The Broken Girls by Simone St. James

Genre: Mystery
Secondary Genre: Historical
CW: Violence, abuse, sexual assault

This dual-timeline novel was not what I was expecting when I saw the name Simone St. James, but it definitely lives up to her reputation.

The book follows Fiona, a journalist in modern day New England. Years before her sister was murdered on the grounds of an abandoned boarding school. When she finds out the school has a new owner who plans to restore and reopen the property, it sets her on a quest to uncover the history of the place–and she soon discovers one murder isn’t enough for the creepy old place.

The second timeline features five students in the 1950s, just before the first murder occurs. Through research and interviews, the past and present begin to intertwine, and Fiona gets the first lead on her sister’s unsolved murder in 20 years.

This book is dark, visceral, and disturbing. It was very hard to read in places, and delved into some very dark subjects (see content warnings above; I don’t want to give too much away here). The girls at the school are “trouble makers” with no where else to go. Some of them don’t have families; some of them have been cast off by their families due to mental or physical health issues. In most cases, the girls are paying for the crimes of their parents and family members, and the teachers and community make sure they know it.

The Broken Girls is both drastically different from St. James previous books, while still holding true to her brand. If you have the mental fortitude to handle the issues mentioned above, it is well worth a read.

Lost Among the Living by Simone St. James

Genre: Historical mystery
Secondary genre: paranormal
CW: mental health
Rep: violence against women, mental health

One thing I love about Simone St. James’ work is that all of her book, though stand alone, are set in the same world. There are often references to other books or events.

In this particular volume we follow Joanna, a dejected war widow who has no choice but to work for her husband’s selfish, horrible relatives. Officially she’s Dot’s companion–her husband’s aunt–but later transitions to being more of a secretary. Dot treats everyone like garbage, probably because her husband is a horrible man who hates her and she’s the type of person who takes it out on everyone around her.

Anyway, it’s not until returning to the family home that Joanna learns Dot’s mentally unwell daughter died several years earlier, by “jumping” off the roof (it’s never specified what she suffered from, but it’s implied she was a high-support autistic). In the nearby village, however, rumor fly ranging from murder to an aborted German invasion during the war, to all sorts of paranormal explanations, including a ghostly dog that can be heard howling in the woods at night.

It would seem that her ghost has a message for Jo, and she keeps appearing at the most inopportune times. Already near an emotional breakdown, Jo is half convinced she’s going crazy.

While this wasn’t my favorite Simone St. James novel, I did really enjoy it. I love how atmospheric her books are, but she does definitely have a type when it comes to heroines: poor, lonely, and depressed. But that is one thing I really love about them–they start at rock bottom and always find their strength through the book. It did mean I found this book a bit predictable, but I still enjoyed the reveals.

Miss Violet and the Great War by Leanna Renee Hieber

Genre: historical
Secondary genre: paranormal/war
Format read: audiobook
CW: violence
Rep: mental health

Leanna’s books are so hard for me to review, because I know her personally. We attend the same con, work on the same panels, chat over Twitter, and exchange the occasional letter or email. I love her personality, her vibrancy, and the messages she includes in her work.

That being said, we have vastly different storytelling styles, and while I like the broad strokes she paints, the line-by-line details aren’t really my cup of tea, mostly because I keep thinking about how I would edit the book differently (this is a hazard of being an author; it’s hard to read for pleasure without thinking about how you would change a book).

Set on the eve of the WWI, Violet represents the third generation in the Hieberverse. Her parents fought evil and won. Time for the happily ever after, right?

But since childhood Violet has been plagued by horrible nightmares of men in pits, explosions, and gunfire. It’s not until war breaks out between England and Germany, however, that she realizes these dreams are her calling: to stop the evil her parents defeated from leaking back into the land of the living, she must travel to France and the epicenter of the fighting and attempt to put it to rest once and for all.

Filled with a host of characters readers will recognize from her earlier novels, Miss Violet and the Great War is a part stand alone and part sequel. There’s no need to read the previous books, but you will get more out of this one if you are familiar with the Percy Parker series.

My biggest complaint when reading this was the winding path it took. I’m more action oriented in my books, so I thought, being a war book, this would be a lot punchier from the start. If action isn’t your thing, though, you’ll enjoy the emotional arc of this story as it works through Percy’s childhood, up through the war.

