The Determined Heart by Antoinette May

The Determined Heart: The Tale of Mary Shelley and Her FrankensteinThe Determined Heart: The Tale of Mary Shelley and Her Frankenstein by Antoinette May

The Determined Heart reveals the life of Mary Shelley in a story of love and obsession, betrayal and redemption.

The daughter of political philosopher William Godwin and feminist Mary Wollstonecraft, Mary Shelley had an unconventional childhood populated with the most talented and eccentric personalities of the time. After losing her mother at an early age, she finds herself in constant conflict with a resentful stepmother and a jealous stepsister. When she meets the Romantic poet Percy Bysshe Shelley, she falls deeply in love, and they elope with disastrous consequences. Soon she finds herself destitute and embroiled in a torturous love triangle as Percy takes Mary’s stepsister as a lover. Over the next several years, Mary struggles to write while she and Percy face ostracism, constant debt, and the heartbreaking deaths of three children. Ultimately, she achieves great acclaim for Frankenstein, but at what cost?
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is an excellent book, there is no doubt of that. I was pleasantly surprised–no, that doesn’t cover it. I was supremely shocked that this book was so well thought out and written. I love historical novels based on real people, but many of them tend to lack the crucial research that makes them feel authentic. This author made certain to remain true to the characters, whilst still being imaginative enough to write a book that also keeps the reader’s attention.

Mary Shelley surely was an interesting person and she is depicted that way here, but it was the descriptions of Lord Byron and Bysshe that really captivated me more than anything else.

This book brings to life all of the loss, excitement, many moves and struggles of this infamous historical couple and shows both the beautiful and uglier aspects of their lives together and apart. The author did a wonderful job of describing each setting she used and taking her characters from flat to three-dimensional, emotional beings that you feel sorrow for having to part with when the story is complete.

The only thing that annoyed me, and would have annoyed me even if this were non fiction, was Mary’s tolerance for Claire. Not the author’s fault, as she was remaining as true to life as possible, but still–I wanted to punch Claire.

More than just some simple filling in of the gaps in knowledge, I felt Antoinette May really out her heart and soul into the creation of this book and strongly encourage you to give this book a try. It will not disappoint.

This review is based on a complimentary copy from the publisher and provided through Netgalley. All opinions are my own.

The Good Neighbor by Amy Sue Nathan

The Good NeighborThe Good Neighbor by Amy Sue Nathan

When small lies have big consequences…

Things are a little rough for Izzy Lane. Still reeling from the break-up of her marriage, the newly single mom moves back to the Philadelphia home she grew up in, five-year-old Noah in tow. The transition is difficult, but with the help of her best friends—and her elderly neighbor, Mrs. Feldman—Izzy feels like she’s stepping closer to her new normal. Until her ex-husband shows up with his girlfriend. That’s when Izzy invents a boyfriend of her own. And that’s when life gets complicated.

Blogging about her “new guy” provides Izzy with something to do when Noah’s asleep. What’s the harm in a few made-up stories? Then, her blog soars in popularity and she’s given the opportunity to moonlight as an online dating expert. How can she turn it down? But when her friends want to meet the mysterious “Mac,” someone online suspects Izzy’s a fraud, and a guy in-real-life catches her eye, Izzy realizes just how high the stakes are. That’s when Mrs. Feldman steps in, determined to show her neighbor the havoc that lies can wreak. If Izzy’s honest, she could lose everything, and everyone. Is the truth worth any cost?
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

For the most part, I really liked this book. The main character had a strong presence and I enjoyed getting to know her son and the other characters.

I, personally, did not see that what she did during the book was as big of a deal as it was made out to be, and since that was the main conflict, I struggled a little at times to understand why it was so important.

This book has some great quotes, especially during the points where the MC is reflecting on her life and her choices. The tension with her ex husband was very well written.

Overall, this is the kind of book that you can lose yourself in and enjoy. The side characters were created in such a way that you got more than just a glimpse at their lives and especially the neighbour, added a lot to the overall book.

The end was sweet without being overly sticky-sweet or leaving too many questions unanswered. I am looking forward to seeing what else this author does.

This review is based on a complimentary copy from the publisher and provided by Netgalley. All opinions are my own.

The Gates of Evangeline by Hester Young

The Gates of EvangelineThe Gates of Evangeline by Hester Young

From a unique new talent comes a fast-paced debut, introducing a heroine whose dark visions bring to light secrets that will heal or destroy those around her . . .

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.A Southern Gothic mystery debut that combines literary suspense and romance with a mystical twist, The Gates of Evangeline is a story that readers of Gillian Flynn, Kate Atkinson, and Alice Sebold won’t be able to put down.
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This book is fascinating, there is no question about that. From the first few pages I was hooked and I didn’t want to put it down.

