[Review] A Well-Behaved Woman: A Novel of the Vanderbilts by Therese Anne Fowler

Publisher and Publication Date:  St. Martin’s Griffin. October 1, 2019. First published 2018.
Genre: Historical fiction.
Pages: 560.
Format: Paperback.
Source: Self-purchase.
Audience: Historical fiction readers. Readers with an interest in women’s stories from the Gilded Age.
Rating: Okay to good.

Link for the book at Amazon.

Link at Barnes and Noble.

Summary:

1874.

The time period for the story is the Gilded Age. This period was between the end of the Civil War and the beginning of the 20th century.

The Smith family had lived in wealth as southern cotton traders in Alabama. Mrs. Smith and the four daughters spent time in Europe. After the war, they are all bought home. Mr. Murray Smith relocates the family to New York City. Mrs. Smith died after a short illness. Mr. Smith’s business dealings have left the family almost bankrupt, and he is in failing health.

Alva Smith is the second of four sisters. She feels it is her duty to marry well so the family will not be left destitute. Alva’s friend, Consuelo Yznaga, from a wealthy Cuban sugarcane family, helps Alva secure a possible husband.

A Well-Behaved Woman is the story of Alva Smith and her marriage to a Vanderbilt. The Vanderbilts have money. Alva has a southern name and lineage that’s like royalty. She brings only her name and hope to secure a fortune and its security.

My Thoughts:

I have mixed feelings about the story. On one hand, it shows the lifestyle of wealthy people living in this era, which merely satisfies a curiosity on my part. It reveals a peek at how they feel and respond to humans considered beneath them (which is any race, people group, or socio-economic class other than them.) It shares one woman’s life, Alva Smith Vanderbilt. But the story and characters do not reveal deep feelings and the reasons behind actions. The story shows what they say and do. It is actors on a stage-puppets-without thinking and pondering and revealing the inner dynamics of their mind and spirit. In summary to what I’ve addressed in this paragraph: I want more-I wanted to read about people who think and ponder about deep things. I will share two examples.

1. Alva’s marriage is like an arranged marriage without courtship, bonding, and affection. On the outside of their bubble, it is shown they have children, attend parties, give parties, have beautiful homes, and travel. Their marriage is a facade. He is not showing all his life-he holds back from her-he makes demands of her. Alva has questions but does not ask them. She wonders what is amiss but does not have guidance and experience as to know what is amiss. What is missing is honesty, transparency, communication, bonding, and intimacy. And it seems most of the people in their class live the same way. Surely, there were married couples who were close and lived a marriage of love, intimacy, and satisfaction, but in this story there is not. For me there is a feeling of waste. A waste and squander of precious time that people cannot get back. It is heart-breaking.

2. Alva is lonely for a connection and affection. She needs intimacy. I admire her commitment and loyalty. Instead, these needs are met (temporarily) with her hands. There are several scenes where she discovers the ability to please herself. However, an orgasm does not give intimacy, it is just temporary satisfaction. Which is similar to how they spend their time, other temporary pursuits like spending money. It is all temporary. It is ironic that the conversation and thoughts is often centered so much on how much money they have, how to make more money, how much money will they inherit, how to spend money, and how they cannot lose the money they have.

In A Well-Behaved Woman, I read brief information and stories about Alva’s volunteer work and suffrage activist work. I feel these should have been big in A Well-Behaved Woman. The mechanics of her personal life is the focus instead. This is a disappointment to me.

Themes in the story: money, loyalty, ambition, deception, shame, suffering, conformity, beauty, dreams, tolerance, and family.

Photo of Alva Vanderbilt, dressed for a costume ball in 1883.

[Review] Once Upon a Wardrobe by Patti Callahan

Publisher and Publication Date: Harper Muse. October 19, 2021.
Genre: Historical fiction.
Pages: 320.
Format: Hardcover.
Source: Self-purchase.
Audience: Readers of historical fiction with references to Christ Jesus, and with a big emphasis on C. S. Lewis.
Rating: Excellent.

