Friday, April 17, 2015

Saturday Snapshot - April 18

To participate in Saturday Snapshot: post a photo that you (or a friend or family member) have taken then leave a direct link to your post in the Mister Linky below. Photos can be old or new, and be of any subject as long as they are clean and appropriate for all eyes to see. How much detail you give in the caption is entirely up to you. Please don’t post random photos that you find online.

I'm going to apologize right now that these pictures look so similar to last weeks, but it is a busy time in our house and sometimes it is all I can do to run out and snap some pics of the latest blooms in our yard.

All that being said, if our weekend plans work out, I should have some very nice pictures for you next week, so stay tuned!

Back to this week--yes,  few more blooms.  The past couple of days have been cold, windy, and a little rainy.  Today, though, Spring decided to return!

This is the same bush that was in last week's post...look at all the roses we have now!

And the yellow roses are starting to bloom!

My son has discovered that he can control his shadow!  What next?

Book Review: "The Boy Who Drew Monsters" by Keith Donohue

The Boy Who Drew Monsters Keith Donohue
Published: October 7, 2014
ISBN: 9781250057150
Genre: Horror
Source: Postal Book Club
Recommended for readers who do not normally read horror novels

Ever since he nearly drowned in the ocean three years earlier, ten-year-old Jack Peter Keenan has been deathly afraid to venture outdoors. Refusing to leave his home in a small coastal town in Maine, Jack Peter spends his time drawing monsters. When those drawings take on a life of their own, no one is safe from the terror they inspire. His mother, Holly, begins to hear strange sounds in the night coming from the ocean, and she seeks answers from the local Catholic priest and his Japanese housekeeper, who fill her head with stories of shipwrecks and ghosts. His father, Tim, wanders the beach, frantically searching for a strange apparition running wild in the dunes. And the boy’s only friend, Nick, becomes helplessly entangled in the eerie power of the drawings. While those around Jack Peter are haunted by what they think they see, only he knows the truth behind the frightful occurrences as the outside world encroaches upon them all.

My Thoughts:
Horror is not a genre I normally read.  I have read it and I have enjoyed it, but it just isn't the section of the bookstore I tend to go to.  The truth is, I have a sort of strange relationship with it.  I am one of those people who is scared very, very easily.  I can't watch horror movies or listen to ghost stories.  Heck, I can't even go into haunted houses.  Yet, I'm very rarely scared when I read.  In fact, I've only been frightened by 2 books (The Historian by Elizabeth Kostova and Salem's Lot, the first AND LAST horror novel by Stephen King I've read).  I think that is why I've stayed away from horror--I felt like it wasn't working for me as it didn't scare me.  In time, I realized that getting a creepy or eerie feeling was probably okay and, let's face it, I shouldn't bemoan the absence of nightmares.

So, when I come out and say that I didn't find this book frightening, it should not be taken as a commentary on the work.  I did find it eerie, and definitely a little creepy, so that is a win in my book.  However, I can't say if reader who are--and want to be--scared by such books would be.  I think those of you who fall into that category will have to rely on other  reviews to see if this book is spine-tingling.

All that being said, I did find this a solid novel.  I don't know if you can much creepier than a creepy kid and, in that department, this book delivers.  Jack Peter has been diagnosed with Asperger's Syndrome, although it is clear very quickly to the reader that there is more to the boy than that diagnosis.  One of his more major issues is his agoraphobia--a fear of the outdoors.  He has not left the house in 3 years, except for necessary trips to the doctor.  Instead, he surveys the Maine Coast from the windows in his parents' "dream house."

Jack Peter seems to have 2 outlets--drawing and his friend, Nick.  His parents encourage both, but Nick is not so sure about Jack Peter.  The two boys have a complex relationship and one that Donohue fleshes out well.  The truth is that both boys need each other on one level and resent each other on another. And Nick is not so sure about all the drawings Jack Peter makes with an almost fevered urgency.

