Need an excellent book for the long holiday weekend? Look below and you’ll find inspiration, thrills, chills, romances, and history. Something for everyone! These are in order by my favorites, top to bottom. Enjoy!
The Women of Chateau Lafayette
by Stephanie Dray
“Glory is a bittersweet wreath of both flowers and thorns.” ~ Stephanie Dray, The Women of Chateau Lafayette
A mysterious castle, a hero of the American Revolution, spies, what’s not to love? Stephanie Dray writes long, ambitious books. After reading and enjoying her historical novel America’s First Daughter (written with Laura Kamoie) about Thomas Jefferson’s eldest daughter, I was excited to receive an advance reader copy of her latest, The Women of Chateau Lafayette. This 600+ page true story is set in three time periods—the French Revolution, World War One, and World War Two—all united by the singular legacy of the Marquis de Lafayette and the women who safeguarded his castle during three of history’s darkest hours.
Whew. Following the stories of three women was daunting enough, but to place them in three time periods was intimidating, especially in audio form. This book deserves a 5-star rating just for the sheer magnitude of research required to write it. But this is much more than history, it’s a masterpiece of triumphing in the face of overwhelming adversity that is intensely human, and superbly told. One of my favorite reads of the year. Thanks to the publisher and NetGalley for providing a free copy of the book in exchange for an honest review. 5 stars
The Girl on the Platform
by Bryony Pearce
When new mother Bridget catches her train home from London, she witnesses something terrible: a young girl is taken from the platform, right before her eyes. But no one reports her missing and with Bridget the only witness, she is written off as an attention seeker. Nobody believes her—not even her own husband. But Bridget knows what she saw and becomes consumed with finding the little girl. Only she can save the child’s life… but could delving into the mystery cost Bridget her own?
I couldn’t put down this book even though reading it made my heart pound. And the ending… I didn’t see that coming at all! Bryony Pearce’s writing was fluid and so powerful. Bridget’s character was so well developed I felt I knew her and could feel her anguish. What this synopsis doesn’t say is that Bridget was suffering from debilitating postpartum depression. That’s one of the reasons why the police, her mother, husband, and friends think she imagined the scene at the train station. In the acknowledgements, the author thanks those who helped her through her own season of anxiety and depression—that’s why the story was so believable. If you don’t mind a little pulse-pounding, you will love this book. 4.5 stars
All the Devils Are Here
by Louise Penny
“We just don’t know. The key is to keep going. Joy might be just around the corner.” Louise Penny, All the Devils Are Here
The 16th novel by #1 bestselling author Louise Penny finds Chief Inspector Armand Gamache of the Sûreté du Quebec investigating a sinister plot in Paris. For even the City of Light casts long shadows. And in that darkness devils hide.
I alternated between reading and listening to this book, and narrator January LaVoy did a phenomenal job. As this is volume sixteen, I am obviously a fan of Louise Penny’s work. Her writing has improved steadily over time, putting All the Devils Are Here as one of my favorites. I’ll admit, though, that there were some rookie mistakes in the beginning. There were issues with continuity, and she repeated words near each other, which was annoying. I also thought the ending was too far-fetched… ridiculous, actually.
Having said that, I found the book to be addictive. There was a beautiful focus on Gamache’s family that hasn’t been present in her other books. She had a terrific use of metaphor, for example: “… the four of them sat in individual pools of light, their fingers tap-tap-tapping on the keyboards like the soft patter of feet sneaking up on a killer.” Brilliant. Penny wove in some fascinating WWII history, facts I’d never read before (and I read a LOT of history from that era). The ending of the book was so touching that it brought tears to my eyes, as did her acknowledgements at the end of the book. 4.5 stars.
Old Abe: A Novel
by John Cribb
“Tense rumors filtered out of the nation’s capital—whispers of schemes to prevent the counting of electoral votes and plots to kidnap the president-elect. He sat beside a potbellied stove in the statehouse on a snowy evening, whittling on a stick and discussing the reports with a circle of friends.” ― John Cribb, Old Abe
Old Abe is the story of the last five years of Abraham Lincoln’s life, the most cataclysmic years in American history. We are at Lincoln’s side as he weeps over the body of Willie, his second son to die in childhood, as he walks bloody battlefields in the North and the South, as he wrestles with slavery, and as he cares for his emotionally unstable wife, Mary Todd Lincoln.
