A Snowfall of Silver by Laura Wood

Set in 1931, Freya has always felt out of place in her family, but she’s also always dreamt of being an actress, so one day she decides to run away from home to London to pursue her dream.

Historical, 356 pages, published in 2020

Set in 1931, Freya has always felt out of place in her family, but she’s also always dreamt of being an actress, so one day she decides to run away from home to London to pursue her dream.

Spoiler Free Review:

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Content Warnings: unwanted advances (not graphic), mental health

Laura Wood has a way of writing such warm, comforting historical fiction books and this one is no different! This book is technically a sequel to A Sky Painted Gold, but it’s not necessary to read that one before jumping into this one. There are minor spoilers for that book in this one, so if you are planning on reading both, I’d say start with A Sky Painted Gold. Under A Dancing Star is completely independent of these two.

Freya was a really interesting character to follow! She is so dramatic, which I guess helps her with her acting, but she is also so driven, motivated, and optimistic. She has wanted to be an actress since she was a child, so that dream kind of defines her. Watching her be able to get out in the real world for the first time and really learn about herself was so lovely.

I was buried inside my own imagination, and however rich that imagination was, it didn’t, couldn’t, compare to the reality of going out into the world.

-pg. 172

Normally, I tend to shy away from historical fiction because it is they end up being quite grim and I have a hard time handling that, but Laura Wood’s books are not like that at all. They mention what is going on in the world, but they aren’t focused on a certain event, which I like a lot. The characters are really at the forefront of the story. There are definitely some hard hitting moments, but overall, they are fairly light books.

Much of this book centers around plays and theater performances. I’ve never really been a fan of plays, but the way Freya describes them not only conveys how much passion she has for theater, but also made me want to go see a play.

There is a romance in this book, but it doesn’t necessarily feel like the focus. There is so much going on for Freya, so many wonderful side characters, and so much atmosphere that the romance is just one element of the story.

One thing I noticed that I really appreciate is that there are some moments that are skipped. The book covers a few months and it is fairly short, so there definitely isn’t time to hear about everything that happened. It gives you the most important moments while still conveying that time is passing. I feel like I read so many books that need to tell you what happened during every second of a day, so it was refreshing to read something other than that.

I really have nothing bad to say about this book! It was just a delightful time! I can firmly say that Laura Wood is one of my favorite authors and I can’t wait for what she releases next!

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The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead

After being convinced to leave her plantation and slavery by a new arrival, Cora begin her journey on the actual Underground Railroad, a system of underground tunnels and trains with real conductors.

Historical Fiction, 306 pages, published in 2016

After being convinced to leave her plantation and slavery by a new arrival, Cora begin her journey on the actual Underground Railroad, a system of underground tunnels and trains with real conductors.

Spoiler Free Review:

Rating: 3 out of 5.

Content Warnings: slavery, sexual assault, murder, abuse

I was anticipated this book due to the high praise, but unfortunately, something didn’t just work for me.

This book starts with Cora’s life on her plantation in Georgia. The opening bits of this book were quite brutal, but it wasn’t overdone, just realistic.

I definitely thought that the Underground Railroad element would be expanded on, because whenever I see anyone talk about this book, they mention that the book features an actual railroad that is underground. The book didn’t really go into it, the fact that it was underground was kind of just accepted as fact.

I did appreciate what I learned about slaves trying to escape to freedom. Cora goes to see a doctor, who suggests that she get hysterectomy, even though she is young and had not had any children yet. This was offered as optional, but strongly suggested, disguising a nationwide eugenics movement. There were so many stages to Cora journey, so it wasn’t like she was just going to hop on the Underground Railroad the first time and immediately end up in freedom.

The part of this book that I did not really vibe with was the timeline and perspective shifts. Cora is mostly the main character being followed, but occasionally, it will shift to someone else. It also takes place over a fairly linear timeline, but sometimes it hops around. I also felt like I didn’t get to spend enough time with Cora to really want to read more about her specifically.