That is the canvas on which this story is painted.  From here we have ghosts and monsters, family secrets and a mysterious woman.  I really don't want to get too far into the plot because I'm not sure how to do so without employing spoilers.  I will say this, though...this was a good horror novel for a reader like me, who doesn't read horror very often.

I can't guarantee that this will scare the pants off you, but I do believe that it will suck you in and give you much to think about.

I was not solicited for this review and I received no compensation for this post.

The Boy Who Drew Monsters
by Keith Donohue

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

In Defense of Goodreads

Is it just me, or are things getting a little testy in the bookternet lately?

There are a lot of issues that people are discussing--hotly--everywhere, and I am pretty much of the mind to just let others discuss them to death.  I'm okay with that.  But there has been on site that has been under what I consider an unfair attack and that site would be Goodreads.

I've tried other similar sites--namely Library Thing and Riffle--and there is nothing wrong with those site (although Riffle really needs to let you leave longer reviews), but Goodreads works for me.  It may not work for someone else--and that is fine--but it is exactly what I need.  Admittedly, I don't use all the features of Goodreads.  I only use the groups on a very limited basis (my postal book clubs both operate through Goodreads) and I'm not into the discussions.  I discuss books so much in other places that I really don't feel a need to go into discussions in Goodreads.  I also haven't quite figured out listopia.

On the other hand, I do cross post my reviews there, I track the books that I've read and what is on my TBR list.  I do their challenge every year, which I find an effective way to keep myself on track.  I also find that the reviews of books and recommendations are far more accurate to my tastes than the reviews of the same books on Amazon or another such site.

From what I can tell, the Goodreads hate comes from 2 sources.  On one hand, there are the writers who don't like that people leave them negative reviews.  Yes, there are some Goodreads user who are a bit, um, abrasive in their reviews.  There are also people on this planet who are a bit, um, abrasive in their views.  Get used to it.

Here's the thing...once you write something and put it out into the world, it belongs to the world and not everyone is going to like it.  If you can't deal with that, then you should not be publishing.  It is that simple.  And, if we need to point fingers, I'm much more willing to place blame on writers who go after their readers (Kathleen Hale, Anne Rice, and I'm sure many others.  There is, after all, an entire site devoted to this.  You can look it up, I'm not going to dignify it on this blog), than someone who peppers their review with profanity and rude gifs.  And, yes, there are those reviewers--I rarely run into them and, on the rare occasion that I do, I leave them alone and they leave me alone and everything is just fine.

The second source is from people who think that Goodreads is just beneath them.  I understand it is not a site for everyone, but that doesn't mean that there is some sort of defect in the people who do use it.  This past week, a rather amusing news story came out that Salman Rushdie was rating books on Goodreads and giving some ratings that some might question (I don't...who am I to question what someone else thinks of To Kill a Mockingbird?).  Just today, on a book podcast, they spoke about this story and one of the hosts said, "What is he doing on Goodreads anyway?"


I mean, why shouldn't Salman Rushdie be on Goodreads.  It apparently meets some need or interest he has and that's great.  Is this some sort of chink in his armor that he's on Goodreads?  Maybe he just wants to keep track of his books?  Maybe he just wants some recommendations from people NOT trying to push their books on him.  Why is the fact that he, or anyone, has a Goodreads account some sort of commentary on his character.

Goodreads is, plain and simple, a social networking site for booklovers.  Everyone is different and it may not appeal to everyone, and that is just fine.  I, however, find it a truly valuable tool when tracking my reading and a great way to stay on top of what my friends are reading and to find new books to read.

I'm not writing this to convince everyone to start a Goodreads account*.  However, I'm getting rather tired of the broken record I've been hearing about how Goodreads is evil.  Perhaps the Goodreads you experience is directly related to your own use of it.  Just sayin'.

