I was quiet, but I was not blind: Reviewing Mary B. by Katherine J. Chen

Hello everyone! I hope you are all doing well and staying warm. I have always hated snow, personally. This is my second “retelling” novel I am reviewing and I have a third in my TBR list. Funny enough, this particular book was actually a gift from my aunt. Most people assume that, when you are a woman in a literary field, you must love Jane Austen. As much as I love Pride and Prejudice, I am not a die hard Jane Austen fan but I would like to be one day, admittedly. So, let’s talk about the often forgotten Bennet sister, Mary. (Note: I will leave a content warning at the very bottom of this post. It is also somewhat of a spoiler but I wanted to include it regardless.)

As the middle child of the Bennet family, Mary is often forgotten. Unlike her sisters, she is not renowned for her beauty or charm. Mary, though, is painfully aware that it is convention that she find a husband in order to have a secure life. In her despair, however, she finds solace through writing her own fictional novels. As tragedy and scandal strike the Bennet family, Mary must learn to come into her own as a woman in a time of strict social boundaries.

I am a bit biased towards this book as I deeply related to Mary as a bookish woman in her twenties. Chen’s overall take on the Bennett family shows in a more realistic light, creating and taking away sympathy. Mary is well fleshed out as a protagonist as she tries to figure out where she wants to be in life. The novel is honest in its depiction of women trying to navigate their ways in a time where options were limited. It is even rather heart- breaking in its truthfulness. Chen does not diminish any of the hope that Austen initially created. She simply shows a different side of the romantic notions which endeared us to Pride and Prejudice. Mary B is a fully fleshed out portrait of the lesser known Bennett sister’s journey of self – discovery and I highly recommend this to any Austen fan.

Content Warning: The novel does contain a graphic scene involving the loss of an infant and further discussion of the topic.

Borne ceaselessly back into the past…: Reviewing Nick by Michael Farris Smith

Hello everyone! January is becoming a bit of a drag and fiction has become a much needed escape in this dreary month. I naturally gravitated towards Nick because The Great Gatsby is one of my favorite novels. I have read it countless times since I was in high school, jokingly calling my friends “old sport.” Eventually, I’d love to do an in-depth analysis of The Great Gatsby but I will start by reviewing the unofficial prequel.

Before meeting the enigmatic Jay Gatsby, Nick Carraway was caught up in the horrors of World War 1. In an attempt to escape his nightmares, Nick embarks on a journey from across Europe and America. On his journey of self-discovery, Nick gets caught up in whirlwind romance in Paris and a scandalous mystery in New Orleans which forever changes his life.

I really wanted to like this novel going into it. I truly enjoyed the first half when Nick is in Paris. Farris Smith delves into the trauma of war and how Nick is forced to cope with little to no help. The second half in New Orleans kind of lost me. Nick was kind of displaced more and more as the novel went on, becoming a passive and messy presence in the corner. Writing any sort of tie – in to a classic novel is certainly a tricky undertaking so I am going to give Farris Smith where credit is due because I did enjoy his unique and melodic writing style. I honestly cannot recommend this novel, nor am I saying to avoid. Instead, I would suggest just reading The Great Gatsby.

Something Severed and Something Joined: Reviewing The Essex Serpent by Sarah Perry

Hi (again) everyone! Wow, another book review so soon after the last one. I’m not sure how that happened but, sometimes, determination wins. There’s nothing that gets me quite like the drive to finish a book when I have other things that need to be done. You know that whole struggle. This book has been sitting with me for a while now and I have wanted to finish it so badly. I have also wanted to discuss it so let’s talk about The Essex Serpent.

After the untimely death of her husband, Cora Seaborne decides to journey to the Essex coast. While there, she begins to hear rumors that the legendary and fearsome Essex Serpent has returned. Cora become determined to find proof of the creature’s existence with the help of the skeptical vicar, William Ransome. As the two search for the truth behind the legend, they find themselves drawn closer together and, soon, Cora must make a difficult choice as her past catches up with her.

For a while, I have been looking for a good historical fiction novel and this one definitely fit the bill. Perry’s writing is an ode to authors like the Brontes. It is a loving ode to Victorian era literature while also subverting many of the tropes. The novel certainly carries feminist undertones and rebels against how Victorian society is normally depicted while also being historically accurate. The novel is about human connection overall, which I greatly appreciated. I was pleasantly surprised by The Essex Serpent and would definitely recommend as a slow burn read for the cold weather.

All Desperate and Dark Things…: Reviewing The Devil and the Dark Water by Stuart Turton

Hi everybody! So here’s the thing: I can either finish a book in a day or it takes me several months to read a book. There is no in-between. I am sure a good majority of you can relate. This is not because I don’t like the book or anything, but it is simply because my brain is just weird like that. I am always, however, a sucker for a good mystery novel. They rarely fail me. If you want to, you can check out my review of Stuart Turton’s first novel, The Seven and a Half Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle. Now, I shall review Turton’s sophomore novel, The Devil and the Dark Sea.

It’s 1643 and Arent Hayes, former mercenary and soldier turned bodyguard, is about to board a ship that may or may not be leading to his friend, Samuel Pipps’ execution. Arent is determined to prove his friend’s innocence and save Pipps’ reputation as the world’s greatest detective. Among the other passengers is Sara Wessel, a noblewoman determined to escape her cruel husband. As soon as the ship sets sail, strange events begin to occur. A demonic symbol begins to appear all over the ship, a leper stalks the crew, and passengers claim to hear an evil voice. Once people begin to die mysteriously, it is up to Arent and Sara to unravel the mystery themselves and come face to face with evil, from both past and the present.

I love mystery and I love historical fiction, so this book was a perfect combo for me. Though the novel is rather long, the pace is fast. The writing is atmospheric and every chapter leaves you wondering what the heck could possibly happen next. I love the way Turton endears you to the characters so quickly. The stakes are high right from the beginning, which only makes the read that much more satisfying when you get to the end. The book, fortunately, did not become too convoluted as some mystery novels tend to do. If you need a good mystery to hunker down with as the weather gets chilly, I would definitely recommend this one as it is very difficult to put down.