6

The sinister mystery of The French Girl

Full disclosure: I received a copy of this book from Penguin Random House of Canada in exchange for an honest review.

french girl

Ten years ago, on a holiday at a farmhouse in France, the French neighbour went missing on the last night Katie and her friends were there. Now, Tom is telling her that they found Severine’s body in the well at the farmhouse and a french detective would be coming to speak with each of them once more.

In the ten years since that week, Katie has become a lawyer, starting her own legal headhunting business and doesn’t need the stigma of being involved in a murder investigation. Still, everyone from that week is cooperating – Tom, who is coming back to London from Boston, his cousin Seb, Katie’s ex-boyfriend who she hasn’t seen since they broke up right after that week, Caro, still singular-minded, working at her father’s law firm, and Katie’s best friend Lara, a Swedish transplant who has never had any trouble getting the kinds of men she wants. The only one missing is Theo – it was his family’s farm, he knew Severine the best and after whatever happened happened, he signed up for the military and ended up dying over there.

Lexie Elliott’s The French Girl is a different kind of mystery. The mystery happened ten years ago, there are no flashbacks, no clues uncovered by intrepid investigators or curious friends. We stick with Katie as she is haunted by Severine, as she tries to piece together what might have happened all those years ago, while trying to get her business into the black. She reconnects with the group that was there that week and all of them talk about what the French detective has been asking, what he’s been focused on.

The French Girl is kind of sinister because we don’t have anymore idea what happened all those years ago than Katie. There is no evidence, no trail to follow. The entire book is the interactions this group has with each other and the detective. It’s a unique way of telling this kind of story and I really did appreciate it. I enjoyed my time with The French Girl, reading it in glorious late-winter sunshine.

But I’m not sure that this one will excite everyone. It was clever for sure but was it compelling? Not especially. I wasn’t counting the minutes until I could get back to it. It was an easy, no-pressure read that I would have been happy reading on a beach or poolside. I’m not convinced it would have held my attention on a long flight or a commute though.

I liked The French Girl, I will loan it out, and I’m OK with not getting anything more out of it.

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10

Antilibrary Liberation

A couple of weeks ago, Naomi @ Consumed by Ink posted this article on her facebook.

I can never resist bookish content so I immediately clicked on it and read it.

I’ve been thinking about it ever since.

The article basically gives permission to have stacks and stacks of unread books in your house. The idea of an “antilibrary” is basically to show you all the things that you have yet to learn, to reinforce the idea that you don’t know everything, which makes you a smarter person in the long run.

I had been feeling BAD about all the books that had been piling up around my house. Since we’ve moved, I’ve been driving to work instead of taking transit and I’ve lost about 2 hours of reading time every day! So the unread books have been accumulating much more quickly. I’ve been mostly avoiding the library and trips to the bookstore didn’t hold the same joy because they just made me think about all the books I already had that needed reading.

Since I’ve read this article I’ve been released from that guilt. I’ve been adding books to my stacks at an alarming pace. Don’t believe me?

These are the books I’ve brought home since reading the article just over a week ago:

  • I’ll Be Gone in the Dark: One Woman’s Obsessive Search for the Golden State Killer by Michelle McNamara
  • The Blood of Emmett Till by Timothy B. Tyson
  • Bachelor Nation: Inside the World of America’s Favorite Guilty Pleasure by Amy Kaufman (yeah, I did)
  • Surprise Me by Sophie Kinsella
  • An American Marriage by Tayari Jones
  • The Girl in the Woods by Camilla Lackberg

belle_library

If you’re wondering how I died, just know that being crushed by all the things I didn’t know was the way I’d always hoped to go.

8

Taking ‘Buckshaw’ out of the Buckshaw Chronicles

Full disclosure: I received a copy of this book from Penguin Random House of Canada in exchange for an honest review.

Recently, I’ve seen people “confess” to their love of the Flavia de Luce books (fine, the Buckshaw Chronicles). Like reading and liking these books is something to feel guilty about, they are some kind of guilty pleasure.

I’m not about that life, guys. Are Alan Bradley’s delightful mysteries set in the 1950s English countryside gritty or dark or violent? Nope. But that’s kind of their charm. They are much more in the vein of Agatha Christie and I for one appreciate their lighter fare. I’ve spent several years loving Flavia and her penchant for solving crimes, chemistry and finding new ways to torture her older sisters.