*But if you decide to join Goodreads, or are already on it, I would love to know what you are reading.  You can find my profile here and I will be sure to approve your friend request!

Monday, April 13, 2015

Book Review: "The Bookseller" by Cynthia Swanson

The Bookseller Cynthia Swanson
Published: March 3, 2015
ISBN: 9780062333001
Genre: Historical Fiction
Source: TLC Book Tours
Highly Recommended

1962: It may be the Swinging Sixties in New York, but in Denver it’s different: being a single gal over thirty in this city is almost bohemian. Still, thirty-eight-year-old Kitty Miller has come to terms with her unconventional single life. She was involved, once—with a doctor named Kevin—but when things didn’t work out the way she had hoped, she decided to chart her own path. Now she dedicates herself to the bookstore she runs with her best friend, Frieda, returning home each evening to her cozy apartment. Without a husband expecting dinner, she can enjoy last-minute drinks after work with her friends; without children who need to get ready for school, she can stay up all night reading with her beloved cat, Aslan, by her side.

Then the dreams begin.

1963: Katharyn Andersson is married to Lars, the love of her life. They live in a picture-perfect home in a suburban area of Denver, close to their circle of friends. It’s the ideal place in which to raise their children. Katharyn’s world is exactly what Kitty once believed she wanted . . . but it exists only when she sleeps.

At first, Kitty enjoys her nighttime forays into this alternate world. Even though there is no Frieda, no bookstore, no other familiar face, Kitty becomes increasingly reluctant to open her eyes and abandon Katharyn’s alluring life.

But with each visit to her dreamworld, it grows more real. As the lines between the two worlds begin to blur, Kitty faces an uncertain future. What price must she pay to stay? What is the cost of letting go?

My Thoughts:
I'm not proud to admit this, but I went into this book thinking I would know exactly how things would go.  I'm not saying that I thought it would be trite or predictable, but rather that it fell firmly into a trope of a life that is and a life that could have been.  And, to be sure, that is what The Bookseller is, but not in the way I thought it would be.

I'm going to be especially careful writing the rest of this review as I think this is an unusually easy book to spoil and I really, really don't want to do that--I want you all to read it!

Let me start with Kitty/Katharyn, who I call K from here on out.  I felt she was a strongly constructed character and robust enough to really carry this book.  She has to switch between two settings, sometimes with only a partial knowledge of her current world, but she is written such that she stays just one character.  The other characters in the novel are more one-dimensional, which normally is a drawback for me, but is actually necessary in this case (no, I'm no going to tell you the book!).

Setting in this book is paramount.  Both lives that K experiences is set in Denver, but in different worlds in the same city. If my memory is correct, I've only been to Denver twice and both times I was stuck in the airport.  So, I have no way of knowing if the portraits of Denver Swanson draws are accurate--but they are definitely evocative (for the record, it seemed like a hybrid between Portland and Tucson, which probably isn't too far off).  I felt like I was right there in Denver of the early-60s.  And, speaking of the time period, Swanson also uses current (to the time) events to set things up, something which I appreciated as a reader.  In a book where reality is questioned, it was nice to have an"anchor."

If I had a complaint about this book it would be that the moment when the situation becomes clear is a little muted.  I don't mean that I felt that there should have been more "action," bu I do wish it had been a bit more of an "a-ha moment."

In the end, though, this was a dazzling debut and one that I'd recommend to pretty much anyone...but I will give this warning; you'll probably start paying more attention to your dreams after reading this!

About the Author:
Cynthia Swanson is a writer and a designer of the midcentury modern style. She has published short fiction in 13th Moon, Kalliope, Sojourner, and other periodicals; her story in 13th Moon was a Pushcart Prize nominee. She lives in Denver, Colorado, with her husband and three children. The Bookseller is her first novel.

Find out more about Cynthia at her website and connect with her on Facebook.

I received a copy of this book in return for an honest review.  I received no other compensation for this post.