Link for the book @ Harper Muse.

Link @ Amazon.

Link @ Barnes and Noble.

Website for Patti Callahan. Pinterest/ Facebook/ Instagram/ Twitter/ Goodreads author page.

Summary:

England. 1950.

Megs Devonshire is a physics student at Somerville College, Oxford University. She has one sibling, George Henry Devonshire. George is 8. He has a heart condition. Most of the time he is in his bed resting. His devoted parents tenderly care for him. Megs comes home on the weekends to spend time with George. George has been reading a book titled, The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe by C. S. Lewis.
George asks Megs where Narnia came from. Is it real? He asks her if she has seen, C. S Lewis, the man who wrote the book. Megs begins to investigate his questions by asking Mr. Lewis himself. She takes notes on their talks. When she visits George, she reveals Mr. Lewis’s story.

Once Upon a Wardrobe is a heart-warming and tender story about love. It is not a romantic love, but the love, devotion, compassion, commitment for a family member. It is love displayed in action.

Once Upon a Wardrobe is also a historical fiction/bio of C. S. Lewis’s life.

My Thoughts:

First, this is the last book I will review in 2021. I plan to take a break for the holidays and my upcoming knee surgery on the 28th. I will return sometime in January with more reviews!

I adore, Once Upon a Wardrobe! I didn’t cry while reading it, but my heart certainly melted under the tenderness and compassion and commitment Megs has for George. I love this story!

Reasons why I love this story:

1. The vivid descriptions, tone, and dialogue, which is often warm and intimate, drew me into the story and created a vivid story.

2. I love the memorable and quotable words.
For example:
“There is a difference between imagination and reason.” Page 28.
“…companionable silence….” Page 63.
“‘Whenever you are fed up with life, start writing: ink is the great cure for all human ills.'” Page 51. “Maybe…maybe Narnia also began when Mr. Lewis sat quietly and paid attention to his heart’s voice. Maybe we are each and every one of us born with our own stories, and we must decide how to tell those stories with our own life, or in a book.” Pages 259-260.

3. I love books written by C. S. Lewis. He is one of my favorite writers. I’ve read 4 of his books this year. Even in a historical fiction book that has C. S. Lewis as a character, I love it! I didn’t know until a closing chapter; his stepson wrote a closing chapter in the book. It is rare for a family member to endorse and include a chapter in a historical fiction book about their relative.

4. I’ve expressed in reviews recently how I’d love to read books with other types of love. This book is the answer. Romantic love is fine, but not always lasting. The love Megs has for her brother is lasting. It is real. It is memorable.

5. Once Upon a Wardrobe is a kind and uncomplicated story. It is a story ripe for this era of annoying viruses, inflation, busyness, and other pesky annoyances.

6. I’ve known, and know, other young children who have serious illnesses. They are often mature beyond their years. They pick up on things and have time to ponder those things those healthier children do not.
George is a perfect example and real character. The story centers on him. If he were not a part of the story it would fall flat. It would not be as memorable. George to me is like an angel. He is an important figure. He seems meek, slight, pale, translucent, yet there is power in his words. He has a message to bring. Lessons are learned through him. He is unforgettable.

7. A reference is made in the last part of the book and from C. S. Lewis about Jesus Christ. This book is not a Christian book perse, but it certainly has the behavior of one.

8. There is a romantic theme in the book, but it develops later. It is not a theme that takes over the primary focus.

Themes in the story: love, family, compassion, kindness, charity, honor, loyalty, wisdom, beauty, dreams, grief, hope, gratitude, and circle of life.

Once Upon a Wardrobe is a perfect book to read during the holidays and winter. It is literally an escape from this world.

Merry Christmas to all my readers and a most Happy and Gracious New Year!

