The Night Garden by Lisa Van Allen

The Night Garden: A NovelThe Night Garden: A Novel by Lisa Van Allen

For fans of Sarah Addison Allen, Aimee Bender, and Alice Hoffman, The Night Garden is a luminous novel of love, forgiveness, and the possibilities that arise when you open your heart.
 
Nestled in the bucolic town of Green Valley in upstate New York, the Pennywort farm appears ordinary, yet at its center lies something remarkable: a wild maze of colorful gardens that reaches beyond the imagination. Local legend says that a visitor can gain answers to life’s most difficult problems simply by walking through its lush corridors.

Yet the labyrinth has never helped Olivia Pennywort, the garden’s beautiful and enigmatic caretaker. She has spent her entire life on her family’s land, harboring a secret that forces her to keep everyone at arm’s length. But when her childhood best friend, Sam Van Winkle, returns to the valley, Olivia begins to question her safe, isolated world and wonders if she at last has the courage to let someone in. As she and Sam reconnect, Olivia faces a difficult question: Is the garden maze that she has nurtured all of her life a safe haven or a prison?

Praise for Lisa Van Allen’s The Wishing Thread
 
“Reader to reader, knitter to knitter: You’re going to love this book.”—Debbie Macomber

“Whimsical . . . great for fans of Sarah Addison Allen and Alice Hoffman.”Library Journal

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

So many things to love about this book, it is hard to know where to begin. This story begins ordinarily enough, but as the pages turn, you find yourself getting further invested in a story where magic blooms just as the flowers do in the garden that is central to the story.

The characters that Lisa Van Allen creates in this novel are the kind that you will not soon forget. Long after finishing the story they will stay by your side, as if they have become old friends.

Magical realism is not always my favourite thing in stories, as sometimes it goes so over the top that it is difficult to relate to, but in this case, the author struck a beautiful balance of friendship, warmth and nature-based magic that made this not only enjoyable, but a beautiful way to transport yourself from one place into another.

This is an excellent story, is beautifully written and very original. A wonderful rainy day read.

If you haven’t had a chance to check out this book yet, please do so. It’s an excellent read.

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

Botticelli’s Bastard

Botticelli's BastardBotticelli’s Bastard by Stephen Maitland-Lewis

Art restorer Giovanni Fabrizzi is haunted by an unsigned renaissance portrait. Obsessed to learn the truth of its origin, he becomes increasingly convinced the painting could be the work of one of history’s greatest artists, which if true, would catapult its value to the stratosphere. But in learning of the painting’s past, he is faced with a dilemma. He believes the portrait was stolen during the greatest art heist in history — the Nazi plunder of European artwork. If true and a surviving relative of the painting’s rightful owner were still alive, Giovanni, in all good conscience, would have to give up the potential masterpiece. His obsession with the portrait puts a strain on his new marriage, and his son thinks his father has lost his mind for believing an unremarkable, unsigned painting could be worth anyone’s attention. Regardless, Giovanni persists in his quest of discovery and exposes far more truth than he ever wanted to know.

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

“Botticelli’s Bastard” is not your typical dry and boring historical/art world fiction novel. It begins with a character wondering if he is losing his mind, and for a long time you aren’t sure if he is or if he is actually perfectly sane and just under strange circumstances. Love books like that.

In this case, Stephen Maitland-Lewis has brought us a main character that we can both identify with for his daily stresses and care about, and given him a life in modern times that is closely connected to the past of many years ago through his highly specialised job. As an art restorer, Giovanni is trusted with some of the world’s finest art pieces, but it is not until he runs across an unsigned painting, supposedly by Botticelli that everything changes for him.

Want more? Have to read the book. I liked this novel for a variety of reasons. The author never lost sight of his plot or his main story line, but managed to incorporate both the many tales of the portrait and stay historically accurate to the time periods he described as well as keeping the life and happenings of his modern character believable.

The Count is brash and egotistical, just as one would expect him to be. I thought the author did a wonderful job with this book, making it both entertaining and oddly addicting.

As for the ending, it couldn’t have been more perfect.

If you like historical novels or are into the art world, then this book will give you more than a few smiles. Recommended.

