Wednesday, November 18, 2020

Mini-Review Roundup



Mini-Review Roundup



I read and loved The Wicked and the Just, and so I was expecting something similar here. I both did and didn't get it, but I'm very happy overall. In TW&TJ, things were brutal. I appreciated that level of in-your-face brutality that drove home the situation and made it feel palpable. This book is much more middle grade and so it wasn't nearly as brutal.

Instead, what this evoked was Little House on the Prairie, and I mean that in a good way. It had adventure and the excitement of traveling into the untamed unknown. It had the warmth of family, friendship, dreams, and belonging. It had the hardscrabble disappointments and learning how to live in a new environment. It had scenery and a sense of place. It had so many things I love and I'm so glad I read it.
 

I loved the first book in this series, put down the second one (I'll finish it, it's just... Henry III is annoying) and so I thought I'd jump ahead to this book and learn more about one of my favorite kings (Edward I), one of my least favorite kings but exciting time periods (Edward II), and a king I know little about (Edward III). I got about as much as I was expecting: A fun and engaging narrative from an author I like a whole lot.

The Edward I part was fun, but left me wanting as it focused far more on William Wallace and the Scottish squabbles and not nearly as much as I wanted on Edward the man and his family. That's to be expected, but ever since reading (and absolutely loving) Cashelmara I've been pining for another book that focuses on the people.

The Edward II part was also to be expected. Solid. The Edward III part was interesting and gave me a lot more insight into The Black Prince, who has always been this figure of legend and not much substance to me. Joan the Fair Maid of Kent, John of Gaunt, and Alice Perrers all made appearances, naturally, and they all took on a little more shading and depth than my cursory knowledge up to this point. It also, of course, gave more insight into Edward III himself, though he still feels more shadowy. I almost feel like I know the other players more. Perhaps I'll try to find a historical fiction book that puts some personality into his character.

I still wasn't sure if I was going to continue with this series right away, but it tugged at my mind and I decided to continue on with the third book. It was...mostly as good as the first two. This one felt a little disjointed. The first part of the book was the same pattern as the first two books and I enjoyed it. Then she finally went to America and I lost steam. The new group of characters didn't grab me the way the old bunch did and I couldn't help but feel like her whirling adventure around the US was a distraction from what I really wanted to read, which was her life with her family, friends, and foes in England. It wasn't bad, but I wasn't nearly as into it as I was previously and it was easy to put the series down after this book. I still want to read the final book, but I don't feel the need to do so any time soon.

The Lady of the Lakes: The True Love Story of Sir Walter Scott


I absolutely adore Kilpack's book A Heart Revealed. I keep reading her other books in the Proper Romance series hoping to hit gold again, but every other book I've read has been just okay. This one included. I did not really like the main character and the story with his love interests was predictable and tortured in the execution. I mean, it wasn't bad and I think if a reader clicks with Walter then they'll enjoy it more than I did. It wasn't badly written, but I really disliked Walter and Mina and their parts were so long and so predictable. I did like Charlotte, but even her charm couldn't balance out the Walter and Mina parts enough to save this one for me. I own a print copy of this book, but I'll be passing it on.  




Wednesday, November 4, 2020

Mini-Review Roundup



Mini-Review Roundup



I liked these books. They're short reads and each chapter is about a page or two long. So, they're super easy to read. I read them in the background, so to speak, where I might pick it up, read a chapter or two, and put it down again for a few days. I return to it when I want a moment of peace, rest, or to re-find my composure. For that, they're nice. Not every chapter is profound and sometimes they don't really stick, but often enough they do and they give me something to ponder or something that causes me to stop and pause or shift my mindset.
 

Elizabeth Norton has long been on my TBR bu this is the first book of hers I've read. It won't be my last, but...I'm not rushing out to read more of her books either. The pros? When she got into the groove, her writing was easy and enjoyable to read. I got into it. I liked reading about the queens I knew just as much as reading about the queens I didn't know, which tells me that her narrative style was accessible and provided enough information that I was entertained even if I was already familiar and enough information that I could follow along even if I'd never read about the queen before. That's all good and why I would read another one of her books.

