I've always found the Kennedys to be a fascinating family, especially JFK and his wife, Jackie. I've seen a few movies about them, know the basics about Joe and Rose Kennedy and their famous political sons, but I had never heard of Rosemary Kennedy before (or, at least, I don't remember ever hearing of her). When I saw Rosemary: The Hidden Kennedy Daughter come up for sale as a Kindle/Audible audiobook combo I knew I wanted to learn more. I'm so glad I purchased it because this story completely expanded my view of the Kennedys as a whole (not always in a good way) and introduced me to this remarkable member, one that's life was infinitely tragic.
This really is more than just the story of Rosemary. While she stays center to the story the author does a really good job of giving a solid background on her parents - Joe and Rose Kennedy - as well as each sibling. If for no other reason I think including this information was an excellent choice as detailing the various Kennedys' ambitions, skills, competitiveness, and drives went a huge way towards highlighting Rosemary's limits and the frustrations and disappointments she would have naturally felt growing up under the Kennedy regime. While I know this was a different time and place, it was upsetting to hear how Rosemary was pushed to achieve more than she was mentally capable of and how she was shuttled around and kept hidden often when she didn't live up to her parents' expectations. As a mother I cannot imagine sending my child off over and over again to let other people take care of her while I go on a myriad of vacations and concentrate on my more capable children. It's just appalling to me!
I honestly had to stop listening for a while when I got to the part about the lobotomy. I could not believe that her father agreed to such a drastic, invasive measure to "fix" his (in his eyes) imperfect daughter instead of just accepting her with her limitations and letting her know that she was just fine the way she was (which, in my opinion, might have helped with the increased tantrums she had as she tried to keep up with the demands of her family). Top that off with the fact that she was then placed in an institution far from her family for decades so that no one knew how catastrophic a mistake they had made is just unimaginable to me. This biography left me with a bitter dislike for Joe and Rose Kennedy and for the lengths they went to for their own ambitions for their family.
What I enjoyed most about this book is the detail given to discussing how mental deficiencies and delays were viewed and dealt with in general during the early to mid 1900s and how those views shifted and changed with further study, exposure, and treatment, much of which was advanced by the Kennedy's philanthropic foundations and Eunice Kennedy's work and efforts in particular. So, in the end, whether from love, guilt, or whatever other motives might have fueled them, their experiences with Rosemary and her many trials ended up doing so much for other people like her. I also became a huge fan of Eunice Kennedy (someone else I wasn't overly familiar with) due to the fact that she was really the only one who took the time to spend quality time with Rosemary and wasn't as afraid as the others to speak about her disabled sister.
Rosemary: The Hidden Kennedy is a wonderful look into the Kennedy family as a whole and this intriguing and tragic member in particular. I'm not sure if what is discussed within its pages are already well known facts to those that have studied the Kennedys but I learned quite a bit and now want to read even further about the family. I can't help thinking how much happier Rosemary's life might have been if she was born into a less ambitious family or a different time. The author (and narrator!) did an excellent job of making me feel for Rosemary and, for me, that is the mark of a great nonfiction book. ...more
It's probably bad to say but, growing up in the times that I have, I've often taken for granted our seemingly inherent women's rights: the right to vote, the right to decide whether or not to get married or have children, the seemingly basic right to decide what to do with our own bodies. But reading novels like Terrible Virtue reminds me that so many woman had to sacrifice and suffer through so much to change the world as they lived it into the world we now have. Margaret Sanger is one such woman, born before her time and one that refused to let anyone tell her what to do or how to live her life. In the capable hands of Ellen Feldman she is allowed to tell her story, with its many ups and downs, and the reader is able to see just how much Margaret, and her many compatriots, had to fight to make themselves heard.
Terrible Virtue is written as Margaret telling her own story, from growing up poor until her death, as she navigates the often controversial choices she made, justifies the decisions and sets other falsities right. Interspersed with her point of view are short snippets from the points of view of some of those people who's lives she touched - both her husbands, her sister, son, lawyer, lovers, etc. - which all show some point in time she discusses from their point of view, showing how her actions hurt them in some way. I loved this as it helped round out the story and made her feel real. She wasn't a saint or a savior or a martyr as some of the women she worked to educate felt her to be. She did a lot of good, yes, but she was also an absentee parent, a selfish, free-loving woman who used men and moved on without much thought, and an ambitious and attention-loving woman who loved the spotlight as much as she loved fighting for free and easy contraceptives for every woman.
The writing is beautiful and evocative and the author did an excellent job of bringing the early 1900s to life. It covers so much ground - from the slums of New York and New Jersey, to the rich and poor areas of Paris and London, to a workhouse and prison, to what I would call a love commune in Europe - Margaret traveled all over either lecturing and studying or sharing her knowledge with those that needed it and the reader is able to go along for the adventures and experience it all. Some of it was exciting and fun but most of it was hard work and sacrifice and while I admired her for much of what she did it isn't a road I would have wanted to go down.
Margaret Sanger's grand mission to ensure no woman had to have a child they didn't desire, that every child that was born was cherished and loved and that the actual act of lovemaking did not have to lead to birth as a consequence seems so reasonable to our modern ears but, in her time, was salacious enough to lead to censorship and prison. The fact that this did not stop her and her fight to make sure contraception and education would be readily available to every woman, rich or poor, and would not lead to negative consequences to those that employed them makes her a remarkable and admirable woman, even if she was not an admirable wife or mother. Her far-reaching ideals have given all women freedoms that they might not have had without her determination and sacrifice, whether she felt they were sacrifices or not. I loved learning about this impressive rebel woman and Ellen Feldman did a wonderful job of bringing her to life....more
I have really been having a love/hate relationship with audiobooks lately. I find the Kindle copy/Audiobook copy combo on a great sale, pick it up, and throw caution to the wind regarding whether I'm going to find it completely captivating or have it fall flat for me. I like to listen to these books on my long commute to and from work each day so I'm always on the lookout for something to really grab me and keep me occupied. Unfortunately, The World Beneath ended up just being okay.
