Tuesday, April 26, 2016

The Rivals of Versailles by Sally Christie

Historical Fiction

This is the second book in the Mistress of Versailles series by Sally Christie. The first book, The Sisters of Versailles, was fantastic and you can read my review here.

This book picks up right after the first in the series, though can be read as a standalone, and is told from the perspective of a few of Louis XV's mistresses. After the Nesle's sisters are no longer part of court, Louis' next mistress is Jeanne-Antoinette Poisson. Jeanne is naive and not popular at all because she's middle-class; the court looks down on her and suspects she won't last long. But Jeanne has staying power and survives for much longer than anyone expects. Other women come in and out of the picture. Some faster than others. Louis XV seems to have an insatiable appetite for sex and the court has to stoop to finding prostitutes.

Since Jeanne is a long-term mistress of Louis XV, we learn much about her perspective. What she has to do to appease the king, what she tries to do to make friends, and how the court entertained themselves back in the 1700s. The characters are shallow, which I'm sure is true to the time. And yet I'm amazed by how these shallow, naive women seem to so easily dally in the world of royalty and, for the most part, survive. It's a game of chess and all about playing the right move at the right time. This is where the intrigue is in the novel; how these women survive and thrive in this environment.

The book reads a bit like a soap opera at times, though less cheesy, and would make for a great summer read.

I can't wait for the next one!

Thanks to TLC Book Tours for letting me be a part of this.

First Line: "The gypsy's hair is as red as blood, I think in astonishment."

Rating:
(4/5)

Sunday, April 24, 2016

Plum Lucky by Janet Evanovich

Fiction

This is a "between the numbers" book within Evanovich's number series. Stephanie Plum, the unlucky bounty hunter is back. There's also a guy name Diesel who I don't ever remember meeting in the number series, though it says these two have met before. Anyways, Grandma Mazur happens to find a huge bag of money on the street and when Stephanie finds her, a short man in bright green pants is trying to steal it from her. It's St. Patricks day, which could explain the green pants, but this guy actually thinks he's a leprechaun. Soon, Grandma disappears so Stephanie and ex-ho Lula chase her to Atlantic City where she's trying to make even more money, but losing it quickly.

This is a quick, fun read which is true to all other books in this series. Grandma and Lula always make me laugh. There was no romance in this, like there would be in a usual full number series book, but the story didn't lack for it.

First Line: "My mother and grandmother raised me to be a good girl, and I have no problems with the girl part."

Rating:
(3.5/5)

Thursday, April 14, 2016

Swallows and Amazons by Arthur Ransome

Children's

It's summer in the Lake District and the four Walker children want to sail across the lake and claim an uninhabited island for their own. After getting permission from their mom and dad, who is over seas and sends OK by telegram, the children set off. They pack all their provisions, including food and tents, and sail to their island. Once camp is set up, they explore and find a evidence that someone has already been on the island. There don't seem to be any other people so they make the place their own.

In a few days, they find out who was previously on the island, when another sail boat goes by with a black pirate flag. It's the two Blackett girls, with their boat Amazon. The two declare a friendly war with each other, with the purpose of fighting the captain of a houseboat who fires his cannons at them.

The imagination of these children entertains them for the week or so they are out on the island. It's the kind of imagination I hope my children will have and the kind of book children would love because of how imaginative it is.

As a grown up, I wished for the ability to sail to my own island, make camp, and just hang out. Help was close by for the kids if they ever needed it and food readily available. Sounds like a dream to me!

This was such a charming book.

First Line: "Roger, aged seven, and no longer the youngest of the family, ran in wide zigzags, to and fro, across the steep field that sloped up from the lake to Holly Howe, the farm where they were staying for part of the summer holidays."

Rating:
(4.5/5)

Saturday, April 09, 2016

The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah

Historical Fiction

Isabelle Mauriac is kicked out of school and returns to Paris, to live with her dad, right as the city is fleeing from the horrors of WWII. Isabelle's father sends her away, to the countryside and her sister Vianne. The journey there is almost impossible. There's not enough food, they get shot at, and people are left behind. Isabelle meets Gaetan along the way and they talk about doing more for their country. Gaetan sees Isabelle to her sister's house and leaves her abruptly.

Isabelle isn't happy in the countryside. Though she's only a teenager, she wants to help her country rather than sitting and waiting for the war to come to her. She starts by distributing anti-Nazi flyers and eventually ramps up to rescuing downed airmen across the Pyrenees. Her code name: Nightingale.

This is a moving story about human fortitude. The two sisters follow very different paths but eventually wind up with similar stories by putting their lives at risk to help those during the war. Isabelle knew right away that she wanted to do something good for her country. It took longer for Vianne to reach this point and she made mistakes that put her friends at risk. But when finally confronted with doing the right thing, she did it. The fact that these two sisters arrived at similar fates in such different ways was incredibly realistic and touching at the same time.

Deep down, this is a love story. But it's not a sappy love story. Instead it's about how those during the times of war can communicate their love to each other, or how they can't.

Though the ending was neat and tidy, I absolutely loved this book. Best read of the year!



Rating:
(5/5)

Wednesday, April 06, 2016

The Secret Keeper by Kate Morton

Fiction

Laurel returns to her childhood home to gather with her younger sisters and brother to prepare as their mom gets sicker and sicker. Laurel keeps thinking back to the day when she was a teenager and she saw a man walk up to her mom, argue a bit and then saw her mom stab the man, killing him. Laurel never questioned it as a child but now that her mom may not be with them much longer, she wants answers. The story splices what Laurel finds with a narrative from her mother during 40s era England, during the Blitz of WWII.