Want to read more?  Check out one of the other stops on this blog tour! (Links go to the blog, not the specific review)

Tuesday, April 7th: Bibliotica
Wednesday, April 8th: The Discerning Reader
Wednesday, April 8th: Read Lately
Thursday, April 9th: A Chick Who Reads
Friday, April 10th: 5 Minutes For Books
Tuesday, April 14th: Reading Reality
Wednesday, April 15th: Sara’s Organized Chaos
Thursday, April 16th: Kritters Ramblings
Monday, April 20th: BoundbyWords
Tuesday, April 21st: Readers’ Oasis
Wednesday, April 22nd: Vox Libris
Thursday, April 23rd: Read. Write. Repeat.
Friday, April 24th: Always With a Book
Monday, April 27th: Patricia’s Wisdom
Tuesday, April 28th: A Bookish Way of Life
Thursday, April 30th: Bookshelf Fantasies
Friday, May 1st: Bibliophiliac
Wednesday, May 6th: Ms. Nose in a Book

The Bookseller
by Cynthia Swanson

Friday, April 10, 2015

Saturday Snapshot - April 11

To participate in Saturday Snapshot: post a photo that you (or a friend or family member) have taken then leave a direct link to your post in the Mister Linky below. Photos can be old or new, and be of any subject as long as they are clean and appropriate for all eyes to see. How much detail you give in the caption is entirely up to you. Please don’t post random photos that you find online.

First off, MAJOR APOLOGIES on my part!  As you may have noticed, I accidentally deleted last week's Saturday Snapshot post a few days ago.  It was really a case of me clicking in just the wrong place at just the wrong time.  I tried to find a way to bring it back, but no success.  I promise to be more judicious with my mouse from here on out.

Okay, onto this week.  Spring is starting to hit our front yard!  I have a couple of exciting bloom pictures--both of which I edited with an app/site called BeFunky.  I just found out about this on Thursday (yesterday as I'm typing this) and I'm in love!  It's free (although there is a premium membership, but all I can tell that it gives you is more frame options) and it is a local (to Portland) company, so that is cool.  I highly recommend it.

Anyhoo, onto the pictures:

Yes, that is almost a rose! I think we'll have full-fledged roses in a few days!

My lilac bush is in bloom!  I love lilacs and I really had to work to get my husband to plant this ONE, so I'm getting all the enjoyment out of it I can.

Thursday, April 9, 2015

Book Review: "Paper Towns" by John Green

Paper Towns John Green
Published: September 22, 2009
ISBN: 9780142414934
Genre: Young Adult Fiction
Source: Personal Copy
Recommended for fans of young adult fiction

Quentin Jacobsen has spent a lifetime loving the magnificently adventurous Margo Roth Spiegelman from afar. So when she cracks open a window and climbs into his life—dressed like a ninja and summoning him for an ingenious campaign of revenge—he follows. After their all-nighter ends, and a new day breaks, Q arrives at school to discover that Margo, always an enigma, has now become a mystery. But Q soon learns that there are clues—and they're for him. Urged down a disconnected path, the closer he gets, the less Q sees the girl he thought he knew... 

My Thoughts:
It is no secret that John Green has a bit of a cult following--and it is easy to see why.  He's a talented writer and he is tuned in to what young adults feel.  He's not afraid to tackle tougher topics, but he also doesn't dumb things down for his audience.  For that, I have great respect for him.

My first encounter with John Green came when I read The Fault In Our Stars, a book I greatly enjoyed.  Since the movie version of Paper Towns is soon to be released, I decided that I would make this my 2nd Green read--so I can only compare it to The Fault In Our Stars.

I say this because, based on these two books, I get the feeling that John Green is a formulaic writer.  Both books feature characters at a crossroads, which admittedly is not uncommon in Young Adult Fiction.  They also feature scenes of property damage sprees and unbelievably understanding parents.  Okay, that last part isn't necessarily a bad thing.