Charlie is a strong character and although she has a lot of unexpected events occur in the beginning of the story, she doesn’t heavily overreact or do anything that would seem particularly out of character, save for the one act that ties the rest of the story together–a necessary plot device used by the author, and one that I could appreciate.

I loved the atmosphere of this story and the plantation home setting. The structures were beautifully described and I really felt I could see the same things the main character was viewing. I was particularly impressed with the descriptions of the swamp and surrounding territory, including New Orleans–though it was perhaps a more positive perception than some visitors get from the city.

I won’t say that I gave this four stars instead of five for the language and the comparisons the author made to the people of Louisiana and Texas compared to a New Yorker with a college education–others already have. Frankly, having not lived there and only been a visitor to the south and to Texas, I likely would have done the same thing–dialogue is a tough nut to crack.

What I will say, is that I couldn’t totally get around the idea of a sick, dying old woman seemingly being completely out of it and then acting as though she were able to clear the fog and have a perfectly rational conversation as she wished.

Otherwise, I thought this was a brilliantly crafted novel and recommend it to anyone looking for a good, deep mystery with a lot of unexpected revelations.

This review is based on a complimentary copy from the publisher and provided through Netgalley. All opinions are my own.

Enchantress of Paris by Marci Jefferson

Enchantress of Paris: A Novel of the Sun King’s CourtEnchantress of Paris: A Novel of the Sun King’s Court by Marci Jefferson

Fraught with conspiracy and passion, the Sun King’s opulent court is brought to vivid life in this captivating tale about a woman whose love was more powerful than magic.

The alignment of the stars at Marie Mancini’s birth warned that although she would be gifted at divination, she was destined to disgrace her family. Ignoring the dark warnings of his sister and astrologers, Cardinal Mazarin brings his niece to the French court, where the forbidden occult arts thrive in secret. In France, Marie learns her uncle has become the power behind the throne by using her sister Olympia to hold the Sun King, Louis XIV, in thrall.

Desperate to avoid her mother’s dying wish that she spend her life in a convent, Marie burns her grimoire, trading Italian superstitions for polite sophistication. But as her star rises, King Louis becomes enchanted by Marie’s charm. Sensing a chance to grasp even greater glory, Cardinal Mazarin pits the sisters against each other, showering Marie with diamonds and silks in exchange for bending King Louis to his will.

Disgusted by Mazarin’s ruthlessness, Marie rebels. She sacrifices everything, but exposing Mazarin’s deepest secret threatens to tear France apart. When even King Louis’s love fails to protect Marie, she must summon her forbidden powers of divination to shield her family, protect France, and help the Sun King fulfill his destiny.

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Historical fiction can go either way, and usually I tend to be disappointed with some part or the other of it. Either the dialogue is all wrong or the characters based on real people seem nothing like what we know of the actual person from historical documents.

This book not only managed to avoid those pitfalls, but also filled in the gaps in our knowledge of certain aspects and characters with a brilliantly crafted and quite plausible narrative. I was thrilled with this novel, and found it impossible to put down. The letters the author crafted between Marie and Louis are amazing, since those, in reality, did not survive. For her to create such eloquently worded and realistic correspondence nearly made me forget I wasn’t reading the real thing. Loved it.

I loved the portrayal of Marie and her relationship with King Louis. She was not a helpless waif in this story that was just another of the king’s mistresses, and he was very realistically drawn as a man struggling to learn the ropes of ruling a kingdom. He was intelligent, cocky, yet vulnerable to the powers of Marie. The love story was beautifully written and I was excited that the author did not change the true end result of their lives just to make her book work.

It takes a lot of research, time and effort to write an excellent historical novel, and this is one of the best that I have had the pleasure of reading. I definitely recommend this book to anyone interested in the period as well as for those just looking for a well-crafted read to keep them entertained.

I am anxious to see more from this author and encourage you to check out this book.

This review is based on a complimentary copy from the publisher and provided through Netgalley. All opinions are my own.

Mrs. Sinclair’s Suitcase by Louise Walters

Mrs. Sinclair's SuitcaseMrs. Sinclair’s Suitcase by Louise Walters

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…

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Wow! Not just wow, but WOW!

This is a beautiful book. This is the kind of novel that you can fully lose yourself in and not look back until the very last page. Louise Walters is amazing, and so is this book.

I could not put this story down and when I did, I missed the characters and wanted to come back. This novel worked its way into my heart and made me feel like the characters were people I knew and loved. The writing is incredible. The sentence structure has a flow that draws you into the story and each character has their own way of thinking and speaking during the dialogue sections.