The real pull of the book here is Dorothy's story. How she wound up in England, who she fell in love with, who she made friends with, and how the war impacted her. Laurel and her siblings didn't do anything for me, aside from her role in driving Dorothy's story forward. Even then, sometimes Laurel and the family were taking up pages and not doing anything for the story. This book definitely could have been shorter if not for that.

In Dorothy's story, there was always something about her that just didn't seem right. I was happy when the ending confirmed my thoughts and thought that it was really well executed. What a thrilling way to end a book! I enjoyed this.

First Line: "Rural England, a farmhouse in the middle of nowhere, a summer's day at the start of the 1960s."

Rating:
(4/5)

When I'm Gone by Emily Bleeker

Fiction

When Luke returns home after burying his wife of sixteen years, Natalie, after she passed away from cancer, he focuses on his three children and keeping a normal life for them. At the front door, he notices a blue envelope with Natalie's handwriting addressed to him. She has written him a letter, from more than a year ago, in the event that she doesn't survive. She reminds Luke that she loves him and didn't want to leave him. Luke clutches to this additional piece of his wife.

The letters keep coming, and Natalie makes some requests. Make the kids pancakes, become friends with Natalie's best friend Annie, and hire a student from her university to look after the kids. Luke respects Natalie's wishes, but runs in to problems along the way. Annie's relationship with her husband is not good and the university student Jessie is also very sick. Luke has to confront his past and his relationship with Natalie when he realizes not everything was as it seemed.

Even though this isn't a thriller, it reads like one. There are a few twists throughout the book to keep you turning pages.

Luke is a pretty complex character and one I really enjoyed reading about. He's a good dad but not without his problems. His history is complex. At times I wondered why parts of Luke's history were being re-hashed. I think they required a bit more context when they were originally raised but everything made sense in the end. Luke does a great job of driving the story forward.

For a great story that had me turning the pages and staying up late at night, there were two things that bothered me. First, Luke was willing to move on from Natalie way too soon. He started dating another women about 6 months after his wife's death when he was still obviously struggling with her loss. Second, the ending was overkill. The twists leading up to it were believable and captured me but the final one had me rolling my eyes. It was way too much.

Still, a book's ability to capture me is measured by me not falling asleep on the train while reading it (I didn't) and staying up late to finish it (I did)!

Thanks to TLC Book Tours for letting me be a part of this tour!

First Line: "It was a beautiful funeral."

Rating:
(4/5)

About the Author
Emily Bleeker is a mom of four, an author and Chicagoland native. Her first novel, WRECKAGE, was released by Lake Union Publishing March 2015. Her second book, WHEN I’M GONE, will hit shelves March 2016. She's learning to balance life as a stay-at-home mom with her life as a writer. Both come with a lot of laughter, tears and a shocking amount of Diet Coke.
Find Emily on Twitter, Facebook and at her website.

Thursday, March 17, 2016

The Gum Thief by Douglas Coupland

Fiction

I really enjoy Douglas Coupland. I've read many of his novels with Microserfs at the top of my list, followed by Girlfriend in a Coma and All Families are Psychotic. I like the weird characters and even weirder situations they get in to.

This time, I just wasn't having it. I could only make it about 35 pages through this book before getting so annoyed I had to toss it. The characters are beyond ridiculous this time and it wreaks of trying too hard.

I'm disappointed. And sad that I couldn't finish a Coupland novel.

First Line: "A few years ago it dawned on me that everybody past a certain age - regardless of how they look on the outside - pretty much constantly dreams of being able to escape from their lives."

Tuesday, March 08, 2016

The Riders by Tim Winton

Fiction

Scully moves to Ireland ahead of his expecting wife and child, as they purchased a cottage in Ireland on whim. Scully needs to fix the house up, Jennifer his wife needs to sell their home in Australia. The Irish quickly notice a new person in the area, despite the cottage being rather remote, and Scully makes friends with Pete-the-Post who delivers his mail but also helps him with odd jobs. Pete delivers a telegram informing Scully that Jennifer has sold the house and she's coming with Billie on Sunday.

Sunday arrives and Scully travels to the airport to pick up his family but only Billie arrives. She refuses to talk about what's happened so they wait, expecting Jennifer on another plane but she never comes. Scully is determined to figure out what happened and travels across Europe with his daughter to find Jennifer.

Through Greece, Paris, and Amsterdam, we learn about Scully and Jennifer's background. Jennifer had a passion for art but no talent to back it up. Scully worked odd jobs with illegals which made Jennifer's friends look down on him.

I had a love/hate relationship with Scully. At first he seemed rather sensible and like a good dad but then he descended in to something he didn't seem to be. Chasing around Europe with a child, how is that good for your child? Eventually, Billie has to save her father from himself when he should be watching out for her. So many weird things happen to Billie, they all can be tied back to Scully's inability to parent her correctly.

I think this book can best be described as beautiful writing with no plot to back it up. There were times when I was confused about what was going on because the author was so vague in his descriptions as he went for literary beauty over comprehension. The ending left me miffed. There was a lot of build up for a big fizzle out.

First Line: "With the north wind hard at his back, Scully stood in the doorway and sniffed."

Rating:
(3/5)