Shadow by Kara Swanson
Alright. It is finally time for me to ramble about one of my most anticipated reads of 2021!
Peter Pan has crash-landed back on Neverland. But this is not the island he remembers.
Desperate to rescue Claire and the fractured Lost Boys, Peter must unravel what truly tore his dreamland apart. But with each step, he is haunted by more of his own broken memories. Not even Pan himself is what he seems.
Claire Kenton is chained to a pirate ship, watching the wreckage of Neverland rocked by tempests. When she finally finds her brother, Connor is every bit as shattered as the island. Claire may have pixie dust flowing in her veins—but the light of Neverland is flickering dangerously close to going out forever.
To rescue Neverland from the inescapable shadow, the boy who never grew up and the girl who grew up too fast will have to sacrifice the only thing they have left: each other.
Where. Do. I. Begin?
I’ll try to do this as spoiler-free as possible.
If you had any inkling of disliking the characters in the first installment, worry no more! The characters face the darkness each one of them has lurking in their past . . . sometimes darkness that they caused. I loved seeing how it emphasized responsibility for our own actions. The character arcs close out beautifully (and sometimes brutally) leaving us with a whole host of heroes. (Or villains who are even worse than before . . . )
The new characters that were added shone and each lent their unique presence to the story.
I could not put this book down. Truly. I read it all the first day I got it and then went back and read it again.
The world of Neverland is so unique and beautifully developed. I could see it all in my mind and loved all the different elements that made it so.
It’s no secret that Claire does find her brother Connor. And that he’s nothing like she remembered. His story was one of my favorite bits of the entire book. The development of his struggle with his shadow, his fall to villainy, and his battle against his hurt—oh my goodness.
The message in this book was exactly what I needed to hear. It illustrates crystal clear the light in darkness, that we are more than our shadows. The characters do struggle, and their struggles don’t necessarily end when all seems to be going right. But that’s life. And there is light—both in this novel and in real life.
Occasionally, the descriptions contained a lot of adjectives. Maybe they could have been improved by showing a bit more instead of the multiple descriptors, maybe not. It wasn’t enough to jerk me out of the plot, however, and did nothing to slow the story down.
Shadow did not disappoint. It was all I was hoping for and more. Definitely one of my favorite reads from this year, and an especially timely encouragement to me. I highly recommend it. Like I said above—there’s light, and this novel carries it from Neverland to the real world and back again.
In spring 1918, Lieutenant Colin Mabry, a British soldier working with MI8 after suffering injuries on the front, receives a message by carrier pigeon. It is from Jewel Reyer, the woman he once loved and who saved his life--a woman he believed to be dead. Traveling to France to answer her urgent summons, he desperately hopes this mission will ease his guilt and restore the courage he lost on the battlefield.
Colin is stunned, however, to discover the message came from Jewel's half sister, Johanna. Johanna, who works at a dovecote for French Army Intelligence, found Jewel's diary and believes her sister is alive in the custody of a German agent. With spies everywhere, Colin is skeptical of Johanna, but as they travel across France and Spain, a tentative trust begins to grow between them.
When their pursuit leads them straight into the midst of a treacherous plot, danger and deception turn their search for answers into a battle for their lives.
The inclusion of Colin’s disability was very interesting. I really only noticed it when Colin did—when he brought up his gloved hand, it was like “Oh, right, he has a prosthetic hand.” While some of the plot was his struggle to overcome his injury, it was also nice to see a disability not treated as an oddity or something to be overcome. The portrayal of his PTSD was so well done, showing how it really is while also showing the light at the end of the tunnel.
I liked Joanna from the very first scene. (Come on! She rides a motorcycle! How often does that happen in historical fiction?) Her interest in motorcycles, pigeons, and her inability to be completely put together helped her stand out from the mold and caught my attention.
This espionage story had so many twists and turns. It had me suspecting every character that came along, wondering if Colin and Joanna could really trust them or not. The characters I expected to be allies betrayed them. The characters I thought were evil turncoats turned out to be their closest allies. And a few characters here and there were exactly what they were supposed to be, to throw me off the trail. Colin and Joanna faced both success and fallbacks in their journey to find Jewel.
This spy story was definitely worth it—unique characters, spies, plot twists, and pigeons. I mean, who could ask for more?