The fact that there is a framework may not bother many people.  Let's face it, if it were a universal sin to be a formulaic writer, Dan Brown wouldn't have a prayer.  Unfortunately, it does bother me.  John Green is a very talented writer, but I really wish that he would get out of the box of his own making--at least I hope he does.  I will most likely read more of his books in the future so, you know, it could happen.  Heck, it may have already happened for all I know.   But the fact that this book was so similar to the other one of his books that I read did negatively impact what I felt about this book.

However, let me address what I did like.  I liked Quentin as a main character.  I found him to be a believable narrator.  He's an essentially good kid--a young man who is trusted by his parents, gets good grades, and has a good social circle.  I enjoyed reading his interactions with his friends, who were the sort of people I knew in high school.  Yet, putting him next to Margo highlights what a troubled young woman she is.

As I said, I am a fan of Green's writing--he is eloquent without being dramatically poetic.  I think this is what makes him so appealing to young adults.  Let's just say there is no shortage of quotable passages in this book.  Yet, he is still able to capture the vernacular of high school students and weave it seamlessly into his prose.

Now, to my main problem with this book--and I have to admit that my own experiences greatly affected my feelings here--which is Margo Roth Spiegelman.  You see, I knew a Margo when I was in high school--granted my Margo wasn't as clever as Green's Margo and she never led us on a cross country hunt (probably because it never occurred to her), but I know first hand how damaging someone like this can be.  In many ways, Green romanticizes Margo and that just left a bad taste in my mouth.  Margo is a very, very troubled person and that is never truly addressed.  Quentin actually sacrifices quite a bit for her, yet he never really sees the cost of what he's done for her.  In this respect, I found the book unsatisfying.

So, I'm torn on this.  Was this a successful book for me?  No.  Would I recommend it to others?  I don't know.  I do think that the younger the reader, the more likely they are to enjoy this book.  Yet, the farther the reader is from their own youth, the more likely they are to see the consequences of the characters' actions and behaviors and, as a result, the more likely they are to be dissatisfied with this story.

I was not solicited for this review and I received no compensation for this post.

Paper Towns
by John Green

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

Book Review: "The Children's Crusade" by Ann Packer

The Children's Crusade Ann Packer
Published: April 7, 2015
ISBN: 9781476710457
Genre: Contemporary Fiction
Source: Netgalley
Recommended for readers who enjoy family dramas

Bill Blair finds the land by accident, three wooded acres in a rustic community south of San Francisco. The year is 1954, long before anyone will call this area Silicon Valley. Struck by a vision of the family he has yet to create, Bill buys the property on a whim. In Penny Greenway he finds a suitable wife, a woman whose yearning attitude toward life seems compelling and answerable, and they marry and have four children. Yet Penny is a mercurial housewife, at a time when women chafed at the conventions imposed on them. She finds salvation in art, but the cost is high.

Thirty years later, the three oldest Blair children, adults now and still living near the family home, are disrupted by the return of the youngest, whose sudden presence and all-too-familiar troubles force a reckoning with who they are, separately and together, and set off a struggle over the family's future. One by one, the siblings take turns telling the story-Robert, a doctor like their father; Rebecca, a psychiatrist; Ryan, a schoolteacher; and James, the malcontent, the problem child, the only one who hasn't settled down-their narratives interwoven with portraits of the family at crucial points in their history.

My Thoughts:
Phew!  You know all those jokes about having to get drunk or behave in some other such activity after spending too much time with your family?  Well, that is how I felt after spending time with the Blair family.  This is not to say that this is a bad book--there is actually much to recommend it--but I, personally, did not enjoy it.  Admittedly, I'm not a reader who needs to enjoy a book in order to appreciate a book and, for the most part, I did appreciate this one.

