The Romanovs, by Simon Sebag Montefiore

What better book to accompany me on the twenty-hour round trip from my home to my brother’s house for my annual Christmas trip, than a gargantuan history of the Romanov dynasty? Simon Sebag Montefiore’s The Romanovs, as billed, takes us through the family’s history as the rulers of the Russian empire from 1613 to 1918. Not to be too metaphorical about it, but the twists and turns of the family were a fantastic accompaniment to the twists and turns of the old highways I prefer to use on long road trips. I was hooked for the full thirty-odd hours of the audiobook. My only quibble is that the narrator sometimes pronounces things oddly (egotism was always pronounced as eggo-tism* for some reason), though I appreciated not having to figure out for myself how to pronounce all those Russian names.

Montefiore keeps the focus of his history tightly on the immediate Romanov family as much as possible. If he hadn’t, it would have been impossible to contain the story in one volume (or even five volumes). He begins with a prologue that bookends the rise and fall of the family by describing how Mikhail Romanov was asked (coerced) into becoming the Tsar after the end of the Rurik dynasty and how Alexei Romanov was murdered with his family in 1918. These historical bookends set the tone for much of this bloody, sensational history. Seriously, there are parts of this book that wouldn’t seem out of place in one of the Game of Thrones novels. Montefiore even plays up the theatricality of the Romanovs’ history by dividing the sections into acts and scenes.

Being an American, in the third century of the American experiment, I don’t have the mental framework for understanding autocracy (in spite of the efforts of some politicians lately). I was alternately fascinated and appalled by the way that, over and over, the tantrums and obsessions of various monarchs were tolerated. Peter I and Peter III, for example, were allowed to turn their courts into drinking clubs (Peter I) or Prussian companies (Peter III). Anna and Elizabeth did terrible things to courtiers who hurt their feelings. Where other nations were limiting the powers of their absolute monarchs—or even doing away with monarchies entirely—the Romanovs were only curbed in the twentieth century. The psychotic violence of the Bolshevik Revolution and the Russian Civil War make a lot more sense to me know, even if I still don’t understand how the Romanovs were allowed to be complete tyrants for 300 years. It was clear to me that the author loved diving into the psychology of the tsars and tsarinas and the effects of personality on Russian history. (If nothing else, this book could be a manual for how not to parent.)

Now that I’m done with The Romanovs, I kind of hope that Montefiore will take on the Rurik dynasty or the history of pre-Bolshevik revolutionary movements because this excellent history just fueled my fascination with Russia and Russian history. The Romanovs is an incredibly rich book, packed with details and wild personalities. I think other fans of histories who love books that take on big topics will enjoy The Romanovs as much as I did…although I will say to readers who are thinking about picking this one up, brace yourselves for an astonishing amount of sex and a lot of creative violence.


*I realize some Brits pronounce the word this way, but to my American ear, it sounds like an obsession with a particular brand of frozen waffles.

The Taste of Empire, by Lizzie Collingham

It’s not unusual for me to have mixed emotions while reading a book. Some books have made me feel happy and sad, others wary and mirthful. But I can’t recall a book that made me feel outraged and hungry. That is what I felt most of the time as I read Lizzie Collingham’s The Taste of Empire: How Britain’s Quest for Food Shaped the Modern World. Each chapter of this book begins with a meal set in a variety of places in England or their former colonies, each illustrating how exotic ingredients became British staples or how culture was shaped by the trading empire, before zoomed out to the larger economic movements and consequences of those movements. I would have loved to have tea or try curried iguana with the people mentioned in the book, but then I would grow more and more angry as I read about how the rapacious and racist actions of British colonizers wrecked havoc on traditional foodways and culture.

Collingham takes us back to the Tudor era at the beginning of Taste of Empire, when the English began to branch out to find fish to feed their navy. She takes us aboard the Mary Rose, a ship that sunk early in a battle due to a freak of weather. The artifacts found on the wreck have given us an in-depth look at so much about Tudor life, but Collingham obviously focuses on the food. The sailors ate hardtack, salt fish, and peas, mostly. They were probably not happy about it. (Dissatisfaction with military rations is a running theme.) The last meal of the Mary Rose sailors becomes a springboard to a discussion of how early English fishermen stopped sailing to shoals off Iceland and moved to the shoals off of Newfoundland—with plenty of details of how cod were preserved in massive amounts of salt so that they would be edible when they arrived back in England. In subsequent chapters, Collingham teaches us about the origins of the triangle trade and the incredible growth of Caribbean sugar, the British and American slave trade, the theft of land from indigenous people, how the British East India Company traded opium for Chinese tea, the development of a variety of food preservation techniques, the British racist obsession with “civilizing” indigenous people, and much more.