Dressmaker Lila de Laurent flees into the forest wounded. She’s just come from a hotel where the murder of an important German official just took place. She’s been playing a dangerous game and the officials are onto her. And she’s about to run into the person she thought she killed—a person playing a dangerous game of his own.
But Lila wasn’t always a spy. In fact, she used to be an up-and-comer on the Paris fashion scene along with her friend Amelie.
Forced into assisting with the sorting of art by the Germans and rescuing what she can, Sandrine intercepts an unusual crate alongside her assistants. Inside the crate is a blush-colored couture gown. No one knows what it means—only that it means something.
But Sandrine didn’t always sort art undercover. She once said goodbye to a husband headed for war. A husband who she can’t believe is dead. A husband she believes has a connection to the dress.
How did they get where they were? And how will Lila, Sandrine, and the other spies in Paris cross paths in these years of war?
Oh. My. Goodness. I had heard Kristy Cambron speak at a conference about outlining this book, and was excited when it came to our church library (where I volunteer) with glowing reviews from the lady who purchases for our library. I processed it quickly and will neither confirm nor deny that I was the first person to check it out.
I was not disappointed.
This. Book. Is. Brilliant.
First off, there are four different plotlines going throughout The Paris Dressmaker. Each of them brilliant in their own way and juggled masterfully. (It blew my mind. Really. How on earth did she do it?) Even when I would groan because I couldn’t figure out what happened to the spies until a few chapters later, I would still hurry ahead to get another clue to unlock the protagonists’ pasts.
Truly, I had no idea what had happened or what would happen until I reached the last page. I’m hoping to buy my own copy so I can comb my way through it two or three more times and get the full picture.
It’s not a light read. Juggling four plotlines as well as Cambron’s gorgeous poetic prose keeps the brain active.
And, as if it needed any more points in its favor, the cover is beautiful, too!
I loved all the characters so much—I was rooting for the spirited women who led the pages as well as the side characters who lent their own spark to the story. Amelie and Lila’s relationship broke my heart for reasons that I can’t describe without spoilers.
The plot was incredible. I was engrossed in a world of espionage and never knowing what might be lurking around the next corner. (Including the death of a character that I very much loved . . . sniff.)
The Paris Dressmaker has quickly made one of my top reads for this year. I’m eager to try more of Kristy Cambron’s books as well as get my own copy of this novel. I highly recommend it to anyone and everyone.
The Mid-Year Freakout Tag
Where did the first half of the year go? If you know, please tell me. In the meantime, let's chat about what I've been reading through these past six months. This tag originated at https://mayajt.wordpress.com, but I saw it on https://www.precariousbookstacks.com/. Make sure you check both those sites out!
Without further ado, on to the freakout!
Numbers and Math
Yeah, I've got no idea how many books I’ve read. A whole bunch more this summer than during the school year.
Best Book Yet
Keep reading below to find out why some of these made my list or check out my book reviews for them!
July: Shadow by Kara Swanson
June: The Paris Dressmaker by Kristy Cambron
May: The Nature of a Lady by Roseanna M. White
April: Anchor in the Storm by Sarah Sundin
March: Veiled in Smoke by Jocelyn Green
January: The Lost Girl of Astor Street by Stephanie Morrill
Shadow by Kara Swanson—OH. MY. GOODNESS. This book was brilliant. The themes were so skillfully woven in. The worldbuilding was so rich and lush, each character was unique—and the messages were exactly what I needed to hear. Couldn’t have asked for more from this sequel.
New Releases I Haven’t Read Yet, But Want To
Castle of Refuge by Melanie Dickerson—It looks to be sweet and entertaining read. And it’s an Ugly Duckling retelling, which you don’t see too often.
Most Anticipated Release For Second Half Of Year
The Lines Between Us by Amy Lynn Green—I loved her debut novel Things We Didn’t Say (it’s one of my favorite novels, actually) and I’m interested to see what’s in store for this novel.
I had a handful of novels I’ve read this year that did not live up to the expectations on the back cover (A Lasting Impression by Tamera Alexander, Breathe by Lisa Tawn Bergren, and The Captain’s Daughter by Jennifer Delamere), but the biggest disappointment was probably The House on Foster Hill by Jaime Jo Wright. I’d read her later novels first, and was looking for the vibes of those novels. It did not live up.