Now, the downsides? First minor quibble: typos. A few times Henry VI was used when it should have been Henry V, or vice versa or similar. Not a big deal if you know the history, but super confusing if you don't.

More importantly, there was too much repetition and telling and not enough showing. The "thesis" of this book is essentially that history blames strong women and unfairly judges them for actions that are justifiable and wouldn't have been considered wrong if a man had done them. Okay. A little annoying, but fine. I could have gotten on board with this had the author focused on giving examples of what the women did and let me come to my own conclusions that they were 1) badass, 2) justified, and 3) wrongly maligned (which I would have determined on my own had she made a strong case in the examples for 1 and 2).

Instead, the author glossed over the examples so I could only sort of come to these conclusions on my own and she used more page time just repeating the tired thesis. The chapters fell into a similar pattern of: State thesis, give brief overview of queen's life that somewhat demonstrates her strength and how her actions were justified, and then repeat thesis...a few more times. Had these repetitive "telling" parts been removed, it would have been a solid, if not amazing, book.


I wasn't sure if I was going to continue with this series right away, but it tugged at my mind and I decided to pick up the second book. It was just as good as the first. Same quirky style, same funny and relatable situations, and the characters continued to grow on me. Not much else to say except if you liked the first book, then definitely pick up the second. 

Please Don't Eat the Daisies


I stumbled on this through Goodreads while looking up Shirley Jackson's Life Among the Savages (below). It was reviewed well and only 142 pages so I figured, why not? And started reading it right then and there. It was...okay. It was worth reading to the end, I guess, since it was so short. There were some funny parts. I didn't really like the narrator though, and the whole thing had a mean edge to it that I think was supposed to be funny but didn't appeal to me. The humor sometimes hit the mark exactly, but more often than not I felt like I was supposed to find it funnier and wittier than I actually did. 



While quite a departure from the Shirley Jackson I'm familiar with, I may even like this side of her writing more. At least, it hit the spot. This is another one of those "humor through commenting on mundane life" types of books, but unlike Please Don't Eat the Daisies, this one felt nice and relatable. I didn't feel like the author was sneering at me, rather, I felt like we could sit across a worn kitchen table together sipping sub-par coffee and splitting a chocolate bar. It was a quick read and ended nicely, so while I don't need to read the sequel right away, I'd like to pick it up soon.


Wednesday, October 7, 2020

June's Reads Reviewed- Part 1



June's Reads Mini-Review Roundup



This was a quick read about a time and people I don't know much about, and so for those reasons I enjoyed this book a lot. I'm sure much was skipped over, but that's okay. I got the highlights, and I got them in a way that I could follow along with events without feeling lost while also forming attachments with the characters.

Well, maybe "feelings" is more accurate than attachments. I learned that I don't like Anne of Holstein very much. She came across as stubborn and silly, and while I sympathized with her plight regarding her children, I don't love the way she went about handling that situation. I  also don't love all the ways she undermined and went against her husband and the story didn't give me any justification to make me get on board with Anne (nor did a few hours of internet research after finishing the book). I did discover a newfound respect for James I that I hadn't appreciated before. In my reading prior to this book, James I has always been a name waiting in the wings, a peripheral shadow to Elizabeth I's story. In this book, he came alive and his struggles in Scotland and then in England made me feel for him.

While I wasn't blown away, I enjoyed this book enough to want to check out more of Lynda M. Andrews' books. Another bonus? While she wrote James's dialogue phonetically and usually I hate that, the author actually pulled it off pretty well.
 

I've been enjoying the diary-style book lately because they tend to be quick, easy reads that make me nod along in kindred spiritedness. So, I looked for more of this type and came across the Provincial Lady series. It did not disappoint. Super short chapters and a relatively low overall page count made reading a breeze. The Provincial Lady is always somewhat stressed, which makes this not quite the relaxing escape Elizabeth von Armin's diary books provide, but the very mundane nature of her escapades and annoyances makes for a charming read. I definitely don't blissfully wish I was her and I'm not noting down Words of Wisdom, but the Provincial Lady seems like just the kind of lady I'd enjoy getting a coffee with and kvetching about mutual acquaintances and irksome social gatherings.


