ARC Review – The Temple of Fortuna

Hello, everyone! Today I’m reviewing The Temple of Fortuna by Elodie Harper. I enjoyed the first two books in this historical fiction trilogy and have been eagerly anticipating this final installment. You can find my thoughts on book one (The Wolf Den) and book two (The House with the Golden Door) in previous reviews, which are linked via the aforementioned titles.

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ARC Review – Charming Young Man

Hello, everyone! Today I’m reviewing Charming Young Man by Eliot Schrefer. I knew nothing about this book before requesting it on NetGalley. One of Schrefer’s previous books, The Darkness Outside Us, was one of my favorite books of 2021. So, I just knew I had to read this one regardless of what it was about.

From New York Times bestselling author Eliot Schrefer comes an exuberant YA historical coming-of-age novel about a rising star French pianist, navigating his way into high society as he explores his sexuality. Perfect for fans of Last Night at the Telegraph Club and The Gentleman’s Gide to Vice and Virtue.

They say Léon Delafosse will be France’s next great pianist. But despite his being the youngest student ever accepted into the prestigious Paris Conservatory, there’s no way an impoverished musician can make his way in 1890s Paris without an outside patron.

Young gossip columnist Marcel Proust takes Léon under his wing, and the boys game their way through an extravagant new world. When the larger-than-life Count Robert de Montesquiou-Fézensac offers his patronage, Léon’s dreams are made real. But the closer he gets to becoming France’s next great thing, the further he strays from his old country life he shared with his family and his best friend Félix . . . a boy he might love.

With each choice Léon makes, he must navigate a fine line between two worlds—or risk losing them both.

***Thank you to Katherine Tegen Books for providing a copy of Charming Young Man via NetGalley. My review contains my honest thoughts about my reading experience.***

I expected to love Charming Young Man because I’ve enjoyed Schrefer’s previous work. However, I never expected to adore it quite this much. This was a beautiful, queer coming-of-age story set amidst the backdrop of 1890s France. Unsurprisingly, the writing was beautiful, and I was transported alongside Léon to the glamorous high society scene of Paris with its fabulous salons and glamorous parties.

While Charming Young Man had an interesting plot about Léon’s attempt to secure a place as a renowned pianist, the focus was largely on his struggle with coming to terms with his sexuality and figuring out where he belonged. Léon was awkward, shy, and battling shame about his interest in other men. His journey was an emotional one, and I truly felt like I knew him by the end of the story. I especially loved the scenes of him playing the piano because of how he equated each piece with a memory or a feeling, which allowed the reader to experience the soul of the music and some of Léon’s inner world. The writing of those moments was superb.

Léon had several relationships/situationships in Charming Young Man, but I definitely wouldn’t classify this book as a romance. As he navigated Paris society, he attracted the attention of people who wanted to take advantage of his talent for their own gain, but they also helped him better understand his attraction toward men. For example, his interactions with Marcel Proust and Count Robert de Montesquiou-Fézensac helped him understand that his sexuality was a valid part of his identity rather than just a perverted behavior to be excised at all costs. Their depictions left me super fascinated by these people, and I have already picked up a book written by Proust, which I’m excited to read.

Despite not being a romance per se, Charming Young Man did have a central relationship that I absolutely loved. Léon had such a beautiful thing with his best friend Félix. Their relationship was such an easy one, and I felt the depth of their connection despite them only having a couple of scenes together. The author accomplished this by interspersing letters between the two throughout the text, along with making Félix a staple of Léon’s thoughts about home. The entire time, I wanted them to end up together, even though it seemed like that would only be possible if Léon gave up his dream.

Charming Young Man explored so many different themes. In particular, it examined the intersection of class and sexuality during this time period. Léon’s experience was starkly different from the other men in Paris. The upper classes had the freedom to explore artistic and sexual pursuits that the poor, rural people did not, at least not without risking everything in the process. Léon struggled to maintain a place and often had to do things outside of his comfort zone to ‘make it,’ even though all he wanted was to focus on his music. I also appreciated how the story highlighted individuals who flouted the gender norms of the time. However, they were also largely afforded that privilege due to their class.