The Paris Dressmaker by Kristy Cambron—I tried this novel with little to no prior knowledge of the book. It was brilliant! The way the four different plotlines were juggled so expertly—and the fact that all four of them were so brilliant. All the characters were so vibrant and the plot had so many twists and turns. It became one of my favorite books and one of the best reads of this year.
Favorite New Author
Excited to explore more of Kristy Cambron.
Favorite New Crush
Didn’t I already explain this in the last tag??? I have no fictional crushes! If forced to choose one to hang out with as friends, I’d choose Sheridan from The Nature of a Lady. Or maybe Rene from The Paris Dressmaker. I loved Nigel in The Paris Dressmaker, but he just didn’t make the best decisions sometimes . . .
New Favorite Character
Sheridan from The Nature of a Lady. He’s so awkward you just have to laugh. And yet so stubborn at the same time. I was very excited to see he’s set up to be the main character of the sequel To Treasure an Heiress coming January 2022.
Book That Makes You Happy
(Why are all the books I read fraught with espionage and despair???)
Best Book To Movie Adaption
I haven’t seen any book to movie adaptions this year.
Take It From the Dragons: https://racheljleitch.weebly.com/adventure-journal/take-it-from-the-dragons
How to Train Your Dragon 2, Hidden Identities, and Much Sadness: https://racheljleitch.weebly.com/adventure-journal/how-to-train-your-dragon-2-hidden-identities-and-much-sadness
I'm also pretty excited about next week's post, so stay tuned.
Most Beautiful Book (aka, the two best book covers I've seen this year)
The Paris Dressmaker by Kristy Cambron
Shadow by Kara Swanson
Books I Want To Read
Castle of Refuge by Melanie Dickerson
Dreams of Savannah by Roseanna M. White
The Illusionist's Apprentice by Kristy Cambron
The Lines Between Us by Amy Lynn Green
The Spice King and The Prince of Spies by Elizabeth Camden
Storming by K. M. Weiland
Unblemished Trilogy by Sara Ella
Wayfarer by K. M. Weiland
There you have it! If you have a blog, go ahead and take the tag, too! Do the freakout as well and share your answers in the comments!
A Gilded Lady by Elizabeth Camden
It’s not every day that you get hired to protect the President.
Or the First Lady, for that matter.
But that’s where Nathaniel is at. Security at the White House is abysmal and tensions are rising. Never mind that Nathaniel would rather be hunting down counterfeiters . . . or his past failures to protect those who meant the most to him. If he’s to protect this president, every rule has to be followed to the letter.
Unfortunately, no one warned him about Caroline Delacroix, the one person who can put up/deal with the particular First Lady. And the one person who seems determined to break every rule she knows exists. Whether that be challenging Nathaniel’s new expectations . . . or hiding her brother’s criminal past from Nathaniel’s investigations.
I’d heard a lot about Elizabeth Camden, and it seemed she wrote books much the same as Roseanna M. White’s—historical plots usually involving espionage or some other mayhem with a romance on the side.
I wouldn’t say this book was quite to a Roseanna White level for me (although, really, what is?), but it was definitely a good read. Yes, I did read the second book first . . . I found it at a bookstore and wanted to give it a try. Now I’m hoping to get the rest of the trilogy.
I understood Nathaniel’s desire to protect. I feel like it’s something that runs in oldest children (which I am one), but also something that can be understandable to many other people. I loved how the author let me see him break . . . and come back together. Those truly were some of the most powerful scenes in the book to me.
Man, Caroline could get under my skin. But on the other hand, she was strong and ready to fight for what mattered to her.
I had so many suspects! I had no idea who I was supposed to trust and who I wasn’t. Even though I knew it was a book about the McKinley assassination, I was on the edge of my seat whenever the McKinleys went out in public like “Is this it? Is it going to happen? Or are they going to stop it somehow?”
The whole plot with Caroline’s brother had my head spinning, too. Very interested to see how it plays out. It broke my heart how much Luke wanted to do the right thing and how much it hurt when he was broken for it.
While not quite as fast-paced as I expected, A Gilded Lady is an excellent addition to a bookshelf.
Thief Of Corinth By Tessa Afshar
Ariadne comes from a stellar family background.
Her mother is verbally abusive and left her father for reasons Ariadne still doesn’t know. Her grandfather is just the same, and all too willing to marry Ariadne off to a man who drinks too much and regularly beats any women he comes across.
