Book Reviews, Bookish Posts

Book Review – Abundance by Sena Jeter Naslund

Abundance

 

In my opinion, Abundance is the definitive historical fiction novel on Marie Antoinette. I think she captures her perfectly as she is the one telling her own story. In this novel, she is portrayed as entirely human throughout the whole thing. I particularly enjoyed the fact Naslund framed the novel into 5 acts like a Shakespearean play, and I think it works. The rise and fall of Marie Antoinette and the rest of the nobility does read like a Shakespearean tragedy. Though there were times Naslund’s prose delved a bit into being really fluffy, I still enjoyed it.

I also really enjoyed the relationship between Marie and her husband, Louis XVI. A lot of authors seem to go the way of having Marie Antoinette hop into bed with Axel von Fersen like two seconds after they met. But I don’t necessarily believe that was the case. Instead, Naslund builds an awkward love story between Marie and Louis and it’s just the cutest. Yes, their relationship starts off rocky as we all know by not consummating their marriage for seven years but they grow to truly love each other. And yes, I do believe they loved each other. After all, Marie Antoinette stayed with him to the very end even though there were numerous times when she could have gotten the hell out of dodge.

The descriptions of Versailles (the palace and court life itself) brought me to a completely different time and place. While reading, I also did the virtual tour of the real palace and it enhanced the reading experience.

I did not want to get to the end of the novel for obvious reasons. I truly sympathized with her plight. She honestly tried to do the right thing for the people but they just hated her… mostly for things she had no control over.  A lot of the things she was accused of literally every other noble did the same thing many times over. And don’t even get me started on The Diamond Necklace Affair. Ugh.

I truly loved this book and it might actually crack my all-time favorites list.

Rating: 5/5

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Book Reviews

Book Revew – Victoria Victorious by Jean Plaidy

Victoria Victorious

First, let me say that this was a re-read, and I’m not entirely too sure why I decided to read this again as I wasn’t too fond of it 6 years ago.

Victoria Victorious is a fictional “autobiography” about Queen Victoria chronicling everything from her childhood, accession, and life on the throne to her relationships with her children, Prime Ministers, and most importantly, her one true love, Prince Albert.

What I Liked:

I loved the first 1/3 of the novel that describes how Victoria was raised and was never allowed to be alone ever. I could not imagine never having any time to myself and having my every move watched. I felt bad for her when her mother basically forbid her from having anything to do with her father’s relatives because her mother felt that they were beneath her. When she finally acceded to the throne, I cheered and even enjoyed the bantering relationship she had with Lord Melbourne.  However, when Prince Albert came into the picture, I suddenly remembered why it was that I was frustrated with this book.

What I Didn’t Like:

I honestly don’t understand how the relationship between Victoria and Albert could be considered one of the greatest love stories of all time. She was OBSESSED with him and he treated her like an idiotic child. Also, maybe it was just Plaidy’s characterization, but Albert was truly controlling. Every time they argued, he called her “dear child” and would talk about taming her temper, and she’d just simper and apologize even if said argument wasn’t even her fault.

tina fey eye roll

He was even borderline abusive of their oldest son, Bertie (King Edward VII). Albert would beat Bertie, called him stupid on more than one occasion, and did not think he was capable of doing pretty much anything. When anyone showed the slightest bit of affection toward him, he said the boy was being spoiled. This was ironic, because Albert himself spoiled their eldest daughter, Vicky, silly. Of course, this seems to stem from Albert being jealous that Bertie would take precedence over him in ceremonial gatherings. Queen Victoria allowed Albert to treat Bertie like this and never really tried to come to his aid.

Even after Prince Albert dies of typhoid, Victoria still obsesses over him, and makes decisions based on if Albert would do the same thing if he were alive.

Now, don’t get me wrong. I understand that she loved him very much, but she doesn’t need to call him a saint and talk about how so very good he was on every page just because he didn’t cheat on her…

Verdict:

Despite how I feel about Victoria and Albert, I did grow to like her relationship with her children, especially Bertie, Vicky, and Alice, and actually liked them more than I liked their parents. However, since all Victoria could talk about was Albert for 300 pages, I can’t give this book more than 3 stars.

