The Swan Keeper by Milana Marsenich – BOOK REVIEW

38336382Title & Author: The Swan Keeper, Milana Marsenich
Publication Date & Publisher: April 2018, Open Books
Genre(s): Historical Fiction, General (Adult) Fiction
Length: 245 pages
ISBN: 9781948598033
My Rating: 4.0/5.0

Description (from Goodreads):

Girlhood, courage, nature, and flight from a tyrant’s hand in post-frontier Montana.

The Swan Keeper is an historical, coming of age novel set in Northwest Montana’s Mission Valley in the late 1920s.

Lillian Connelly loves trumpeter swans and vows to protect them from a hunter who is killing them and leaving their carcasses for the wolves and coyotes to ravage.

On her eleventh birthday Lilly’s family visits the Cattail Marsh to see the newly hatched cygnets. The family outing turns tragic when Dean Drake shows up with his shotgun and fires on not only the swans, but on Lilly’s family. Unable to prevent tragedy, Lillian witnesses Drake kill her father, injure her mother, and slaughter the bevy of trumpeter swans.

The sheriff, Charlie West, thinks that Lilly is reacting to the trauma and blaming Drake because of a previous conflict between Drake and her father. Lilly’s mother, sister, and her best friend, Jerome West, the sheriff’s son, all think the same thing: that Lilly is trying to make sense of a senseless accident.

Left alone to bring Dean Drake to justice, Lilly’s effort is subverted when Drake woos her sister, courts her mother, and moves into their home.

My review: 

This book really surprised me!

I loved the way it started out:

Lilly told three lies to go with her father one stormy afternoon when she was ten, the afternoon that she first learned about the swan killer. She said she’d done her chores, she forgave Pa for fighting with her mother, and she wasn’t afraid.

I’m not sure what it is with me picking books featuring liars lately, but I seem to be addicted to them. (Lies that Bind Us, All That’s Left of Me, The Irrationalist, Truth Seer)

It turns out that Lilly is good not just at telling lies, but she can also tell when others are lying – her mom, dad, sister, her mortal enemy – Dean Drake… but it doesn’t seem to occur to her that they must know when she’s lying too. She’s growing up, but even with her “tiny” lies, there’s still so much innocence left in her – even after her father is killed.

So much is thrown at her, and yet she faces every challenge in her life head on. I love her stubbornness and her deep drive to see justice carried out even when it means putting herself in danger! Being someone who loves children deeply, I connected with Lilly on such a deep level that my husband had to remind me that she wasn’t a real child… twice!

(I just wanted to be able to hug her, let her know I was there for her, and that everything was going to be okay. That’s totally normal when we’re talking about a fictional character…)

The Swan Keeper is divided into four parts – White Swan, Dark Swan, In Flight, and Landing. In each section Lilly changes and grows spiritually and emotionally. True to life, she’s not the same person at 10 as she is as a 12 year old at the end of the book. But her journey is FAR crazier than what most preteens experience.

And amid all the craziness happening around her, she’s experiencing her first crush on a boy. She’s known Jerome West her entire life, but suddenly he’s becoming something else to her entirely and she has no idea what to do with those emotions. I found Lilly’s interactions with Jerome as her feelings for him started changing absolutely adorable!

Just when I thought I couldn’t love Lilly anymore, I think I may have found a new favorite bookish quote from her in this book as well…

Books were full of information. She’d learned to consult books and thank God. It was a good system.

Read that and pretty much screamed in my brain, “Me too, Lilly!  Me too!!!” (Again, it’s totally normal to have imaginary conversations with fictional characters… Stop judging me!!!)

As much as I ended up loving this book, I wasn’t so sure about The Swan Keeper when I first started reading it.  There were a couple of pages before the first chapter that I assumed was a prologue. It didn’t make sense to me until the end of the book, when I realized it was basically excerpts from the last part. I really wish I had just skipped it and gone straight to Chapter 1… if you pick it up, I suggest you do the same!

My only other complaint is that there are a couple of times where people speak and it doesn’t seem completely normal to me. For instance, a character that uses the word “‘specially” for “especially” would use “isn’t” instead of “is not.” That might not throw other readers, but things like that stick out to me and drive me batty if it happens too often. Thankfully, it only happened a couple of times in this book so it wasn’t a deal breaker for me.

I received a review copy of this book from the author. This in no way influenced my review.