A large part of The Taste of Empire examines how cash crop agriculture repeatedly leads to cultural destruction and malnutrition. In the American colonies, it was tobacco. In the Caribbean, it was sugar. In India, it was opium. These crops were so valuable that farmers around the Empire’s colonies stopped growing food because they could make more money with the cash crops. Because these farmers weren’t growing food, they grew dependent on British food imports from Canada, Australia, and other places. If that trade were ever interrupted or prices inflated, famine could break out–as it did repeatedly in India. Collingham includes a deliberately upsetting image of victims of the 1876-1878 Madras Famine to show us the very real consequences of British trade. During the Great Famine in Ireland and the Bengal Famine of 1943, food was exported to England at the cost of exacerbating local hunger. In addition to deliberately encouraging cash crop agriculture, British colonizers also pushed people in their African and Indian colonies to grow corn (maize) instead of their traditional millet, sorghum, and other grains. While they told local that corn was more useful and civilized, they didn’t know to pass on cooking methods that would actually make corn nutritious. Without extra processing, critical vitamins in corn couldn’t be absorbed by the human body. Consequently, people grew tons of corn and became malnourished as they ate it.

A 106-year old fruitcake made by Huntley & Palmers, found in Antarctic ruins. (Image via NPR)

I have a few problems with The Taste of Empire. Collingham deliberately uses colonial terms for places in India and Africa without parenthetical notes with the modern names. I realize that Collingham is trying to recreate the colonial world, but it bothered me that the indigenous names are erased. Reading about the famines in Bengal might have been a little more bearable if those names had been there to remind me that India would become independent after World War II. The other thing that bothered me is that, because she wanted to cover so much territory (temporal and physical), a lot of things are oversimplified or omitted. In her brief discussion of the Irish Great Famine, Collingham doesn’t mention that English colonizers still exported grain and livestock to England while the Irish were left with their rotting potatoes to eat. She repeats the idea that local Irish “over relied” on potatoes without reminding us that this over reliance came from the fact that there was nothing else for them to eat. Also, in trying to be fair to British colonizers, there are several sections (especially the chapter that discusses the opium-tea trade) in The Taste of Empire where I wish Collingham had been more judgmental of the British. Collingham criticizes but not as much as I would have wished, but I suspect this was because I was furious at what I was reading.

In spite of its problems, I was fascinated throughout The Taste of Empire. About a third of the actual length of the book consists of notes and references and I deeply approve of the amount of research Collingham did for this book. I loved the scenes of meals around the world, event when they were included to show just how stubborn British colonizers were in recreating good English meals wherever they were. She even includes recipes for some of the dishes mentioned. Every chapter was eye opening and, unlike some nonfiction books I could mention with hyperbolic subtitles, Collingham absolutely proves her thesis that the British drive for food (and cash crops) definitely helped create the world we live in now.

The Wolf and the Watchman, by Niklas Natt och Dag

Trigger warning for extreme violence and sexual sadism.

About two years ago, I heard someone say that they didn’t like a book because it put thoughts in her head that she didn’t want polluting hear brain. After reading The Wolf and the Watchman, by Niklas Natt och Dag, I now know exactly what she felt like. This novel is almost relentlessly vile, as character after character is shown to be violent, duplicitous, or sadistic. There are almost no good people in this book and lots of very bad things happen to just about everyone. It is as if someone took the author aside and said, look, people like dark books, so go and write the darkest, grimmest, nastiest things your brain can come up with. That’s what reading The Wolf and the Watchman is like.

The novel begins with two children hauling Stockholm watchman, Mikel Cardell (violent), out of his drunk and take him to a body found in an open sewer. Cardell retrieves the body, only to find that it is entirely limbless, with its eyes, tongue, and teeth removed. When dying former lawyer-turned-detective Cecil Winge (manipulative) finds out about the case, he wants to solve it and asks Cardell to be his partner. Once Cardell is beaten up in a sure sign that the pair are on to something and they both discover the incredibly awful fate of their murder victim, we are taking on a long side trip to learn about the last months of Kristopher Blix (a naive coward who really will do anything to save his skin) and learn how Anna Stina Knapp became a woman willing to do shockingly awful things to stay out of the workhouse.