My first complaint with the story was the fact that, from the beginning, I felt like it was picking up in the middle of another story. From the description I thought this would be Joe's story of how he ended up living underground and the trials he faced in this somewhat self-made prison caused by his agoraphobia. Instead, we start with Joe already underground for six months, with established relationships that he is trying to hold on to while he can't leave the tunnels and a somewhat settled existence with his dog, Edison. I kept going back to the book information to make sure I was in fact reading the first in a series. The focus doesn't seem to be on Joe's reasons for being underground and how he might get out at all, but more on an infected monkey, trained soldiers, hired assassins, and the like. If this had been the second book in a series and I had already read the first, in which Joe's life and relationships were firmly established, I might have enjoyed this shift in focus. As it stands I felt somewhat cheated out of getting to know Joe better.
Secondly, while the narrator did a great job with the male voices and distinguishing each one, the women's voices (what few there were) were just bad. While this doesn't have anything to do with the actual story, since I was listening to this one it did affect my enjoyment. The story is also very heavy in description and internal dialogue and much lighter in actual dialogue and character interaction, which isn't necessarily a bad thing but did make the interactions between the characters seem somewhat superficial. Add on to this the fact that, during the many internal ruminations of Joe, we have every single number he says replaced with a color - in the middle of the sentences! - I found myself just wanting to get out of his head and move on to something else.
Now, I don't want it to sound like I didn't enjoy the story at all because that wouldn't be true. The relationship between Joe and his dog was really great and the author did an exceptional job of building that relationship and making it feel real, relatable, and so touching. Their interactions were by far my favorite parts. The author also did a wonderful job of building the world of the underground tunnels and describing it so well that you felt like you could feel, smell, touch it all. I was fascinated by the descriptions of the underground Victorian mansion that Joe was living in as well. The contrast between its opulence and the dark dankness of the tunnels was really quite breathtaking.
All in all I enjoyed aspects of this story while finding others somewhat irritating. I seem to be in the minority as others have given it great reviews and the book was the winner of the International Thriller Writers's Best Ebook Original Novel award. I will say that if the author decides to write a story that develops Joe's backstory I would definitely be interested in reading it. I think there is quite a lot of potential here, the way this story was presented just didn't work overly well for me. ...more
When I read the synopsis for The Evening Spider I immediately reached out to the wonderful ladies at TLC Book Tours and asked to please be a part of this tour. It had so many elements I love in one package: historical setting and true crime; psychological suspense; possibly ghosts with nefarious plans creeping around a creaky old house, terrifying a new mom. Jackpot! Now having finished I'm a little torn about how I feel about the story overall. Did I enjoy it? Very much! Did it live up to what I was expecting in my head or give me the gasping shock I wanted as my mind was blown by unexpected revelations? Not exactly.
The set up of the chapters was a little odd to me at first, but as I kept reading I really began to enjoy it. The story is broken up in short, alternating chapters between Frances in a Lunatic Asylum in 1885 as she relays to her brother the actions that brought her there five years before and Abby in 2014 trying to figure out what spirits might be haunting her house and possibly injuring her baby daughter. Once I got used to this pattern I found that it definitely kept the pages turning as little, unsettling bits of information are continuously dropped for the reader just before it switches back to the other storyline. And there are some legitimately creepy aspects about both storylines that I found just delicious.
I think my favorite creepy aspect would have to be Abby trying to figure out whether her house is truly haunted or whether she might be starting to lose her mind. She hears shushing on her baby monitor, doors are hard to open as though someone is pushing against it, she starts having these disturbing nightmares with someone else's baby in it as well as dreams that hint at something horrible having happened in Abby's past....it all adds up to just a general feeling of foreboding and I kept waiting to see exactly which way her somewhat tenuous hold on sanity was going to fall.
This isn't to say that Frances's story didn't have a lot to offer. From the get-go the way she was having such a seemingly innocuous conversation with her brother while sitting in a Lunatic Asylum made me think she was off her rocker and was going to really shock me with what we were going to learn. She was a very odd character and the way she presented her story made me think I wasn't quite getting the full picture. Towards the end of the novel I kept feverously turning pages to see what would happen and then....
Unfortunately I found the ending for both storylines odd and mostly unsatisfying. For the life of me I cannot figure out why the author chose to end both the way she did. We only learn bits and pieces of what really happened in Frances's story while never getting much reasoning or follow up and, in Abby's case, I still don't fully know what was happening. Abby makes a decision in her past that, no matter which way I try to reason it, I cannot fathom why she did it and there is no real resolution to her story. I was left feeling sort of like....is that all?
Unsatisfying ending aside The Evening Spider did hold my attention and give me hours of entertainment. Others might like the ending better than I did, so if the synopsis sounds like something you would generally enjoy I would recommend giving it a try. Just don't expect to be blown away when you turn the last page. ...more
It doesn’t happen all that often, but every once in a while I come across a book that really touches a neFind my full review at www.luxuryreading.com.
It doesn’t happen all that often, but every once in a while I come across a book that really touches a nerve in me, one that I can relate to and appreciate on a more personal level. This has actually happened a few times this year and I think it speaks to the abundance of very talented contemporary fiction authors out there right now. Sally Hepworth’s novel, The Things We Keep, is one such story that completely pulled me in and had me captivated until I turned the last page.
The Things We Keep is told from three different perspectives: Anna, a 39 year old woman living at the Rosalind House residential home who suffers from young-onset Alzheimer’s; Eve, a mid-30s fine dining chef who has come to find employment as the cook at Rosalind House after her husband killed himself and left her alone to deal with the aftermath of a Ponzi scheme he orchestrated; and Clementine, Eve’s 7 year old daughter who is forced, at too early an age, to reconcile the daddy she misses so much with the bad man so many people are calling him. While Eve’s and Clementine’s story lines are in the present, dealing with the difficult situation they find themselves in, Anna’s goes back a little into the past and progressively gets closer to the current time as the story continues. All three of these characters, along with many of the delightful secondary characters, have to struggle to deal with the various parts of themselves, both the good and the bad. It is within this struggle, whether it is emotionally or, in Anna’s case, a physical struggle, that the real hearts of the characters come out.