What do you think of my review of The Swan Keeper? Have you read it or are you planning on reading it in the future? Have a suggestion for my next read? Leave me a comment below!

Planning on purchasing The Swan Keeper? Please use my affiliate links: Amazon, Book Depository

 

 

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Dark Queen Rising by Paul Doherty – BOOK REVIEW

cover141884-mediumTitle: Dark Queen Rising
Author: Paul Doherty
Publication Date & Publisher: October 1, 2018, Severn House
Genre(s): Historical Fiction
Length: 224 pages
ISBN: 9781780291079
My Rating: 3.0/5.0

Description (from Goodreads):

First in a brand-new historical mystery series featuring Margaret Beaufort, mother of King Henry VII and matriarch of the Tudor dynasty.

May, 1471. The Wars of the Roses are reaching their bitter and bloody climax. Edward of York has claimed the English throne, and his supporters are extracting a savage revenge on all who supported the Lancastrian cause. Surrounded by enemies wherever she turns, the position of Margaret Beaufort, Countess of Richmond and mother to Henry Tudor, the last remaining hope of the House of Lancaster, is precarious to say the least.

Determined to protect her son whatever it takes, Margaret must rely on her sharp-witted clerk Christopher Ulswicke to be her eyes and ears. When four bodies are discovered in a London tavern, their throats slit, and Margaret herself is suspected of being behind the crime, it’’s up to Ulswicke to prove his mistress’ innocence and unmask the real killer.

My review: 

This may be a really confusing review… which is probably good because I’m really conflicted on exactly how I feel about Dark Queen Rising.

I picked Dark Queen Rising fully expecting more murder mystery than historical fiction, but I personally wouldn’t have categorized it as a mystery at all.

Although it didn’t have the mystery I was looking for, overall, I did actually enjoy the story. It begins with Margaret witnessing a horrific slaughter in what should have been a place of sanctuary. (I mean, how could you go wrong from there, right?)

The story goes back and forth between Margaret and her trusted henchman, Ulswicke. Ulswicke was definitely my favorite character in this book! He’s funny, smart, and scary all at the same time. He also came across as more of believable/relatable character than Margaret (which seems a little odd now that I’m sitting here writing it down for all the world to see. I mean, he kinda kills some people… weird).

At the beginning of the book, there are a lot of people thrown at you and it got confusing for me trying to keep up with everyone. Thankfully, it doesn’t take long for the main characters to surface and it gets easier to follow who’s who, who did what, who’s on who’s side, etc. There was also a handy dandy list of key players at the start, so that was nice!

There were times when it seemed like there was too much detail and it slowed the pacing down for me. Other times, I couldn’t seem to put the book down because I was so into it! (Another sign of how conflicted I am with this one!)

I could totally see this being made into a movie. And I’d definitely go watch it… and I’ll probably be reading the next book in this series when it comes out… So a definite “okay” pick…

I’d recommend it for fans of historical fiction, especially fans of fiction during the War of the Roses.

Thank you to NetGalley and Severn House for providing me with a free digital copy of this book. This in no way influenced my review.

What do you think of Dark Queen Rising? Have a suggestion for my next read? Leave me a comment below!

Affiliate Links to Purchase Dark Queen Rising: Amazon, Book Depository

 

The Sun King by Allison Lee Palmer – BOOK REVIEW

the_sun_king_by_allison_lee_palmer_200Title & Author: The Sun King, Allison Lee Palmer
Publication Date & Publisher: October 2017, Open Books
Genre(s):  General (Adult) Fiction
ISBN: 9781370072774
My Rating: 4.0/5.0

Description (from Goodreads):

A mother, her son, and mania.

In this fictionalized memoir, a mother recounts the emotional journey she and her son take when he becomes mentally ill.

Jack is known as the Sun King because as a child he resembled the illustrated boy in his mother’s deck of tarot cards. Already on the verge of madness, Jack leaves for college in Ohio but secretly decides not to take his medicine. When Jack becomes manic, his mother must retrieve him from a psychiatric hospital and bring him home to Oklahoma. She and Jack spend the next year dealing with court hearings, doctor appointments, and counseling sessions precipitated by his bipolar disorder and resultant psychosis.

Guiding Jack back to sanity leads his mother to a fateful decision—one that brings about her own emotional unraveling. In the end, it is the Sun King who must save his mother.

