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!


Wednesday, July 1, 2020

February's Reads Reviewed



February's Reads Mini-Review Roundup



The Time-Traveling Fashionista and Cleopatra, Queen of the NileThe Time-Traveling Fashionista and Cleopatra, Queen of the Nile by Bianca Turetsky

For purely aesthetic reasons, these books are a joy to read. Illustrations are peppered throughout, the pages are thick, and there are additional flourishes for the chapter headings and page decorations. I usually prefer e-books, but when I read this series, I make sure to read the print versions. I also love that the chapters are super short. I fly through these books.

But, what about the actual story? Well, it's okay. The main character is nice enough and even though she exudes a miasma of blah with a tinge of dreary, I do actually like her. I love all of the historical settings of these books, and the Cleopatra book had the unexpected but wonderful pit stop to the film setting of Elizabeth Taylor's movie Cleopatra, which was like a mini-bonus destination. All good things.

Also good, is that the books are sprinkled with good historical tidbits, including fashion bits from the times, which is what I really love. I do feel like you can actual learn from these books. But....they're also much less meaty than I would have liked. The Titanic book spent more time really digging into the history and spending time there, but the Marie Antoinette book was more like an overnight visit instead of a week-long vacation, and the Cleopatra book was more like a day trip. I wanted more.

The series kind of petered out, which is a shame because I love the concept, love the presentation, loved the zany old-lady sidekicks, and loved the unexpected heft of the first book. I really wish the author had put in the depth of the first book into the next two and I wish she had continued on writing the series. Had she done that, this would have been one of my favorite auto-buy series, but instead it just kind of trickled away into nothing. Very sad.

Bunner SistersBunner Sisters by Edith Wharton

I've been on a real Edith Wharton kick lately and she's rapidly becoming one of my favorite authors. Her books are beautifully but accessibly written, describe an era I love (turn of the 20th century), feature memorable characters that are likable despite their flaw, and stories that pull me in and stay vividly in my mind long after they're over.

But, ah, they are often gut-punchy and sad and The Bunner Sisters is no exception. This is not a happy book. Things just go from bad to worse and at the end when you think the final nail has been hammered into the coffin and you're done and lying on the ground beaten and you've cried mercy and you've been left alone to catalogue your cuts and bruises...Edith turns around and gives you one final kick in the stomach for good measure.

I know that doesn't sound appealing at all, and I am not the kind of reader that likes depressing books. I'm actually the kind of reader that runs screaming from depressing books. But there's something about Edith Wharton that just makes me like her books in spite of this.

It does also help that The Bunner Sisters is a quick read. It's one of Wharton's over 100 pages but under 200 pages books (though in some printings they're under 100 pages), and I'm really enjoying working my way through them (she has a lot). I'm not sure if you'd call them novellas or novels and I think depending on the definition you use and who you talk to they're both. I think of a novella as around 60-80 or so pages, but Wikipedia has a bunch of examples of novellas that I'd personally consider short novels so what do I know? Whatever you classify it, Edith Wharton is really good at writing evocative, immersive stories in a short amount of pages.



Thoughts...


I was sick for a lot of February and stressing a lot watching the spread of the virus and wondering what was going to happen. This, unsurprisingly, took a toll on my reading and I only managed to get through two books in February. But, the books I did read were both enjoyable in their own way, and both check "goal" boxes as being series/authors that I enjoy, a book I own, historical fiction, and a "classic" author.

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