The author portrayed Lincoln as not only a president, but as a flesh-and-blood man. This fictionalized account of one of the greatest figures in American history offered a fresh perspective, while being so thoroughly researched that it will appeal to Civil War history buffs. I was hoping for a more content about him as a husband and father and a less on war strategy and play-by-play of battles, but the author’s depiction of Lincoln’s passage into eternity was inventive and touching, so much so that I had to wipe my eyes. I alternated between reading the book and listening to it, and much preferred the eBook. Thanks to the publisher and NetGalley for providing a free copy of the book in exchange for an honest review. Still, I would give either version 4 stars.
The Deep, Deep Snow
by Brian Freeman
“Do you know what they say about the deep, deep snow?” “What?” “It hides every secret. It covers every sin.” ― Brian Freeman, The Deep, Deep Snow
Deputy Shelby Lake was abandoned as a baby, saved by a stranger who found her in the freezing cold. Now, years later, a young boy is missing—and Shelby is the one who must rescue a child. Unearthing the lies of the people in Jeremiah’s life doesn’t get the police and the FBI any closer to finding him. As time passes and the case grows cold, Shelby worries that the mystery will stay buried forever under the deep, deep snow. But even the deepest snow melts in the spring.
I’ve enjoyed many Brian Freeman novels, but I think this one was my favorite. Some of the subject matter was disturbing, and at first, I wasn’t sure I could manage it, but I got sucked right in by the intricate plot, the narrative, and his writing style. It’s a character-drive story with likeable, albeit flawed, people with provocative backstories. Brian Freeman is a fellow Minnesotan, so the setting in a small town up north was appealing; I could relate to the people and the lifestyle. Another reason to love this book is that it features a female investigator who is strong but not overtly jaded like so many protagonists like her. I loved the casual first-person style as though the protagonist was sitting across a campfire telling me what happened. Thanks to the publisher and NetGalley for providing a free copy of the book in exchange for an honest review. 4 stars
by Carol Edgarian
“My wish was urgent, the same every year. It made me cross to have to think it again. Instead I looked to my left, to where San Francisco rose on tiptoe. Seeing her in her morning whites always made me feel better. My city was young, bold, having burned to the ground five times and five times come back richer and more brazen. To know her was to hold in your heart the up-downness of things. Her curves and hollows, her extremes. Her windy peaks and mini-climates. Her beauty, her trembling. Her greed.” ~ Carol Edgarian, Vera
Vera Johnson, the uncommonly resourceful fifteen-year-old illegitimate daughter of Rose, notorious proprietor of San Francisco’s most legendary bordello and ally to the city’s corrupt politicians. Vera has grown up straddling two worlds—the madam’s alluring sphere, replete with tickets to the opera, surly henchmen, and scant morality, and the violent, debt ridden domestic life of the family paid to raise her.
On the morning of the great quake, Vera’s worlds collide. As the shattered city burns and looters vie with the injured, orphaned, and starving, Vera and her guileless sister, Pie, are cast adrift. Vera disregards societal norms and prejudices and begins to imagine a new kind of life. She collaborates with Tan, her former rival, and forges an unlikely family of survivors. Together they navigate their way beyond disaster.