[Review] The Lost Girls of Paris by Pam Jenoff

Publisher and Publication Date: Park Row Books. January 29, 2019. 
Genre: Historical fiction.
Pages: 377.
Format: Paperback.
Source: Self-purchase.
Audience: Historical fiction readers especially those who read WWII stories.
Rating: Very good.

Link @ Amazon.

Link @ Barnes and Noble.

Pam Jenoff’s Goodreads/ website/ Facebook/ Twitter/ Instagram.

Summary:

February 1946. New York City, NY.

Grace Healey is late for work and cuts through Grand Central. She trips on an abandoned suitcase sticking out from underneath a bench. Out of curiosity, she opens the suitcase and finds the name of the owner. Inside she finds an envelope of photographs. They are of several women. Some of the women are in military uniforms. They are all young women. Grace begins working to put the puzzle together about all of the women. She must know who they are and what happened to them.

The second story is of the woman who was in charge of the young women. Her name is Eleanor. Her story begins in 1943, England.

The Lost Girls of Paris is the story of heroism and courage. Young women, who from different backgrounds and cultures, are willing to sacrifice their lives for the sake of country, duty, and loved ones.

My Thoughts:

Overall, I love this story and enjoyed reading it.

What I love about the story:

1. I don’t feel I will ever tire of reading World War II stories. My dad was a veteran of World War II, D-Day Omaha Beach, and the Battle of the Bulge. He shared many stories with me as a child and adult. I know his stories. I want to know other people’s stories which includes historical fiction.

2. Grace Healey is a perfect example of a grieving widow. I feel Pam Jenoff portrayed an accurate widow who is displaced, wounded, grieving, lonely, and at a loss in how to move forward. This includes not knowing even where to begin. I personally know a woman who lost her husband on the USS Indianapolis. She still grieves. She went on with life. She married and had children. But he was a great love-a great friend-a young love-who is lost to her. Grace and my friend show similar behavior. I feel Grace is an accurate and real character in this story.

3. I love it that romance is not the focus. So often romance is introduced in a story, and it can and often does take over.

4. I love it that Grace realizes she must move forward in life, but it must be “her own story.”

5. This is a minor detail, but I love it that Grace is defined as having “corkscrew hair.” I don’t think this has been described before in a story I’ve read. Grace is given a minor detail, yet it’s a difference compared to how other female characters are described. I love this minor detail.

6. I enjoyed reading about the instructions of operating a wireless.

7. I love the friendship between the women. Some of them upon meeting show a kindred spirit.

8. The dialogue and descriptions are wonderful and engaging. It felt easy to picture the scenes in my mind.

What I feel needs clarification:

At the start of the story, I didn’t quite understand what had happened to Grace. What I mean is Grace has marks on her neck, she had been drinking the night before, she is sluggish, and she is hungover. My first thought is she had been abused. My second thought is she has an alcohol problem. And she blames a person named Mark who I don’t know yet. My point is I feel lost at the start. Later, I put the event all together and understand. I don’t like feeling lost especially at the start of a story.

Final Thoughts:

Eleanor is too cool. Chilly. Icy. However, her personality fits her character.

Mark is grieving too. I feel sorry for him.

This is a story I’d like to read a part 2 so I will know what Grace becomes.

Themes in the story: war, peace, grieving, courage, heroism, resistance, honor, judgment, injustice, justice, dreams, trust, temptation, charity, hope, and acceptance.

[Review] Daughter of the King by Kerry Chaput

Publisher and Publication Date: Black Rose Writing. December 16, 2021.
Genre: Historical fiction.
Pages: 248.
Format: Paperback.
Source: I received a complimentary paperback from Black Rose Writing. I am not required to write a positive review.
Audience: Readers of historical fiction, especially France, and Canadian history.
Rating: Okay to good.

Daughter of the King is book one in the series: Defying the Crown.

Kerry Chaput’s website/ Facebook/ Instagram/ Goodreads.

Link for the book @ Amazon.