Through Anna’s story line we also get to see her experience a relationship with Luke, another young resident of Rosalind House, who is suffering from front temporal dementia, which affects his speech and other language skills. Sally Hepworth did an exceptional job of getting the reader inside Anna’s head, so you could not only feel her frustration, confusion and anger but witness how her disease affected her thought processes, her memory and her ability to express her thoughts and wishes. With Anna being so close to my own age, I really related to her and could completely empathize with her feelings and actions…I would respond the exact same way if I was in her situation. Possibly because of this I really connected with her and her attempts, even when she wasn’t even aware of why she was doing it, to stay connected with Luke. There is a secret revolving around Anna that resulted in her being separated from Luke during much of the story (and which drives Eve’s attempts to help them be together) and while I have to admit that I saw it coming a mile away, it did add to the development of not only Anna’s character but her relationship with her brother and his reasons for wanting to protect her so badly. Anna was such a fascinating character to me that I really wanted her to be as happy as she could be, as her brain continued to fail her, and longed for something to be done to help her.
The Things We Keep is a fascinating look into the human struggle to understand why things happen to us and how to hold on to whatever we can when it all starts tumbling down. It’s about grasping happiness wherever you can and reconciling the past to the past and being able to move on without forgetting all that came before. There are so many delightful characters going through some heartbreaking circumstances that I loved the whole community within Rosalind House. If you want to experience a wonderfully written, deeply felt story then you can’t go wrong with The Things We Keep....more
Ah, the glitz and glamour of tinseltown! Who doesn't love the exquisite costumes and makeup, lavish set designs and larger than life personalities of the golden age of Hollywood? I've spent many an hour curled up watching old black and white movies, marveling at the splendor on the screen and own a copy of Gone with the Wind - my favorite movie of all time - in every possible format I can get my hands on so I always have it ready to watch wherever I am. But given this perfection and the powerful emotions drawing the performers together, what happened when the cameras stopped rolling and real-life began? All the Stars in the Heavens tackles not only the beauty of Hollywood during this magical time but the very real and very flawed people who inhabited it.
The story is told in the third person and jumps relatively rapidly from one person's perspective to the other. While this could be confusing at times, once I got used to it I found it a wonderful way to see inside the lives and heads of a large number of players. While the bulk of the focus is on Loretta Young and her secretary, Alda Ducci, the reader also sees into the hearts of a host of other characters, including some pretty famous names such as David Niven, Clark Gable and Spencer Tracy. These characters in particular, along with Loretta's mother, sisters and a few others, are wonderfully developed and the dialogue between them is brilliant and witty and feels right out of one of those wonderful movies these people inhabited. There are a number of other high profile names sprinkled throughout this hefty story that seem more used for background development and name dropping than to actually showcase the people behind the names, but the main characters are all developed into incredibly real, flawed people. And oh how flawed they are!
I find it amazing that Adriana Trigiani was able to give me these characters with some serious imperfections in personality and still make me love them. The men are especially selfish and unfaithful - I can't think of one male character, save a few priests, that didn't in fact cheat on the women they were romantically involved with - but somehow their humor, caring hearts and/or their dedication to their careers make them endearing even when you know they are not the type of men any woman would want to marry. The women have their own lapses in judgement and many seem to trade partners and husbands like they might dresses, but their love for family, passions and even religion seemed to shine through the muck they made in their personal lives to make them very real and very endearing. This would include the big "secret" Loretta keeps from most everyone for more years than seems possible and that Alda helps her orchestrate. While I can't say I agree with many of the choices she made her heart was clearly in the right place and she did the best she could given her experiences and the times she lived in.
On top of the wonderful characters, my favorite aspect of All the Stars in the Heavens would have to be the great attention and detail given to the development of the settings. Every small detail that went into the making of a movie - from painting and rigging the settings, dressing and making up the stars, filming on locations on and off lots, negotiating contracts, press junkets and fans, and so much more - are shown to the reader so it is impossible to not feel completely enmeshed in the process. The homes and locations, from Italy to California to a snow-covered mountain in Washington State, are all perfectly presented so the reader can see it all right before them.
This is the first novel I've read by Adriana Trigiani and I am so glad I started with this one. While there might be almost too much development of the many characters and settings throughout this epic novel, it is all and all a wonderful immersion into a particularly fascinating time and place in American history and culture. I not only feel like I was presented with a wonderful story but a better understanding of what it took to make a movie at the dawn of modern cinema. With as much attention as was given to the many people involved I very much wish the author had included a detailed author note at the end of the novel to help me navigate what portions and people are true to history and what was created to advance the story. Even without this I am now ready to delve even further into the history of this golden age in movies and I look forward to reading more by the author as well. ...more
The Kopp sisters are unlike any in fiction I have come across before! Each has her own quirks but all three - stubbornly willful Constance, bullish Norma and dramatic Fleurette - are intelligent, outspoken and incredibly resourceful, making for quite the combination. The very fact that the three live alone together happily on a farm out in the country is remarkable given the time in which they live. None of the men who come into contact with them knows quite what to do or what to expect from them, least of all the brutish Mr. Kaufman who expects them to roll over and give up after he causes the buggy accident that changes all their lives forever.
I think my favorite aspect of the novel, beyond my admiration for what Constance accomplishes by refusing to let the wrongs done to her and others go unchecked, is the introduction of what I think of as more modern law enforcement tactics in the beginning of the 20th Century. Not only does Constance do her own detective work, something not normally done, we get to see the meticulous collection of both forensic and photographic evidence, stakeouts, private investigations, the use of media (in this case newspapers) to influence the way a case is viewed by the public and sentencing deals done between police and criminals in exchange for information. There's even a courtroom drama towards the end of the novel.
An interesting twist added to the crime drama element is the slow unraveling of a long buried family secret that is revealed to the reader in flashbacks and memories. This secret, and the revelation of the paranoid and phobic way their mother raised them, is the very reason the sisters have so isolated themselves from society and determined that outsiders, even police, cannot be trusted. This buggy accident, while awful and traumatic for a number of reasons, does serve some good in bringing the sisters out of their own world somewhat and forcing them to realize that, at times, everyone needs help.
On the downside, I did find that the story dragged in parts. There are aspects added, such as Norma's slightly obsessive interest in her carrier pigeons, that didn't seem to add anything to the story and from the author's notes aren't based in the history known of the Kopp sisters. Another aspect that slowed the story down somewhat was the inclusion of a missing child case that Constance refuses to let go. While I found it interesting I'm not overly sure why it was included, other than to highlight the fact that Constance would make a good detective. I felt the close relationship between Constance and the sheriff was also made to insinuate some sort of attraction between the two, but that didn't seem to end up going anywhere.