No Idle Hands by Anne L MacDonald

Genre: nonfiction
Secondary genre: social history
Format: ebook
Rating: planchet-5

This is easily one of my favorite books I’ve read this year (Yeah, I know, it’s a short list. Don’t judge).

MacDonald looks at the history of knitting in America, starting with the colonial period. It was educational and entertaining, and while ebooks are my least favorite format, I devoured this book, highlighted all over it, and then ordered a physical copy so I could transfer my notes to post-its and add them in.

There were so many interesting stories, from women knitting for soldiers during the American Revolution, to WWI prison inmates who were supposed to be knitting for soldiers making themselves a rope out of Red Cross yarn and escaping.

I’m half tempted to re-read it already.

Her Dark Curiosity by Megan Shepherd

Genre: YA historical
Secondary genre: scifi
Format read: audiobook
Series: The Madman’s Daughter vol 2
Rep: chronic illness, autism coding
CW: graphic violence,
Rating: planchet-4

The second book in the series, you can find my review of book one here.

After fleeing her fathers secret island laboratory as it burned, Juliet is back in London. She has, surprisingly, found a new family for herself, and is beginning to build a life, though the struggle of keeping her mysterious illness and her “oddities” to herself is beginning to wear.

But when murders begin happening in London, Juliet begins to see a pattern the police have missed: all the victims are people who have wronged her in one way or another. Chilled to the bone, she begins to suspect she’s not the only one who escaped the island.

But when Montgomery turns up in London, too, things begin to look up. Surely the two of them can solve the murders and save her life if they work together, can’t they?

Drawn from Doctor Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, this book continues Shepherd’s retelling of dark, classic literature with a scifi twist.

I really enjoyed this book, though I did have a few things about it that bothered me, as with the first volume. It is definitely problematic in more ways than one, but I still find myself looking forward to the third book, which I believe is the conclusion of the series.

Have you read this series yet? What are your thoughts?

The Madman’s Daughter by Megan Shepherd

Genre: YA historical
Secondary genre: scifi
Format read: audiobook
Series: The Madman’s Daughter vol 1
Rep: chronic illness, autism coding
CW: graphic violence, violence against animals, attempted sexual assault
Rating: planchet-4

Inspired by The Island of Doctor MoreauI was drawn to this book from the title alone. I’m always down for a book about mental illness, and this one seemed to have a good chunk of mystery and intrigue to boot.

If you are looking for something light and fun, then please turn around now because that is not what you’re going to find. This book is dark, it’s gritty, and it questions what it means to be human and how bad a person has to be before they aren’t worth saving anymore.

Juliet has been ill her entire life. For the most part, it doesn’t affect her–provided she takes her daily injections. But life is hard in the slums of London, and even harder with no family or friends to lean on.

Left destitute after her father’s exile and her mother’s desk, once genteel Juliette finds herself scrubbing the floors of the lectures halls where her father once taught. But why he fled England is still something of a mystery. While rumors abound, which ones are true?

Then, just as her life in London becomes unsustainable, Juliet runs into a familiar face: Montgomery, her family’s old servant, who vanish at the same time as her father.

Call it flirtation, call it blackmail, call it sheer force of will, Juliet convinces Montgomery to take her with him, back to the remote island where her father now lives.

This heart wrenching novel of family, friendship, betrayal, and redemption is highly problematic to say the least, but largely in a way that questions morality and humanity; it usually calls itself on the questionable content, but be ready to be horrified.

Good for fans of Frankenstein, Mindy McGinnis, and Penny Dreadful. 


Spirit Keeper by K. B. Laugheed

Genre: YA historical
Format read: ebook
Series: The Spirit Keeper book 1
Positive rep: Native American (multiple, unspecified), trans/2 spirit (minor character)
CW: racist slurs, character death, miscarriage, violence, rape, abuse
Rating: planchet-4

Not gonna lie: As much as I enjoyed this book, it was pretty problematic from page one.

The main problem I had with it was the slurs and the way the main character (a 17 year old white girl) looked down on anyone who was different from her. She did grown out of this as her worldview expanded, but there were a lot of questionable decisions made by all the characters.

Katie’s family is abusive. There’s no lost love between her and her mother, and her alcoholic father is hard on all of them. What’s more, her older siblings agree with her mother, that she’s a curse on the family who brings them bad luck.

