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Spooky Season Selections

Halloween is almost here, m’dears! I recently had the chance to do some traveling and get caught up on four horror/Gothic/spooky adjacent books from my TBR (To Be Read) list/mountain, and I want to share the bounty with you. We’ve got YA, we’ve got adult, we’ve got vampires, tree creatures, parasites, and more! So grab a cup of your favorite hot beverage and a blanket and settle in for some spooky reads. Vampires of El Norte by Isabel Cañas From the publisher: Vampires and vaqueros face off on the Texas-Mexico border in this supernatural western from the author of The Hacienda.  I loved The Hacienda. I reviewed it for this blog back in 2021. And once again, Isabel is teaching me Mexican history via horror novels. This time the setting is 1840s Mexico near the Texas border. While The Hacienda was full of Gothic elements, VoEN is much more character Read more »

Book Review | Return to Satterthwaite Court by Mimi Matthews

From the publisher: A reckless Victorian heiress sets her sights on a dashing ex-naval lieutenant, determined to win his heart as the two of them embark on a quest to solve a decades-old mystery in Mimi Matthews’s sequel to her critically acclaimed novels The Work of Art and Gentleman Jim.

Return to Satterthwaite Court is an unexpected sequel by Mimi Matthews. She wrote two romance novels set in Somerset, England that took place in the same decade. She hadn’t intended to write a series – then she got the idea to write a novel set 20 years later involving the children of the original pairs. For fans of The Work of Art and Gentleman Jim, this is a fun chance to revisit two charming couples with complicated (and even scandalous) courtships.

I got about a quarter of the way into Return to Satterthwaite Court before I decided I needed to set it aside and reread The Work of Art. After I finished that book, I read another quarter of Satterthwaite Court and decided I needed to reread Gentleman Jim. Both were as good as I remembered.

Return to Satterthwaite Court is sweet and satisfying, but considerably less fraught than the first two books. There just really are (spoiler) no obstacles to a happily-ever-after for Kate Beresford and Charles Heywood. She’s a little wild; he’s a little staid, with a touch of trauma from his service in the Navy. The title of the book itself is a spoiler, as the lost family estate of Satterthwaite Court plays a large part in the plot. The book opens with a delightful scene involving a stray dog that is a nod to Georgette Heyer. Dogs and other animals can really brighten up the plots of historical romance, and Matthews does a good job modeling the incomparable Heyer. I also enjoyed her Author’s Note containing additional historical information about some of the things that happen in the book.

The heroine of The Work of Art is known for having one blue eye and one brown eye, and in Return to Satterthwaite Court, her daughter is revealed as having the same. This seemed an unnecessary addition; heterochromia is extremely rare and it’s a condition that is unlikely to be passed down to a child. It certainly didn’t seem necessary for the child to have the same arresting physical characteristic as her parent. But that’s a minor complaint.

Now that one sequel has been written, it’s clear that a number of young people introduced in this novel have romance awaiting them in future books. I’ll read them all.

I was given a copy of the book by the author in exchange for an honest review.

The book is scheduled to be published April 11, and the Galesburg Public Library will own it. The library already owns the first two books.

Book Review | The Netanyahus by Joshua Cohen

From the publisher: Corbin College, not-quite-upstate New York, winter 1959-1960: Ruben Blum, a Jewish historian – but not an historian of the Jews – is coopted onto a hiring committee to review the application of an exiled Israeli scholar specializing in the Spanish Inquisition. When Benzion Netanyahu shows up for an interview, family unexpectedly in tow, Blum plays the reluctant host, to guests who proceed to lay waste to his American complacencies. Mixing fiction with non-fiction, the campus novel with the lecture, The Netanyahus is a wildly inventive, genre-bending comedy of blending, identity, and politics.

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Book Review | The Belle of Belgrave Square by Mimi Matthews

From the publisher: A London heiress rides out to the wilds of the English countryside to honor a marriage of convenience with a mysterious and reclusive stranger.

I’ve read all of the novels by Mimi Matthews, and this is one of her best. If you are already familiar with her work, this book is reminiscent of The Matrimonial Advertisement. It also reminded me of one of my favorite books, The Blue Castle by L.M. Montgomery, and I was pleased to read in the Author’s Note that this was intentional. This is very much a Victorian romance fairy tale. It’s got echoes of the stories of Beauty and the Beast and Bluebeard.

Julia Wynchwood has a reputation in society as a sickly spinster, left on the matrimonial shelf after several seasons. It is in fact her parents who are sickly, and unknown to her, her father has turned away all her suitors because they did not live close enough for Julia to devote her life to caring for her selfish parents. Captain Jasper Blunt, badly scarred from battle, has a reputation as both a war hero and a cruel man with a houseful of bastard children born to him by his dead mistress. She needs escape from her parents. He needs a wife with money to repair his remote decrepit mansion and to help him raise the bastard children.