Anne BoleynAnne Boleyn by Norah Lofts

Let's get the not-so-good out of the way first: the author gives Anne a likely 6th finger. I know, it's not a big deal, but for some reason this always annoys me. Okay, moving on. Everything else was wonderful. I'm not bothered by the author's references to a "whiff" of the witchy and supernatural surrounding Anne and Elizabeth Woodville. Okay, so maybe this isn't exactly serious, but I find it a fun twist to indulge in mentally (like "believing" in ghosts for the sake of enjoying a good ghost story...while not actually believing in ghosts).

The Wars of the Roses: England's First Civil War


I've owned this book for about five years, so I'm glad I finally read it. It starts all the way back with Richard II, which was on one hand nice because I'm less familiar with Richard II, Henry IV, and Henry V, but on the other hand less nice because when I read Wars of the Roses books it's because I want the drama and flair of Margaret of Anjou, Margaret Beaufort, Edward IV, Richard III, Elizabeth Woodville, Warwick the Kingmaker, and the treacherous Duke of Clarence. So, I "slogged" through about 250 pages of history I wasn't particularly interested in reading about.

On the bright side, it wasn't actually a slog. I enjoyed the way Trevor Royle covered the Richard II - Henry V years and I found myself caught up in the narrative. The writing was easy to read, though on the drier side of things. Not because the content was boring or went on tangents, but mostly because it lacked heart. It was easy to pick up and read a chapter, and then just as easy to put the book down for a few days.

Disappointingly, when I finally did get to Henry VI, the whole pageant of characters fell flat. This was one of those history books with a male-focus, which is fine except I felt robbed of getting to read about Margaret of Anjou, Margaret Beaufort, and Elizabeth Woodville. They're such dynamic characters in history and here they were covered, but largely skimmed over and with no sense of drama, passion, or excitement. While more time was spent on the men, even they suffered from this soulless approach.

Perhaps that's a better, more serious approach to history? I don't know, but I do know that I'm the type of reader who likes my history in technicolor. So, overall, okay and a good overview of the time that goes into enough depth that this isn't a skim, but it lacks heart.




Wednesday, September 9, 2020

May's Reads Reviewed



May's Reads Mini-Review Roundup



I had such high hopes for this book, but ultimately it was just okay. Probably forgettable. Nothing was wrong, but it failed to grab me and make me invested. I didn't feel strongly in any way when reading this. It was just...pleasant. Nice enough to keep reading. Easy enough to put down.

The characters were all okay. The "mystery" wasn't much of a mystery but the story was nice enough to follow along with. The thwarted and achieved romances were all mildly emotive, but more like in a shrugging kind of way-- sure, that thwarted romance was sad *shrug* sure, that achieved romance was nice *shrug*.

The three different authors writing three different time periods about three different but mildly related character sets was done seamlessly, so that's good. It's a good vacation book when you don't want to get so invested that you don't pay attention to your vacation setting, but not so bad that you wish you had brought an alternative with you. Just...nice. Overall though, after reading Kate Morton and loving Karen White's Tradd Street books, I was hoping for more.

Since I own a pretty paperback copy, I now have the dilemma of "do I keep it?" If I didn't already own it, I would feel no need to buy a copy. Since I already do own it, I'm torn between "sure, keep it, it's pretty and was good enough" and "I'm never going to reread this and do I really want to use shelf space and moving boxes for it?" But...I already have it....ugh.
 
Secondhand CharmSecondhand Charm by Julie Berry

I have a hit-and-miss history with Julie Berry. I loved The Scandalous Sisterhood of Prickwillow Place but I was pretty meh on The Amaranth Enchantment. This book falls more on the meh side of things.

The thing is, Julie Berry has this tongue in cheek style that can often veer into zany and weird. That worked for Prickwillow because the whole book felt like satire of a genre. Amaranth and Secondhand Charm don't have that satirical edge--they're straight MG/YA fantasy, and so the zany just comes across eye-rollingly weird.

The characters are also pretty thin and hard to feel much about, which again works for satire, but not so much here. Finally, it felt like the audience age was off. In some cases this felt MG or on the younger side of YA (think the sweetness of a Jessica Day George book) and in other places it felt like it had an edge or darkness that made it seem older. This clashed and made for an unsettled feeling. The charms also felt like they were thrown in and not very well fleshed out, which, yes, that's another thing I didn't like about Amaranth-- it felt like too many things were thrown into the mix but it was jumbled and unfinished (but that worked in Prickwillow).  Another meh.