I appreciate what I got out of this book, but I didn’t love the story itself.

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The Downstairs Girl by Stacey Lee

Set in Atlanta in the 1890’s, Jo Kuan is working as a maid for a cruel mistress when she sees an opportunity to help the newspaper company that has unknowingly helped her. She becomes Miss Sweetie, an anonymous (and presumed white) advice column writer, but her secret is always under threat of being exposed.

Historical Fiction, 384 pages, published in 2019

Set in Atlanta in the 1890’s, Jo Kuan is working as a maid for a cruel mistress when she sees an opportunity to help the newspaper company that has unknowingly helped her. She becomes Miss Sweetie, an anonymous (and presumed white) advice column writer, but her secret is always under threat of being exposed.

Spoiler Free Review:

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Content Warnings: racist language and actions

I really don’t read historical fiction that often, so I expecting to just enjoy this book, but I actually ended up really loving it! It was just a heartwarming story that also tackled a lot of heavy topics as well.

The first thing that came as a shock to me was that Chinese people were used as cheap labor in America after slavery was abolished in order to replace slaves. I really never knew this. I had to take so many American history courses throughout all levels of schooling and not a single one mentioned this at all.

I really enjoy Jo as a character! She is so sassy and genuinely funny. The pieces that she wrote for the newspaper, both editorials and answering readers’ mail, was so good! They were all smart, funny, and eloquent. She is understandably timid at the beginning of this book because of her precarious place in society, but I loved seeing her find her voice throughout the book, even if it had to be within the confines of what society deemed as acceptable.

This book ended up tackling some pretty heavy topics, like racism, sexism, and the intersection of those. Jo joins a women’s suffrage meeting, but is basically treated as trash because the white women running the meeting don’t think non-white women deserve to vote. Chinese people aren’t allowed to rent or buy property, so they are basically forced to live on the outskirts of society.

The romance in this book was super sweet and adorable! It’s not really a focus, but I just loved it and I loved how it was left at the end of the book.

The plot of this book ended up surprising me, because I had thought it had to do mostly with the newspaper, but there were also other elements, like horses and a crime boss, that played big roles.

Overall, I just really loved this book! It is the kind of lowkey historical fiction that I really end up enjoying.

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The Kingdom of Back by Marie Lu

Nannerl Mozart’s greatest dream is to be remembered for her musical talents, but when it becomes clear that her younger brother, Wolfgang, is also quite talented, thus there is no need for her, she makes a wish to a prince from another world.

Fantasy/Historical, 313 pages, published in 2020

Nannerl Mozart’s greatest dream is to be remembered for her musical talents, but when it becomes clear that her younger brother, Wolfgang, is also quite talented, thus there is no need for her, she makes a wish to a prince from another world.

Spoiler Free Review:

Rating: 4 out of 5.

I’ve had mixed thoughts on Marie Lu’s works in the past, but the premise (and the cover, if I’m being honest) of this book really had me interested.

The magic in this book is much more whimsical than I was expecting and definitely leans towards magical realism. I think it is up to the reader to decide how they interpret the fantasy elements in this book because I can see how it could be magical realism, but I can also see how it could have been real. Either way, I liked this element of the story a lot, and I also enjoyed how, at times, you couldn’t tell what was real and what was fantasy.

Throughout this story, Nannerl grows from a talented young girl to a still talented young woman. Because of how society limited women’s choices in the 1700’s, there is an expiration date to her ability to play music constantly looming over her. She even had to compose in secret because it was unheard of for a woman to be composing at this time.

I loved Nannerl’s complicated relationship with Wolfgang. She loves her brother dearly and goes through so much in order to protect him, but she also resents him because he is allowed to do what she isn’t purely based on gender. They perform together, but he is always the star, even if he thinks she’s the one is who is more talented. I enjoyed watching their growth as siblings throughout the book.

I still don’t know how I feel about this book. It doesn’t rewrite history, so it left me feeling kind of sad and bittersweet. If Nannerl had been allowed to compose and play like her brother, would we be referring her when we mention Mozart? Overall though, I appreciated the sibling bond, as well as learning a bit about history!