But of course, all is not as it seems on the surface. There is a lot more to both Julia and Jasper than society knows. Julia sees something in him that offers protection from her parents; she proposes marriage and off they hie to the remote mansion. The author is not coy about the surprises that await the reader. She drops a lot of clues and hints that ratchet up the interest rather than spoiling the plot.

I really love sitting down to a new book by Matthews. Her love of horses and stories shines through every novel she writes. Her character Jasper says:

“Stories like the ones we read in novels help us understand the human condition. … They teach us empathy. In that way, they’re more than an escape from the world. They’re an aid for living in the world. For being better, more compassionate people.” (ch. 24 of the advance reader copy)

I read an advance reader copy of The Belle of Belgrave Square from Netgalley.

It is scheduled to be published on October 11, and the Galesburg Public Library will own it. The Belle of Belgrave Square is the second book in the author’s Belles of London series, and the library already owns the first, The Siren of Sussex, in regular and large print and as an ebook.

Book Review | A Botanist’s Guide to Parties and Poisons by Kate Khavari

From the publisher: London, 1923. Saffron Everleigh is in a race against time to free her wrongly accused professor before he goes behind bars forever.

If you love historical fiction with a touch of mystery and romance, A Botanist’s Guide to Parties and Poison might just be a book for you. Main character Saffron is an intelligent and talented woman constrained by the limits on women in the 1920s. Alexander Ashton, her companion in investigating a mysterious poisoning at a party, is a scarred and handsome veteran of the Great War coping with PTSD.

I’m no expert on England in the 1920s, but nothing in the narrative struck me as outlandishly out of touch with the times. An author’s note discusses the research the author did in her attempt to be historically accurate…

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Book Review | Don’t Cry For Me by Daniel Black

From the publisher: A Black father makes amends with his gay son through letters written on his deathbed in this wise and penetrating novel of empathy and forgiveness, for fans of Ta-Nehisi Coates, Robert Jones Jr. and Alice Walker.

Don’t Cry for Me is a sad, slow story told in a series of letters written by a man who is dying to his son. The history covered in the letters is very believable. The father insists that his son understand the family’s past, and visit the family land. He acknowledges how slavery has damaged them, and how Black people have learned to despise themselves instead of those who enslaved them. He tries to explain how expectations were different for straight adult men in the past, how he loved his son’s mother but why he was not a good father or…

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Book Review | Deathless Divide by Justina Ireland

From the publisher: After the fall of Summerland, Jane McKeene hoped her life would get simpler: Get out of town, stay alive, and head west to California to find her mother. But nothing is easy when you’re a girl trained in putting down the restless dead, and a devastating loss on the road to a protected village called Nicodermus has Jane questioning everything she thought she knew about surviving in 1880’s America. What’s more, this safe haven is not what it appears – as Jane discovers when she sees familiar faces from Summerland amid this new society. Caught between mysteries and lies, the undead, and her own inner demons, Jane soon finds herself on a dark path of blood and violence that threatens to consume her. But she won’t be in it alone. Katherine Deveraux never expected to be allied with Jane McKeene. But after the hell she has endured, Read more »

Book Review | Dread Nation by Justina Ireland

From the publisher: At once provocative, terrifying, and darkly subversive, Dread Nation is Justina Ireland’s stunning vision of an America both foreign and familiar—a country on the brink, at the explosive crossroads where race, humanity, and survival meet.

Dread Nation is a book I’ve been meaning to read for several years. Alternate history Civil War with zombies? Sounds awesome!

The Civil War was interrupted when the dead rose during the Battle of Gettysburg and hungrily attacked both armies. The Union and Confederacy soon realized they had to stop fighting each other and team up to defeat the shamblers, as they’re called in this book. The…

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Book Review | The Siren of Sussex by Mimi Matthews

From the publisher: Victorian high society’s most daring equestrienne finds love and an unexpected ally in her fight for independence in the strong arms of London’s most sought after and devastatingly handsome half-Indian tailor.

I’m a big fan of Mimi Matthews, who began her fiction career by self-publishing romance novels set during the Victorian and Regency periods. She has now caught the attention of traditional publishing, and The Siren of Sussex is her first book with Berkley. Matthews is also a historian, and her books are ruthlessly researched. She may stretch a likely outcome, but her characters follow the behavioral standards of the day.

I have read all of the author’s works, and The Siren of Sussex was a little slow starting for me…

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Book Review | The Hacienda by Isabel Cañas

From the publisher: Mexican Gothic meets Rebecca in this debut supernatural suspense novel, set in the aftermath of the Mexican War of Independence, about a remote house, a sinister haunting, and the woman pulled into their clutches…

Disclaimer: I haven’t read Rebecca or Mexican Gothic (but I’ve got the ARC!). Regardless, I enjoyed this book immensely and immediately gave it five stars. I also knew next to nothing about the Mexican War of Independence before starting and was able to follow along without any issue.

After her father’s execution during the overthrow of the government, Beatriz is desperate to find a home again for herself and her mother. She eagerly accepts the proposal of the…

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