Peace of Mind: Becoming Fully PresentPeace of Mind by Thich Nhat Hanh

I've been making my way slowly though this author's books and I think this may be my favorite so far. The others are more short paragraphs or a page that focuses on an idea and gives you something to think about. I love them. This one is similar, but different. The book takes you on a sequential journey and helps you build a pathway toward a calmer and more present state of being. The author's voice came through a little more in this way, like you're having a conversation over time rather than getting different pieces of advice. Both are good approaches and I like both types of his books, but this one seems like it had a stronger impact. The sequential, building approach pulled my focus back more effectively and this book felt like a refuge and a motivator. I think I'll reread it.

Fast And LooseFast and Loose by Edith Wharton

I'm still making my way through Edith Wharton's novellas and it's such a pleasure. They're so easy to read, but I find they stay with me long after they're over and call to me (I foresee rereads in my future). She's so good at creating vivid characters and intriguing, thought-provoking situations. In some ways I almost prefer her novellas because they let her shine a spotlight on these things and let the reader sit with them for just enough time to really focus on them, but not find them tiresome (which is a fine line, because her characters can be easily intriguing but just as easily tiresome).

Fast and Loose had shades of Francis Hodgson Burnett's The Making of a Marchioness in that it felt like a cross between the manners and romantic entanglements of Jane Austen and the Gothic drama of Emily Bronte, but shorter and more lighthearted and fun like Burnett's. But, it's also Wharton, so there's still some heft underneath the fluff and you can easily spend a lazy afternoon musing over the different angles of the situation and what you might do if you were to find yourself in such an entanglement.

This is the review I wish my past-self had read, as it would have saved me a whole lot of time and irritation:

Skip it. Trust me. I know the storyline is right up your alley: Egypt, dual era, mystery, yes, yes, I know. I know Egypt especially is calling to you and you want to spend some time with the romance and adventure of Victorian Egypt. I also know you think you're prepared for the hefty page count because you read The Ghost Tree last year and while you didn't love it, ultimately you thought it was a pleasant enough read and you loved the super short chapters. I know the first chapter seems like it's well-written. I know.

But you won't get any of that here. The chapters are long and the writing takes a serious dive after that reader-bait opening.

What you will get are awful characters. Every character is a trope pulled from the 1990s, including the painful love triangle where the main character is never quite sure which potential love interest is the misunderstood good guy and which is a villain (and both do awful things). The main character is at turns weak, bitchy, flighty, irrational, naive, and straight up stupid. The historical sections were better, and while those characters were easier to like, they were also insipid.

At nearly 500 pages with these characters, it's a wonder I didn't quit. But, I didn't like the characters much in The Ghost Tree so I thought I'd keep going...until I started to realize that this book is one big rinse-and-repeat, and by that point I was so far in that I wanted to just see it through to the end hoping that would at least make it all worthwhile. The historical story does advance, albeit in a slow and not particularly interesting way, but the modern portions are just the same contrived situation done over and over again without any plot advancement.

But the final "toss the book across the room" moment came at the end when the conclusion of the historical portion petered out to a disappointing end and the modern day portion stopped right in the middle of a scene. Now, granted, the scene probably would have been the same old shtick, but ending it this way made me feel like I was stuck in some Sisyphean hell doomed to repeatedly follow these loathsome characters through this contrived and, really, boring situation. Save yourself. Read something else.

In closing out a rather hit-and-miss month, I'm relieved to say that this was a solid hit. Many people will disagree. This is the most fictiony non-fiction book I've ever read. Talk about author bias! And the writing shifts from non-fiction to straight up fiction storytelling (and romantic, blousy writing at that) from paragraph to paragraph. But I loved it.

Catherine is portrayed as her infamous bad self with all the dirt presented as fact, but it's done in such a way that I couldn't help but like and admire her anyway. Kind of like Megan Follows' interpretation in the equally ridiculous but fun TV show Reign. Really, pretty much everyone gets this treatment (Francis, Mary, Elizabeth, etc.). (Actually, for fans of Reign looking to learn a little more about the characters, this would be a fantastic book to start with).