Overall, Girl Waits with Gun is an entertaining and enlightening look into a unique, true to life woman who did her part to change the way society looked at the capabilities of women in law enforcement. There are moments of humor, heart and suspense and I'm so happy Amy Stewart brought these wonderful women's stories to the public. They really are unforgettable!...more
From page one of The Night Sister an eerie feeling permeates the story, one that makes you think of dangeFind my full review at www.luxuryreading.com.
From page one of The Night Sister an eerie feeling permeates the story, one that makes you think of dangerous things hanging back in the shadows, just waiting to pounce. It opens with one of our protagonists, Piper, being called home by her sister, Margot, after their childhood friend, Amy, is found dead along with her husband and son at what remains of Amy’s childhood home, the Tower Motel her grandfather built. All signs point to Amy as the murderer but neither woman can believe their friend would do that. It’s up to Piper to find out exactly what happened to Amy and her family, especially since the only survivor of the murders, Amy’s daughter Lou, could still be in danger.
Going back and forth in time, between the present, the late 1980’s when Piper, Margot and Amy were childhood friends looking into the mysteries of Amy’s family’s past, and the late 1950s/early 1960s when Amy’s mother Rose and Aunt Sylvie lived at the motel, little snippets of information are revealed that, in the beginning, create more questions than answers but soon begin falling into place revealing a much larger and darker puzzle. The author does a great job of keeping the tension and mystery strong, especially since there are so many story lines running at the same time that all seem somewhat separate at first but wrap up nicely by the end. There is clearly much going on than our characters are initially aware of, and there are a few gruesome and truly terrifying parts that definitely kept me glued to the story. Suffice it to say Piper and Margot are in way over their head and their own lives are put into danger by the time they finally figure out exactly what happened to Amy and what dark secret Amy’s family has been hiding for generations.
My only real issue with The Night Sister was how heavy the paranormal elements were. I knew going in there was the possibility of ghosts or ghouls or scary things but I assumed these scary mysteries from the past would turn out to have more grounded roots in reality. This wasn’t the case and let’s just say fans of “monsters” will be very happy to read this novel. I still very much enjoyed the novel, it just surprised me with this specific paranormal turn it took.
If you’re looking for a scary story about things that go bump in the night you will not be disappointed with The Night Sister. I can honestly say I had a few scaredy-cat moments during this story, and that isn’t something that happens often with me. I definitely plan to read more by Jennifer McMahon, I only hope they aren’t all as heavily immersed in the paranormal as this one. ...more
I've never been a fan of short story collections in the past, but over the past year or so the author collaboration collections that have been coming out have really caught my fancy. While I've purchased A Day of Fire: A Novel of Pompeii and Grand Central: Original Stories of Postwar Love and Reunion, A Year of Ravens is the first one I've read and, if this is any indication of what I can expect to find within those novels, I am in for a big treat!
A Year of Ravens is, as the synopsis states, a novel told in seven parts. Each part is written by a different author and concentrates on one or two main characters within the larger story arch. I find this process of building the story fascinating because the reader gets to see Boudica's rebellion from just about every possible side, giving a wider scope and appreciation for the bravery, sacrifices, alliances and loss that all of the characters experience. Another fun plus is the fact that many of the characters swing through other stories as well as their own, letting us see them from both within themselves and through the eyes of others. I can't think of a better way to get to really know a character and my only complaint would be that, after really getting to know and love some of them, I wanted a lot more of their story!
All of the stories within A Year of Ravens are wonderful, but I do have a few that ended up being my favorites. The very first story, The Queen by Stephanie Dray, was my all time favorite. In it we meet Cartimandua, Queen of the Brigantes, a queen who, while very similar to Boudica in looks and strength, takes the opposite path by working with the Romans for the safety and security of her people. I ached for her as she continued to do what she saw as right for her people even as they began to rebel and hate her for doing just that. I found her determination in the face of their disgust so brave and commendable. I wanted so much more of Cartimandua's story and I can only hope (beg, maybe?) that Stephanie with give her a longer story to tell. The Queen also details the events that begin Boudica's year long rebellion, and what events those are! The Slave by Ruth Downie was also brilliant, giving the reader the direct aftermath of the Roman's violent annexation of Boudica's lands through the eyes of Ria, a slave girl and half-sister to Boudica's daughters. It is a brutal, emotional and honest look at the Roman attempt to demonstrate their complete control over the Iceni tribe through abuse, rape and destruction. I found it hard to read at times but, at the same time, hard to look away from and the actions and emotions expressed in the story fermented for me the reasons for Boudica's rebellion against the Romans. The Warrior by Kate Quinn shows us the final battle of the rebellion through the eyes of Duro, Boudica's grizzled right-hand warrior and his Roman slave, Valeria, wife of the Roman procurator who's actions precipitated the rebellion to begin with. Watching the proud Iceni warrior and the even prouder Roman lady spar, both verbally and physically, was both informative and entertaining and I couldn't help but develop a grudging appreciation for Valeria by the end of the story. It also brings Duro and his son, Andecarus, together again on the battlefield, which I have to admit brought tears to my eyes. I've always loved Kate's writing and this story just cemented that appreciation.
A Year of Ravens is a remarkable story collection and one that has me desperate to know more about Boudica, Cartimandua and so many other people from history that I was either not aware of before or only vaguely so. There is just so much to appreciate within the story, especially the fact that these seven separate authors were able to meld their individual parts together into a seamless, entertaining and emotional story. I can't think of anything that it doesn't encompass, from history to love to ending a military career on the battlefield to coming-of-age within violence and sacrifice, everyone can find something to appreciate here. I'm excited to read more from each of these authors and look forward to reading more compilations such as this. ...more
I have to admit up front that I haven't read very extensively about French history. British history has always been my favorite and with the exception of books centered around Marie Antoinette and/or The French Revolution I haven't had that many novels set in France cross my path. This being said I was delighted when I saw TLC Book Tours would be doing a blog tour for The Sisters of Versailles. How could I NOT want to read a novel that promises to be a well researched peek into the scandalous court of King Louis XV, something I knew so little about? Decadence, intrigue and plotting sisters...I'm all in! I'm happy to say that the synopsis lived up to it's promises and thoroughly immersed me in the plotting, grasping and sometimes devastating world of the Nesle sisters and their time at court.