Dorothy was so easy to love and my heart broke for her at different points in this book. She was a character that I literally could not help but love. I felt the same way about Roberta. These two women are so alive through the words of this author that I felt I had known them forever.

It’s hard to find a book where the secondary characters are fulfilling and make you wonder about their lives when the story is done, but Ms. Walters has done it.

Rarely do I dread seeing the last page of a book arrive–in fact, usually I’m excited to get to the end. These are some big shoes to fill, what in the world am I going to read after this?

Recommended 100% for those who love to fall in love with their book characters.

This review is based on a complimentary copy from the publisher. All opinions are my own.

Villains V. Anti-heroes: What’s the difference?

What? Why do you people always expect me to have an answer?


Villains are the ones that you love to hate. They are eyeball glue for fiction readers. Seriously–want to ensure that the reader will keep turning pages? Give them a well designed villain and an equally matched hero, and they will finish your book and get that Kindle pages read graph to sky-rocket.

When we think about the basic set up of a novel, what do we think of? Hero + Villain = story? Most of the time. Let’s look at that a bit closer.

Most people go that route because it is a less risky formula. It is easy, accepted and authors choose it for those reasons. The likeable protagonist is common because:

*The reader can identify with them easily and put themselves in the character’s place.

*The character embodies all the good things about ourselves and the world around us that we want to believe in.

*They offer one half of a classic dynamic that readers respond to on an emotional level.

Villains, adversely, prey on the primary and earliest fears of the reader. Remember that monster in your closet when you were six? He’s back. They open up our minds to the idea that not everything is as safe as we might have thought. They activate the fight or flight response in us that is hardwired into our brain (thank our ancestors for this trait. Try running from a hungry cheetah whilst hunting down your breakfast.) Or just go to Subway. Easier.

So–this conventional view makes sense. Hero that stands for all that is right and pure + Villain that is evil incarnate and stands for all the things we fear =


What if we want to do something different? What if we want to risk using an anti-hero as our protagonist? Can you do that? Of course you can. You can do anything–you’re an author.

Anti-heroes are an interesting and conflicted character type to work with. Though the reader may not easily be able to see things from their point of view and step right into those tarnished shoes, anti-heroes are built with some form of redeeming quality. The reader may not agree with them, but they will surely be able to understand why they act as they do. Also, the anti-hero does not have to be fully redeemed by the end of the story. That makes for an unexpected character arc.  Lets take a look at some differences between anti-heroes and villains

Anti-hero: The anti-hero is almost never a willing participant. They do what they do because they have no choice.

Villain: Do what they do out of selfishness and a desire to conquer. Willingly plot and plan against protagonists (or in the case of super-villains, everyone else.)

Anti-hero: Can be very average, or even very unattractive, both physically and morally.

Villain: Can be unattractive, but is rarely ever just an Everyday Joe.

Anti-hero:  Highly versatile and able to transition between scenes easily. Just killed a bus full of bad guys? No problem. Show up two minutes later for his daughter’s graduation looking not the slightest bit disturbed.

Villains: Ego makes them a show off. Just killed a bus full of good guys? Take over the hero’s daughter’s graduation event to use the mic and brag about it.

Anti-hero: A mess of contradictory qualities. “I hate animals rights groups. I will kill them all. Oh…a kitten. I love kittens.”

Villains: Rarely have any redeeming qualities and have no issue being evil.

Anti-hero: Complex MO

Villain: Power, revenge, powerful revenge–selfishness.

Anti-hero: Can often appear to blend in with the good side as well as the bad side, equally as easily.

Villain: Imagine Otto Octavius sitting quietly through a hero awards ceremony. Yep.

Anti-hero: when forced to make a choice between two paths, one right, one wrong–will sometimes willingly choose wrong because the results are faster or less dangerous.

Villain: Chooses wrong because of the pure joy of being evil.

So now that we know some of the differences, we can easily also see some of the similarities.

Both character types do bad things–but for different underlying reasons.

Both types live at the edge of society and make choices that the reader might not make, but will certainly find enthralling.

Both types have issues with authority, but for separate reasons.

Both types can be motivated by self interest, although the anti-hero can often be motivated by love or the desire to protect someone or something.

Both types of characters require the reader to think beyond what they see in the every day world. They make the reader feel vulnerable–frightened even. You want your readers to feel something.

So how do I build a good anti-hero? The anti-hero is an excellent choice for an author. He or she does not have to fit a specific cookie-cutter type. Your Anti-hero can be outrageously sexy, or the guy on the hijacked plane with the bald spot and the stained t-shirt. They can swear every other word and be a racist, an ex-con, a loser who is at the lowest point in their life. Whatever you choose to do with them. Whatever works best for your story.