There is the bright spot of Theo—the adopted son whom Ariadne’s mother always hated. At her father’s wish, he accompanied Ariadne when her parents split. And despite beatings from Ariadne’s grandfather, he has stayed with her.
And he is the one who helps disguise Ariadne as a boy, helps her escape her grandfather, and brings her to her father’s home in Corinth.
But once in Corinth, Ariadne discovers her father isn’t the hero she always thought. Or at least not in the way she always thought.
Her father is the infamous Honorable Thief, known for robbing nobles in the name of justice and writing humorous letters exposing them to be read in public.
Ariadne was a very interesting character. Outspoken and daring, she made her own decisions and moved the plot forward in the book. She didn’t have any of the normal hobbies of girls—instead being drawn to athletics—but she was still shown to have her feminine side. As well as another side broken by the divorce of her parents and the abuse she has suffered.
The family dynamics were so intertwined and kept the story tangled up in knots I was interested to untie, while also being sensitive to hurting families in real life. It explored each character’s perspective and the hurt they suffered, but never excused their wrong and sometimes downright evil actions.
I was super intrigued by Theo and wanted to know more about his backstory and how he was processing his own hurt. I was rooting for him in the love triangle. And I mean, really, that shocker secret at the end of the book? He has to have his own novel sometime.
The climax rocked. All I can say without spoiling it, but that villain got what he deserved but in all the right ways. And the protagonists were clever in all the right ways.
Not as much of the book as I thought was actually about the thief thing, though. Which was a little disappointing. That was the premise I had picked the book up on and the one I was hoping to see carried out. Or maybe I’d just watched Aladdin way too close to picking up this book.
But that’s really the only complaint I have about this book (especially since Biblical fiction isn’t something I read as often as other historical fiction). Thief of Corinth is not a thief of your money, nor your time, nor your reading pleasures.
Hannah’s husband left with the Revolutionary Army and didn’t come back, executed falsely on charges of spying. But still she stays at the lighthouse, putting up with her mother in law and church congregation who find fault with her every move. Besides that, her headstrong sister Lydia has come to stay, as much in love with brutal Loyalist Galen Wight as ever.
Still, Hannah tends the lighthouse every night.
Threats of a British ship that wants to blow the lighthouse to splinters keeps her away from the light, but not away from the shore. Which is when Birch Meredith’s ship wrecks and he washes up ashore. Hannah believes he’s a Loyalist captain.
But really, he’s a Patriot spy bent on revenge.
When it comes to Colleen Coble’s historical fiction books, this one didn’t quite hit all the same beats. While we’ve got a little bit of action when it comes to the spies, there’s not much in the name of mystery, suspense, or adventure. Which is unusual. It is however an earlier manuscript that was just recently brought out to the publishing eye, so it’s interesting to see how her style has developed.
Lydia was super annoying. I didn’t relate to her at all. Hannah and everyone else in her life tried to warn her and she didn’t listen. Then when she got in trouble, she came back crying and couldn’t understand how it happened to her.
Plus, I don’t know. I think I’m just wearing out on the “guy wants girl because he’s romantically attracted to her and will do anything to possess her” trope (namely, Galen being after Hannah). I mean, sure, it’s usually the villain doing so, but I’d like to see other reasons. What if he wanted her because she was super smart? Or had something he needed? Or knew some deep dark secret about his past that he didn’t want revealed? I feel like there’s so many ways this trope could go without falling back on this threadbare one. Or at least, if this trope is included, I want to see more of the girl breaking out of that abuse.
That being said, it was a sure-fire way to get me to hate the villain.
The dynamic between Hannah and her church congregation was very interesting. In an infuriating way. The legalistic church at one point went so far as to have Hannah publicly whipped because she took in an orphaned baby. I would have liked to see more with that subplot play out in the book. It’s a good reminder to those of us today to stand strong in our convictions as Hannah did, while never stooping to the abuse that her church dished out.
Churches aren’t perfect, and the inclusion of one that was so far from it was something that I think needed much addressed. But what’s brilliant about this book is that it didn’t dampen the Christian messages in this book. It actually was done so well it bolstered it, especially when helped by other good Christian examples in the book. This was a topic that needed approached with a lot of care, and the author nailed it.
Freedom’s Light is a bit of a slower read, but it doesn’t slow down the historical detail and themes that will have you thinking long after you close the book.
Hi there! Rachel again. Check out this section for book reviews and cover reveals of some of my favorites!