Book Reviews

Book Review – Salt to the Sea by Ruta Sepetys

Salt to the Sea

Salt to the Sea is definitely my first 5 star read of the year. It is, without a doubt, equal parts powerful, haunting, and heart-wrenching. Telling the story of a little known tragedy, Salt to the Sea follows four characters: Joana, a Lithuanian nurse; Emilia, a Polish girl; Florian, an East Prussian mystery man; and Alfred, a member of the German navy. Their stories start off individually but soon they come together amid thousands of refugees trying to flee the oncoming Soviet army aboard the Wilhelm Gustloff.

What I Liked:

Ruta Sepetys doesn’t sugarcoat history. When something bad happens, she says it plain…no matter how it might hurt to read about. This could not have been an easy book to write. For example, we have the quote,”

Mothers tried hurling their infants to passengers up on deck, but they couldn’t throw high enough. Their babies smashed against the side of the ship and plunged into the sea” (pg. 295)

Sepetys’s words will definitely stay with me for a long time. World War II was definitely not an era I would have wanted to live through especially when it comes to war-torn Europe. I could not even imagine being desperate enough to throw my child towards a sailing ship knowing there was a 99.9% chance they wouldn’t make it. Plus, the scenes describing the sinking ship are just as depressing to read about. However, it’s sooo important to do so.

Even though the chapters were short, I still feel like I got to know the essence of every single character and how they developed. I loved 3 of our four main characters and how they banded together first out of necessity and then later as a family. I sympathized with all of them, but especially Emilia. She was such a poor little cinnamon roll who I just wanted to hug and feed cookies to.

Also, I love how this novel is about little-known history. How crazy is it that this humongous ship sunk, killing about 9,400 people, and no one has ever heard of it? Then there’s the Amber Room, a treasure-filled room that no one knows the whereabouts of. This room hasn’t been seen since 1945 and apparently people have died trying to find it. It’s really interesting albeit creepy to research.

What I Didn’t Like:

Oh, Alfred…if only there was someone out there who could love you…

I HATED his character so much, and was actually very happy at his fate. He was legit a psychopath. I don’t want to give too much away, but omg I wanted to do this for the whole novel.

get him anna

Final Verdict: I just loved everything about this novel, and I can’t wait to read more of Ruta Sepetys’s work.

Rating: 5 stars

Book Reviews

Book Review – Some Luck by Jane Smiley

Some Luck

The concept behind Some Luck by Jane Smiley was cute. Every chapter in the novel is a year from 1920-1953 and covers a few moments in the life of a farming family from a small town in Iowa. It starts when the eldest child is about a year old and ends when he is thirty-three. I understand that this novel could be boring for most people, but I liked it for what it was.

What I Liked:

It felt like I was a guest of the Langdon family as I hung out with the patriarchs of the family, Walter and Rosanna, their six children, Frank, Joe, Mary, Lillian, Henry, and finally baby Claire, and other extended family and friends. Through the novel we see each child grow up and into their own person. There were definitely some characters I liked better than others. Out of the Langdons, I really liked Frank and Lillian, and even Rosanna’s sister, the feisty and outspoken Eloise. If we had seen more of her (basically if she was the main character), she would have most likely been my favorite. I also like how some characters made questionable decisions, but this just made them that much more human.

The passage of time in the novel was again a really great concept. The novel covers the Roaring Twenties, the Great Depression, World War II, and the beginning of the Cold War all through the eyes of this one family. And we get to know them through how they react to these important moments in history.

What Was Meh:

Much of the beginning of the novel was about daily life on a farm. While I do respect those who farm and grew up on farms and stuff, whoo boy was this boring. There was chapter after chapter of talk about which crops grew better with which soil, and I almost fell asleep. The book didn’t truly get interesting until the children began to branch out and realize there was much more to life beyond their small farm.

Also, I felt some chapters just ended too abruptly. I’d be getting really involved with a character or a story line, and then next thing I knew, it’d be the end of the chapter. The novel itself actually ended this way after a HUGE moment, and even though I’m excited to move on to Book 2, I’m still sooooo mad.

Verdict:

I really did like this novel and I can’t wait to dive into Book 2, Early Warning. I’m rating this novel a 4, because even though I did like it, I did get pretty bored and I hope the chapters don’t go too fast in the next one.

 

Book Reviews, Bookish Posts

Book Review – A Touch of Stardust by Kate Alcott

a touch of stardust

Gone With the Wind is one of my favorite movies so naturally I had to grab this book since it focused on the making of the movie and the love story between Hollywood legends Carole Lombard and Clark Gable.