These sisters had an upbringing I would expect for those of their background: distant parents, an education more in the ways of being a proper woman of fortune than of intellect, the prospect of advantageous marriages. Where what I consider "normal" for women such as these began to veer off was the fact that four of the five sisters so easily found themselves the mistresses of the King! Now, I can see one sister falling into the King's bed and would have been satisfied with Louise's story of her rise in favor and devastating fall, but the fact that her sisters schemed their way in for their own selfish, or naïve, reasons was just delightfully scandalous. This whole concept just drives the point home that regardless of familial love and devotion, the prospect of advancement can warp someone's actions and the greed, jealousies and natural competitiveness of sisters can be amplified and deformed into something quite ugly. I also enjoyed seeing how the more innocent personalities they developed in the nursery were so corrupted by the adult world they were born into....the court didn't make the women who they became but sort of exaggerated the negative aspects of their personalities. I've never come across sisters quite like these!
The chapters alternate between sisters (the first and last being from Hortense's point of view, which is interesting as she was the only sister not to land in Louis XV's bed and was the last surviving sister) and gives a front row view into not only each of their inner machinations but into the toll the court takes on their personalities over time: Louise, the eldest, was a loving, sweet yet gullible young woman until the court intrigue and betrayal of her sisters broke her spirit; Pauline, the headstrong and fiercest sister only became meaner with the court's influence; ever jolly and lazy Diane became more gluttonous in the opulence that surrounded them; and littlest Marie-Anne, always cunning, sharp and pretty, was able to further hone her skills at manipulation until she became the cruelest of them all. Only Hortense, the most pious and virtuous of the sisters, seemed to escape the court relatively unscathed, but even this might be biased as she is the one leading the story. I found their journeys not only surprising and fascinating to watch but somewhat sad, as none were really able to live full, happy lives even with all their wealth and influence.
The only small qualm I have with the story was that it felt somewhat repetitive at times. Yes, I know that Louise is easily manipulated and somewhat over-emotional, that Hortense is sanctimonious and that Diane is a horrible writer and eats a lot. I didn't feel these traits needed to necessarily be mentioned as much as they did, however I can't say it necessarily pulled down the writing too much either. It simply had me rolling my eyes from time to time, which may have been the point as I can see the other sisters doing that as well when discussing it.
Overall this is a remarkable and fascinating look at a pack of sisters that found their way into the heart of the French court but seem almost lost to history. I am so glad Sally Christie let them tell their story and I am now thoroughly intrigued by French history. This makes me that much more excited when I know there are two more novels to come out about more of Louis's mistresses, and not only am I excited to learn about them but to see how Louis's personality might change over time as he indulges even more in his need for new women and an end to his easily triggered boredom. A wonder beginning to a very promising series. ...more
Depression-era United States isn't a place and time I've read much about but, after reading Rare Objects, I'm starting to think that's been a mistake. Given this story's subject matter, the contrast between the poor, crowded, down on their luck immigrant communities like the one Maeve grew up in and the rich, opulent, and wanton world she becomes enmeshed in while working in the antiques store, is glaringly clear and that much more poignant for it. Whether this is just due to the subject matter or is due to the author's spectacular writing style - stark at times, whimsical at others, and always eloquent - I'm not sure. But regardless of the reasons, I absolutely loved it!
The beginning of the novel is perfect, showing Maeve down on her luck and back at home with her mother, trying to make a new start for herself at a high-end antique store (dying her hair, lying about her origins, and going by "May with a y") while we, the reader, get to also see glimpses back over the last year as Maeve struggled in New York and then the mental hospital. This format does a great job of giving the reader a well rounded view of who Maeve is at this point of her life and just how much she lies, to herself as well as everyone else, about who she is. I loved Maeve from the beginning as she is such an intelligent, strong, and spunky character. However she isn't the only incredible character...Rare Objects is simply packed full with flawed and wonderfully complicated characters that I won't soon forget.
One such character is Diana Van der Laar, someone I really didn't start out liking but that soon became impossibly endearing. Maeve and Diana seem to understand each other better than just about anyone else - they've both felt low enough to try and harm themselves, they've both felt like no one else really knows them and that the personas they present to the world are simply mirages, that secrets and lies are the only way to survive - but as Diana's character develops we start to see that there is quite a bit more going on in her life than Maeve could have expected. Diana seems to have actual mental issues going on such as impulse issues, paranoia and manic depression, aggravated by the painful experiences she has gone through and the shame she has gotten from her family. Both of these characters are incredibly damaged by what they've gone through and neither are sure how much they can trust anyone, even each other, in their quests to become happy, healthy women.
Delightful character development aside, Kathleen Tessaro's writing blew me away! Her writing has a very classic feel to it and is simply lyrical and engaging. There is a part at the very end of the book, where the owner of the antiques store Maeve works at describes the technique used to repair one of her mother's beloved tea cups, that so perfectly wraps up the overall theme of the story as well as represents the beautiful language found through out -
"It's not just a method of repair but also a philosophy," he explained. "It's the belief that the breaks, cracks, and repairs become a valuable and esteemed part of the history of an object, rather than something to be hidden. That, in fact, the piece is more beautiful for having been broken." - page 379
This quote so perfectly represents for me most of the characters' journeys and just how much stronger and valuable they are for having experienced them. It's by being honest about who they each are - the good and the bad - and what they want out of life that they can finally heal and be the people they were meant to be. This realization is breathtaking and I can't express how happy I am to say that many of our characters end up getting what they deserve, whether that is a good thing or not.
It has been a while since I've finished a story and actually felt kind of sad that the experience is over. I absolutely loved my time spent within the pages of Rare Objects and cannot recommend it enough to everyone. ...more
In Flight of Dreams, author Ariel Lawhon takes readers on board the ill-fated final flight of the HindenbFind my full review at www.luxuryreading.com.