I think the best way to approach this book is to imagine you're watching a gossipy docu-drama with colorful reenactments and salacious commentary from legit historians who aren't above a sleepover party approach to learning about history. It's non-fiction...but it ain't gospel, and it comes with a bucket of buttery popcorn and tooth-curling cotton candy. I wish I could get my hands on more of her books.






Wednesday, August 12, 2020

April's Reads Reviewed



April's Reads Mini-Review Roundup

Elizabeth and her German GardenElizabeth and her German Garden by Elizabeth von Arnim

This book is perfect. I love Elizabeth. She'd prefer to spend her days in her garden, alone, and I can definitely relate to that. This book is written in diary format with Elizabeth recounting the mundane daily activities of her life as a wealthy Englishwoman in Germany during the latter part of the 1800s. It's subtle, but my god this book is funny.

Much is left unsaid but the reader can still pick up on it, like Elizabeth's loving marriage (with her husband with gentle ribbing and good-natured fun referred to as The Man of Wrath) and her doting relationship with her charming children. Elizabeth is perfectly imperfect. I loved Arnim's The Enchanted April for the tranquil escapism and lovely characters, and all of that is here again but with a main character who is even more of a kindred spirit and definitely more humor.

The Secret KeeperThe House at Riverton by Kate Morton

While I liked The House at Riverton a whole lot, The Secret Keeper is even better. It's another doorstop with fairly large chapters, but I flew through it despite all that. The mystery kept me guessing, and just when I thought I had it figured out, some new bit of information changed things up again.

The historical part had me enthralled. It had a great sense of time and place. I loved two of the characters, but one of them I tried to like but couldn't fight off the creeping dread that I really didn't like them. That wasn't a bad thing at all though. Ah, and the romance was lovely. The modern story follows Laurel-- a hardened 66 year old cigarette smoking woman who, while not as developed, was still likable and I was caught up in her sleuthing. She wasn't the typical young lead with a romance, and while I love that trope, it was nice to have a different kind of character to follow.

Morton did a particularly fantastic job of keeping up the tension and mystery between the modern parts and the historical parts. It's hard to describe, but the way she scattered the clues kept me constantly on my toes and voraciously collecting the pieces from the past and present to try to weave together the mystery of the past. It was gripping, and the ending was worthy of the journey. 

The World According to Mister Rogers: Important Things to RememberThe World According to Mister Rogers by Fred Rogers

This is another book that I read over time. Each chapter is about 1-3 pages and focuses on a story, life lesson, or thought from Fred Rogers. I felt like I was sitting on the set of Mister Rogers' Neighborhood and chatting with Fred. He felt like a mentor. I learned so much about him, his show, and child psychology, which was unexpected but wonderful. Every time I'd open the book I'd get this sense of calm and love. The book has the subtitle of "Important Things to Remember" and that's very apt. I think I'll open it again from time to time and reread passages. They are important things to remind oneself of again.


The Solitary SummerThe Solitary Summer by Elizabeth von Arnim

This is the second book in the "Elizabeth" series, and everything I said about the first book is true for this second book. I think you could probably read this book without having read the first one, but why would you want to miss out?






The Forgotten GardenThe Forgotten Garden by Kate Morton

I can't decide if I like this one more or The Secret Keeper. It's a tough call. For about the first quarter of the book I thought that this was good, but I was impatient because I felt like I had it all figured out already and that I was going to spent the next several hundred pages waiting for the main character to get there too. While I was right in guessing that aspect of the mystery, thankfully the main character figured it out about a quarter of the way through as well and then the rest of the book opened up even more mysteries that I happily paced along the main character in unraveling.

I was also pleasantly surprised to find there are short stories/fairy tales interspersed throughout. I think there are about five of them and each one is a fantastic story in its own right. All of the characters were fun to follow and I appreciated the romances a lot. There were a lot of bittersweet and sad events that tugged at my heart. The parts with Nell and young Cassandra reminded me of my own grandparents who have recently passed, and so that was personally bittersweet as well. The final, final discovery was a little disappointing, but all in all it was very well worth the read.