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

The Bellingham Bloodbath by Gregory Harris

The Bellingham Bloodbath (Colin Pendragon Mysteries, #2)The Bellingham Bloodbath by Gregory Harris

After a captain in Her Majesty’s Guard and his young wife are brutally murdered in their flat, master sleuth Colin Pendragon and his partner Ethan Pruitt are summoned to Buckingham Palace. Major Hampstead demands discretion at all costs to preserve the repuration of the Guard and insists Pendragon participate in the cover-up by misleading the press. In response, Pendragon makes the bold claim that he will solve the case in no more than three days’ time or he will oblige the major and compromise himself.

Racing against the clock – and thwarted at every turn by their Scotland Yard nemesis Inspector Emmett Varcoe – Pendragon and Pruitt begin to assemble the clues around the grisly homicide, probing into private lives and uncovering closely guarded secrets. As the minutes tick away, the pressure – and the danger – mounts as Pendragon’s integrity is on the line and a cold-blooded killer remains on the streets…

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Gregory Harris quickly became one of my favourite authors when I read the first book in this series. This book reinforced why I love his work, although I did find the lack of his dealings with the apparition of Sherlock in this book mildly disappointing. I thought the connections he made to the famous sleuth in the first one gave it a special quality that this one did not possess. Also, I missed Oscar.

Still, that being said, this was another witty, engaging romp through a dual mystery that kept me smiling and curious as I read. I love that he used pugs as the central stars of one mystery–my favourite dog breed.

The murder mystery (and the crime itself) was more detailed this time than the first go and I felt like the author was more comfortable in his skin. The homosexual angle of the book is still mild, although more prominent in this book and I think his two main characters work really well together and have the type of dynamic you want in a long term partnership–both professional and personal.

The thing that makes me love these books so much is the wit and charm of the characters. Ethan is full of wry observations and often makes me laugh out loud. Colin, seen mostly through Ethan’s eyes, is daring and crass, and often seems to pull clues out of thin air and make them work, and together they are an unstoppable force.

The mysteries are always intriguing and have lots of possible culprits at the heart of them, so it take a while to draw a conclusion. Overall, I just really like these books.

If you like mysteries that follow the Victorian England rules of proper gentleman and high society mischief, you can’t go wrong with these novels.

Recommended.

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

The Summoning: Mary, book 1 by Hillary Monahan

MARY: The Summoning (Bloody Mary, #1)MARY: The Summoning by Hillary Monahan

There is a right way and a wrong way to summon her.

Jess had done the research. Success requires precision: a dark room, a mirror, a candle, salt, and four teenage girls. Each of them–Jess, Shauna, Kitty, and Anna–must link hands, follow the rules . . . and never let go.

A thrilling fear spins around the room the first time Jess calls her name: “Bloody Mary. Bloody Mary. BLOODY MARY.” A ripple of terror follows when a shadowy silhouette emerges through the fog, a specter trapped behind the mirror.

Once is not enough, though–at least not for Jess. Mary is called again. And again. But when their summoning circle is broken, Bloody Mary slips through the glass with a taste for revenge on her lips. As the girls struggle to escape Mary’s wrath, loyalties are questioned, friendships are torn apart, and lives are forever altered.

A haunting trail of clues leads Shauna on a desperate search to uncover the legacy of Mary Worth. What she finds will change everything, but will it be enough to stop Mary–and Jess–before it’s too late?

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This book initially creeped me out a lot. If you have ever played this game as a child then you will instantly be reminded of the terror of the unknown and that feeling of suspense waiting for the image to appear in the mirror.

What I loved about this book was that the author didn’t wait forever for the excitement to begin. She did a good job of building an interesting story with believable characters and yet kept the suspense level high. There were some spots in this book that made me question my everyday activities. I don’t recommend reading this book late at night and then going to take a solo shower. Yikes.

If you love books where the drama and tension never cease and you have that fearful feeling (the one all good horror books and films give you) then this is a book you will probably enjoy.

I liked the main character and a couple of the secondary characters quite a lot, but I wish that the story of Mary herself would have been focused upon more, especially during the end. She is mean, vengeful and filled with hatred, but the reasons why are not 100 percent clear. Yes, she was mistreated, but there seems to be a missing element between that and her nature as a ghost.

This was a fun book with a lot of shivers and unexpected events. I think anyone who likes horror would have fun with this, regardless of whether they are young adult or older.