Here are the important things:

*They must have some sort of reason for their actions, and the reader must know what that reason is. Give them a back story. What made them who they are?

*They must be equal in intelligence (although it may be displayed differently) to your villain.

*They must display their reluctance at some point in the story–otherwise they are just a willing hero with some less than savoury qualities.

* If heroes are blue and villains are red, think of the anti-hero as purple. He is a combination of all traits, to be used at your will and command.

* He usually will have a fragile sense of self worth–this can make him both dangerous and demotivated–so give him a strong reason to care.

A few examples of anti-heroes:

Luke Jackson–Cool Hand Luke


Han Solo

Dirty Harry Callahan

Who hates Shrek? Not most people, I wouldn’t think. He is an oddball character type. Some gross antics, not the best manners, negative and suspicious, suffers from ridicule and not all that excited about saving the day–but people love him for all of those things and more. The perfect anti-hero. (No, you don’t have to have a green character who eats eyeballs as your anti-hero, but he is a good example.)

I realise this is a long post, so I will wrap it up. One of the most important things you can do for your characters and for your readers, is allow your characters to grow beyond your own experiences and beliefs. Have you ever crossed the desert on a grumpy camel to save a princess who will thank you with disdain and ignorance? Me either. I bet I could create a believable character who could. So could you.

Do not limit your characters to only believing what you believe, speaking like you speak, and seeing the world through your eyes. Wherever possible, make them your absolute opposite. Yes, the saying has always been “write what you know,” but that only goes so far. Do you think that Anne McCaffrey really knew the Dragons of Pern or that all of the famous sci-fi writers of the 20th century really travelled to other planets for research? Don’t be afraid to be different. It just might pay off.

Go write.

Center of Gravity by Laura McNeill

Center of GravityCenter of Gravity by Laura McNeill

The truth could cost her everything.

Her whole life, Ava Carson has been sure of one thing: she doesn’t measure up to her mother’s expectations. So when Mitchell Carson sweeps into her life with his adorable son, the ready-made family seems like a dream come true. In the blink of an eye, she’s married, has a new baby, and life is grand.

Or is it?

When her picture-perfect marriage begins unraveling at the seams, Ava convinces herself she can fix it. It’s temporary. It’s the stress. It’s Mitchell’s tragic history of loss.

If only Ava could believe her own excuses.

Mitchell is no longer the charming, thoughtful man she married. He grows more controlling by the day, revealing a violent jealous streak. His behavior is recklessly erratic, and the unanswered questions about his past now hint at something far more sinister than Ava can stomach. Before she can fit the pieces together, Mitchell files for divorce and demands full custody of their boys.

Fueled by fierce love for her children and aided by Graham Thomas, a new attorney in town —Ava takes matters into her own hands, digging deep into the past. But will finding the truth be enough to beat Mitchell at his own game? Center of Gravity weaves a chilling tale, revealing the unfailing and dangerous truth that things—and people—are not always what they seem.

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Wow! This is really a very compelling and exciting book. I read this in the space of one evening as I found it impossible to put down.

For anyone who has had issues with a crazy ex–this book will remind you why you were lucky to get away. I loved the relationship between Sam, Jack and Ava. The way the author portrayed the selflessness of the main character and her desperation to be with her children was so on target. I found myself wishing I could jump into the pages and fix the situation for her.

This story unfolds rather quickly, and after the first few chapters there is no way you can put it down without thinking about it when you walk away. The writing is excellent, the conversations seem realistic and the emotions that the characters display are genuine. This is an author who knows how to captivate her readers.

I did find in some places that Jack seemed a bit advanced for his age. Particularly in one spot where he is using a computer, it seems he has knowledge of how things operate way beyond his years, whereas the rest of the book he appears as an intelligent, yet appropriately minded young boy. I wanted to hug him.

Still, this was a nearly perfect book. It grabbed my attention early on and gave me a reason to keep turning pages–I even found that I missed the characters when the story was finished.

I would definitely recommend this book to anyone looking for a great read. Fast paced, witty and well planned.

This review is based on a complimentary copy from the publisher and Netgalley. All opinions are my own.

Wonder Fire By B.J. Webster

Wonder FireWonder Fire by B.J. Webster

1666, was called “The Year of Wonders”, despite it being a year of great calamity and disaster in London. The joke was, at least things weren’t worse than they were.