Wednesday, July 15, 2020

March's Reads Reviewed



March's Reads Mini-Review Roundup

Echo the Copycat (Goddess Girls #19)

Echo the Copycat by Joan Holub and Suzanne Williams
Calliope the Muse by Joan Holub and Suzanne Williams

These books are consistently good. I don't have much more to say about them than what I've already said. They're short enough to fit in quickly, but long enough to have substance. There's always a sweet element of humor and the characters are just straight up nice. These are feel-good books and I'm glad the new stories are still being published.




The House At RivertonThe House at Riverton by Kat Morton

First, let me get this out of my system: FINALLY!!! Ahem, okay, so I've had Kate Morton's books on my shelves for, oh, over eight years and I've never read them. Why you might ask, when these books seem so right up my alley? Well, because they're long and I had this impression in my head that they would fall into that "rewarding in the end but a slog to get through" category. Where I got that idea I don't know, but firmly set in my mind it was and so I longingly and shamefully looked at their beautiful spines for years.

Until January 2019, when I picked up The House at Riverton and got about 50 pages in before putting it down again. It seemed nice enough, but it just hadn't grabbed me. I vowed to pick it up again...someday.

That someday came just over a full year later when in March 2020 after tentatively toe-dipping back into reading I somehow decided NOW was the time. And it was.

This may be a hefty book (almost 500 pages) and the chapters aren't super short, but I sped through it. I didn't really like any of the characters and the plot wasn't what I'd call fast, but this is the kind of book that has a deceptive slow burn where it feels like not a whole lot is happening but I feel utterly gripped anyway. Then in the final quarter all of the threads started coming together, building and building toward the absolutely face-smacking conclusion. And then that final piece of the puzzle...ah, what a punch in the gut. It's weird to say that a gut-punch is a good thing, but in this book it made me do the mental equivalent of sitting down suddenly in shock with my jaw dropped to the floor. I loved it!

How to Love (Mindfulness Essentials, #3)
I started reading this book years ago, picking away at it a little at a time. It's a short book with tiny chapters-- each only about a minute or so to read. Each chapter focuses on a different aspect of love and mindfulness and I read it slowly because I wanted to let each lesson sink in. Not every chapter was profound or mattered to me right now, but every few chapters were. Those were the chapters that made me pause, think, and sometimes change my approach. I love the simple, approachable way this book is written.

SanctuarySanctuary by Edith Wharton

My dabbling in Edith Wharton's short novels/novellas continued and for the next foray I chose Sanctuary. This one felt a lot shorter than Bunner Sisters with the characters reading more like sketches. The first half of the story follows Kate, a young woman soon to be married to a man who has recently come into a fortune. Shortly before their wedding, Kate discovers something about her husband that irrevocably changes their relationship. The situation unravels with Wharton presenting a thought-provoking moral dilemma that left me mulling over the possibilities and wondering "What would I do?" Had the story ended here, it would have been an interesting short story.

But, of course, it didn't end there. The choice Kate ultimately made (which I thought was absurd) guaranteed that Wharton had to write the second party of the story. This is that part that left me lukewarm. The bones of the story are good. The writing and characterization is strong in the way I've come to expect from Wharton. The dilemma mirroring the dilemma in the first half was interesting and kept up a "What will he do?" tension, thickened by what the reader, but not the character, knows happened in part I. A dozen conversations could be sparked by this story and I would happily chat for hours over the different angles of the story (nature versus nurture, morality, so on). While I appreciated the short length, it might have been nice to have the second part fleshed out a little more, and maybe even told from Dick's point of view.

And yet...I couldn't shake an icky feeling throughout the whole second half. Kate's relationship with her son felt...wrong. I can't say more without spoiling things, but it's this relationship that leaves me slightly unsettled with the story, even though I loved everything else.

Okay, almost everything else. Kate is so righteously annoying. But, I don't read Edith Wharton books for her lovable characters.


Tuesday, July 14, 2020

The Women of Chateau Lafayette by Stephanie Dray



Cover Reveal & Author Interview




ABOUT THE BOOK

An epic saga from New York Times bestselling author Stephanie Dray based on the true story of an extraordinary castle in the heart of France and the remarkable women bound by its legacy in three of humanity's darkest hours.