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Under a Dancing Star by Laura Wood

Set in the 1930’s, Bea has never lived up to her parents’ expectations of a refined young lady. Instead, she is interested in learning and science and definitely not the arranged marriage her parents have planned for her in order to save their estate. For the summer, she gets sent to her uncle’s house in Italy and begins to discover who she really is outside of anyone else’s expectations.

Historical Fiction, 356 pages, published in 2019

Set in the 1930’s, Bea has never lived up to her parents’ expectations of a refined young lady. Instead, she is interested in learning and science and definitely not the arranged marriage her parents have planned for her in order to save their estate. For the summer, she gets sent to her uncle’s house in Italy and begins to discover who she really is outside of anyone else’s expectations.

Spoiler Free Review:

Rating: 5 out of 5.

This book is based partially on Much Ado About Nothing by Shakespeare, but I have absolutely no knowledge of the play, so I can’t speak on how much the books pulls from it.

As with A Sky Painted Gold, this book is so atmospheric in the absolute best way. There was one scene that took place in Italy at dusk during the summer and all the characters were drinking lemonade with jazz playing quietly in the background, and while I was reading it, I could picture the scene so clearly that it felt like I was there. There are so many instances like this throughout and I just love reading about them.

This has a historical setting, but events at the time were definitely not at the forefront of the story. This is definitely how I prefer to read historical fiction. There were some mentions of Germany and Mussolini, but it wasn’t the focus at all.

I loved seeing Bea grow while she was away from her family’s influence. At home, she reigned herself in, but she was still definitely considered odd, but at her uncle’s house, she is allowed the space to be exactly who she is without holding anything back.

There was also a really cute romance in this book! Ben is an artist and kind of a player, but he and Bea play a “game” to see if he can seduce her. I really enjoyed their banter and teasing, but also the way they opened up to each other. I was so happy with how they resolved the conflict in the end.

Overall, this was just a wonderful book. I saw someone say that it’s pure escapism, and I have to agree. It sucked me in and didn’t let me go until I was done. I had a great time reading this book and I can’t wait for Laura Wood’s next release!

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When a Scot Ties the Knot (Castles Ever After #3) by Tessa Dare

In order to avoid social situations, Madeline Gracechurch tells a small little lie – she is engaged to Captain MacKenzie. Everyone believes him to be real, but Maddie has completely made him up and sends him fake letters to prove her devotion. After many years of this deception, she fakes his death and everyone leaves her to live her own life. After she’s inherited a castle however, the real Captain Logan MacKenzie shows up, ready to get married like she promised in her letters.

Historical Romance, 384 pages, published in 2015

In order to avoid social situations, Madeline Gracechurch tells a small little lie – she is engaged to Captain MacKenzie. Everyone believes him to be real, but Maddie has completely made him up and sends him fake letters to prove her devotion. After many years of this deception, she fakes his death and everyone leaves her to live her own life. After she’s inherited a castle however, the real Captain Logan MacKenzie shows up, ready to get married like she promised in her letters.

Spoiler Free Review:

Rating: 4 out of 5.

After not loving the previous book in this series, I was a little worried about this one, but those fears were for no reason! I really enjoyed this book, thought it wasn’t a new favorite or anything.

This book is set in a fairly remote castle, which I loved. I feel like the remoteness lets you really focus on the main characters. I also thought the setup for this was ridiculous in the best possible way. It was like an arranged marriage…but also not, because it was arranged by chance.

One of the reasons why I enjoyed this so much is because it has elements of a marriage of convince/fake marriage. Maddie and Logan also have to share a bedroom, so there are plenty of good scenes around that element.

Another reason is because I found Maddie very relatable. She creates a supposedly fictional man in order to escape social gatherings because she has social anxiety. She also keeps the lie going for a very long time because of that anxiety. I also loved that she had a career that she was passionate about.

