Friday, March 31, 2017

Review: The Enemies of Versailles

The Enemies of Versailles was one of my most anticipated reads of 2017 and I'm thrilled to be part of the Timeless Tours Blog Tour with Simon & Schuster Canada. I thoroughly enjoyed the first two books of Sally Christie's Mistresses of Versailles trilogy, and I was really looking forward to reading the final installment.

Here's the synopsis:
In the final installment of Sally Christie’s “tantalizing” (New York Daily News) Mistresses of Versailles trilogy, Jeanne Becu, a woman of astounding beauty but humble birth, works her way from the grimy back streets of Paris to the palace of Versailles, where the aging King Louis XV has become a jaded and bitter old philanderer. Jeanne bursts into his life and, as the Comtesse du Barry, quickly becomes his official mistress.
“That beastly bourgeois Pompadour was one thing; a common prostitute quite another kettle of fish.”
After decades suffering the King's endless stream of Royal Favorites, the princesses of the Court have reached a breaking point. Horrified that he would bring the lowborn Comtesse du Barry into the hallowed halls of Versailles, Louis XV’s daughters, led by the indomitable Madame Adelaide, vow eternal enmity and enlist the young dauphiness Marie Antoinette in their fight against the new mistress. But as tensions rise and the French Revolution draws closer, a prostitute in the palace soon becomes the least of the nobility’s concerns.
Told in Christie’s witty and engaging style, the final book in The Mistresses of Versailles trilogy will delight and entrance fans as it once again brings to life the sumptuous and cruel world of eighteenth century Versailles, and France as it approaches inevitable revolution.
I think I've realized a good historical novel is, to me, equally entertaining and interesting. I really didn't know much about Louis XV before I began Christie's series. Truthfully, I may not have known anything about him. I only knew the very basics about XV's grandson, Louis XVI and his wife, Marie Antoinette, and the French Revolution (sorry, history teachers). Now, though, I really want to dive in and do some research of my own. I think Christie did a good job of finding that balance of storytelling and educating.

That being said, I do wonder if sometimes the history and research played a part in the detail of the story. Some events were described in detail but others were skipped over. Was that because there wasn't a lot of documentation and Christie didn't want to make up too much?

The title of this book has a bit of a double meaning, I think. "Enemies" doesn't just refer to the animosity between Adelaide, Louis XVI's daughter, and Jeanne, his mistress. At the end of the book I think it also means those who are opposed to the monarchy and are in favour of the Revolution.

My biggest problem with this book was that I had no idea what year it was at any given moment. So much time passes in this novel (the first chapter is, I think, around 1750 when Jeanne is 7 and the epilogue is 1800) and I found it jumped around so much that it was hard to keep up.

Wait - I have another big problem. Simon and Schuster Canada. Guys. Friends. Why did you change the cover? Now my series doesn't match! Sigh. Bookworm problems.

I hadn't really thought about how Christie was going to have to end this series. I didn't realized that Louis XV would be dead, as would be his grandson and granddaughter-in-law. Pretty much everyone I had "met" in the last two books were dead too, either because of old age or because of the Revolution and the guillotine. That is incredibly dismal. But that is life. That was life for these very people who actually lived and died so many years ago. It says something about the stories Christie told that I mourned the characters. Before reading these novels they had only ever been names in a history book.

You don't have to be a history fan to enjoy Sally Christie's The Enemies of Versailles, or the rest of the Mistresses of Versailles trilogy. This time period really lends itself well to fiction because it was so full of intrigue, gossip, and drama. I'm sad the series is over but I've been inspired to do some more research on Louis XV, his mistresses, and his family.

Make sure you follow along with the blog tour! You can check out the Timeless Tours site and the graphic below for more details.

*An ARC of this book was provided by the publisher, Simon & Schuster Canada, in exchange for a review for the purpose of a blog tour. All opinions are honest and my own.*

Monday, March 27, 2017

Review: Fractured

Catherine McKenzie is one of my favourite writers and I always look forward to her latest novel. Fractured was released last fall and even though I read it right away I just haven’t sat down to share my thoughts on it! Bad blogger.