So I’m not here to rag on these books. I think they are the kind of books that we probably need these days.

But I think Book #9, The Grave’s a Fine and Private Place, might be the end of the line.

grave

This is the copy I have…

After the shocking end of Book #8 (still not over it), the ever faithful Dogger takes Flavia and her older sisters on a boating trip before they are all off to new lives. As they are making their way up the river, Dogger is just telling Flavia about the wonderful case of the vicar who poisoned three of his parishioners and how they dropped dead right in the front pew, when Flavia literally drags a body from the water. One minute she’s dragging her arm in the water, the next a body is hanging from her hand by its teeth.

Naturally Flavia is delighted and Dogger and the de Luces decamp to the village of the famous poisoning incident. While there, Flavia endeavors to find out not only what happened to the body she dragged from the water but how did the vicar actually go about poisoning his parishioners?

In true Buckshaw Chronicles fashion, Flavia uncovers more than she bargained for and learns ever more about human nature.

If you’re familiar with these books, then you know exactly what you’re getting with The Grave’s a Fine and Private Place. It follows in the footsteps of it’s predecessors. The fact that this one is removed from Buckshaw and Bishop’s Lacey does mean that we lose access to some of the characters that didn’t come along on the trip. But Bradley has given us a whole cast of new characters that ably fill the void. However, if this IS the last one, the series is going out with a whimper, not a bang. And I can’t decide how I feel about that.

grave2

…but THIS version is stunning!

Now that Flavia has made a decision about her future, putting all her skills and training to use in this new pursuit, now that all of the financial issues around Buckshaw have been sorted out, I kind of want to see what direction these books could go in. They really do feel like an homage to Agatha Christie, maybe mixed with The Bletchley Circle and Harriet the Spy. Having freed himself from some of the constraints of the story, I want to see what Bradley comes up with for Flavia.

If you can come to this maybe-final book accepting it for what it is, then I suspect you will enjoy the ride. Flavia is in fine form, finally understanding how humans relate to one another, something that has always eluded her.

Finally, Flavia is all grown up.

2

A sexy romp: The Wedding Date

Full disclosure: I received a copy of this book from Penguin Random House of Canada in exchange for an honest review.

I first heard about Jasmine Guillory’s The Wedding Date from Roxane Gay. She was the first to tweet about her enjoyment of this book, which put it on my radar. I kept seeing it after that (one of those cases where awareness suddenly shows you something everywhere) and finally, I got the chance to read it.

wedding date

The premise of The Wedding Date is a simple one. Sexy Drew Nichols is dreading being a groomsman at his ex and best friend’s wedding. The night he checks into his hotel, he ends up getting stuck in an elevator with Alexa Monroe and decides to ask her if she’d be his pretend girlfriend at the rehearsal dinner and the wedding. Uncharacteristically, she says yes.

Their chemistry is insane and what begins as a pretend relationship, turns into something more as they find ways to spend more time with each other. Each are juggling their own baggage, their careers, but can’t deny that there’s something special here. However, because of the way things started, both continue to question whether what they have is actually real or just playing the part. Does Drew do this with lots of women? Is Alexa just a fetish for him?

I really enjoyed this book. It was a fun, sexy romp through California that made me smile. Is this book going to change your life? Probably not. But it’s so fun and right now that’s sometimes all I need from a book.

I appreciated so much about The Wedding Date. I liked that she’s black and he’s white, that they kind of have to address that without that being the focus of the book. I really appreciated that the sex was actually hot and not just cringey and kind of gross. It was empowering in its way.

I also appreciated that Drew and Alexa are fully formed characters. They both have their own baggage (he has maybe not been completely honest about the state of his relationship with the bride, she tends to overthink everything and not allow herself to fully enjoy anything), they are both successful professionals who have their sh*t together, and they have to figure out how a life together might work.

I liked that The Wedding Date didn’t ask very much of me. It’s confident in its ability to be a charming, sexy, fun read. I’ve already loaned this book out and am getting more positive feedback. I think if you go in prepared to accept this book for what it is, you’re going to enjoy the ride.