My review: 

This book started out absolutely amazing!!! By Chapter 3, I was beginning to send out texts and Snaps to my friends letting them know they NEED to read this ASAP! It’s a story about a very serious issue and situation that’s told in a way that’s sometimes hilarious, other times serious or sarcastic, and always deeply emotional.

The Sun King tells the story of the narrator and her only son, Jack, who is suffering from mental illness. The story begins with his latest stint in a mental hospital after he’s stopped taking his meds (again.)

When Jack’s mom discovered he wasn’t taking his medicine, she began searching for ways to help her son. She searched the internet and tried, unsuccessfully, to help with the herbal remedies she bought at the local health store.

The entire story is told from Jack’s mother’s perspective. I found myself laughing often at her view of the days when Jack’s illness was just starting to manifest itself. Having a daughter who recently graduated high school and began her first year of college with extreme, almost crippling anxiety, I related to her a lot. At times, she seemed to be too close to the situation to recognize the signs that her son was ill. I know I’ve been in that same situation… too close to my daughter to see clearly that she’s about to break down on me.

So I was emotionally attached to both Jack and his mother very early on in this story! When I read this:

In retrospect, I would argue that not only should the purchase of copious amounts of aluminum foil and cardboard be a warning sign at least mentioned in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, but the constant need for high drama should also be noted in the DSM, because all together they can only lead to the building of this spaceship that matches the criteria for Bipolar Disorder I. But I didn’t know that until later.

I knew this mother and I were the same… I could hear my daughter explaining the need for the materials and my response being “Yeah, that seems legit, baby. Of course… here’s some more foil.”

Despite Jack being the one with the illness, his mom’s life is also flipped completely upside down and she herself begins to spiral out of control. At times, she thinks she’d be happier if Jack had cancer or was missing an arm instead of suffering the way he is. What makes it even harder to bear, is the fact that she’s doing so much and constantly sacrificing for son, and he doesn’t even seem capable of caring or understanding what she’s going through herself.

To give you some kind of an idea on how much I loved this book, let me explain how my reading speed varies between books… Basically, the speed at which I read is entirely dependent upon my enjoyment level of the material being read. So a book I’m kinda into, but not exactly thrilled with might take me weeks to read, while the same length book that I AM thrilled with might take a day or two…

I read  The Sun King in about 6 hours… a good indication that I LOVED the book! But…

the end… it…

Let me down.

HARD.

I’m not completely sure what I expected, or what I wanted, or how I saw things ending, but the way it actually ended was definitely not satisfying for me. I still want to know what happened…I feel like without that knowledge, the story just isn’t over. Perhaps that’s what the author intended, but unless it’s a series, I just hate these type of open-ended, no indication of  happily ever (or never) after, vague endings.

So overall, I still recommend reading The Sun King. I enjoyed the majority of the book so much that even the ending didn’t make me regret reading it.

I received a review copy of this book from Open Books. This in no way influenced my review.

What do you think of my review of The Sun King? Have you read it or are you planning on reading it in the future? Have a suggestion for my next read? Leave me a comment below!

Affiliate Links: Purchase The Sun King on Amazon or Book Depository

 

 

Their Houses by Meredith Sue Willis – BOOK REVIEW

willis_des_cov_print_final_r01.inddTitle: Their Houses
Author: Meredith Sue Willis
Publication Date & Publisher: August 2018, WVU Press
Genre(s): General (Adult) Fiction
Length: 243 pages
ISBN: 13:978-1-946684-34-9
My Rating: 4.0/5.0

Description (from WVU Press):

As children, two sisters make homes for their toys out of matchboxes and shoeboxes, trying to create safe places after the loss of their mother to psychosis.

Grace, now a schoolteacher married to a doctor, appears to have a conventional life but has a breakdown during an undesired move from her beloved cottage to another house. Dinah has married a self-ordained preacher with a troubled past and tries to keep her children safely separate from the world. Meanwhile, a childhood friend is linked to a militia’s abortive attempt to blow up the FBI’s fingerprint records facility in West Virginia, and later builds an isolated survivalist compound in the mountains.

These three adults, closely bonded in childhood, are reunited on this acreage once owned by a white supremacist group, where they discover in various ways that there is no final protection, no matter how hard they strive to find it or make it.

My review: 

Their Houses has one of the best openings I think I’ve read all year. By the end of the first page, I already had so many questions that needed answered I knew I’d be finishing it quickly!