Link for the book @ Barnes and Noble.

To read more information about the Huguenot history: Huguenot Society of America.

Summary:

La Rochelle, France 1661. Isabelle is a Huguenot. Born Protestant in a land overpowered by Catholics, she has proof of her station branded onto her wrist. Huguenots, under the King’s reign, suffer persecution and lower-class citizenship unless they convert. While caring for her mother who has lost a husband to the rebellions, Isabelle works with friends to run an underground opposition.

When she isn’t sneaking through town with her closest friends, she’s secretly meeting a high-ranking Catholic soldier betrothed to a girl she’s known since childhood, but since the war, spits on her in the street. After all, Huguenots must remember their place. 

But when Isabelle saves a woman from assault in an alleyway—making the choice to out herself as a traitor to the King and the Catholics, she’s accused of a high crime. The only way to save herself is to flee, renouncing her religion and sailing across the world to New France as a potential bride for settlers. In fear for her life, Isabelle gets on the boat, venturing out for a new terrain of fur traders and grit, putting her homeland and convictions in the past as she finds her search for love and faith has just begun.

My Thoughts:

There are things I like about the book and things I dislike:

What I like:

1. Daughter of the King is a historical fiction story about a history that I didn’t know anything about. I have since read a little history on a few websites. The abuse, savagery, and wars between the Catholics and Huguenots happened in the 16th and 17th centuries. Many French citizens who were Huguenots left the country. In America, they mainly settled on the east coast. For example, New York, New Jersey, Massachusetts, and Virgina. Huguenots also settled in areas of Canada. For example, Nova Scotia and Newfoundland. Daughter of the King has led piqued my interest to read more about this history.
2. The lead character is Isabelle Colette. She is 19. She and her mother are all that is left of the family. Isabelle has an independent, defiant and fiery type personality. She is restless and wants to live a life outside the confines of her home, but outside there are dangers because of her Protestant faith. The start of the story, the plot, Isabelle, the graphic descriptions all drew me in immediately.
3. Despite the differences in opinions between Isabelle and her mother. I love the devotion and compassion Isabelle shows her mother.
4. Daughter of the King shows me the horrific plight of the Huguenots in France. Through graphic depictions of their abuse and sufferings I came to at least understand the horrors of that time.
5. Daughter of the King is an emotional, dramatic, and provocative story.

What I dislike about the story:

1. I feel that when there is a teeth clincher type story-which is a story with huge, dire, descriptive, graphic writing-I need a break. It is like eating a Thanksgiving meal and then being presented with an encore of more food, and more food, and more food. Pauses or rests in a busy story is important.
2. Oftentimes people feel they are in love when it is an illusion. What I am saying is a person feels they are in love with a particular person, but it is the idea of love or the idea of what they perceive that person to be. Love is a feeling that takes the longest to grow. Real love. A love of depth and devotion and commitment.
3. I wonder what this story would be like without the romantic entanglement (plural)? What if the focus had stayed on Isabelle and her religious belief? At the start of the story, she showed a determination and perseverance and loyalty to being a Huguenot. I understand her change, but I also understand how she feels in her heart. Instead, the story shifts to romantic interests and becomes clogged down-like being in a muddy pit.

[Review] The London House by Katherine Reay

Publisher and Publication Date: Harper Muse. November 2, 2021.
Genre: Historical fiction.
Pages: 368.
Format: E-book.
Source: I received a complimentary e-book from NetGalley. I am not required to write a positive review.
Audience: Historical fiction readers of World War II.
Rating: Excellent.

Link @ Harper Muse.

Link @ Amazon.

Link @ Barnes and Noble.

Link @ Book Depository.

Katherine Reay’s website/ Facebook/ Twitter/ Instagram/ Pinterest.

An excerpt audio.

Summary:

Chapter One begins in America with the modern time period.

