A Gothic That Keeps You Guessing

Mrs. England
by Stacey Halls

A recent graduate from the renowned Norland Nurse program, Ruby May might be new to the role of governess, but she knows when a family dynamic is normal or not, mostly due to her own unusual upbringing. When she is hired by the wealthy England family to care for their four children, she is unsurprised that their manor home in a remote Yorkshire town feels so isolated compared to her last appointment in London. The differences from her previous happy workplace to her new position, unfortunately, don’t stop there. The longer Nurse May stays at the England’s Hardcastle House, it becomes clear there’s something not quite right going on in its halls. Not only does Mrs. Lillian England keep strange hours, she seems to ignore her children and mostly stays hidden in her room for hours at a time. Unusually, it is her husband, mill owner Charles who appears to run the household and who warns the new governess not to leave Lillian alone with the children. Is Lillian truly to be feared, and why? What’s really going on in Mrs. England’s house and what is Nurse May willing to put up with to keep her own secrets hidden?

Simmering with slow-burning suspense, Mrs. England by Stacey Halls is a gothic mystery set in 1904, against the atmospheric landscape of West Yorkshire. This compelling and descriptive slow-burn of a novel transports its readers to a different time and place, where danger lurks around every corner, and it is the perfect read for fans of Jane Eyre, Rebecca and Downton Abbey.

-Carol

Cozy up with a new book

After her mother dies, Hanna Rombauer is sent to live with wealthy Aunt Charlotte and Uncle Otto in Berlin. Their goal is to find her a high-ranking SS officer to marry, and Hanna soon learns that she has no choice in the matter. Klara Schmidt, Hanna’s friend, is also expected to marry an SS officer.

Gifted seamstresses Mathilde Altman (Tilde) and her Jewish mother run a fabric shop. Tilde who looks Aryan waits on customers while her mother hides upstairs. Tilde’s Aryan father left his family when it became dangerous for Jews in Germany. Eventually Tilde’s mother immigrates to the United States.

Hanna and Tilde are barely aware of each other, but their lives soon become entangled. Hanna is sent to a “Nazi Bride School” to learn to become the proper Nazi wife. Tilde is pregnant, her Jewish husband has disappeared, and she needs a safe place to give birth. Klara, one of Tilde’s customers, is also attending the school and is aware of Tilde’s predicament. Klara discovers an abandoned cabin near the school where Tilde can be relatively safe. Both Hanna and Klara take extraordinary risks when Tilde and her newborn are discovered.

For fans of historical fiction, this is a tale of love, loss, and survival.

~Emma

Ain’t Burned All the Bright by Jason Reynolds and Jason Griffin

I love Jason Reynolds. His books are always powerful, beautiful, heartbreaking and hopeful, and his newest offering, produced with his best friend, does not disappoint. In fact, it is so stunning that after enjoying a library copy I immediately purchased a copy for my personal collection.

Find a copy here

Reynolds penned three long sentences. Griffin filled 300 pocket-sized moleskin pages of art. Together they capture the feelings of fear and uncertainty most of us felt during 2020. Around the world and in our own communities people were isolate, separated. By Covid. By politics. But also, people took to the streets to protest. All the while, we sat glued to the news. Mostly bad news. It was a long, dark year. But not entirely without hope.

This book is almost 400 pages long and weighs almost 2 pounds, but you can read it in 15 minutes. Or linger over each drawing. Or revisit favorite pages. It’s a treasure.

Dedication page

These are a few pages that stuck out to me and I think they are excellent examples of the wide range of feelings expressed throughout the book. The next time someone says they don’t like poetry, hand them this and see if you win them over!

~Megan

Cozy up with a new book

In New York City in 1955, 29-year-old Rachel Perlman (born Rashka Morgenstern) continues to suffer from survivor guilt. She survived the Holocaust, but her mother, a successful artist, did not. Rachel endured the war by being a “U-boat”, a Jew hiding in plain sight to avoid capture. She became involved with identifying other “U-boats” who were eventually sent to concentration camps.

Rachel has been married for 7 years to her Jewish/American husband Aaron who wants to start a family, but Rachel is reluctant to bring a child into an evil world. She is haunted by visions of her mother and nightmares of what she witnessed. Her husband, in-laws and even her psychiatrist cannot comprehend what she experienced.

Incredibly one of Rachel’s mother’s paintings was discovered by Uncle Fritz in a pawnshop, and he’s certain it’s worth a fortune. Fritz wants to purchase the painting but does not have the $50 the pawnbroker wants for it. When Rachel goes to purchase the painting, it’s gone. Who bought it and why?

This is a heartbreaking book at times, but there is hope.

~Emma

Cozy up with a new book

When 13-year-old Stefan Silbermann’s mother died, his father sent him away to a boarding school in Leipzig. (Gottfried Silbermann made and serviced church organs.) At the school Johann Sebastian Bach is the cantor. Stefan’s beautiful voice attracts the attention of Bach which causes bullying from the other boys. They are extremely jealous. Bach is aware of the bullying and invites Stefan to live at his home with his wife and children. Everyone lives and breathes music at the Bach home. All are required to practice and perform for the family. Anna Magdalena, Bach’s second wife, is a talented vocalist, but women are not allowed to sing publicly in church. She spends time with Stefan helping him to learn new music Bach composes on a regular basis. Catharina, Bach’s oldest child, becomes a favorite of Stefan.