The novel follows six different characters, but it really revolves around the main three – Richie and two sisters, Dinah and Grace. As children, Dinah and Grace’s father moved them into Richie’s parents’ carriage house in West Virginia, after the girls’ mother was put in a mental hospital for trying to kill them. We’re taken back and forth between the present and the past to discover how they all ended up where they are now – somehow all back in West Virginia together.

But it’s not coincidence that they scattered only to be reconnected…

Richie grew up with rich parents and  became a rich, power hungry man. Picked on as a child, he feels the need to exert his power and control over everyone around him – whether they work for him or not. He sees himself as a sort of puppet master, masterminding not only his own life, but guiding others into positions that benefit him.

Dinah became pregnant with her daughter, Aleda, when she was still young. She’s now married to Raymond, a preacher seeking his new flock. Dinah fears Aleda will make all the same mistakes she did as a young girl and so she keeps her on a tight leash, not even allowing her to learn about her biological father.

Grace and her husband, David, are back in West Virginia because David wanted to practice medicine somewhere where he was truly needed. Grace should be the happiest of the three, but she’s suffering from depression and the constant paranoid fear that she’s actually just as psychotic as their mother was.

David and Raymond don’t see eye to eye on anything, and David’s need to prove Raymond’s faith is nothing more than childish belief in fairy tales, just about pushes him over the edge into the same level of crazy he fears his wife has crossed over to.

Personally, I think Dinah and Raymond said it best when it comes to the mental health of the characters in this novel:

“Maybe everyone is crazy if you scratch down half an inch. Me, Richie, Aleda. Everyone but you.”

He laughed. “Because I was crazy all the way through for a long time.”

There really isn’t a single “sane” character in the whole book and I love the way it kind of forces you to wrestle with your own version of sanity/acceptable behavior.

Their Houses is a thought provoking novel examining what it means to each of us to feel safe, and what we’re willing to do in order to get there. I definitely recommend picking up a copy!

I received a copy of this book from WVU Press. This in no way influenced my review.

What do you think of Their Houses? Have you read it or are you planning on reading it in the future? Have a suggestion for my next read? Leave me a comment below!

Buy Their Houses from Amazon.

Buy Their Houses from Book Depository.

 

 

 

Edge of the Known Bus Line by James R. Gapinski – BOOK REVIEW

40081069Title: Edge of the Known Bus Line
Author: James R. Gapinski
Publication Date & Publisher: May 2018, Etchings Press
Genre(s): General (Adult) Fiction
Length: 134 pages
ISBN: 13:978-0-9988976-0-8
My Rating: 4.0/5.0

Description (from Goodreads):

A woman’s daily commute takes an abrupt turn when she’s dropped off in a grotesque shantytown in Edge of the Known Bus Line. The townsfolk live in huts and tents scavenged from broken trinkets. They eat dead rats and human flesh. They’ve developed cult-like religions about miracle bus routes that will someday set them free. The narrator searches for a way out of this surreal hellscape while dredging up a few nightmares of her own.

My review: 

Wow… Just. WOW!

Edge of the Known Bus Line is a novella about a woman who’s been going through her days just kind of floating through life. She rides the same bus to work everyday with the same people, but she doesn’t know any of their names. (Well, I guess that isn’t entirely true…she gives them her own made up names, but I’m not sure that really counts.)

One morning she goes to get on the bus and the marquee reads “Out of Service.” Since it’s the same bus with the same passengers as every other morning, she thinks it’s obvious the marquee is some funny mistake. SPOILER ALERT: She’s wrong.

She ends up in a super twisted place, but she’s kinda twisted herself. Anyone else who got off of that bus would have freaked out but she seems almost unfazed!

Edge of the Known Bus Line is one of those reads that sticks with you long after you’re finished reading. And when you’re done, all you can think is “What the heck did I just read?”

I don’t mean that in a bad way. I really enjoyed the book, but…

It’s disturbing.

There’s cannibalism, murder, cults…it’s crazy. And gruesome. And a little scary. And somehow funny at the same time…

I’ve never laughed so much at a book filled with so much darkness.

This is definitely NOT a family-friendly read, but I recommend it to anyone who enjoys getting the creepy crawlies with their laughs!

I received a copy of this book from LibraryThing’s Early Reviewers program. This in no way influenced my review.

What do you think of Edge of the Known Bus Line? Have you read it or are you planning on reading it in the future? Have a suggestion for my next read? Leave me a comment below!