The side trips are relevant, but it takes a while to understand how they’re related to the overall plot—especially Anna Stina’s story. It’s only in the last quarter of the book that we rejoin Cardell and Winge for a series of hairpin plot twists and even more appalling revelations as they finally discover who their victim was and how he came to be floating in sewage.

I was drawn to The Wolf and the Watchman because of its setting. I clearly am a sucker for places and times I haven’t yet visited in fiction. This book was also described as The Alienist in Sweden and I just couldn’t resist. I wish I had. This book is not among the best of the Scandinoir tradition; it’s not even among the second best. The characters give unnatural speeches. The motive behind the main crime is implausible and convoluted. And all of this is on top of almost 400 pages of relentless inhumanity. I don’t recommend it at all.

I received a free copy of this book from the publisher via NetGalley, for review consideration.

Confessions of the Fox, by Jordy Rosenberg

36470806Confessions of the Fox, by Jordy Rosenberg, is a very sneaky book. It begins as a discovered manuscript story when academic R. Voth comes across a handful of eighteenth century pages that purport to be the “confessions” of legendary thief and jail-breaker, Jack Sheppard. This is exciting enough, but then it quickly becomes an audacious and extremely erudite story about an intersex protagonist and transgender archivist, slavery, and capitalism. The book sucked me in with Jack’s story only to leave me thinking unsettling thoughts about how much we might (or might not) own our own bodies and livelihoods.

Jack Sheppard was a historical figure with short career as a thief. He is mostly known to us today because he escaped Newgate Prison four times—which was believed to be impossible—before being hanged at Tyburn at the age of 22. In the manuscript Voth discovers, Jack Sheppard has an even more intriguing secret: he is intersex. He prefers male pronouns and dress, but he constantly worries about being found out as well as being rejected by the women he is attracted to. Jack does find love with Bess, a sex worker (as Voth deliberate names her), and the two lead their nemesis, Jonathan Wild, a merry dance, for as long as they can.

Jack_Sheppard

Jack Sheppard in Newgate
Wikicommons)

Voth speaks to us through footnotes. In the beginning of the book, the notes define eighteenth century London slang and offer references to actual scholarly works. But then, they begin to comment on the strangeness of the text—and to fight with their employer, the Dean of Surveillance. The Dean, and his bosses (a nefarious company with too many holdings and very good lawyers), very much want the manuscript. Unlike Voth, who wants to share the text with the world, the Dean and PQuad have a prurient interest in Jack and Bess’ sex life and Jack’s anatomy. The Dean and PQuad don’t understand Jack. They see someone they can gawk at like the Lion-Man in Jack’s story. Their interest raises the stakes for Voth, who suddenly has a bigger mission than just transcribing the manuscript.

I loved the interplay between Voth and Jack’s stories. The parallels between the two lives get stronger as Confessions of the Fox continues, leading to a twist that I’m still thinking about. There is so much in this novel to unpack; this is one of the smartest books I’ve read in a long time. Readers with an academic background will be right at home with this metafictional marvel. Readers who don’t like footnotes, however, may have a hard time with this book. This is also one of the rare books I recommend people read in print.

I received a free copy of this book from the publisher via NetGalley, for review consideration. It will be released 26 June 2018.

Golden Hill, by Francis Spufford

13732457Cash money is so common that it’s hard to imagine a time when it was something new. Today, money is (for me anyway) numbers in an online account that move around as I pay bills and get paid. I hardly ever carry cash anymore. I use a card to get what I like. So when I read the beginning of Golden Hillby Francis Spufford, I suddenly realized just how weird it is. Richard Smith arrives in New-York in the winter of 1746 with a bill for £1,000 in his hand. This bill entitles him to that amount from Mr. Lovell because Smith paid that amount to his partner in London. Mr. Lovell has his doubts about the authenticity of that paper, so a letter has to go back across the Atlantic and further proofs have to come back before Smith gets his money.

It doesn’t help Smith that he’s very cagey about his purpose in New-York, or that he cleans Mr. Lovell out of all his ready currency when he asks the merchant to change his four guineas into spending money. I was fascinated by the details of changing English money into colonial coin and paper money. This is all after the business of the £1,000 bill. Today it takes a card and a PIN to get your money (and maybe a little fee if you’re using an out-of-network ATM). Then, it was all personal relationships and a lot of faith that putting money into someone else’s hand meant that you could get it back later on.