Caroline is contacted by an old college friend who is writing a story about her family. Caroline and Mat meet to discuss his intentions about writing a story about her great aunt’s betrayal to family and country during World War II. Mat had already met with Caroline’s dad. Her dad is furious about the expose. Caroline decides to go to London and stay with her mother to discover for herself the real story of Aunt Caro.

Caroline is the modern time period’s heroine. She is named after her aunt Caroline, but Aunt Caroline is known through most of the book as Caro. Caro, a British citizen, had lived in Paris and worked in a couture dress shop in the late 1930s to 1941.

The story’s main time period is the modern time period and will reflect back to the 1930s and 1940s-especially during the readings of letters and journals.

My Thoughts:

I have several thoughts!

After I read a book, I read a few reviews over at Goodreads. I did not know Katherine Reay has written Christian fiction stories. The London House is the first book I’ve read by her. So, I have no other work of hers to compare to this one. I am not a fan of Christian fiction. I’ve read a few Christian fiction books over the years but do not consider myself knowledgeable about that genre.

It’s interesting that The London House and another book I’d finished the day before are both polar in writing style. The other book is a quick read type story. There is little building to events-just a jump right into the scene’s story. There are some detailed descriptions. The story has a bite as far as the over-all dark theme…review on that book will be later!

The London House is a thinking story-a mature story. It is mature in that the characters (all of them) have moments of clarity, recognition, conviction, forgiveness, reconciliation, and a peaceful resolution. Now, there is nothing in the book that is considered Christianese words, but those themes I listed are Christian in nature. I dislike a story that pastes Christianese words so that the book will be labeled as a Christian fiction book. I want to yawn while typing that comment. I want to yawn because it does not help a story by pasting words without development of action or behavior in the characters. And the behavior of characters will be remembered longer than pretty words.

Caroline knows there is something in her family’s past they are not talking about. This is a prime example of not communicating and thus the intimacy and bond with the family members is disconnected and frayed. This has happened in my family. This has happened in many families-the inability to communicate about what is wrong. Communication is hard work. For many of the people I know, they don’t know where to begin. The words will not even come to them in their brain so that they can speak audibly. This can be true in all types of families. I dislike a label that this only happens in families that are not Christian. Pooh.

Caroline is a remarkable person. Despite the disconnect in the family, she perseveres to find a point of connection with her parents. She does not give up. She is responsible, protective, kind, hardworking, educated, independent, and patient. I love her transformation that progresses in the story!

Caroline’s parents struggle. They share a bitter traumatic memory. My heart grieves for them as well as for Caroline. In addition, Caroline’s father carries an unresolved generational trauma that impacted him as a child and is still evident. And it has impacted the generation of Caroline. On multiple points the family needs help. Katherine Reay did a splendid job of perfectly describing the family’s awkwardness and yet trying to find a place to connect.

Caro is a character who I know through her letters and her sister’s memories. Caro is so much more than what her family has pegged her. Isn’t this often the case? People make a preconceived judgement (without all the facts) about a person and then build on that until the person is whittled down to a matchstick of what they really are. It is terribly sad. Caro’s story is the important background story that sets The London House in motion. Caro represents all those courageous people who through action defied the enemy.

I love the story’s relocation to London. I love the places they visit. For example, cafes and tourist stops. Towards the end of the story there is Paris.

The London House is a story that builds. It is not a quick paced story. It is a visceral story. It is a story with a strong focus-mystery to solve-a need to find the truth and reveal it.

The London House shows me some of the characters thoughts and feelings. The primary characters are heavy developed in their thoughts, feelings, words, and actions.

The London House shows me that the truth comes out eventually. But during the journey, there will be other important discoveries.

The London House does not sweep up everything tidy and put a bow on it to show this is a perfect family because there are no perfect families, but it is real and endearing.

Themes in the story: loyalty, perseverance, courage, bravery, redemption, acceptance, compassion, patience, circle of life, sacrifice, romance, suffering, judgment, war, survival, wisdom, grief, hope, justice, and love.