Here’s the synopsis:
Julie Prentice and her family move across the country to the idyllic Mount Adams district of Cincinnati, hoping to evade the stalker who’s been terrorizing them ever since the publication of her bestselling novel, The Murder Game. Since Julie doesn’t know anyone in her new town, when she meets her neighbor John Dunbar, their instant connection brings measured hope for a new beginning. But she never imagines that a simple, benign conversation with him could set her life spinning so far off course.
After a series of misunderstandings, Julie and her family become the target of increasingly unsettling harassment. Has Julie’s stalker found her, or are her neighbors out to get her, too? As tension in the neighborhood rises, new friends turn into enemies, and the results are deadly.
I’ve been finding a lot of authors who started out writing and publishing lighter books have begun gravitating to the darker, more twisted stories. I think we can thank Gone Girl for the emergence of “grip lit” and I appreciate how its given authors, women in particular, the ability to put more serious and dramatic novels out in the world. I think people are finally coming to terms that female characters can be unlikeable (and women can write them). My point? Fractured is much more twisted than McKenzie’s earlier books. And it’s awesome.

The story is told by both Julie and John and each chapter takes place either in the past or present day. McKenzie makes it really easy to follow, which I, as a reader, really appreciated. Each chapter, whether it's told by Julie or John, is in first person and I found it really gets you into the mindset of each character. (Quick aside...I found that Julie is the main character but the story would not have been as impactful had it not been for John's parts of the story.) There are also emails from the Pine Street Neighborhood Association president sprinkled throughout as well that help set the tone of how the rest of the neighbourhood is feeling about Julie and her family.

Julie isn't as unreliable as some other narrators in this genre but you can't help but wonder if you can trust her or if she's hiding something that will impact the rest of the neighbourhood and, ultimately, the overall story. You also have to wonder if you can trust John. You're pretty certain you can but every once and awhile something happens that makes you go, "hmmm." All of this helps create the suspense and you can't wait to find out exactly it was that happened "that day" which John alludes to at the start of the novel.

And here’s a fun fact – McKenzie has written and published Julie’s novel. You can actually buy The Murder Game by “Julie Apple.” How cool is that? I only just purchased it myself recently but I’m looking forward to reading it!

Finally, check out this article McKenzie wrote about the cover of Fractured and the state of covers by female authors. It's a must read that has so many great points.

You're definitely going to want to pick up a copy of Fractured if you're into thrillers and really good storytelling. Catherine McKenzie is still firmly in my list of favourite authors. I already can't wait for her next book!

*A copy of this novel was provided by the author in exchange for review consideration. All opinions are honest and my own.*

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Review: Lily and the Octopus

I'm not entirely sure what I was expecting when I started Lily and the Octopus. I had heard amazing things so I thought I'd give it a try. But...I'm still not entirely sure what I got with Steven Rowley's novel.

Here's the synopsis:
Combining the emotional depth of The Art of Racing in the Rain with the magical spirit of The Life of Pi, Lily and the Octopus is an epic adventure of the heart.
When you sit down with Lily and the Octopus, you will be taken on an unforgettable ride.
The magic of this novel is in the read, and we don’t want to spoil it by giving away too many details.
We can tell you that this is a story about that special someone: the one you trust, the one you can’t live without.
For Ted Flask, that someone special is his aging companion Lily, who happens to be a dog.
Lily and the Octopus reminds us how it feels to love fiercely, how difficult it can be to let go, and how the fight for those we love is the greatest fight of all.
Remember the last book you told someone they had to read?
Lily and the Octopus is the next one.
I'm going to go against the synopsis and give you a bit more background on the story. Lily has been Ted's dog for many years and one day he realizes there's something growing on her head. Ted decides that that something is an octopus. I think he knows, deep down, that it's a tumor and Lily is therefore very sick. What follows is a story that is sweet and heartbreaking all at once.

So that magic the synopsis alludes to? It took the reader on a bizarre adventure on the high seas and that is when Rowley completely lost me. I love a good magic realism book but when I'm not expecting something like that and when I wasn't as invested with the story to begin doesn't help my enjoyment. 

I can't pinpoint what, exactly, my issue was with this novel. It wasn't a bad book. It was written well. I just don't think the subject matter resonated with me and I think it needed to for the reader to fully enjoy the novel.