16

Literary Wives: The Blazing World

It’s time for Literary Wives, a blogging club that looks at the depiction of wives in fiction!

Please make sure to check out the posts by the other wives and join in the discussion if you’ve read The Blazing World by Siri Hustvedt.

Ariel @  One Little Library
Kate @ Kate Rae Davis
Kay @ Whatmeread
Lynn @ Smoke and Mirrors
Naomi @ Consumed By Ink
TJ @ My Book Strings

The Book

blazing

Artist Harriet Burden has long suspected that her work has been discounted as serious because of her gender. So she decides to test out her theory by having three different men act as her work’s proxies. She chooses the men at different stages of their careers and has them pass off her work as their own, to great critical acclaim. But her last cover, Rune, a successful artist in his own right turns on her, refusing to allow her to claim back her work. Their intense struggle ends only when Rune dies under mysterious circumstances.

 

My Thoughts

I was so ready to like this book. An angry women intent on proving that her industry doesn’t take her seriously because of her gender, a struggle that ends in the bizarre death of her male foil? Sign me up!

Unfortunately, for me, the execution of it left something to be desired. I’m not ever really a huge fan of diary style books. I don’t like the disjointed feeling of articles and research and journal entries making up the narrative of a book and that was no different in the case of The Blazing World. I also found it odd that a book about a woman asserting her place in her creative world was told by other people – maybe that was the point and my dense ass missed it. But it annoyed me. Especially when I was reading articles or interviews by men who were critical of Harriet and her work, calling her a liar and a hanger on and only known because she was the wife of her late husband, the critic Felix Lord (great name). Again, maybe that was the point but it grated on me.

Even when there were sections of the book that I was enjoying, they were always short lived. I never felt like I got a good sense of Harriet, that the chaos of her inner life made it impossible to get to know her. I’m not sure that anyone in her life ever actually got to know her; Phineas Q.Eldridge, her second cover, probably got the closest of anyone.

I was also promised a bizarre death, one that was aswirl with rumour and intrigue and in the end, it was a pretty run of the mill suicide?

I think I got so caught up in the style of the book that I wasn’t able to appreciate the content. Which is a shame because there might have been something to it. For me though, The Blazing World didn’t spark any great feeling in this reader, except relief when I finished it.

What does the book say about being a wife?

It’s taken me a while to get buy head wrapped around the question of being a wife within the scope of The Blazing World. There is the obvious parts that have to do with Harriet married to Felix and how her career took a backseat to his. That while he was a successful art dealer, responsible for kickstarting numerous art careers, she was a wife and mother, known only as “Felix’s wife.”

Most of the time I was struck by Harriet’s anger, not at being a wife, but at being dismissed because of her gender. Right after Felix’s death, she is annoyed at being known  just as her husband’s wife, which is what starts her thinking about her new project. But that project becomes less about having been a wife and more about the disappointments of her work not being critically recognized because they were just the dabblings of a woman. She rages at the men in her life not because she felt trapped in her marriage but because she’s been discounted her entire life, starting with a father who wished she was a boy. She spends her entire life consumed by anger and in the end, it felt like all that rage killed her. It was her reproductive organs, the ones that defined her sex, that turned deadly.

But each of Harriet’s ‘collaborations’ with the male artists she picks for her project can be seen as a kind of creative marriage. Within each relationship Harriet must assert her role, must fight to find the light working in the shadows of her ‘husband.’ Ultimately, with her final ‘husband’, Harriet fails and she withers in the darkness of this failure.

The Blazing World seems to say that if women want success in their careers, they can’t be trapped in marriage, that the demands of a husband, the destructive forces of the needs of children, will destroy any plans for career success. In order for a woman to fulfill her career ambitions, she needs to stand on her own, not weighed down by others. In attempting to show the world that her work hasn’t been seen because she’s been the wrong sex, Harriet discovers that she’s entered into another kind of marriage that has snuffed out the glowing embers of what could have been a great career on her own terms.

10

Stolen Beauty

You know how there are some book covers that are just gorgeous? And you want to read the book because you want to possess the book just because it’s pretty?

That’s how my lust for Laurie Lico Albanese’s Stolen Beauty started. I mean, look at this book! In person, it’s even better. That gold shine!

stolen beauty

This was one of two books I received for Christmas (what even is my family?) and I read it pretty much right away.