In Flight of Dreams, author Ariel Lawhon takes readers on board the ill-fated final flight of the Hindenburg, from boarding in Germany on May 3rd, 1937, through the conspiracy-laced flight, front and center for the horrific and grisly explosion on May 6th and into the immediate days and months to follow. During this short yet dramatic and fascinating timeline, we get to see events unfold through the eyes of five people on-board: the stewardess, Emilie, the only female crew member; the journalist, Gertrud Adelt; the navigator, Max; the cabin boy, Werner Franz; and the American, who we never learn the name of. Every single one of these characters, and many more, are hiding parts of themselves as well as, in some cases, their real reasons for being on-board the Hindenburg, and as their secrets slowly begin to unfold it becomes a race against time to see who will die and who will survive when the twisted metal wreckage of the Hindenburg finally stops smoldering.
I have to admit that I knew nothing about the Hindenburg explosion, other than the black and white footage of the wreck and the grainy photos most of us have seen, before reading Flight of Dreams. Lawhon does an impeccable job of describing every aspect of the Hindenburg – from the foam and fabric-covered walls to the metal catwalks to the geography of its halls – with such precision that I felt like I was walking it with the characters. The detail given to the layout of the rooms and to the delicious dinner menus added such richness to the story that I couldn’t imagine it any other way…I was on the Hindenburg and it was a sight to behold! But don’t think for a minute that the story is driven solely from its descriptive power. The characters – all of who were real people! – and their various games of subterfuge, kept me turning the pages so I could discover exactly what they were all up to.
Each character’s story is interspersed with the others, changing every few pages so the reader gets to see the same situation or period of time from multiple perspectives. It is also written in the present tense which, for me, really worked to add a sense of immediacy and urgent suspense that I found absolutely delicious. None of these characters are who they first appear to be and by the end I found myself anxious to see how their stories would resolve, some of which were happy endings and some of which were devastating. Reading the Author’s Note at the end lets the reader know that Lawhon stuck to the facts when it came to who lived and who died, but that doesn’t mean I didn’t wish for a different outcome. She breathed such life and heart into these characters that I wanted happy endings for some of the ones that didn’t get to have them in real life.
Flight of Dreams is a spectacular work of historical fiction as well as a whodunnit of the highest order. It accomplishes just what I like most in this sort of story: it stayed true to many of the known facts while filling in the missing pieces with complex emotions, entangled motivations and touches of humanity that are typically lost to the historical record. There is revenge, romance, coming-of-age and a myriad of other story threads to appreciate here that I can imagine any reader finding something to enjoy within its pages. I highly recommend this to any reader, regardless of their genre preferences. ...more
There's something fascinating to me about peaking behind the glamour and spectacle of the golden age of Hollywood and seeing the grit, disappointment and sacrifice hidden beneath. I haven't read a book yet or seen a movie set during this unique time and place that doesn't highlight the hardships that come with the privileged life those that make it come to experience. This can sometimes come across to me as "poor me, I'm so rich and sad", but that isn't the case at all with Anne Girard's Platinum Doll. In this lovely novel of the life of Jean Harlow the reader is thrust into the heart and mind of this complex and incredibly admirable woman and made to truly appreciate all she did to make her dreams come true.
Right off the bat I have to say that I absolutely LOVE Girard's depiction of Harlean, aka Jean Harlow. I didn't know very much about her before, but from the very beginning I knew I was going to like her. She starts off as this bookish teen that was so vivacious, loving and full of hope for what the future could hold that it was completely infectious. Watching her tentatively go after this exciting new adventure in Hollywood and realize at such a young age - 17! - that she can be a wife, daughter and actress was inspiring, even as I knew it couldn't last. I ached for both her and her husband as they struggled to find their footing in a world where they had very different expectations for the future and I kept hoping they would find a way to get the help they needed and make it work, even with the villain (in my opinion) of the story doing everything in her power to push them apart.
Coming to this villain, it has been a while since I've disliked a character as much as I did Harlean's mom, Jean (yes, they were both "Jean Harlow" once Harlean made it her stage name, but Anne Girard does a remarkable job of keeping the reader from getting confused between the two). "Mama Jean" is just vile to me, being as manipulative, greedy and pig-headed as one could imagine. The only real character flaw I found in Harlean was her inability to stand up to her mother and willingness to forgive her, again and again, when she knew full well the horrible things her mother had done and the unbelievable lengths she went to to make Harlean the star her mother never had the chance to be. However, it must be noted that I don't think I would have such strong feelings about this character if I didn't care so much for Harlean, and I also don't think she would have become the woman she did without the trials she faced that were influenced by her mother's actions. As Harlean ages she matures and is determined to make a life for herself as well as her family despite the various challenges thrown at her, and how can I not admire that?
While Harlean, her husband, Chuck, and Harlean's mother and step father are the central figures of this story, I would be remiss if I didn't mention that so many other exciting people walk through and make there marks as well. We get to meet Clara Bow, Laurel and Hardy, Howard Hughes, Louis B. Mayer and so many more! I've always had a pretty big crush on Clark Gable and that feeling is definitely cemented with his depiction in Platinum Doll. With so many names coming and going through the story, some I was already familiar with and some that were new to me, I spent an inordinate amount of time looking through old pictures of all these fascinating people and then going back and visualizing them within the story. This is one of my favorite things about historical fiction and the fact that Girard had me continually mesmerized by these people really speaks to her abilities to bring these people back to life.
Aside from the incredibly fleshed out characters, the vibrant setting was just as captivating to me. Girard absolutely brings this world to life - from the homes in Beverly Hills to the Brown Derby and Cocoanut Club to Grauman's Chinese Theatre - and I had no problem picturing myself right there with the stars even though I have never been there. It is such an awe-inspiring setting and was the perfect background to while away the hours.
Platinum Doll is perfect historical fiction, brimming with alluring real-life characters and settings filled in with drama, emotion and language that fills in the gaps that history has long forgotten or wouldn't have documented. Whether you're new to Jean Harlow's story as I was or already quite familiar with her, I think there is so much to love within these pages. Highly recommended! ...more
Please excuse me while I gush a little bit (well, maybe a lot!) about Come Away With Me by Karma Brown. It has been quite a while since a book made me actually, physically cry...like big, fat, hiccup-inducing tears...but that is exactly what happened on and off as I read this story. The raw emotions these characters are experiencing are written so vividly I at times felt like I could feel their pain, anger, anxiety and hollowing sadness along with them. While this did bring about some strange looks from my husband and dogs I am so happy to have experienced these feelings along with Tegan. This is a story that will consume you, and in my opinion that makes one hell of a great read.
