorothea’s were told in third. While I love multiple narrations, the style was a bit jarring in the beginning and by the end I never quite felt comfortable with it. There were also a few details that never really went anywhere – Dorothea’s poetry, for example. Multiple times we’re told she spends her time writing poems yet it doesn’t add to the story nor are any of the poems in the novel. Other than the author being a published poet, I don’t see any reason for its inclusion.

With blurbs from Sarah McCoy and Jessica Brockmole I was more than a little intrigued, even more so after reading a mini-interview with Louise Walters where she discussed the inspiration behind the novel (she actually owns a suitcase labeled with a Mrs. D Sinclair patch and had once come across a letter written by a Polish Squadron Leader to an English couple.) While its creation was fascinating, I can’t exactly say the same for the final product. I wish the novel would have cut out Roberta’s story completely and instead focused on Dorothea during the war, possibly even through the years to the present day (where she’s currently 109.) Although I’m glad I didn’t abandon this one early on, I can’t quite say I’m pleased to have read it. Mrs. Sinclair’s Suitcase left me wanting more – particularly in regards to the fates of certain characters. I will say though that it was a very quick read, I just wish it would have been a wholly WWII-set story.