Who really started the Great Fire of London? Nobody knows for certain. The official line is that it was started in a bakery on Pudding Lane. The Privy Council concluded that the fire was caused by nothing other than ‘the Hand of God, a great wind and a very dry season’. But what if that was not the case? Could the Great Fire, which destroyed so much of the City of London, have been the result of a deliberate act? Let’s assume this is the case and delve into the motives of ambition, illicit affairs, unrequited love and political intrigue, none which was a stranger to the court of King Charles II.

Feel what it was like to live in 1666 and better understand the intricacies of politics, power and class divide of the time. Be drawn in by the fascinating web of intrigue and how it plays out to create one of the most devastating events in history.

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Wonder Fire by B.J. Webster, is an awesome book filled with historical knowledge as well as the author’s take on the happenings of London in 1666.

This is a great book for a variety of reasons. The setting was interesting and hasn’t been overused by other authors. The characters were realistic and I found the speech to be very authentically written. I want to shake this author’s hand.

I find that when you read a book that the author was really passionate about, it shows in their writing and this was definitely the case here. The author has written a beautiful book, but has also shown the true historical side of things. The depth of her research is clear in the little known facts available in this book.

I can’t say enough good things about this book. Highly recommended to anyone curious about this period of history.

This review is based on a complimentary copy in exchange for an honest review. All opinions are my own.

Awake by Natasha Preston

AwakeAwake by Natasha Preston

Scarlett doesn’t remember anything before the age of five. Her parents say it’s from the trauma of seeing her house burn down, and she accepts the life they’ve created for her without question—until a car accident causes Scarlett to start remembering pieces of an unfamiliar past.

When a new guy moves into town, Scarlett feels an instant spark. But Noah knows the truth of Scarlett’s past, and he’s determined to shield her from it…because Scarlett grew up in a cult called Eternal Light, controlled by her biological parents.

And they want her back.

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Whilst I liked the idea behind this novel, I felt the execution was somewhat lacking. I struggled with getting into this book, since I didn’t find the main character’s personality to be very appealing. If I can’t relate to the MC, I have a hard time relating to the rest of the story.

The author has a good imagination, and some interesting ideas and I think this is a matter of staying tuned to see what happens next, after this book.

I thought the beginning of the relationship between the main character and her love interest had promise and hoped that would be the redeeming agent for the rest of the novel, but in the end, that did not happen in my opinion either.

I didn’t hate this book, but I can’t recommend it as one of my favourites either.

This review is based on a complimentary copy from Netgalley and the publisher. All opinions are my own.

The Idea of Love by Patti Callahan Henry

The Idea of LoveThe Idea of Love by Patti Callahan Henry

As we like to say in the south: “Don’t let the truth get in the way of a good story.”

Ella’s life has been completely upended. She’s young, beautiful, and deeply in love—until her husband dies in a tragic sailing accident while trying save her. Or so she’ll have everyone believe. Screenwriter Hunter needs a hit, but crippling writers’ block and a serious lack of motivation are getting him nowhere. He’s on the look-out for a love story. It doesn’t matter who it belongs to.

When Hunter and Ella meet in Watersend, South Carolina it feels like the perfect match, something close to fate. In Ella, Hunter finds the perfect love story, full of longing and sacrifice. It’s the stuff of epic films. In Hunter, Ella finds possibility. It’s an opportunity to live out a fantasy – the life she wishes she had because hers is too painful. And more real. Besides. what’s a little white lie between strangers?
But one lie leads to another, and soon Hunter and Ella find themselves caught in a web of deceit. As they try to untangle their lies and reclaim their own lives, they feel something stronger is keeping them together. And so they wonder: can two people come together for all the wrong reasons and still make it right? –goodreads

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

A fascinating novel right from the start. The premise here–that two people could fall in love even if they hadn’t been honest with one another from the start, was explored in detail in a way that I wouldn’t have imagined.

Patti Callahan Henry has a gift for creating characters that are flawed, but in such a way that they feel so human, so familiar, you want to know them better. When I read her stories, I often find myself forgetting that this is a book and that these are not real people. They become your friends, your family, people you feel you could open up to. That’s a hard quality to find in a lot of contemporary literature.

From the start we, as the reader get that the characters are not being completely honest, and it makes for an interesting journey. Whilst part of me wanted to scream at them and tell them–“Stop! You are going to ruin a good thing,” part of me wanted them to continue and see how things would turn out.

This book also has some of the most honest sounding and genuinely believable dialogue I’ve seen in a long time. The writing flows so smoothly that you feel as if you are overhearing a private conversation.

The story never slowed down, the plot never lost steam and the characters got more intriguing with each turn of the page. A great book that you won’t want to miss out on.

An unusually enchanting novel with captivating characters.

This review is based on a complimentary copy from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. All opinions are my own.