After the accident Tegan can't seem to get out of her own head or see past her grief, and is so filled with an emptiness and livid anger that she can't help but want to hide away from the world and lash out at anyone who even attempts to get her to think about a time when she can start healing and moving on. While I have thankfully never experienced a tragedy like Tegan's, my son was born two months early and had to spend the first month of his life in the hospital. He is now a healthy, happy ten year old, but I will never forget going home from the hospital without him and the abject emptiness I felt the first time I walked through the door without him in my arms. Ms. Brown nails describing this feeling and made me instantly sympathize with Tegan and the myriad physical and emotional symptoms that come along with an accident like she experiences.
As the story progresses the reader not only gets to go along with Tegan and Gabe as they travel to three dream locations but, disbursed throughout, are chapters that go back into Tegan and Gabe's life so we get to see how their love developed and the life they had been living up until the horrible accident. These chapters are filled with laughter and love, and if you haven't fallen a little in love with Gabe by the end I would be shocked. He is such a kind, patient person with Tegan and his careful treatment of her as they travel to Thailand, Italy and Hawaii was beyond touching. Oh, and be prepared to add these three locations to your bucket list, if you haven't already, because Karma Brown's ability to transport the reader made me feel like I was riding an elephant, taking a cooking class filled with ripe tomatoes and garlic and learning how to surf right along with Tegan and Gabe. She hits all the senses with a bang and I am now ready to put my backpack on and take off!
There is a twist towards the end of the novel that actually made my heart start beating faster. I honestly didn't see it coming and it really hit me harder than I would have expected given the fact that these things weren't really happening. Regardless, I think it was perfectly done as it drives the story in a direction that will finally come to a conclusion with a sense of satisfaction and hopefulness. After all the tears I was very happy to come to this sort of conclusion!
I can't recommend Come Away With Me enough, to anyone who wants to travel along on a sometimes sad yet always fascinating adventure with some unforgettable characters. The fact that this is Karma Brown's debut novel is astounding to me, and I can tell you that she has found a forever-fan in this reader. ...more
I was first drawn to The Panopticon after reading the synopsis. Right after college I worked with "troubled" kids, first as a Mental Health Associate in a Behavioral Health Center and then as a Behavioral Specialist at an alternative school, and Anais sounded like many of the kids I came into contact with during those years. I worked with kids that had experienced unspeakable childhoods and some that did horrible things, but what I learned from all of them was that each had learned how to survive and cope with the world they lived in the best they could. Many had been let down, time and time again, by those adults and institutions that were supposed to help them and keep them safe and were therefore incredibly suspicious of any that came into their lives. How could anyone blame them for that? This aspect of the story, combined with the mystery of whether or not Anais had harmed the policewoman and what part "the experiment" played in the whole thing, drew me in. While I can't say all my questions were answered by the last page I can say this character-driven story was powerful and heartbreaking, and important reading for anyone trying to understand the mind of children let down by the same society that views them as the problem.
I purchased The Panopticon as an eBook/audiobook combo but ended up listening to the audiobook for the majority of the story. The narrator (Gayle Madine) has a very heavy British accent and this, combined with the profuse slang used, made it difficult at first to keep up with what was happening. Once I got used to this, however, I really enjoyed the inflections and feelings she put into the story. Even with the heavy subject matter being discussed, the lives of these young offenders are infused with humor and love that felt very real and made me hope they would somehow all come out the other side of their tangled young lives happy and healthy (which, of course, is not realistic). While some readers might find the slang, heavy cursing, violent actions and drug use discussed a turnoff, I think it was completely necessary to present this world of damaged and neglected children as realistically as possible.
The majority of the story takes place in Anais's head, which is an interesting perspective as it makes some aspects very fanciful or gritty while also making some of what she tells us unreliable. As the synopsis points out, Anais has been moved around from one home to another since she was a baby and she has developed a long list of habits and rituals to help her cope and control what she can, as I imagine most children in her situation would do. Anais is a remarkable character, clever and sensitive (about certain things at least) but also cynical and desensitized given her experiences. I spent much of the story going back and forth between believing she had severe mental issues - with her believing she is part of an experiment where she is constantly watched and manipulated by unseen people that want to see her locked up for life, panic attacks were she sees faces on the walls and feels like she is shrinking, her inability to remember what happened at the time the policewoman was beaten so badly she ends up in a coma - and feeling like she had a better handle on this world than most adults do. She's caring, abusive, generous, selfish...in other words she is a complex and flawed person like everyone else. It isn't often I come across a character that is as destructive as Anais and that I wholeheartedly cheer for nonetheless, but that is exactly what happened.
My only real issue with The Panopticon was the author's failure to wrap up the various threads she started in the story. Two of the main aspects - the policewoman in a coma and the experiment tracking Anais - sort of drifted off by the end. The reader isn't given any concrete answers to either issue and this made the drama and mystery just sort of deflate for me. There are other more minor threads, like the disappearance of a fellow Panopticon resident and the fate of Anais's incarcerated boyfriend that used her in a most horrible way, that are left unresolved as well. The fate of Anais herself is left somewhat unresolved and, while I can see that the author is leaving the reader to draw their own conclusions, I would have preferred a little more resolution when it came to the future of these captivating characters.
Author Jenni Fagan clearly knows how to get inside the heads and hearts of young people who are forced to cope with things that no human should have to cope with and I think she presents these mistreated and neglected children perfectly. The family that develops at the Panopticon is remarkable and I absolutely loved spending time with them. While I would have preferred more concrete resolutions, those readers that enjoy drawing their own conclusions will revel in the material given. I won't soon forget Anais or her compatriots and I will definitely watch for more novels by Ms. Fagan. ...more
Being as big a fan of historical fiction, nonfiction and movies and TV shows centered somehow around history as I am, I tend to slip into the belief from time to time that I've read or heard it all about most aspects of history. That being said, I'm always delightfully surprised when I come across a book that talks about an aspect of history I have never even heard of before. When I read the synopsis of Orphan # 8 I knew this book fit the bill and was one that I needed to read. I'm happy to say the book satisfied my need to learn more about this time and place in history and presented a narrator in a specific set of circumstances I can't imagine coming across again.