The best way I can think of to describe this book to someone is to think of an unfunny and dramatic version of Parenthood--the movie, not the TV show.  Four adult children come together to deal with their childhoods under the shadow of their ever-present (but deceased) father and their absent mother.  As is common with families, each child had a role--the oldest, the responsible and only girl, the treasured one, and the"bad" one and, as adults, they are all dealing with these roles.

The drama in this book is very realistic and, because of that, very painful.  I am sure that readers who enjoy family dramas will have more success with this title than I did.  Each of the children are explored, both as kids and as adults, and that results in 4 thorough character studies.  I found the oldest two children, Robert and Rebecca, the easiest to relate to.  The youngest, James, was at least understandable by the end of the book.  Ryan, however, never really gelled as a real character for me.  My guess is that Packer was trying to play with the idea of gender with him--he is heterosexual, but very feminine.  While I don't think there is anything wrong with that, I don't feel it was done in a way that was effective and I'm not sure why that is.  It wasn't that he was or wasn't likable, he just seemed like a lot was put on him, but he didn't have the depth as a character to pull it off.

The two people who were very problematic for me were the parents, Bill and Penny.  We never really get to know Penny--there are a few passages that were told from her point of view, but mostly she was removed from the rest of the family.  On the whole, I understand why Packer did this--the fact that Penny was not involved in her children's lives is an important element of the development of the children's characters.  However, I wish Packer had committed to either telling more of the story from Penny's eyes or opted not to tell anything from her eyes.

Then we have Bill.  Honestly, Bill makes Cliff Huxtable look like Al Bundy on a bad day.  Really, this guy is just too good to be true.  And the fact that he didn't seem true to me was a big issue for me as it seemed to undermine the entire book.  I kept wishing that there would be some kind of character flaw in this guy to make him human.

I am the first to admit that family dramas can be hard for me as I find them intrinsically stressful. I know that there are many, many readers who are more interested in this than I am and I think that, if family drama is in your wheelhouse, this may be a good book for you.  I also think that this would be an excellent book club selection as families always provide much fodder for conversation.  However, if you prefer your family drama to be a bit--I don't know--lighter, you may want to approach this book with caution.

I received an electronic copy of this book in return for an honest review.  I received no other compensation for this post.

The Children's Crusade
by Ann Packer

Friday, March 27, 2015

Saturday Snapshot - March 28

To participate in Saturday Snapshot: post a photo that you (or a friend or family member) have taken then leave a direct link to your post in the Mister Linky below. Photos can be old or new, and be of any subject as long as they are clean and appropriate for all eyes to see. How much detail you give in the caption is entirely up to you. Please don’t post random photos that you find online.

So, I've been spending most of this week doing Bloggiesta stuff on the blog (and I still have loads to do!).  I did get to run out and get some pics of the trees blooming in our yard....

This is one of our cherry trees.  It's a fruit tree (not an ornamental), so it blooms a bit later.

This is our 6 variety grafted apple tree.  My husband keeps saying he's going to take this one out and replace it, but he hasn't done it yet.  We aren't really fond of the varieties on this tree, so I'm hoping he replaces it with a honeycrisp tree.

There are actually 4 trees here: a bartlett pear, an Asian pear, a red delicious apple, and a honeycrisp apple.  The one with the most blooms is the Asian pear.

Th trees have only been in a few years, so we haven't gotten a substantial yield yet, but I'm hoping to start reaping the benefits this fall.

Thursday, March 26, 2015

Book Review: "The Rosie Project" by Graeme Simsion

The Rosie Project Graeme Simsion
Published; October 1, 2013
ISBN: 9781476729084
Genre: Contemporary Fiction
Source: Personal Copy
Highly Recommended for everyone!

Don Tillman, professor of genetics, has never been on a second date. He is a man who can count all his friends on the fingers of one hand, whose lifelong difficulty with social rituals has convinced him that he is simply not wired for romance. So when an acquaintance informs him that he would make a “wonderful” husband, his first reaction is shock. Yet he must concede to the statistical probability that there is someone for everyone, and he embarks upon The Wife Project. In the orderly, evidence-based manner with which he approaches all things, Don sets out to find the perfect partner. She will be punctual and logical—most definitely not a barmaid, a smoker, a drinker, or a late-arriver.

