First line: Whenever one desires the attention of those beyond a door, one cannot go wrong with three sharp knocks.
Summary: The royal family of England have gathered at their home of Balmoral in Scotland for a family Christmas. The staff have been dismissed for the day except for the chef and the head of security. The day starts as any other with the chef, Jonathan, delivering breakfast to the king. However, a blizzard is moving into the Balmoral estate as the king welcomes his family with a traditional Christmas speech. But as he takes the first drink of whiskey, he suddenly drops dead. Someone has killed the king and it appears to be a member of the royal family. Jonathan is given the task of trying to deduce who could have poisoned the monarch and do it before anyone else ends up dead!
My Thoughts: I don’t normally pick up something like this. Cozy Christmas mysteries are not what I gravitate towards but I liked the cover and the plot sounded interesting. Plus I wanted something a little different for the last month of the year. I am glad I gave this a chance. It was quick, fun and perfect for the holiday season.
I liked that the royal family is a fictionalized one based on the idea that Edward VIII did not abdicate and married as the government wanted. These are his descendants. I enjoyed the story with its little twists and secrets. Each member of the family has something they are hiding or having held against them. Life is not perfect, nor is this family.
Nothing in the book was incredibly shocking but it was a cozy little read that kept me interested. I cannot say that I liked many of the royal family but that was probably intentional. The main character was the only one who had more of a backstory than anyone but he still felt a little flat. But rather than letting this bother me I just enjoyed the story and feeling of a Christmas murder mystery. The only thing that would have made this more enjoyable would have been a cold and wintery day to read it on.
Grace and Fury by Tracy Banghart
First line: Serina Tessaro stood on the steps of the fountain in Lanos’s central piazza flanked by nine other girls her age, all in their finest gowns.
Summary: In Viridia girls are not allowed to read, they must be subservient and bend to the will of men. When sisters, Serina and Nomi, are sent to the palace with a chance of being a Grace and her handmaiden, Serina sees this as a chance to take care of her family. However, when the Heir chooses her younger rebellious sister, Nomi, as a Grace instead, their worlds are changed forever. When Nomi breaks the rules, being able to read, and her sister is the one who takes the blame and is sent to the women’s prison on the isolated island of Mountain Ruin. Nomi has to learn to be a Grace while living under the roof of the Superior while Serina is forced to fight for survival.
Highlights: I found this very enjoyable. I would classify it as a dystopian novel. Going into it, I thought there would be an element of fantasy to it. To tell the truth I was fine without it. It was good straightforward story. I liked the relationship between the two sisters. They truly care about each other and are willing to sacrifice themselves to save the other one. So many stories are centered on romance but this was sisterly love. Each sister had their own strengths that sets them apart. The action was well done. Not overly gruesome or gory. The cover art is beautiful. I enjoyed the supporting characters such as Maris, Malachi and Jacana. I am hoping that we get to see more of them as the story goes on. I raced through the ending. It was fast and gave a cliffhanger that leaves me wanting more!
Lowlights: Several plot lines were predictable. There were similarities between other books of this genre. Even with the similarities, I did not feel like I was reading a rewrite of another novel.
FYI: Perfect for readers of The Selection by Kiera Cass and Red Queen by Victoria Aveyard.
Spinning Silver by Naomi Novik
First line: The real story isn’t half as pretty as the one you’ve heard.
Summary: When Miryem takes over her father’s money lending business she excels at it. She has a talent for making silver into gold. Slowly bringing her family out of poverty, she garners a reputation but it may not be as all she thought it would be. She draws the attention of the Staryk king, a creature of ice and cold who preys on the people of Vysnia.
Highlights: This book is beautiful! It has classic fairy tale themes, Rumpelstiltskin, and the feeling of a Russian folktale. I wish that I had read this in the dead of winter because it is very atmospheric. The story is dark and rich. So much detail and story is packed into it that it takes a while to digest. This is not a summery beach read but one that needs to be savored.
There are at least six points of view throughout the plot and each character has a symbol to represent them. It is a nice touch to separate the narratives. Each character brings their own voice and thoughts to the story. Miryem is the moneylender’s daughter who is stolen away by the Staryk king. Wanda, the servant girl, gives us a peak into the prejudices of the village folk but also the wonder of girl who has been given a chance to better herself. Her younger brother, Stepon, is the innocent who watches and does not completely understand what is happening around him. Irina, the daughter of a duke, has been forgotten and neglected until her father hatches a plan to ensnare the Tsar and therefore putting her in danger. The young tsar, Mirnatius, has a dark secret. And finally Magreta, the nurse who raised Irina and is determined to keep her young charge safe.
With so many plot lines intertwining you would think it would get confusing but it does not. They all come together and conclude the story. The last few chapters are fast paced and the perfect way to end. Be prepared to spend time with these characters in this world. It is a hearty read but worth it.
The Staryk was a tale for a winter’s night.
Lowlights: I love the detail of the story and the characters. Every few chapters though felt a little longer than they needed to be. I am a fan of short chapters so when one stretched on for 50+ pages it took me a little longer to get through.
FYI: Read Uprooted by Naomi Novik. It is fantastic! It is a retelling of Beauty and the Beast which is my favorite fairy tale.