Her plans to run away, however, are thwarted when a group of Natives attack their Pennsylvania farm, killing most of her family. Katie, her mother, and one of her sisters and one brother are taken captive and sent on a grueling hike, the destination of which is a mystery.

But Katie has attracted the attention of two of their captors, who appear to be from a different tribe. With no idea what they want from her, she struggles to learn their language and in the process a tiny spark of friendship grows between her and one of the men, whom she calls Syawa. When offered the chance to leave her family behind for good and follow Syawa and his companion “Hector” west to their home, Katie finds the decision isn’t all that hard, and she steps into the unknown with only two men–whose true names she can’t even pronounce–to protect her.

Despite all the problematic elements in this book, I did enjoy reading it. There were places, especially near the beginning, where the story lagged and I wasn’t sure I would finish it. However, things did pick up around the 30% mark and I enjoyed the rest of the book, even if I didn’t like everything that happened.

There is, apparently, a second book. I haven’t decided yet if I want to read it as it’s set many years in the future, and there were places where I didn’t care for the writing style, which was in journal entries and summarized or skipped over quite a lot.

It is something you should pick up, however, if you are interested in stories of people adopted into native tribes in the 1700s, or frontier life.


Grave Mercy by Robin LaFevers

Genre: fantasy
Secondary genre: historical/political
Format read: audiobook
Content warnings: attempted sexual assault, violence, pet death
Series: His Fair Assassin vol 1
Rating: planchet-3

**This review contains major spoilers, which are marked below**

After being abused by her parents, Ismae is sold into a marriage contract. But when her new husband sees the mark on her back–a blood red scar leftover from her mother’s attempted abortion–he beats her, rejects her, and sends her fleeing into the night.

She finds refuge in a convent dedicated to Mortain, one of the old gods of death. Populated by women and girls that have led hard lives much like Ismaes, they train from dawn to dusk in every manner of death.

When Ismae finally reaches the point, some years later when she goes out on her first solo mission, her assignment is interrupted by a man determined to keep her victims alive.

After a second run in, the mystery man tracks Ismae back to the convent. After explaining that he works for the Dutchess–the country’s teenage ruler, in danger of loosing her power to the invading French army–Ismae and the mysterious Duval have no choice but to work together. With Ismae’s ability to not only see the mark of Death on a person, and her immunity to poison and magic-enhanced healing, she soon becomes close to the dutchess and secretly takes a role not only as her confidant, but also her body guard.

But Duval has secrets of his own and may not be trustworthy, no matter what the reverend mother and the convent’s patron say. If she wants to keep herself and the dutchess safe, Ismae will have to track down the leak in their security network.

But to do so may mean betraying everything she’s come to believe about herself, the world, and the convent that saved her life.

I’m honestly not sure how I feel about this book. On the one hand, it has great historical and political details that dovetail nicely with actual historical fact, but with an added fantasy element.

However, I found Ismae to be annoying, stubborn, and willfully obtuse at points, and I really didn’t like Duval. While he did have his good points, it’s clear almost from the first time he appears that he’s meant to be the love interest, and I really just don’t like him in that role.

There were some very funny bits, and some that were more heart wrenching. Honestly, my favorite scenes were the ones where Ismae killed someone she wasn’t supposed to (because ASSASSIN). She just can’t seem to help herself. 🙂

And then there’s the bit about Ismae’s powers. **spoiler** Ismae can literally cure poisoning by sleeping with people. That scene made me want to scream.

I don’t know if I want to continue with this series. I liked the beginning and the ending, but the bits in between left me somewhat cold, and there were still unanswered questions at the end.

What are your thoughts? Have you read the His Fair Assassin series?

The Lady’s Guide to Petticoats and Piracy by Mackenzi Lee

Genre: historical
Secondary genre: adventure
Format read: hardback
Positive Rep: POC (multiple, including Middle Eastern and African), mixed race, epilepsy, LGBT+ (gay and aro/ace), autistic coding, Muslim
Series: Montague Siblings vol 2
Rating: planchet-5

Henry “Monty” Montague entered the literary world with a splash in 2017 in The Gentleman’s Guide to Vice and Virtue. For fans of our rakish hero concerned about this second book following his somewhat dowdy and straight laced sister, Felicity, let me allay your fears: Petticoats and Piracy is just as funny, queer, and heart-wrenching as the first volume in the series.