First and foremost, my heart ached for Rachel. If something could befall a person it seemed to happen to her. From the horrific circumstances that left her and her brother Sam orphans to her being placed at such a young age in a separate orphanage from Sam - an orphanage where she became "material" for the doctors' experiments that lead to a plethora of medical issues - to being reunited with her brother and then separated, time and again, from him....if it could have happened it seemed to happen to her. Her entire life was a struggle with loneliness, health issues, abandonment issues and so much more. Is it any wonder that, when placed face-to-face again, now as an adult, with the doctor that was the catalyst to so many of her issues, that her myriad of emotions that had built up over the years concentrated into anger and revenge towards this one cruel, uncaring woman? Not in my mind!
The structure of the story - alternating chapters that either told Rachel's history or showed Rachel confronting Dr. Solomon and deciding what to do with her newfound control over the woman - was at first slightly confusing. There are no date indicators at the beginning of each chapter to assist the reader in knowing when and where the next chapter is going to take place and it is only once the reader dives in that they are able to use context clues to figure it out. Once the alternating chapters became a pattern it was easier to figure out and actually helped keep suspense within the two storylines building, but in the beginning especially I would have preferred that time indicator noted at the beginning of the chapter as is often done in historical fiction that goes back and forth in time.
An aspect of the story I was not expecting was the romantic relationship between Rachel and her friend and lover Naomi. Including this aspect, which showed in historical context how unaccepted this relationship was at the time and the isolation and danger that came with it, was a perfect addition to the other threads of Rachel's life that caused the feelings of loneliness and isolation that built over her lifetime and affected the woman she became. I could not help wishing Rachel and Naomi could be happy and open about their love and feeling like this might have, at least in part, helped Rachel to heal from much of the trauma she experienced as a child, but I also appreciate the author's adherence to historical fact and her willingness to show how hard it was for these women to live and love in a time they just weren't accepted in.
Overall I think Orphan # 8 is an exceptionally fascinating story. Rachel is unique and brave and admirable for surviving the life she was handed as well as for what she fought to build within that life. While I don't necessarily believe Rachel got the ending she deserved I think the ending was very realistic and did have touches of hope and better things to come. The author also includes an expansive "About the Book" section at the end that gives an in depth look at the real history behind the story and how that history is connected to the author herself and this served to expand my appreciation of the story and the history even more. I would definitely recommend the book to any historical fiction lover who is looking for something different from the everyday and a heroine unlike any they have likely come across before....more
Tudor history is one of those time periods that has been written about every possible way, with just about every person of note highlighted and nearly every corner unearthed to try and present the history in a new and interesting light. While I still can't get enough of the Tudors I do understand why many readers have all but banned them from their reading lists....there's just been such an over-saturation of the subject matter! So what could draw a reader familiar with the time period back? Simply put, exceptional writing and a story that, while familiar, is still poignant and alluring. This is exactly what you will get in Elizabeth Fremantle's Sisters of Treason, a novel that is so well written you cannot help but be drawn in and captured by the characters even as you know the inevitable paths their lives will take.
I switched back and forth between the Kindle version and the Audible audiobook version of Sisters of Treason but I must note that the audiobook was so captivating that I listened to the majority of the story. The narrators (Georgina Sutton, Rachel Bavidge and Teresa Gallagher) were perfect and did a phenomenal job of giving Lady Catharine, Lady Mary and Levina Teerlinc their own voices and personalities. So often with audiobooks there is one narrator that does their best to create distinct voices for multiple characters, but having the three separate narrators eliminated any possible confusion between characters and gave each her own story within a story. Whichever narrated Lady Mary was PERFECT and was able to somehow give us this higher, innocent sounding voice laced with steal that perfectly personified the Lady Mary within the story. I was so disappointed whenever I had to stop listening and do anything else.
Choosing to tell this story from these three points of view was excellent. The story as a whole covers the time period from Jane Grey's execution through a good part of Queen Elizabeth's reign. The royal blood that flows within the two surviving Grey sisters meant they would never be too far from the court or the intrigues that surrounded the thrones of Queen Mary I and Queen Elizabeth I, especially Lady Mary as her deformity and small stature made her less of a threat to both queens and made it so she was nearly invisible to many. She was almost a pet to these queens and was witness to many conversations and intrigues that wouldn't have happened in front of others. Lady Catharine, on the other hand, did present more of a threat so was closely watched and punished for any personal freedoms she sought without the queens' permission. Levinia also presents a great point of view as she shifts from the fringes of the court as a painter into the grime and dirt of the streets, giving a way to show what all level of person would have felt and experienced during this turbulent time. These shifting perspectives gives a constant feeling of tension overlaying the story as danger and grief is never far behind any of these women.
Individually, each woman's story is laced with loss, heartache and, ever so briefly, small glimpses of joy. Lady Katharine wants nothing more than to love freely and be loved and, for anyone who knows the story already, her actions toward this end bring her years of imprisonment and indescribable loss. Lady Mary wants peace and security away from court and, while she eventually finds a small taste of this, faces her own losses of love and happiness before getting there. Levina sacrifices much of her own love and family in the pursuit of her art and to protect the Grey sisters and, while I wasn't familiar with her as a court painter, watching her tug-a-war between her home life and her court life was fascinating. All of these characters are brought to life in such a way that it was impossible not to feel for them and ache a little for all they lost.
The secondary characters are just as well brought to life. I was amazed at the detail given to Queen Mary and Queen Elizabeth and Ms. Fremantle does an exceptional job of showing the mental and physical unraveling of Mary as well as the whip-smart and vindictive nature of Elizabeth. I was a little surprised at the sympathetic presentation of the Grey sisters' mother, Francis Grey, as I have always seen her presented as a cruel, cold and manipulative woman, but I enjoyed seeing her as a more loving and kind mother to Catharine and Mary and supportive friend to Levina. The entire story, from character development to period detail, is just perfectly presented.
Even though I have all three of Elizabeth Fremantle's novels this is my first experience with her writing and it is just superb. I am now prepared to dive right into Queen's Gambit (the first in her Tudor Trilogy with Sisters of Treason being the second) and Watch the Lady (the third book in the Tudor Trilogy). I can't imagine a better way to spend my time and recommend her writing to anyone who enjoys historical fiction or just a wonderfully spun story. ...more