I really enjoyed Maddie and Logan’s relationship, but I had a hard time understanding what was actually keeping them apart for so long. It seemed like it was just nonsense that was getting in the way, when in reality, there was no reason for them to not be together. I wanted a little bit more about Logan coming to terms with his past, because it all seemed a little bare bones.

Overall though, another entertaining book from Tessa Dare! The scene in the bog (I think it was a bog…) was super memorable to me! I think I will start in on her Spindle Cove series next, since the last book in this series is a crossover between the two.

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Winter Garden by Kristin Hannah

Meredith and Nina have never had a close relationship with their mother, believing that she hates them, but when their father, the glue of their family, falls ill, they have to actually connect with their mother. They draw out the Russian fairy tale that their mother used to tell them when they were kids, and soon they discover that their mother has been keeping many secrets from them and those secrets will change the way they see their mother.

Historical Fiction, 448 pages, published in 2010

Meredith and Nina have never had a close relationship with their mother, believing that she hates them, but when their father, the glue of their family, falls ill, they have to actually connect with their mother. They draw out the Russian fairy tale that their mother Anya used to tell them when they were kids, and soon they discover that their mother has been keeping many secrets from them and those secrets will change the way they see their mother.

Spoiler Free Review:

Rating: 5 out of 5.

I wasn’t expecting this to be a joy ride, especially after how emotionally damaged I was after The Nightingale, but oh man, this was a depressing book. It started out pretty sad, with the father’s illness and eventual death, but it got even more sad by the end. I definitely wept at one point during this book, which kind of made it hard to pick up, because I knew it was going keep being heavy, but I did really want to know what happened.

My big issue with this book was that it felt like it took so long to be set up. We get to see a lot into Meredith’s life and a fair amount into Nina’s. I didn’t necessarily care about their individual problems, so the beginning of the book was slow to me. Meredith has two daughters in college, her relationship with her husband is strained, and she is kind of a workaholic in order to avoid any issues she doesn’t want to deal with. Nina definitely sees her as a perfect working mother and wife who always has everything figured out, which is why I didn’t really relate to her at all. Nina, on the other hand, travels the world taking photographs of troubled times as a photojournalist. She doesn’t ever want to settle down and always needs to be traveling and chasing her dream, which I didn’t really relate to either.

The sisters don’t really have a close relationship because Nina is always gone, which Meredith holds against her, and Nina is jealous of certain things Meredith has. I did really enjoy seeing them come together and figure out how to work together in order to get their mother to tell her story. They also kind of had to realize that even though their lives were so different, they are both valid. I was reminded of The Nightingale because both sets of sisters have an older, family-oriented sister and a younger sister who wants to make a difference in the world.

In the beginning, I didn’t really know if there was anything that could excuse Anya, the mother’s, actions towards her children. She was very cold to them and to them, it felt like she didn’t really make an effort to get to know them. Meredith and Nina always thought that they did something to their mother in order for her to hate them, so they carried that burden for a long time. After finding out what Anya went through though, I can totally understand why she acted how she did, though I was frustrated that she didn’t tell them long before she did. Her story was so difficult for her to tell, but Meredith and Nina are in their early 40’s and late 30’s, so they had been carrying the burden of thinking their mother hated them for a very long time.

Anya’s story was absolutely heart wrenching. I can’t read stories like this often, because they affect me so much, especially with everything going on in the world right now. I didn’t think it was going to get as heavy as it did when I went into it, so I wasn’t prepared for it. It definitely made it hard to keep reading (well, listening) because I knew it was going to be rough. I did kind of enjoy trying to figure out what happened in the middle of her story, since since she’s telling it from the beginning and she obviously survived.

I heard that the ending was heartwarming, but I don’t think I agree. There are certain parts that are heartwarming, but other aspects that are still just so sad.

Overall, I think this book is just really powerful. Seeing Meredith and Nina connect with each other and begin to understand their mother was so nice to see. Anya’s story was of an event I didn’t really have any knowledge of, so I appreciated learning about that through this book.