The novel follows our protagonist, Julie, a good girl from Indiana, who goes to Hollywood to be a famous screenwriter. Something women were not particularly known for yet. Through a couple of lucky breaks, Julie ends up becoming Carole Lombard’s personal assistant and best friend. While this was a bit far-fetched, I did suspend my belief and wasn’t too bothered by it. After all, who doesn’t wish they could be their favorite actor’s assistant? Julie achieved the dream.

What I Liked:
I LOVED the setting of 1930s Hollywood and seeing GWTW behind-the-scenes. There were a lot of little tidbits I didn’t know about. For example, it took a really long time to find a Scarlett and thousands of actresses read for the part before it was given to Vivien Leigh. I’ve seen some of those screen tests and it’s obvious that Leigh was the right one for the part. Also, Clark Gable was very much against segregation and demanded the bathrooms on the set be integrated. When it was known that GWTW’s African American actors would not be welcomed at the Atlanta premiere, Gable actually refused to attend and basically had to be bribed. He actually seems like a pretty chill dude. However, there is one scene where he uses a slur against the openly gay George Cukor, but I had to remember that this is the 1930s and people were not particularly as accepting of members of the LGBT community as we are now.

Carole Lombard was my favorite character. I’ve seen any of her movies, but she seems like she was an amazing person. There’s a scene where one of the production studios’ employees asks to keep a record of her menstrual cycle and she basically tells him to stuff it (in harsher words than that). Even though she at first seems like a jaded Hollywood veteran, she’s still optimistic about the world and her love for Clark.

What I thought was Meh:
I had a bit of a problem with the main character, Julie. She had absolutely no personality and was basically a conduit used to learn more about this world of Hollywood. She doesn’t really make any decisions for herself and does whatever Carole or her boyfriend, Andy, says. Through her, you do learn about how difficult it was as a woman trying to make her mark in Hollywood. There’s a scene where a man asks for sex in order to give her the job of her dreams. It’s disgusting and you definitely feel for her.

Also, the main love story between Julie and David Selznick’s assistant, Andy, really fell flat when parallel with the real story between Gable and Lombard and even the fictional one between Scarlett and Rhett. There was chemistry there but after reading about them arguing for the fifth time, their flame started to flicker. Also, many times Julie is left wondering why Andy is so distant and does not seem to understand he’s a Jewish man living in 1939 with relatives in Nazi Germany. Like obviously he has bigger things to worry about than when you’re going to spoon next, Julie. Ugh, I wanted to smack her with a newspaper and then make her read it.

Even though I didn’t enjoy the main character, A Touch of Stardust is an interesting story about making it in Hollywood. The scenes about making GWTW the iconic movie it is today is worth the read though.

Rating: 3 stars

Book Reviews

Book Review – Days of Splendor, Days of Sorrow by Juliet Grey {Spoilers!}

This is the second book in Juliet Grey’s Marie Antoinette trilogy. I sincerely loved the first book in this series, so I’m completely disappointed to say I did not particularly this one.  Days of Splendor, Days of Sorrow begins immediately after King Louis XV’s death and the ascension of Queen Marie Antoinette and her husband King Louis XVI. I tried to stick it out with this one since April 30 and I ended up DNFing it about 70% in.

What I Liked:

The coverage of the American Revolution through the eyes of the court of Versailles.

I was genuinely happy when Marie Antoinette and Louis XVI finally consummated their marriage (after 7 years) and had their children. However, if Louis XVI hadn’t been a coward, he would’ve gotten that surgery years before. But no….ugh….

What I Didn’t Like:

I feel like Juliet Grey did the complete opposite of everything she did that made me love Becoming Marie Antoinette. I didn’t like the sudden changes from Marie Antoinette’s first-person POV to third-person omniscient within the same chapter. Even sometimes on the same page. It was very jarring and took me out of the narrative. I would think it’s Marie narrating, realize it’s not, and then have to go back and reread everything I just read! I thought it was REALLY annoying because those sections focused on characters I didn’t particularly care for.

Also, Grey did that thing where Marie went from a relatable human being to a harpy who only cared about nice clothes, gambling, and doing everything but being a queen. I quickly found her annoying. When people complain about her, she’s truly confused as to why no one likes her. It’s because you’re out here gambling away 500,000 livres and your people out here starving, honey boo boo.