Most castles are protected by powerful men. This one by women...

A founding mother...

1774. Gently-bred noblewoman Adrienne Lafayette becomes her husband's political partner in the fight for American independence. But when their idealism sparks revolution in France and the guillotine threatens everything she holds dear, Adrienne must choose to renounce the complicated man she loves, or risk her life for a legacy that will inspire generations to come.

A daring visionary...

1914. Glittering New York socialite Beatrice Astor Chanler is a force of nature, daunted by nothing--not her humble beginnings, her crumbling marriage, or the outbreak of war. But after witnessing the devastation in France and delivering war-relief over dangerous seas, Beatrice takes on the challenge of a lifetime: convincing America to fight for what's right.

A reluctant resistor...

1940. French school-teacher and aspiring artist Marthe Simone has an orphan's self-reliance and wants nothing to do with war. But as the realities of Nazi occupation transform her life in the isolated castle where she came of age, she makes a discovery that calls into question who she is, and more importantly, who she is willing to become.

Intricately woven and beautifully told, The Women of Chateau Lafayette is a sweeping novel about duty and hope, love and courage, and the strength we find from standing together in honor of those who came before us.

Pre-order: https://bit.ly/3iLkURa
Add to your Goodreads shelf: https://bit.ly/320tkya
Sign up for Stephanie’s newsletter: https://www.stephaniedray.com/fun/newsletter/

 
Q&A WITH STEPHANIE DRAY

 
What made you fall in love with Adrienne Lafayette and why do you think readers will fall for her as you did?

Thanks to a popular musical, the Marquis de Lafayette is known to a new generation as "America's Favorite Fighting Frenchman"--and there's good reason for that. He's easily the most lovable of our Founding Fathers, and his wife, whom he called his dear heart, is just as lovable if not more so. Adrienne was our French Founding Mother, so right up my alley as a heroine, but at first I worried she was too sweet, devoted, and forgiving. In short, too gentle for a novel. Little did I realize that more than any other historical heroine I've ever written, Adrienne fought and sacrificed for her principles, courageously threw herself into danger, confronted tyrants, and endured trials that would have broken lesser mortals. She truly humbles me, and when I talk about the Lafayette legacy, I think of it as every bit as much hers as it is his.

How long did it take you to write this book? Did the story evolve as you researched, or did you always know you wanted to take on the lives of these particular women?

I was always interested in Lafayette--an interest that grew as Laura Kamoie and I co-authored America's First Daughter and My Dear Hamilton. I think I had the germ of the idea for a Lafayette novel at least seven years ago, but I had other projects in the way. And I was always in search of an angle that would be fresh and unique. That came to me when I discovered that Lafayette's castle in Auvergne, which had been purchased and renovated by Americans, served to shelter Jewish children from the Nazis. Knowing how deeply the Lafayettes both felt about religious freedom, I knew this would have pleased them, and it touched me. I was then determined to know which Americans had purchased the chateau, and when I found out, yet another glorious chapter in the Lafayette legacy was born. That's when the story took shape for me about one special place on this earth where, generation after generation, faith has been kept with principles of liberty and humanity. I find that very inspirational, now more than ever.

The book is centered around Lafayette’s castle, the Ch√Ęteau de Chavaniac, and the pivotal role it played during three of history’s darkest hours—the French Revolution and both World Wars. If you could have dinner with any three people (dead or alive) at Chavaniac, who would you choose and why?

Believe it or not, this is actually a difficult choice because so many incredible men and women passed through those doors. I'd have to start with the Lafayettes--though I hope they would not serve me pigeons, which were a favorite at their wedding banquet. To join us for dinner, I'd choose the colorful stage-star of the Belle Epoque, Beatrice Chanler, because she was a force of nature without whom Chavaniac might not still be standing. Actress, artist, philanthropist, decorated war-relief worker and so-called Queen of the Social Register, she was as mysterious as she was wonderful, and even after all the startling discoveries I made researching her larger-than-life existence, I have a million questions about the early life she tried so hard to hide. I can't wait for readers to meet her!


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