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Cold-Hearted Rake (The Ravenels #1) by Lisa Kleypas

After unexpectedly inheriting an earldom, Devon Ravenel must decide how to deal with all of his new unwanted responsibilities. His estates have massive debts, he has many people under his employment, and he must deal with the late Earl’s widow, Kathleen.

Historical Romance, 419 pages, published in 2015

After unexpectedly inheriting an earldom, Devon Ravenel must decide how to deal with all of his new unwanted responsibilities. His estates have massive debts, he has many people under his employment, and he must deal with the late Earl’s widow, Kathleen.

Spoiler Free Review:

Rating: 2 out of 5.

I was so hopeful for this book, but I really ended up having a ton of issues with it. The reason that I am giving this book 2 stars instead of 1 is because the beginning of the book was promising. I liked the tension and the setup, but soon after that, everything went downhill for me.

I found Kathleen to be absolutely unbearable. She cares so much about propriety, even when it gets in the way of what she wants. It just seemed like kind of a silly thing to be hung up on, especially when literally everyone around her was telling her that it didn’t matter. I don’t know, she just let things happen, rather than choosing for herself.

The romance between Kathleen and Devon felt a little flat for me. I didn’t feel like they really had a whole lot keeping them together, or a lot attracting them to each other in the first place. The way that they dealt with the conflict at the end of the book didn’t feel right to me.

I wanted to like Kathleen and Devon together, but there was so much time in this book spent on things outside of their relationship. Kathleen forms a friendship with Devon’s brother, West. At one point, they were spending so much time together and opening up to each other so much that I thought I had misread the situation, and West was actually the love interest. There was also so much time put into the romantic relationship that will be explored in the next book. It seemed so strange to me to have so much set up for that book included in this book.

A lot of the sexual encounters in this book felt … less than consensual to me. It felt like Devon always had to persuade Kathleen to say yes. Even though Kathleen does want to say yes in multiple situations, she has her reasons for saying no. It just felt gross for Devon to have to persuade her. Kathleen also does some questionable things. She spies on Devon when he is changing clothes, which was written to seem romantic, but it was just plain creepy and wrong. There was another scene where Devon tells her to stop, and she doesn’t. I just didn’t find any of the sex in this book to be sexy or romantic because it just seemed so questionable.

I definitely won’t be continuing on with this series. I suppose it was fine that there was so much included about Helen and Winterborne, the protagonists of the second book in this series, Marrying Winterborne, because it made me sure that I don’t want to read any more about them. I thought their relationship was sweet and interesting at first, but then it did a 180 and completely shifted. Winterborne did and said some really terrible things in this book, so I don’t think I would ever like him in the future.

This book has made me wary of reading more books by Lisa Kleypas. I know that she is one of the big names in historical romance, but if her all her books feel similar to this one, I don’t think I would enjoy them.

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Daisy Jones & The Six by Taylor Jenkins Reid

The Six started off as a successful band, but when joined by Daisy Jones and her voice, they rocketed to stardom. However, after a short run as one of the most popular bands in the world, they famously broke up in the middle of a tour.

Historical Fiction, 355 pages, published in 2019

The Six started off as a successful band, but when joined by Daisy Jones and her voice, they rocketed to stardom. However, after a short run as one of the most popular bands in the world, they famously broke up in the middle of a tour.

Spoiler Free Review:

Rating: 5 out of 5.

I have read all of Taylor Jenkins Reid’s books, so I was pretty sure I was going to like this one, even if the premise was a lot different than what I normally read. I definitely enjoyed it overall, though I was a little underwhelmed by the ending.

I wasn’t expecting this book to follow so many people! All of TJR’s previous books have really focused on one or two characters, but this book followed the whole band. I definitely thought the focus was going to be Daisy Jones, but I definitely got a good feel for the rest of the band as well.