Overall, Charming Young Man was another fantastic novel by Eliot Schrefer. If you enjoy historical fiction that centers queer people and their experiences, this is a book you don’t want to miss. I particularly loved that the story was inspired by the author’s reaction to a painting of the real life Léon. I now really hope to see the portrait in person myself one day. Therefore, I rate this book 5 out of 5 stars.

ARC Review – Solomon’s Crown

Hello, everyone! Today I’m reviewing Solomon’s Crown by Natasha Siegel, which is out next week. This also happens to be the two year anniversary of this blog. 🙂 When I started this journey, I never could have imagined all the wonderful people I’d ‘meet’ or that I would read 350+ books in two years. I’m so grateful to everyone that visits this site, and you all are truly the reason I haven’t given up on it yet. lol. Now… on to the review!

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ARC Mini Review – The Wolf Den

Hello, everyone! I hope you are all having a great Sunday so far. Today I’m excited to review The Wolf Den by Elodie Harper. I’ve seen a lot of praise for this book ever since it was released in the UK last year. It will finally be published in the US on Tuesday, and I was lucky enough to snag an eARC. I love Greek and Roman myths and legends and the ancient world in general. So, I was really looking forward to reading this one.

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Book Review – The Lost Apothecary

Author: Sarah Penner

Publication Date: March 2, 2021

Length: 320 pages

Read Date(s): May 7 ,2021 – May 9, 2021


Goodreads Synopsis

In this addictive and spectacularly imagined debut, a female apothecary secretly dispenses poisons to liberate women from the men who have wronged them—setting three lives across centuries on a dangerous collision course.

Rule #1: The poison must never be used to harm another woman.

Rule #2: The names of the murderer and her victim must be recorded in the apothecary’s register.

One cold February evening in 1791, at the back of a dark London alley in a hidden apothecary shop, Nella awaits her newest customer. Once a respected healer, Nella now uses her knowledge for a darker purpose—selling well-disguised poisons to desperate women who would kill to be free of the men in their lives. But when her new patron turns out to be a precocious twelve-year-old named Eliza Fanning, an unexpected friendship sets in motion a string of events that jeopardizes Nella’s world and threatens to expose the many women whose names are written in her register.

In present-day London, aspiring historian Caroline Parcewell spends her tenth wedding anniversary alone, reeling from the discovery of her husband’s infidelity. When she finds an old apothecary vial near the river Thames, she can’t resist investigating, only to realize she’s found a link to the unsolved “apothecary murders” that haunted London over two centuries ago. As she deepens her search, Caroline’s life collides with Nella’s and Eliza’s in a stunning twist of fate—and not everyone will survive.

With crackling suspense, unforgettable characters and searing insight, The Lost Apothecary is a subversive and intoxicating exploration of women rebelling against a man’s world, the destructive force of revenge and the remarkable ways that women can save each other despite the barrier of time.

My Review

This book defied my expectations. I picked it out thinking it would be a dark book about murder and betrayal filled with suspense and intrigue. While those things were present to some degree, the book was so much more. It was first and foremost about how to pick yourself up after a devastating breach of trust and move forward without being held down by the past or consumed by a desire for revenge. It tackled a few other powerful themes (overcoming trauma, oppression of women in the past and present, uncovering the truth of oneself and disentangling that truth from societal expectations) and did so poignantly. The prose was easy to read and well-written, and I enjoyed the author’s style of writing, especially the ease with which she helped me enter the internal world of these characters and their struggles.

This book consisted of two parallel stories, one happening in the 1790s and the other in the present. I loved the story of the apothecary living in the 1790s. The two main characters of this part of the story, Nella and Eliza, were well-developed, and I enjoyed seeing their friendship blossom. They were definitely an unlikely pairing, but the differences between the characters and how those differences affected their interactions was a big part of what made their story endearing. The backstory of Nella and her journey throughout the book were sad, yet riveting, and kept me hooked on the story. The ending was not what I expected, but I loved it. I think one of my favorite quotes from the book sums up Nella’s story so well:

Healing by way of vengeance. But no such thing existed; it never had. Hurting others had only injured me further.

