Review: The Quiet Stillness of Empty Houses by L.V. Russell

A Kindle rests on a blue Kindle pillow that a moon and star pattern. On the left is a Sweater Weather candle. On the right is a notepad that says "Read."

Alexis:

If you’re into gothic books that are similar to Jane Eyre, then add The Quiet Stillness of Empty Houses to your TBR. 

When Theodora becomes a governess for a little girl in a quiet mansion, she realizes the house and its mysterious lord, Cassius, are full of secrets. 

What I liked:

  • The atmosphere

Russell’s words drip with atmosphere! Her writing is lyrical and paints such a vivid picture of the multiple decaying houses in this book. Speaking of which…

  • Creepy mansions

The settings almost feel like characters themselves. Theodora’s house, where she lives with her grandmother, is an ancient being falling apart around them. And Broken Oak Manor, where she works, feels like a slumbering giant. 

  • Ghosts! (Enough said.)
  • Secrets

There’s a lot going on behind the scenes that Theodora tries to uncover.

  • Theme of grief

Even though Theodora’s father died when she was young, his death plays a pivotal role in Theodora’s character arc. 

  • A great plot twist 

What I didn’t like as much:

  • Slow-paced

While I generally enjoy slow-paced and character-driven novels, the middle of this book dragged in places.

  • The romance 

The romance was just okay for me, and I felt like it could have been developed more!

VERDICT: ⭐⭐⭐⭐/5 

Pub date: May 15, 2023 ⁣

⁣Thanks to BookSirens, Quill & Crow Publishing House, and author L.V. Russell for sending me an ARC for review!

Review: Big Stone Gap by Adriana Trigiani

This was the perfect light read as I adjusted to my new job–one that I could pick up after a long day of work before bed. A mix of Gilmore Girls and Mama Mia, I enjoyed following the adventures of Ave Maria, the “town spinster” in her mid-30s in the rural mountain town of Big Stone Gap, Virginia. After the recent passing of her mother, Ave Maria is the only Italian left. Like any other small town, everyone in Big Stone Gap know everyone else’s business. So when Ave Maria discovers some long-buried secrets about her own identity, the rest of the town is quick to find out.

Parts of this book are downright hilarious. The part when Elizabeth Taylor comes to town actually had me laughing out loud. The same goes for the dog incident and the chicken bone incident. Classic.

I love the Bookmobile, and the fact that Ave Maria loves books. I love her devotion to her town and her mother, despite their faults. I love that Ave Maria is named after a prayer. I love that, because she’s an Italian in the mountains of Virginia, no one can pronounce her name. (My name is Anna-Marie–I can relate.)

Ave Maria does get a little annoying in her stubbornness to remain single,This would have been fine if she truly didn’t want a partner, but her actions tell otherwise. Sadly, she seems more jealous and vindictive toward love more than anything else. She turns men away and insists she’s happy, only to get jealous when those men turn to other women. There are parts of her character that I like and identify with, as I mentioned above, and then there are aspects to her that get really annoying, like her inability to notice what is literally in front of her nose.

Though I enjoyed Big Stone Gap overall, there are some things I can’t get past, which I’ll call here Early 2000’s Problems. It’s kind of like when you watch Gilmore Girls or an old rom com and you’re shocked at how something that you used to regard as so wholesome is actually filled with culturally insensitive, racist, and homophobic jokes. It’s not okay, but you have to approach these things in the context of time and how far we’ve come as a society in accepting people, even since the 2000s (and Big Stone Gap takes place in the late 70s).

Also very 2000’s is Trigani’s assumption that men and women live like species from different planets. There are literally lines such as, “this is how all men are,” and likewise, “ this is how all women are,”  this just isn’t the case! Again, I think that this has to be attributed to the time period (either that, or I just haven’t read a romance in a long time). There’s also an undertone in here that men are objects to be won by women and vice versa, which presents a big problem.

Despite the outdatedness, I still did enjoy reading Big Stone Gap, and I would recommend it if you’re looking for a small town southern romance.

VERDICT: 3 out of 5 books

 
Now for some very specific things that really irked me (spoilers below)–

 

The fact that Jack essentially bought Ave Maria’s heart when he paid for all her Italian relatives to visit.

The fact that when the family showed up Ave Maria’s own plans were completely pushed aside.

The fact that as soon as Ave Maria cemented her love to Jack, Jack’s mom IMMEDIATELY died, because she knew Jack was in love and didn’t need her anymore.

I totally thought the best friend and band director was going to come out as gay. Maybe he still does later in the series…?

I love Pearl, except that she is the token fat smart girl who discovered makeup and it made her life better.

Review: Bluebird, Bluebird by Attica

Anna: This month, my fiancé and I read Bluebird, Bluebird by Attica Locke. This is the first in a new noir series about Darren Matthews, a black Texas Ranger in East Texas. Darren’s job is on the line when he is sent to the rural town of Lark to investigate the murder of two people, a black lawyer and Chicago-resident Michael Wright, and a local white woman named Missy Dale. The people of Lark are frustratingly secretive. To further complicate things for Darren, Michael’s wife, Randie, is already trying to find out what happened to her husband.

Bluebird, Bluebird is about race, family, and justice. While I found all the topics important and the plot okay, I wasn’t thrilled by the writing style, which is why I ultimately gave the book three stars. Most of the characters felt glaringly one dimensional, especially the women.

The weakest character is Lisa. Not only is she extremely one dimensional and mostly nonexistent, but she’s the stereotypical “wife”. She’s mad at Darren because he just wants to ”roam” and live his life and she just wants him to come home and be safe. Um, no. I know this takes place in the south, but still. You’d think a man wrote this.


This use of recall and memory also made it hard to care about some of the secondary characters like Joe and Joe Junior. The reader never sees them, and their stories are told in such an indirect way that I found it hard to care.

The writing in general is super tell-y. I felt I was being alternately spoon fed and smacked over the head while being told, “this is what this means!” I would have liked to draw these conclusions myself.

One of my huge pet peeves in books is when a twin dies and the other twin is dating the dead twin’s former lover. Ahem, J.K. Rowling, I’m looking at you. As a twin, this is super annoying because TWINS AREN’T INTERCHANGEABLE. In this book, Darren’s twin uncles, William and Clayton, raised him. His Uncle William is dead, and William’s wife Naomi is dating Clayton now. I hate this.

Here are some things I did like:

The discussion of race relationships and how the justice system treats black people unfairly.

The fact that Randie and Darren didn’t fall in love. I would have just stopped reading then and there if that happened.

That Darren had noticed the tree in his yard where Mack had buried the gun, but left it alone. I think that was a great twist and a clever way to end the book and say that justice is complicated.

VERDICT: 3 out of 5 books