This book was honestly really stressful for me to read. There are so much alcohol and so many drugs, as well as people doing questionable things because of the drugs and alcohol. Daisy had so much chaotic energy, so I was just always waiting for something wild to happen. Billy, the main man of The Six, also stressed me out a lot. I really didn’t like him because I didn’t agree with how his relationship with his wife went. His wife, Camila, was a favorite of mine, though I did get frustrated because she was too forgiving of Billy, in my opinion. I also really loved Karen, another member of The Six. She was the most relatable character to me, especially at the end.

I was really interesting to hear the story of this band, knowing that they do break up and trying to figure out what lead to that happening. My one issue with this book was that I didn’t really think the reason for the break up was that intense, so I definitely felt underwhelmed. I kept expecting it to be a huge surprise, and it really didn’t end up that way.

As with The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo, I kept thinking that all of these characters were real! I kept wanting to look up their Wikipedia pages, but they are totally fictional. I also really wanted to hear the songs they were writing! Billy and Daisy have a ton of song writing scenes, so I always wished I could just listen to their album.

I don’t think this was a favorite TJR book, but I definitely enjoyed it! She has a writing style that is just so easy to get sucked into. I read this whole book in one day, and I’ve also heard that the audiobook is fantastic. It wasn’t what I would normally pick up, but I’m still glad I read it!

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I Was Anastasia by Ariel Lawhon

Synopsis: In 1920, when a woman who resembles like Grand Duchess Anastasia Romanov is pulled out of a canal in Germany two years after her supposed death, she has everyone questioning if the Romanov family did survive their execution. Told from the perspective of Anastasia during her family’s exile and imprisonment leading up to 1918 and Anna Anderson, the most famous Anastasia impersonator, this story explores the truth of what happened on July 17th, 1918.

Historical Fiction, 352 pages, published in 2018

Synopsis: In 1920, when a woman who resembles like Grand Duchess Anastasia Romanov is pulled out of a canal in Germany two years after her supposed death, she has everyone questioning if the Romanov family did survive their execution. Told from the perspective of Anastasia during her family’s exile and imprisonment leading up to 1918 and Anna Anderson, the most famous Anastasia impersonator, this story explores the truth of what happened on July 17th, 1918.

Spoiler Free Review:

💜💜💜💜

I had seen this book around, but I wasn’t sure if I was really interested in it, but when I saw it at a used book sale for ultra cheap, I figured it was too good to pass up. I know a bit about Anastasia. I loved the animated movie as a kid and saw the Broadway musical last year. This year, I also read Romanov, a YA fantasy retelling of these events. This urged me to look more into the events as they actually happened. The killing of the Romanov family makes me really emotional for some reason, so that’s why I was kind of on the edge about this book.

I think this story did a good job staying pretty close to the actual historical events while still adding depth to characters and making the story flow. The format of this book was particularly interesting. It follows Anastasia from her initial imprisonment in the Alexander Palace in 1917 forward to the night of the execution in the Ipatiev House in Yekaterinburg on July 18th, 1918. Her parts are told in first person. The other perspective is told by Anna Anderson, starting in 1970 when no one could establish if she actually was Anastasia or not going backward to 1918. It was very interesting to see a story told backward because you already know how things end but the point of this story is how things began. Her sections are told in third person.

My only issue with this backwards storytelling was that I didn’t have any context for who people were, so I didn’t know if they were or weren’t important. I definitely don’t remember the end of Anna’s chronological story as well as I remember the beginning of Anastasia’s, even though they were at the same spot in the book.

This definitely kept me guessing until the end. The big question of the book is if Anna Anderson is truly Grand Duchess Anastasia Romanov and if she is, how did she survive? I will say, you do get the answer to this question, so it won’t leave you hanging with an open ending.

Historical fiction has a way of always reminding of the how terrible people can be to one another. This is generally why I have mixed feelings on the genre, and this book definitely also made me feel that way. There was rape in this book, as well as brutal violence and the mutilation of a corpse. These things were hard for me to get through. They aren’t things I necessarily want to be reminded of.

It feels weird to say I enjoyed this book, but I appreciated it, no matter how uncomfortable it made me. I think the unique format of storytelling alone makes this book very compelling!

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