Yet Rosie Jarman is all these things. She is also beguiling, fiery, intelligent—and on a quest of her own. She is looking for her biological father, a search that a certain DNA expert might be able to help her with. Don's Wife Project takes a back burner to the Father Project and an unlikely relationship blooms, forcing the scientifically minded geneticist to confront the spontaneous whirlwind that is Rosie—and the realization that love is not always what looks good on paper.

My Thoughts:
This book has been sitting in my Kindle account for quite some time.  I think it fell victim to my aversion to hyped books, or at least that is what I'm telling myself.  I recently won a copy of The Rosie Effect in a giveaway and I thought I should probably read this one first.  I went in expecting something light and quick.

Don't get me wrong--this was light and quick.  Light in that it wasn't a book that I felt like I had to work to read and quick because I could not put it down.  To assume, however, that it being "light and quick" means it is fluffy is just wrong.  While this book is definitely smooth going down, shall we say, it definitely packs a punch.

It took me a little time to settle into this book, to no fault of the books.  You see, I am a devoted fan of The Big Bang Theory and this book is very similar.  The main character is a man with Asperger's and a scientist.  Yet, it quickly becomes clear that Don Tillman is not a Sheldon Cooper clone...he wants to have a relationship and take pro-active, and questionable, steps to achieve that goal.

The other characters in this book are well-drawn as well.  Rosie is an interesting woman and she turns out to not be what I initially thought she would be.  I can't say that I "liked" Gene, but he was an effective foil for Don and one that I wouldn't expect.  But, there was quite a bit about this book I didn' expect--I thought I had figured the Father Project out and was a bit flummoxed to realize that I had guessed wrong.

There is great comedy in this book (including some unorthodox uses for skeleton) but there is great emotion as well.  Don's feelings are crystal clear to the reader long before he ever has the slightest inkling of going on.  Yet, when he does figure it out, it hits you like Billy Crystal's speech in When Harry Met Sally (but it is not when Don actually recites that particular speech...yes, that happens!).  I think the greatest strength of this book is how Simsion develops Don without Don actually knowing it.  And, yes, this is a love story--a quirky and sweet romantic tale, but it isn't what I would consider a "romance."  Don's relationship with Rosie is the tool that leads to his self-realization, not the other way around.

It has been a while since a book so quickly worked its way into my heart as this one did.  Ignore the hype (even though it is all well-deserved) and pick up this book!

I was not solicited for this review and I received no compensation for this post.

The Rosie Project
by Graeme Simsion

Monday, March 23, 2015

Book Review: "Mademoiselle Chanel" by C.W. Gortner

Mademoiselle Chanel C.W. Gortner
Published: March 17, 2015
ISBN: 9780062356406
Genre: Historical Fiction
Source: TLC Book Tours
Highly Recommended for fans of Early 20th Century Historical Fiction or Fashion Aficionados

Born into rural poverty, Gabrielle Chanel and her siblings are sent to orphanage after their mother’s death. The sisters nurture Gabrielle’s exceptional sewing skills, a talent that will propel the willful young woman into a life far removed from the drudgery of her childhood.

Transforming herself into Coco—a seamstress and sometime torch singer—the petite brunette burns with ambition, an incandescence that draws a wealthy gentleman who will become the love of her life. She immerses herself in his world of money and luxury, discovering a freedom that sparks her creativity. But it is only when her lover takes her to Paris that Coco discovers her destiny. 

Rejecting the frilly, corseted silhouette of the past, her sleek, minimalist styles reflect the youthful ease and confidence of the 1920s modern woman. As Coco’s reputation spreads, her couturier business explodes, taking her into rarefied society circles and bohemian salons. But her fame and fortune cannot save her from heartbreak as the years pass. And when Paris falls to the Nazis, Coco is forced to make choices that will haunt her. 