The novel is told from Stefan’s point of view decades later. It’s a novel of love, loss, and grief.

~Emma

Novels in Verse for Poetry Month

I have always struggled to appreciate poetry, which is why I am always surprised when I read and love a novel in verse. Every time. I read two this month and they were both amazing.

Me (Moth) by Amber McBride. Moth, named for a fairy in A Midsummer Night’s Dream, is grieving the loss of her family. When she meets Sani, she recognizes another lost soul, another lonely person. Together they embark on a road trip. A quest. A search for roots and ancestors.

I went in to this book knowing nothing about it and I recommend you do the same. Just know it’s beautiful and engaging. It’s full of Earth magic and voodoo and Native imagery along with nods to Greek mythology and Shakespeare. A truly lovely read.

Ain’t Burned All The Bright by Jason Reynolds and Jason Griffin. I listened to this one while following along with the book. In about 10 sentences and 300 pages of art, the Jasons tell the story of what if feels like to be Black in America today. This manifesto is brilliant. Dark and vulnerable, fierce and hopeful, it’s a stunning visual experience.

Finally, the novel in verse that started it all for me:

To Stay Alive: Mary Ann Graves and the Tragic Journey of the Donner Party by Skila Brown. What more can I say about a NOVEL IN VERSE ABOUT THE DONNER PARTY other than, heck yeah!

I hope you found a new gem during National Poetry Month. If not, I suggest you check out one of these.

Megan

Cozy up with a new book

Things Past Telling
by Sheila Williams

Maryam Priscilla Grace was born in West Africa around 1758. She was abducted by slave traders at age 10. Maryam had a gift for learning languages which served her well over time. While crossing the Atlantic a pirate, named Caesar, captured the ship Maryam was traveling on. He freed all the slaves but her. She became his translator. Maryam learned healing and midwifery which eventually made her more valuable than a field worker when she was eventually sold to a Virginia plantation owner. Maryam married James and had two sons who are sold to pay off a debt. Maryam is sold again to a widowed Scottish farmer who treated his slaves, his property, fairly. During this time, she became the mother to a baby boy whose mother died in childbirth. It was also during this time she helped runaways and became pregnant with her owner’s child. He gave Maryam, her son and their unborn child freedom and eventually settled in Ohio.

This historical epic is loosely based on the life of a 112-year-old woman the author discovered in the 1870 U.S. Census for Ohio. It is the story of one woman’s hard harsh journey.

~Emma

What we’re reading now, spring edition…

This is How You Lose the Time War by Amal El-Mohtar and Max Gladstone

Two soldiers on opposing sides of a war throughout time begin to fall in love via the letters they exchange. While it’s a short read, the book is dense with meaning and subtext, and readers will enjoy the romance and intrigue of this intergalactic Romeo and Juliet story. Shannon

Black Cloud Rising by David Wright Faladé

Tells the story of the African Brigade, a unit of former slaves tasked with rooting out pockets of Confederate guerilla fighters in the Tidewater region of Virginia and in North Carolina’s Outer Banks through the eyes of formerly enslaved Sergeant Richard Etheridge of the African Brigade. Dori

The Diamond Eye by Kate Quinn

It’s 1937 when Mila Pavlichenko a young history student, mother, and sharpshooter joins the Russian army. Her rifle skills are soon apparent and she becomes a sniper. She rises through the ranks and is put in charge of a platoon. Her job is to train others and to kill Nazis. Mila is very successful at her job. Americans are very curious about this lady sniper when she comes to Washington D.C.  as a guest of the White House. Is she for real? Emma

A Night at the Sweet Gum Head by Marty Padgett

A deep look at 1970’s gay Atlanta through the lens of the Drag scene, political activists, and the bars that brought them all together. Deeply researched and well written, this non-fiction gives detailed insight into how a community of people who just wanted to live their lives had to become leaders and inspiration in order to exist. Christine

Ring Shout by P. Djèlí Clark

Set in 1920’s Georgia, this vivid horror story asks the question: What if the Klu Klux Klan was led by actual demons? Stray dog eating, multi-eyed, otherworldly demons. Three Black female demon hunters, led by Maryse, who gets her guidance from ethereal Gullah Aunties, must destroy the Klu Kluxes to stop the spread of White Supremacy. A beautiful and gory blend of historic events with a horror twist. Christine

Goodnight, Beautiful by Aimee Molloy

A thriller that does not hide the inspiration it takes from King’s Misery. As a newlywed couple tries to put down roots in a small town, tragedy strikes when the husband comes up missing and his wife has to beg the authorities to care all while it becomes more and more apparent that he has been lying to her this whole time. As he fights for his life through the only way he knows how, his wife has to reconcile the man she loves with the man she has uncovered. Christine

The Sentence by Louise Erdrich

A touchingly funny book about a small bookstore in Minnesota run by a group of Native American women during the pandemic, and the community of unusual, crazy, genuine people whose lives are touched by this place and by each other.  It’s one of those books where you truly fall in love with the characters and more than anything, want them to find peace and happiness in their lives.  Sara