The story of Caroline set in the present day was also interesting, but I didn’t like it as much as I did the story of the apothecary. It seemed to drag at times, and I found myself questioning how easily she found information and solved different parts of the mystery. Despite these drawbacks, I thought the adventure itself was a great device for the self-exploration present in her story, and I enjoyed feeling like I was solving the mystery of the apothecary alongside Caroline. I also related to the self-exploration aspect of her story and the ease with which one can lose oneself in the rat race of life and the expectations that others place on us. The distinction this book made between being happy and being fulfilled, and how one can be one without the other, really made me stop and think about my own life.

Overall, I enjoyed the book and recommend it to anyone interested in historical fiction who also enjoys reading about transformative stories. The characters feel like real people and undergo a lot of growth throughout the book. People just looking for a book with lots of murder and darkness will probably be disappointed, but there is some of that here as well. I rate the book 4 out of 5 stars.

ARC Review: A Song of Steel

***Thank you to NetGalley and the author for providing a copy of the book for my fair and honest review!***

Goodreads Synopsis

Alternate history – 1116 AD. Three hundred years of cruel Viking raids have finally united Christian Europe against the pagan Northlands. A great crusade has been called to pacify the wild Norse kingdoms. The banner of the cross has been raised against the north, and all the power and fury of the west rides under it.

Ordulf, a talented young German swordsmith, is ripped from his comfortable life and cast into the bloody chaos of the crusade. As fate deals him a cruel blow in the lands of his enemies, he will have to forge a new path through the chaos, or be consumed by it.

In the Northlands, three rival kingdoms must unite to survive the onslaught. But can any man, king or commoner, unite the bickering brotherhood of the Norse? Or is the time of the Vikings finally drawing to a violent end. Heroes will fail, kings will fall, and ordinary people will fight for the right to a future.

What I Liked

I loved this book. It pulled me in from the very start with the mystery surrounding the sword and kept me hooked throughout the story with the great characterization and beautifully written battle sequences. This author definitely has a way with words that constantly left me wanting to read just one more page.

The characters in this book were fantastic. They felt like real people, and it was easy to understand their motivations and emotions because the author did a great job of making me feel like I know these people. The two main protagonists, Ordulf and Ragnvald, were particularly well-crafted. I enjoyed jumping between the two because it gave the perspectives of both sides of the war and provided a window into the unique strengths and weaknesses of each culture. Their stories also complemented each other well, with one character being older and more experienced and the other young and naive. However, I appreciated that they were both on similar journeys that required shedding off some of the ways of their pasts to embrace a new future and ensure their survival.

The prose throughout the story was exquisitely detailed and beautifully written. The battle sequences were especially well-done. They made me feel like I was going into battle with the characters and had just the perfect amount of gore to be realistic without overdoing it. I was also pleasantly surprised with how well the writing pulled me into parts of the story I would have otherwise found boring. A great deal of time in this novel was spent on describing the forging of weapons. This is something I’ve never been very interested in before, but this author’s prose was spell-binding enough to keep me hooked throughout those parts of the book. I feel as though I came away from the story with a better understanding of metallurgy and had fun learning about it, which is something I never expected going into this book.

I also greatly enjoyed the information about Norse culture displayed throughout this book. I didn’t know much about it prior to reading the story, and I am now interested to learn more. The author weaved the information skillfully throughout the narrative, and I never felt like I was being taught anything about history. However, I learned a lot from this book, and it has whetted my appetite to learn more!

Things I Didn’t Like

Nothing. I loved everything about this book, and I cannot wait for the next one to be released.

Final Thoughts

If you enjoy historical fiction or fantasy books, this might just be the book for you. The writing is wonderful, and the characters are realistic and fun to read. The battle sequences are outstanding, and I loved learning about Norse culture and metallurgy because the information is presented in engaging bits throughout the story. Therefore, I rate this book 5 out of 5 stars.