One of my favorite bits about this book is that it ca be read as a stand alone. While the backstory and family relationships will make a lot more sense to those who have read Vice and Virtue, Felicity’s story is all her own and she makes that very clear from the beginning: She has left home, supporting herself with part-time work at a bakery while attempting to gain admittance to an Edinburgh medical school in the late 1700s, or at least obtain some sort of apprenticeship on the subject.

Unfortunately, the prevailing attitude at the time is that women are unfit for the medical field–despite the fact that Felicity has, under hazardous and far less than ideal conditions, performed surgery on multiple occasions–including stitching up her own brother’s head after his ear was sliced off in the first book. In fact, in the first ten pages we see her stitching up her boss’s hand after he cuts the tip of his finger off.

Alas, while they are good friends, Callum wants more. When Felicity tries to let him down gently, this “nice guy” accuses her of leading him on and taking advantage of his kindness. The argument, combined with her latest rejection from the medical field, finally helps Felicity reach a decision: it’s time to leave Edinburgh, and have an adventure of her own.

The book is full of plot twists and lively, eccentric characters with easily the most effortlessly diverse cast I’ve reviewed to date.

From start to finish, I loved this book. I related so hard to Felicity. While she can be narrow minded about some things–especially what it means to be female or feminine–through the course of the book she changes her opinions and grows and changes as a person. I loved seeing the development of the various characters.

And never fear–Monty and Percy also show up, and while they do feature prominently in some scenes, they are far from stealing the show.

Definitely pick up this book–and Vice and Virtue–if you have’t yet. In fact, maybe it’s time to give it a re-read.


Abraham Lincoln, Vampire Hunter by Seth Grahame-Smith

Genre: adult supernatural
Secondary genre: historical
Format read: audiobook
Content warnings: violence, sexism, racism
Rating: planchet

In this twisted historical, Grahame-Smith re-imagines history with one slight change: vampires. Vampires are the power behind the politics that run pre-Civil War America, and when Abe Lincoln, then only a child, discovers their dark secrets, he dedicates his life to hunting them down and destroying them after they kill his mother, and later, his fiance.

Beginning as an itinerant vampire hunter, wandering the Mississippi River Valley, Abe is somewhat aimless until he meets the mysterious Henry, a vampire who takes him under his wing…to teach him how to hunt vampires.

Disgusted with the way his kind treats humanity, Henry feeds Abe information on where to find the most dangerous vampires, and the best way of dispatching them.

As the tensions between North and South begin to rise, however, Abe realizes that his best bet for defeating Vampires, and the slavery that supports them, is from within America’s political system.

At first I was super excited for this book. Vampires! Civil War! Lincoln! All of my favorite things, wrapped up into one great audiobook.

Alas, for me, it did not live up to expectations. The story is bookended by bits set during modern day, in which Henry delivers Lincoln’s journals to a writer for apparently no real reason. The story itself is the “biography” the author writes based on these notes, and it reads like it–like a very dry, very boring biography. The action scenes were dull, and even the deaths of Lincoln’s first girlfriend and his sons were barely a blip. The author completely missed the emotional beats of the story.

In addition, it’s rife with passive racism and sexism. I don’t think any of the women in Lincoln’s life had more than a single line of dialogue. I don’t know about you, but I can’t fathom Mary Todd Lincoln keeping her mouth shut for more than five minutes, let alone 200+ pages.

But the part that really got me was the fact that Grahame-Smith completely cut Kate Warne from the Baltimore Plot. Not only was she the one who uncovered it, but she was the one who came up with a way to save Lincoln’s life. She was with him the entire time. Additionally, she would have made an excellent fellow vampire hunter.

There’s been a lot of debate over the years about Lincoln’s position on race. While he was an abolitionist, he wasn’t as forceful about it as many of our history books would lead us to believe. He supported freeing slaves and sending them back to Africa, rather than allowing them to be free in America.

Somehow, though, the author manages to make Lincoln both more racist and a stronger abolitionist. He looks on slaves as inferior humans who are fit for little else, but at the same time calls slavery a stain on humanity, primarily because slave auctions are essentially the 1850s version of fast food for vampires. He seems to think of slavery as a necessary evil, however, until Henry reveals the vampire plot to enslave whites, as well. This is what prompts him to present the emancipation proclamation, not any sort of empathy or egalitarian leanings.

All in all, I was hugely disappointed in this book. I kept reading in the hopes it would get better, but I think I just wasted 10 hours of my life instead.