I was pleasantly surprised by this coming-of-age novel. I’m a sucker for good historical fiction, and this novel ticked all my boxes: interesting characters, great attention to detail, and effective engagement of the senses. I could imagine the chaos during and after the catastrophic 1906 San Francisco earthquake, the scenes, the smells, the horror. A sign of a well-constructed historical piece is how often I googled for more information, and I found myself online often learning more about the plethora of historical characters and the setting. I liked this tenacious teenager who was rejected at every turn, yet picked herself up, literally dusted herself off, and thrived despite her dire circumstances. It’s a heartbreaking book, plodding at times, and the author made some grammatical missteps, but I enjoyed it very much. 4 stars
When I Lay My Isaac Down: Unshakable Faith in Unthinkable Circumstances
by Carol J. Kent
All of us have circumstances that produce varying degrees of personal loss and devastation. Will we maintain our grip on hope in the process of defeat? Will we live our lives with passion and purpose even if, in this lifetime, we are not permitted to have an answer to why something has happened? Will we choose unshakable faith, or will we give up on God? I believe God’s great invitation is to engage us in the process of discovering the power of choosing faith when that decision makes no sense. There is hidden power in our unthinkable circumstances. ~ Carol Kent, When I Lay My Isaac Down
You’re never ready for calamity to strike. Carol Kent and her husband Gene were devastated by the news that their son had killed the man who married his ex-wife. Gene and Carol were buoyed in their faith by eight principles, gleaned from the story of Abraham and Isaac: Over the course of eight chapters Carol explores the power of unthinkable circumstances, relinquishment, heartache, community, hope, faith, joy, and speaking up.
This book was inspiring on so many levels. Carol Kent was a well-known writer and speaker (still is) when her son was arrested and friends and strangers prayed for, provided for, and loved her and her family through a devastating situation. Her teaching is powerful—I have more than 100 highlights in the eBook—but I must admit that I struggled a bit with her writing. Still, the lessons she imparted were well worth those missteps. 4 stars
Sisters of the Resistance
by Christine Wells
France, 1944: The Nazis still occupy Paris, and twenty-five-year-old Gabby makes it a point to avoid trouble, unlike her sister Yvette. Until she, like her sister, is recruited into the Resistance by Catherine Dior—sister of the fashion designer, Christian Dior. Both are swept into the world of spies, fugitives, and Resistance workers, and it doesn’t take long for the sisters to realize their lives are in danger.
I was excited to read this book. I love historical fiction with strong female protagonists, particularly those involved in the Resistance movement during WWII. It being pitched to fans of Kate Quinn and Jennifer Chiaverini sealed the deal. The audiobook was narrated by the immensely talented Saskia Maarleveld, who also read The Rose Code, Resistance Women, The Huntress, The Alice Network, The Victory Garden, and The Home for Unwanted Girls, all favorites of mine.
The book never really drew me in because the dual timeline jumped between 1944 and 1947 and also had a dual narrative between Yvette and Gabby in each of those timelines. Yikes. It was hard to follow. I was hoping to learn more about Catherine Dior, sister of fashion designer Christine Dior, but she played a minor role. Both sisters had a romantic interest, making the book too sappy and somewhat formulaic. Overall, Sisters of the Resistance was enjoyable, just not phenomenal. 5 stars for the narration, 3.5 stars rounded up to 4 for the book.
by Kaitlyn Greenidge
“The only good poem I’ve ever written is you. A daughter is a poem. A daughter is a kind of psalm. You, in the world, responding to me, is the song I made. I cannot make another.” ― Kaitlyn Greenidge, Libertie
Coming of age as a free-born Black girl in Reconstruction-era Brooklyn, Libertie Sampson was all too aware that her purposeful mother, a practicing physician, envisions their future together: Libertie would go to medical school and practice alongside her. But Libertie, drawn more to music than science, feels stifled by her mother’s choices and is hungry for something else. When a young man from Haiti proposes to Libertie and promises she will be his equal on the island, she accepts, only to discover that she is still subordinate to him and all men.
I found some themes of this novel to be powerful: the complicated relationship between mothers and daughters, bowing to parental pressure about one’s chosen vocation, “passing” and how darker skin meant increased prejudice, and the subordination of women. The author’s well-researched historical perspective in the US and Haiti was especially intriguing.