It’s the story of Adele Bloch-Bauer, the beautiful young Jewish woman who became something of a muse to Gustav Klimt. She was the inspiration for his Judith and later sat for a portrait. Stolen Beauty tells the story of Adele as she was, brilliant, a patroness of the arts in Vienna, before she died suddenly in 1925. She wanted the Klimt portrait to be left to Vienna, so that all people could enjoy the piece.

But when the Nazis took over Austria in 1938, Adele’s surviving husband Ferdinand fled, leaving much of his wealth behind. Including the portrait. It is up to Adele’s niece Maria, to try and regain her family’s heritage, to restore the painting to Vienna as her aunt had wished.

Alternating between Adele and Maria’s experiences, decades apart, Stolen Beauty tells the story behind one of the most famous paintings in the world.

This book does an incredible job of bringing Adele to life, fully realized as a young woman who wanted so much to be a part of the intellectual circles of Vienna. She loved her city, she wanted to make a difference to artists and helped to establish a gallery so that all people, no matter their station in life, could enjoy it.

I loved getting to know the woman in the painting – I’d watched the Helen Mirren movie, Woman in Gold but that one is more about the battle of Maria to get the painting back for her family. Adele was this glamorous shadowy figure in that movie. Stolen Beauty brought both sides together for me. I also appreciated that the Maria sections of the book kind of blew threw WWII. Although a pivotal part of the history of these two women, it wasn’t the focus and it easily could have been.

For those of you who are looking for a different kind of historical fiction, I would definitely recommend this one.

2

Chick lit with edge: The Singles Game

The last time I read Lauren Wesiberger I was bitterly disappointed. 

But she’d never let me down before so I was still interested in reading The Singles Game.

I bought a copy last summer and by the time I read it (it was my last read of 2017), I had completely forgotten anything about it except it was about tennis.

From Goodreads:

singles game

Charlotte “Charlie” Silver has always been a good girl. She excelled at tennis early, coached by her father, a former player himself, and soon became one of the top juniors in the world. When she leaves UCLA—and breaks her boyfriend’s heart—to turn pro, Charlie joins the world’s best athletes who travel eleven months a year, competing without mercy for Grand Slam titles and Page Six headlines.

After Charlie suffers a disastrous loss and injury on Wimbledon’s Centre Court, she fires her longtime coach and hires Todd Feltner, a legend of the men’s tour, who is famous for grooming champions. Charlie is his first-ever female player, and he will not let her forget it. He is determined to change her good-girl image—both on the court and off—and transform her into a ruthless competitor who will not only win matches and climb the rankings, but also score magazine covers and seven-figure endorsement deals. Her not-so-secret affair with the hottest male player in the world, sexy Spaniard Marco Vallejo, has people whispering, and it seems like only a matter of time before the tabloids and gossip blogs close in on all the juicy details. Charlie’s ascension to the social throne parallels her rising rank on the women’s tour—but at a major price.

To be honest, none of the summaries of this book do it justice. It makes it sound like it’s all about the tabloids and hot people and glamorous parties and clothes.

This book is much more about Charlie’s journey of self-discovery, of a woman who thought her life was going to look a certain way, only to have to re-evaluate what she wants due to a devastating injury. It’s about perceptions and how things that work for men don’t work well for women.

From the summaries, I assumed we were going to watch Charlie become a self-absorbed jerk and she’d have to find her way back. But Charlie’s focus the whole time is winning and I have to say, it was refreshing to read a book about a heroine so unapologetic about that. She wants to be #1, she wants to get a Grand Slam win, and she knows that she has to make certain changes in her life if she’s going to achieve that.

I was really surprised by the depth of this book. It’s also not written in first person which I cannot tell you how much I appreciated. It allowed some distance but it also gives readers the chance to see the whole picture. And I learned so much about tennis! And the tour! About how hard it is to be a woman on the tour, to have to focus everything on your sport, leaving no room for any distractions, maybe putting off one’s dreams of having a family. About how that’s not the reality for the man AT ALL.

This book ended up being a great way to finish a not-great reading year. I learned a lot and it restored my faith in an author I’d come to depend on. A light read with a little edge.