Image result for rolling eyes gif rihanna

{Spoiler!!!}

Marie Antoinette cheating on her husband was frustrating for me, and I spent the chapter yelling at her for it. HOWEVER, if Louis XVI was really as neglectful as the book portrays him to be, then I can almost understand her. I absolutely do not condone cheating, but it’s as if Louis purposefully pushes her into the arms of Axel just so he can get her to leave him alone. He barely appears throughout the entire novel. If I was married to him, I’d probably gamble all of my money and party all of the time too. They declared that they loved each other in the novel, but it felt like they were just saying it to say it.

I don’t understand why authors don’t spend time creating a sweet love story between them. Just because they didn’t fall into bed with each other every two seconds doesn’t mean they might not have loved each other. I would much rather read a sweet awkward love story between the two than this.

Final Verdict:

Since I ended up DNFing this book, it does not get a good grade from me. Will I read the last book in the trilogy? Probaby, because I’m a masochist.

Image result for marie antoinette gif

But also because I feel bad because for some odd reason, she’s one of my favorite historical figures.

Rating: D-

 

 

 

Book Reviews

Book Review – Becoming Marie Antoinette by Juliet Grey, or Why I Couldn’t Be a French Princess

Becoming Marie Antoinette is an intriguing novel that follows the early life of doomed queen Marie Antoinette from her early years as a child in Austria under her formidable mother, the Empress Maria Theresa, to her ascension as queen of France. I’m actually surprised at how much I enjoyed this book, even though I did put it down at one point.

What I Liked:

Juliet Grey managed to humanize Marie Antoinette. In so many other novels I’ve read, Marie is either portrayed as a saint or as the devil incarnate. There’s not usually a happy medium. However, in this book, while Marie is shown with both good and flawed character traits, like any character should. This portrayal really makes her feel relatable. I mean, it couldn’t have been easy leaving the only home you’ve ever known to marry a boy you’ve never met at the age of fourteen. When I was fourteen, I was still under the impression that I had to put my arms and legs inside my blankets so nothing would “get” me. In other words, if I was her, I’d be pretty inept. Now, I’m not exactly saying that she was inept when she got to France, but she could’ve benefited from one more year at home with her mother. She never understood how precarious her position as the dauphine and thus the queen of France was. Hell, she couldn’t even take part in politics because it wasn’t something the queen consort of France should worry her pretty little head about. Ugh. No wonder all she cared about was having fun and gambling. That’s probably all I would have cared about, too.

The author also managed to bring Versailles to life, especially the ridiculous rules regarding the etiquette of the royal court. I would have HATED living in the French court back then…I mean, French revolution aside, but if I couldn’t get dressed without my underwear being passed around from noblewoman to princess to Princess of the Blood, I would have cursed out everyone within hearing distance and then be sent back to whatever country I came from.

What I Thought Was Meh:

Louis Auguste. Poor, awkward Louis Auguste. I kind of felt sorry for our dear dauphin. He’s just sooooo awkward. However, he annoyed the hell out of me, because Marie would be trying to tell him how she felt and he’d just repeat something one of his tutors told him. Like, damn it, Louis, you’re going to be the king of France. Grow a backbone! Also, there’s all this build up about why they didn’t consummate their marriage, but it’s left by the wayside and will get picked back up in the second book. If you studied history, you know why it took so long, but it didn’t need to be treated like it was some big secret. I did love his character when he and Marie would have their tender moments though. Hopefully, there’ll be more of those in the sequel.

The conflict between Marie and the king’s mistress, Madame du Barry, was equally awkward, and it didn’t need to happen. I know it does happen in history, and Marie uttered her utterly insipid line about how there’s people at Versailles, but the way it’s portrayed in this novel made me want to bang my head on the wall. A good five chapters was spent with Marie going “Should I talk to her?” and then “No, she’s a whore” over and over again. And it was especially annoying that the only reason she started this whole conflict was because Marie got advice from people she should’ve ran away screaming from. At least it was entertaining.

What I Didn’t Like:

The pacing!!!!!!! I ended up putting the novel down toward the beginning of the novel, because the chapters where she’s training to be the dauphine were just soooooooo boring. I can only read so much about the Versailles glide and her hideous medieval braces for so long. Don’t get me wrong, I did find all of this interesting, but not interesting enough. I did soldier through though and the pacing did pick up once she (FINALLY!) arrived at Versailles.

Final Verdict:

All in all, I liked Becoming Marie Antoinette. Even though the pacing was really slow, I did love Marie’s character and she had me laughing out loud during some scenes. It’s really like listening to Marie Antoinette tell her story. I do plan to start the next book soon!

Rating: B+