Money in 1746 isn’t the only topic that this novel delves into. Smith’s adventures in old, old, old New-York take him into all kinds of interesting situations: piquet with a judge who thinks he’s a spy, Sinterklaas and Guy Fawkes Night festivities, a performance of a Joseph Addison play, a duel, and much more. There are times in this picaresque when it seems like Smith can’t take a breath without falling into another mishap. And this is all without talking about his attraction to the most contrary girl I’ve ever seen in fiction. Smith spars with her in between blows from Fate and Luck. And then, there’s his mysterious purpose in London and what the £1,000 is for.

I enjoyed every page of Golden Hill. It was perfect reading after so many depressing and artfully written European novels. It was funny, with hidden emotional depths that made the ending incredibly poignant. It’s crammed with adventure and rich historical detail. The hype I saw for this book was absolutely justified. It’s brilliant.

The Maze at Windermere, by Gregory Blake Smith

34962936Shakespeare said it first: “The course of true love never did run smooth.” This is certainly true in Gregory Blake Smith’s The Maze at Windermere. In fact, the course of love (or something sinister masquerading as love) runs in such crooked paths that at first it’s hard to tell if the characters are even on the same one. This novel is more like a series of linked stories that share a setting (Newport, Rhode Island) and themes of unrequited love, deceit, dependence, dissociation, and observation. As the narratives draw to their finales, coincidences and motifs pile up to highlight the similarities and differences in the choices the characters make in their attempts to get love or something like it.

The first chapters of The Maze at Windermere almost made me give up. The first character we meet is a tennis pro in the resort town of Newport who finds himself somewhat dependent on the indulgence of a very wealthy family. (I don’t know why I’m so turned off by tennis pros, but I’m going to just chalk it up as a personal eccentricity.) When Henry James showed up, I was very tempted to give up on the book altogether. I loathe Henry James because the one time I tried to read one of his books, The Turn of the Screw, I found the prose impenetrably dense and I hate it when someone makes me feel like an idiot.

I think it was the lure of the puzzle that kept me going. I wasn’t going to let the ghost of Henry James hold me back. So I kept reading. I met characters who didn’t quite know what they wanted until it was snatched away from them or who thought they knew what they wanted until something sent them haring down left turns. Over and over, I saw characters wrestle with what it was they wanted from life, whether it was love, security, or knowledge of others. Only one of the narratives, the one set in 1692, is fairly straightforward and the other narrative circle around it as if to show us all the ways things can go wrong when one refuses to be honest.

There’s a lot to unpack, as we English majors say, in The Maze at Windermere. I’m sure I didn’t understand everything lurking under the surface of these connected stories—mostly because everything I know about Henry James and his work comes from Wikipedia. In particular, the moments in which several of the characters have mystical experiences (a nod to the work of James’ brother, William) require a lot more thought, since I was too busy trying to spot all the links between characters and plots.

The Maze at Windermere is definitely not a light read, so I would only recommend it to readers looking for a challenge. It’s very clever, requires patience, and ready access to the internet if, like me, you feel the temptation to run down hunches and look up names. I’ve never read anything like this book. It tackles topics—unrequited love and dissociation in particular—that I can’t recall ever seeing explored in depth in fiction. Those who take up the challenge will be amply rewarded. I feel quite a lot smarter now because I’m pretty sure I understood part of what the book contained.

I received a free copy of this book from the publisher via NetGalley for review consideration. It will be released 9 January 2018.

Homegoing, by Yaa Gyasi

27071490The multi-award winning family saga Homegoing, by Yaa Gyasi, deserves all the praise it’s received. The story follows the separated halves of one woman’s family throw almost three hundreds years of Ghanaian and American history. It begins in the 1760s with two sisters (who don’t know that they’re sisters) who are separated. One sister becomes the wife of a British slave dealer. The other is sold into slavery and sent to the American colonies. Over the next centuries, the family is continually disrupted. Generations are torn apart and children are lost. I think this book is going to continue breaking reader hearts for a long time.