I do have to say that I love the idea of being able to have actual conversations with our pets. And the opening? That Thursdays are for talking about boys Ted and Lily think are cute? Love. (Ted is a Ryan Gosling fan while Lily is Team Ryan Reynolds.)

Lily and the Octopus really was a sweet novel. I think it might resonate more with dog owners. I have a rabbit and I'd be devastated if an "octopus" moved in with us. Many, many other people absolutely adored Steven Rowley's novel so don't just take my (oh so very lukewarm) thoughts on it.

*An ARC of this novel was provided by the publisher, Simon and Schuster Canada, in exchange for review consideration. All opinions are honest and my own.*

Monday, March 6, 2017

Review: Hungry Heart

Jennifer Weiner has long been a favourite author of mine. I was able to see her when she was in Toronto a few years back and she was so nice and real. Because I find her to be an overall excellent human, I was so excited to read Hungry Heart, Weiner’s first non-fiction book.

Here’s the description of her book of essays:
Jennifer Weiner is many things: a bestselling author, a Twitter phenomenon, and an “unlikely feminist enforcer” (The New Yorker). She’s also a mom, a daughter, and a sister; a former rower and current cyclist; a best friend and a reality TV junkie. In her first foray into nonfiction, she takes the raw stuff of her personal life and spins into a collection of essays on modern womanhood as uproariously funny and moving as the best of Tina Fey, Fran Lebowitz, and Nora Ephron.
Jennifer grew up as an outsider in her picturesque Connecticut hometown (“a Lane Bryant outtake in an Abercrombie & Fitch photo shoot”) and at her Ivy League college, but finally found her people in newsrooms in central Pennsylvania and Philadelphia, and her voice as a novelist, activist, and New York Times columnist.
No subject is off-limits in this intimate and honest essay collection: sex, weight, envy, money, her mom’s newfound lesbianism, and her estranged father’s death. From lonely adolescence to modern childbirth to hearing her six-year-old daughter’s use of the f-word—fat­­—for the first time, Jennifer Weiner goes there, with the wit and candor that have endeared her to readers all over the world.
By turns hilarious and deeply touching, this collection shows that the woman behind treasured novels like Good in Bed and Best Friends Forever is every bit as winning, smart, and honest in real life as she is in her fiction.
I’ve met a few authors who just don’t give off an accessible sort of vibe but Weiner is so genuine. That personality comes through in the book and you really feel like she's just chatting with you and telling you, and only you, her stories. 

Side note: if you watch The Bachelor(ette), make sure you follow Weiner on Twitter. I'm guilty of hate-watching the show (though I've skipped the current season...Nick drove me bonkers so I couldn't bring myself to watch it) and I find that many of the things my friends and I are thinking and saying are what Weiner is tweeting. Funny, insightful, and sometimes cringe-worthy, they're definitely a must for any fan (or "fan") of the franchise. 

I love how passionate Weiner is about feminism and, in particular, discussing and bringing attention to inequality with book reviews. The issue is, basically, if you look at any major publications that review books, you'll see that women authors just aren’t getting reviewed as often. And when they are, it's not usually for commercial fiction but, meanwhile, genre fiction for men is often reviewed. I think I was expecting even more about this issue in the book and was a little let down that she didn't tackle it as much as I thought she might. She has written other articles about the issue so I encourage you to look them up.

When I finished Hungry Heart, I found I wanted more. I imagine Weiner had many more stories to share but only so many could make it into the book, which is too bad. So many stories, so few pages to share them in. I guess I'm just greedy!

I also wish there had been more present day stories and anecdotes. I loved finding out what Weiner's childhood was like and how it shaped her as a woman and an author but I found I wanted to know more about how she's living her life now and what she thinks of even more current events.

If you're a fan of Jennifer Weiner's novels, you're going to want to read Hungry Heart. If you like memoirs and books of essays by smart, funny women, you're going to want to read it. I hope she writes another series of essays soon. In the meantime, I'll impatiently wait for her next novel.

*An ARC of this book was provided by the publisher, in exchange for review consideration. All opinions are honest and my own.*