I alternated between reading the eBook and listening to the audiobook. In the end, both were slow going and I considered not finishing. The narrator’s voice was great, and I enjoyed how she laughed and giggled. Her intonation was off, however, and she sometimes emphasized the wrong syllables in words, which was distracting. Libertie was loosely based on the life of one of the first Black female doctors in the United States, Dr. Susan Smith McKinney Stewart. I would have enjoyed the book much more if Greenidge had centered it more directly on her life, rather than the fictional Libertie. 3.5 stars
by Jean Hanff Korelitz
“Good writers borrow, great writers steal. —T. S. Eliot (but possibly stolen from Oscar Wilde)” ~ Jean Hanff Korelitz, The Plot
The Plot is about a story too good not to steal, and the writer who steals it. Jacob Finch Bonner was once a promising young novelist. Today, he’s teaching in a third-rate MFA program and struggling to maintain what’s left of his self-respect. When student Parker Evans says he doesn’t need Jake’s help because his work in progress is a sure thing, his arrogance irritates Jake… until he hears the plot. In a few short years, the student’s predictions have come true, but Jake is the author enjoying the wave. He is wealthy, famous, praised and read all over the world. But at the height of his glorious new life, he receives messages and reads social media posts accusing him of plagiarism. Evans is dead, so who is sending blackmailing him?
As an author, the concept of this book fascinated me. In truth, there if very little new under the sun, just different approaches to the same material. I’ve read nothing quite like this multilayered novel. Although the protagonist turned amateur sleuth identified many potential blackmailers, I figured out who it was early on. Yet I kept reading it; probably because the pacing picked up as the book went on. The first half of the book was too philosophical, too plodding, too boring. I wanted the author to just tell the story already. Other reviewers raved about this one, but in my view, it was nothing special. 3.5 stars
by Emma Stonex
“Nothing changed, in the aftermath of loss. Songs kept getting written. Books kept getting read. Wars didn’t stop…. Life renewed itself, over and over, without sympathy. Time surged on in its usual rhythms, those comings and goings, beginnings and ends, sensible progressions that fixed things in place, without a thought to the whistling in the woods on the outskirts of town….” Emma Stonex, The Lamplighters
Cornwall, 1972. Three keepers vanish from a remote lighthouse, miles from the shore. The entrance door is locked from the inside and the clocks have stopped. The weather log describes a mighty storm, but the skies have been clear all week. Twenty years later, the women they left behind are still struggling to move on. When a bestselling writer interviews them to learn more about the mysterious disappearances, long-hidden secrets bubble to the surface.
Emma Stonex was inspired by the mysterious, unsolved disappearance of Thomas Marshall, James Ducat, and Donald MacArthur in December 1900 from the island of Eilean Mor in Scotland’s Outer Hebrides. She vividly describes the chill and rage of the North Atlantic, the job of a lighthouse keeper, and the loneliness and dynamics of people living in close quarters for weeks at a time away from loved ones.
Although I loved the premise of this book and was excited to read it, it fell flat. The storyline of the three lost keepers was captivating. The author created an atmospheric setting on the isolated island and the raw beauty of the formidable sea. Unfortunately, the other half of the book was tedious, and the characters were unlikable. The Lamplighters was eerie and haunting and would have been amazing if it had taken place at the turn of the century. In fact, had the author fictionalized the true events, her book would have been brilliant. https://www.historic-uk.com/HistoryUK/HistoryofScotland/The-Eilean-Mor-Lighthouse-Mystery/. As it stands, Lamplighters is completely different from the historical record. I’m sure others will love this book, but for me it was disappointing. Thanks to the publisher and NetGalley for providing a free copy of the book in exchange for an honest review. 3 stars
Hiding Baby Moses
by Judith L. Roth, Melanie Cataldo (Illustrator)
A baby boy is hidden in a basket floating on the Nile. A fearful mother sings a song of protection. And a brave big sister seeks a chance to save her brother. Meet the family of baby Moses in this lyrical retelling and see how God’s faithfulness can be revealed through one small person who takes a big risk for someone she loves.
I am one of Moses’s biggest fans, but I am also a grandmother of five (ages 7 months to 6 years) who would be bored with this book. They read a Bible story every night and they know who Moses is, but the cumbersome use of language would cause them to read it once and then be done with it. I so wanted to like it!