No one in Maame’s line has an easy life. Even the privileged members of the family have to wrestle with their consciences about how their parents make money (during the slave-trading days). There is a moment much later in the book when a grandmother tells her granddaughter a little story to explain her actions and her family. Akua says:

When someone does wrong, whether it is you or me, whether it is mother or father, whether it is the Gold Coast man or the white man, it is like a fisherman casting a net into the water. He keeps only the one or two fish that he needs to feed himself and puts the rest in the water, thinking that their lives will go back to normal. No one forgets that they were once captive, even if they are now free. (242*)

For hundreds of years, each generation has to start over. Most have to start over because they’ve been kidnapped and enslaved (or murdered). Others because they need to hide from their pasts. A few members of the family reach their absolute limits and refuse to live in misery.

The breaks in the generations mean that each generation is completely cut off from the past. They have to create new traditions. But it also means that their support networks are fragile or non-existent. One of the characters in the last generation has a moment with his immediate family where he thinks about who was lost:

In that room, with his family, he would sometimes imagine a different room, a fuller family. He would imagine so hard that at times he thought he could see them. Sometimes in a hut in Africa, a patriarch holding a machete; sometimes outside in a forest of palm trees, a crowd watched a young woman carrying a bucket on her head; sometimes in a cramped apartment with too many kids, or a small, failing farm, around a burning tree or in a classroom. He would see these things while his grandmother prayed and sang, prayed and sang, and he would want so badly for all the people he made up in his head to be there in that room, with him. (290)

For us readers, there are themes and motifs that repeat across the generations. The motifs keep the branches of the family linked through their fears of water and fire, fertility issues, black stones, finding and losing religion, mothers’ love, and more. At times, what happens to one branch of the family are mirrored in the other. There are also Akua’s dreams of her family’s past, which bring a satisfying symmetry to Homegoing.

As I read Homegoing, I had to wonder if the family would ever come back together—until I realized that this story wasn’t really about continuity and reunion. It’s about keeping going, whether one wants to or not. It’s about recognizing the sensation of being lost, apart from community, and yet someone finding peace or at least equilibrium in spite of it. It’s about creating identity from the ground up and trying not to collapse under the weight of history. In the midst of all the heartbreak, I marveled at the strength of the woman and men in Maame’s line. Homegoing really is a masterpiece.


* Quotes are from the 2016 hardcover edition from Alfred A. Knopf.

Where the Light Falls, by Allison Pataki and Owen Pataki

Allison and Owen Pataki’s Where the Light Falls is the story of two parallel lives during the tumultuous years of the French Reign of Terror and the wars immediately after. André is the son of a marquis who struggles to escape the taint of being an aristocrat. Jean-Luc is an idealistic young lawyer who moved to Paris to be a part of the new government. Both of these naïve young men quickly learn that the truth is not enough to save them when they become the targets of men who are more than willing to use the mob’s bloodlust to settle old scores.

Where the Light Falls opens in 1792, a few months before the Battle of Valmy. Jean-Luc is working for the Revolutionary government, but only as a clerk cataloging the seized belongings of aristocrats and clergymen (most of whom have gone to the guillotine). He wants to do more, contenting himself with working pro bono for citizens with legal complains no one else will touch until something more meaningful comes along. Meanwhile, André serves in the new French Army as it defends itself from foreign forces that seek to restore Louis XVI and Marie-Antoinette to the throne. It takes several chapters for Jean-Luc and André’s paths to cross. The two finally meet when André’s commander, General Kellerman*, is denounced towards the end of the Terror.

Once the two join forces to try and save Kellerman, the parallels between Jean-Luc and André become more pronounced. André sees his military career trampled and his life endangered when he falls in love with the wrong girl. Jean-Luc grows increasingly troubled as he learns how cynical men are using the Revolution as a weapon. Both men are believers in truth and merit, hoping that honestly will win the day—only to be bitterly disappointed when they finally learn that the world doesn’t work that way, even in a city allegedly ruled according to the ideals of liberté, égalité, et fraternité**.

At times, Where the Light Falls skips over important history (most of the Terror, in fact). At others, we get detailed battle scenes that go on for pages (Valmy and the Battle of the Pyramids). I found this treatment very frustrating as I am fascinated by the French Revolution. I might have liked this book better if the characters—especially the female ones—had been more fully realized. (I was especially annoyed that Jean-Luc’s wife, who had a very interesting secret, got so little page time.) Apart from Jean-Luc and André, most of the characters are straight from central casting: a damsel in frequent distress, two drunkards, and two deliriously evil villains. I finished Where the Light Falls, but I was disappointed by all the missed opportunities and clumsy writing.