Definitely worth a recommendation and a read.

*Note to self. Buy salt.

This review is based on a complimentary copy from the publisher and provided through Netgalley.

Five Days Left by Julie Lawson Timmer

Five Days LeftFive Days Left by Julie Lawson Timmer

“A beautifully drawn study of what is at risk when you lose control of your own life.  Unique, gripping, and viscerally moving — this impressive debut novel heralds the arrival of an extremely talented writer.” —Jodi Picoult, New York Times bestselling author of The Storyteller and Lone Wolf

Destined to be a book club favorite, a heart-wrenching debut about two people who must decide how much they’re willing to sacrifice for love.
Mara Nichols, a successful lawyer, and devoted wife and adoptive mother, has recently been diagnosed with a terminal disease. Scott Coffman, a middle school teacher, has been fostering an eight-year-old boy while the boy’s mother serves a jail sentence. Scott and Mara both have five days left until they must say good-bye to the ones they love the most. Through their stories, Julie Lawson Timmer explores the individual limits of human endurance, the power of relationships, and that sometimes loving someone means holding on, and sometimes it means letting go.

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is not one of those books that I want to run around yelling to everyone that they should read. It isn’t a bad book, but rather an emotional one where the characters spend a lot of time reflecting on their own lives, the choices they have and will make and ultimately, it is kind of sad.

Still, the author put a lot of effort into creating characters that anyone could identify with and feel something for, and I was glad I read this book. I learned a lot about a disease that I formerly knew little if anything about. I came away with a sense of being better informed, even though this novel is fictional.

I had mixed emotions about this book. For the most part it was clean writing, other than some repeat phrases, and the story made perfect sense. Watching the world of the characters crumble was difficult to handle, wishing the entire time that life was not so cruel. The author achieved her goal of making the reader feel something, and yet I wasn’t sure I “enjoyed” reading this book. At times it made me feel rather hopeless.

This is a book that I think some people will love and others (those who enjoy more lighthearted fiction) will not like as much. I’d recommend it if you enjoy stories that come from the heart, but are not all sunshine and daisies.

I think Julie Lawson Timmer has a lot to offer the writing world and look forward to seeing what else she comes up with.

This review is based on a complimentary copy from the publisher and was provided through Netgalley.

Guest post and review: Maggie Anton’s Enchantress, A Novel of Rav Hisda’s Daughter

Today, I am so pleased to welcome Maggie Anton to Readful Things for a guest post. The topic is an interesting one for authors and audiences alike. The border between fiction and non-fiction–how real is too real? The check below the guest post for a review of Enchantress. We’d love to hear your thoughts on the guest post topic, so feel free to drop a line with your opinion.

How real is too real?

Because the heroines in my Rashi’s Daughters trilogy [11th-century France] and Rav Hisda’s Daughter duo [4th-century Babylonia] are historical figures, I tried to write so they behave like real women in their times. This entailed months of research to ensure that I described them and their world as accurately as possible. And because I am a stickler about not closing the doors on my characters, it meant that they use the privy, menstruate, suffer in childbirth, and see children die young.

 

I admit that I seem to be a rarity among historical novelists in this regard, as only rarely does one even mention when a girl starts her period. Yet this is a significant point in any woman’s life, and if she is a Jewish woman, it will be a central part of her marital relationship for years to come. I’ve also read plenty of historical romances that take place centuries before modern medicine, when average life expectancy was less than forty years and 40% of children didn’t reach their tenth birthday, yet none of the characters, even minor ones, catch so much as a cold, let alone suffer a serious illness or injury.

 

Still I drew the line at too much reality. Rashi, the great Jewish scholar from whose commentaries I learned a great deal, describes six kinds of fleas and lice, but I decided to leave that out. Apparently nearly everyone lost teeth as they aged, so a large portion of adults had none or only a few. I left that out too.

 

On a positive note, real married women have sex, mostly with their husbands. Since I only write kosher sex scenes, my heroines only sleep with their husbands, and that is after they get married. To keep things real, not all my heroes are good in bed, at least not at the beginning, and sometimes my heroines are sexually frustrated. As may be surmised, I don’t like to close the door on my characters, and that included the bedroom door. In other words, I left little to the reader’s imagination.