My Thoughts:
I will admit that I knew very little about Coco Chanel before reading this book.  I knew that she was French and worked during the first part of the 20th century.  I had a general idea of the "Chanel Style" and was very familiar with the iconic Chanel No. 5, as that is the perfume my mother wears.  

And that was the extent of my Coco Chanel knowledge.

It is somewhat unusual for me to go into a historical novel being somewhat ignorant about the subject matter and, frankly, it is a treat.  Usually with historical fiction, I know the parameters in which the story has to operate but, in this case, I really only knew that there were some major (like World Wars I and II) events that would be happening.

I hesitate to say that Coco's story is a rags to riches's more of a "raise yourself up by using every single tool at your disposal" story.  While there are some "happy coincidences" in Coco's young adulthood, her success is still her own and, at times, comes at her expense.  There is not mistake:  Coco is a tough, tough woman.  Yet, I admired her, even if I felt that some (okay, many) of her choices were questionable.  She reminded me of one of those quintessential and glamorous 20th century anti-heroines, usually played on the silver screen by the likes of Bette Davis or Joan Crawford.

Gortner creates the France, and especially the Paris, of this time period exquisitely.  Sometimes I get the feeling that authors just expect us to know what Paris is like and they get a little lazy in building it for us, but Gortner does not do that.  He illustrates every detail beautifully and lets the city evolve as it did through this tumultuous time period.

Here is the difficult part of the review for me.  What I'm about to say did not actually bother me about this book, but I can see how some readers may have a problem with it.  As I said, I knew little about Coco Chanel going into this book. Once I finished, however, I did some admittedly light research (by "light" I mean wikipedia and a few other sites).  Gortner was very accurate about his facts.  However, judging by what I found online (and, again, it was "light" research), I think he gave Coco's character a very generous dose of the benefit of the doubt when it came to her actions during World War II.  I won't go into the details as I don't want to spoil the book, but it sounded to me that the "real" Coco was a little more, how should I say this?, opportunistic during the Nazi occupation of Paris than Gortner's characterization of her.  Personally, I don't see anything wrong with this--this is, after all, a novel and, frankly, no one really knows what Coco Chanel was thinking and feeling during that time.  Who knows?  It could be that Gortner was spot on with Chanel's motivations and just looking at the hard facts might give someone the wrong impression.   Still, readers who are more knowledgeable about the subject matter and more concerned with accuracy may have problems with this.

Overall, though, this was an exceptionally good read.  Even though it is a work of historical fiction, it is definitely more of a "character" novel and that Coco--well, she was quite a character!

About the Author:
A former fashion executive, C. W. Gortner is a lifelong admirer of Coco Chanel. His passion for writing led him to give up fashion, and his many historical novels have been bestsellers, published in more than twenty countries. He lives in San Francisco.

Find out more about C.W. Gortner at his website and connect with him on Facebook and Twitter.

I received a copy of this book in return for an honest review.  I received no other compensation for this post.

Want to read more?  Check out some of the other stops on this tour! (Links go to the blog, not the specific review)

Tuesday, March 17th: A Bookish Way of Life
Wednesday, March 18th: Books Without Any Pictures
Thursday, March 19th: A Chick Who Reads
Friday, March 20th: Kritters Ramblings
Tuesday, March 24th: Walking With Nora
Wednesday, March 25th: Bibliotica
Thursday, March 26th: Read. Write. Repeat.
Monday, March 30th: Drey’s Library
Tuesday, March 31st: Unshelfish
Wednesday, April 1st: Bibliophilia, Please
Thursday, April 2nd: Mom’s Small Victories
Friday, April 3rd: Svetlana’s Reads and Views

Mademoiselle Chanel
by Christopher W. Gortner