I received a free copy of this book from NetGalley for review consideration. It will be released 11 July 2017.


* The Patakis have no problem manipulating history for narrative purposes. What happens to Kellerman in Where the Light Falls is very different from what happened to the historical general.
** The novel also has a very irritating habit of including French for a bit of flavor only to have an immediate translation included in character dialog. Also, I doubt that eighteenth century French people would refer to each other as their “dates” at balls and such.

The Pagoda Tree, by Claire Scobie

Maya was born to dance. When she dances to tell the stories of the Hindu pantheon, she loses herself and taps into something holy. Unfortunately for Maya, being a devadasi also requires finding a wealthy male patron who will expect certain favors in exchange for financial support. As if this wasn’t complicated enough, in the mid-1700s, the traditional role of the devadasi is being twisted to cater to the men of the East India Company. In Claire Scobie’s The Pagoda Tree, we follow Maya and two East India Men whose lives collide in Tanjore (now Thanjavur) and Madras (now Chennai).

The Pagoda Tree unfolds slowly over more than a decade. We meet Maya when she’s nine years old and about to be dedicated to Shiva as a devadasi in Tanjore. She’s already learned the basic forms of temple dancing, but she still has a long way to go to perfect her training. Meanwhile, Walter has recently arrived in the same city to serve as a chaplain for the soldiers of the East India Company. It isn’t until much later that we meet Thomas, the man who will truly disrupt Maya’s life.

The three characters only bump into each other until the latter third of the book. They meet and talk, of course, but mostly their stories are on separate but thematically parallel tracks until a grown up Maya and Thomas begin a liaison. Until then, we see Maya learn about the less holy aspects of her career. Walter has a similar journey, though he has very little of Maya’s resignation and endurance. Thomas, meanwhile, is on a quest to make his fortune to pay his family’s debts only to suffer repeated setbacks.

I most enjoyed reading about Maya. Despite some clunky dialog with her devadasi guru about Hindu theology, I was fascinated to read about eighteenth century life in southern India. Scobie packs The Pagoda Tree with sensory details, including sound and smell. That said, with Walter and Thomas’s stories, the book feels overstuffed. It isn’t until relatively late in the novel that the three characters really get tangled up in each other’s lives. I understood only then why we needed to see how Walter and Thomas developed their opinions of India and Indians. Still, I wish that The Pagoda Tree was wholly Maya’s story.

I received a free copy of this book from NetGalley for review consideration. This book will be released 1 June 2017.

La Créole by Cheryl Sawyer

When a white writer writes an African American or African character, I worry—especially when that author is writing about slaves. I worried through the first chapters of Cheryl Sawyer’s La Créole. This apprehension never quite went away, but I ended up enjoying this tale of revenge, villainy, love, piracy, slavery, war, and identity. La Créole tells the story of Ayisha, an enslaved woman on the island of Martinique, who escapes to France and spends a year working towards revenge on the man who owned her.

The first chapters set the stage for Ayisha’s revenge before catapulting her to Nantes, Orléans, and Paris. After seeing the man she loves murdered on the master’s orders, Ayisha makes a vow to return and rescue her mother and village from slavery. She’s not sure how to accomplish this. At first, she had vague plans to approach King Louis XVI and begging him to free her people. When that fails, she hatches an even riskier plan: to gamble and win enough money to buy the estate on Martinique and the enslaved people there.

La Créole stumbles in the first third. Though Ayisha shows a lot of spirit and determination, she is curiously passive as she travels from Nantes to Paris. She is mostly willing to go along with anyone’s schemes for her. These chapters read like a picaresque without the humor. Every now and then, Ayisha would show a flash of agency, but it isn’t until she becomes a gambler that she becomes more of an agent of her own future. This passivity could be explained by her naivté about France, I suppose, but I found Ayisha a very inconsistent character until the latter half of the book.

There is far too much plot to summarize, even in the first third, like I normally do. This book is crammed with things happening to and around Ayisha. I read faster and faster because I had to know what came next for our protagonist. Despite her odd characterization, I had to root for her as her fortunes rose and fell (sometimes literally). La Créole is a dramatic adventure and a highly entertaining read.

I received a free copy of this book from NetGalley for review consideration.