 

I make an effort to describe my characters’ meals, clothes, and dwellings in detail. This not only makes my historical novels come to life, but readers are usually more fascinated than bored by this glimpse into the past.

 

But sometimes the author shouldn’t make things too real. If characters in a novel spoke like people really do, with all the “uh’s,” pauses, and “you know’s,” readers would close the book in a minute, if not sooner. Real everyday speech often includes blather about neighbors, relatives, and coworkers. But dialogue in a novel must set the scene, elucidate character, or advance the plot – and if it does more than one of these at a time, even better. Which means no inconsequential conversations like real people have.

 

Another difference between a fiction and reality is that in real life we meet all sorts of people who pass though our lives without making an impact. Indeed these are the majority of individuals we interact with each day. But every character in a book, even minor nameless ones, should serve a purpose. In early drafts of my first novel I created a horde of secondary characters for my hero and heroine to encounter in the course of their daily activities. My editor made me either delete them or at least leave them nameless, for otherwise my readers would expect them to turn up again or have some important role, and be sorely annoyed when they didn’t.

 

Thomas Hobbes penned a well-known saying, “Life is poor, nasty, brutish and short.” True as that may be, if historical novelists focused on characters whose lives fit that description, we would have few readers. Readers want a happy, or at least satisfying ending. When characters die, other than of old age or in their lover’s arms, it should be a redeeming sacrifice or to show the antagonist’s malevolence. In the third volume of Rashi’s Daughters, I created a scene detailing the massacre of Rhineland Jews during the First Crusade. I used a description from a primary source, an “eye witness” account, but the carnage was too strong for my editors, who had me tone it down. Reality was indeed too real to put in my novel.

 

The well-written historical novel includes just enough reality to take readers on a mental vacation to a time and place they could never experience otherwise, all from the comfort of their climate-controlled homes equipped with indoor plumbing and well-stocked medicine chests.

 

Enchantress: A Novel of Rav Hisda's Daughter

Enchantress: A Novel of Rav Hisda’s Daughter by Maggie Anton

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Initially I was afraid that taking this book under my review wing would be a little scary. The amount of knowledge I had prior to reading this novel when it came to Jewish history could have been held in a shot glass. Even so, through Maggie Anton’s magical abilities as a storyteller, I found myself immediately immersed in a world of long ago with characters so rich and vibrant that they dance off the pages.

The way this author interweaves her story with historical threads and uses such beautiful imagery and wonderful word choices kept me up late at night turning pages. She not only has a gift for making you see the world of her characters through words, but also has a real talent for making her characters vulnerable and human at the core level. Reading her writing is a journey, and one that you will want to repeat again.

I loved that the story took unexpected turns and that there was no way to know what was coming next. What I thought at first, would be a rather difficult book to read, instead turned out to be exciting, compelling and a fine example of literary genius.

My only stumbling block along the way was the difficulty of keeping certain characters straight. There is a guide in the beginning to help with that, so the troubles were really more my fault than that of the author (difficult to keep checking back on a Kindle ereader.)

Overall this is a beautifully crafted novel with plenty of reasons to make me recommend it. A great book from a very talented author.

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

The Blood of an Englishman by M.C. Beaton

The Blood of an Englishman: An Agatha Raisin Mystery (Agatha Raisin, #25)The Blood of an Englishman: An Agatha Raisin Mystery by M.C. Beaton

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

If you have not read any of the Agatha Raisin Mysteries yet, up to and including this one, you need to get caught up!

I loved this book. There is a healthy dose of humour all the way through it and the characters are not only memorable, but a lot of fun. I love unique mysteries where you feel as though you haven’t read it all before in one form or another. M.C. Beaton has a way of making everything that happens feel like it is original.

If you are a fan of the cozy mystery, this will satisfy you without being overly ‘precious’ or silly. I enjoyed watching the events unfold as the story was told and going through the process with the main character. The story takes plenty of unexpected turns and will leave you wanting the next book right now!

This is a fun book that will keep you guessing. I like characters with big personalities and Agatha Raisin is certainly one to fit in that category.

**Having an actual Englishman read this book aloud to you may also increase your chances of loving it, but is not necessary for enjoyment:)

Highly recommended, five stars well deserved.

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