August 28, 2017

Book Review: A Paris Year by Janice MacLeod

Part memoir and part visual journey through the streets of modern-day Paris, France, A Paris Year chronicles, day by day, one woman’s French sojourn in the world’s most beautiful city. Beginning on her first day in Paris, Janice MacLeod, the author of the best-selling book, Paris Letters, began a journal recording in illustrations and words, nearly every sight, smell, taste, and thought she experienced in the City of Light. The end result is more than a diary: it’s a detailed and colorful love letter to one of the most romantic and historically rich cities on earth. Combining personal observations and anecdotes with stories and facts about famous figures in Parisian history, this visual tale of discovery, through the eyes of an artist, is sure to delight, inspire, and charm.

Opening this book was like stepping into the Paris of my dreams. MacLeod's beautiful sketches and accompanying journal entries transported me to Paris and made me feel like I was strolling its streets as a local. I usually tear through books on a speedy clip, but I slowly savored A Paris Year.  During a particularly hectic time, I would seek refuge in its pages and images and read one entry at a time - like a mini-vacation - before returning to the stress of the every day. This is a book to read and reread, to give as a gorgeous gift. Not only a visual feast, but made of quality materials. It is a work of art to treasure for years to come.    

August 21, 2017

Book Review: The Walls by Hollie Overton

Source: Vine


Working on death row is far from Kristy Tucker's dream, but she is grateful for a job that allows her to support her son and ailing father. 

When she meets Lance Dobson, Kristy begins to imagine a different kind of future. But after their wedding, she finds herself serving her own life sentence---one of abuse and constant terror.

But Kristy is a survivor, and as Lance's violence escalates, the inmates she's worked with have planted an idea she simply can't shake. 

Now she must decide whether she'll risk everything to protect her family. 

Does she have what it takes to commit the perfect crime?

It took me a few beats to get into The Walls. The initial chapters centered around Kristy’s rather dreadful-sounding job at the prison regarding executions. However, once she meets Lance, the narrative kicked into high gear for me and I couldn’t turn the pages fast enough. Overton does a credible job of showing how this smart and strong woman could fall for a charming man with a monstrously dark side. I knew he would eventually reveal his true violent face but I couldn’t wait to find out how Kristy will extricate herself from the situation – by terrible means which all the circumstances point to as the only option. A very satisfying and addictive thriller.

August 14, 2017

Book Review: Queen of the Tearling by Erika Johansen

Source: Vine

On her nineteenth birthday, Princess Kelsea Raleigh Glynn, raised in exile, sets out on a perilous journey back to the castle of her birth to ascend her rightful throne. Plain and serious, a girl who loves books and learning, Kelsea bears little resemblance to her mother, the vain and frivolous Queen Elyssa. But though she may be inexperienced and sheltered, Kelsea is not defenseless: Around her neck hangs the Tearling sapphire, a jewel of immense magical power; and accompanying her is the Queen’s Guard, a cadre of brave knights led by the enigmatic and dedicated Lazarus. Kelsea will need them all to survive a cabal of enemies who will use every weapon—from crimson-caped assassins to the darkest blood magic—to prevent her from wearing the crown.

Despite her royal blood, Kelsea feels like nothing so much as an insecure girl, a child called upon to lead a people and a kingdom about which she knows almost nothing. But what she discovers in the capital will change everything, confronting her with horrors she never imagined. An act of singular daring will throw Kelsea’s kingdom into tumult, unleashing the vengeance of the tyrannical ruler of neighboring Mortmesne: the Red Queen, a sorceress possessed of the darkest magic. Now Kelsea will begin to discover whom among the servants, aristocracy, and her own guard she can trust.

But the quest to save her kingdom and meet her destiny has only just begun—a wondrous journey of self-discovery and a trial by fire that will make her a legend . . . if she can survive.

The genius of The Queen of the Tearling is its surprises. I thought I was delving into a Game of Thrones-like fantasy novel but as I read, I picked up bits and pieces of anachronisms that jarred me. I would be arrested briefly, thinking, what is "democracy" or the Bible doing in this medieval-ish fantasy world? Slowly, the author reveals, not through any lengthy exposition or flashbacks, but through subtle hints, that what I was reading was actually a dystopian novel. Somehow, in a distant past of this world, "ships" crossed an ocean to create a new society, one that was religious, feudal, and more like the Dark Ages than a modern utopia.

Part of what was driving my relentless urge to finish this book was to find out – what spurred these people to cross? Was there some cataclysmic event? War? Political unrest? Religious freedom? Spoiler: By the end of the book I still didn't know. But that's ok because by then I was just utterly fascinated and could not turn the pages fast enough.

Most of the book is told from Kelsea's point of view, with one or two from unlikely characters, which I guess will be come more pivotal further on in the series. One thing that irritated me was why so much information was kept from Kelsea. If she was being groomed to be Queen, why did her otherwise competent foster parents pitch her into a dangerous situation with so little knowledge of her past or what lay in wait for her? Obviously, our heroine's ignorance makes for super juicy revelations, surprises and plot twists, but it strained credulity.

August 7, 2017

Book Review: The Light of Paris by Eleanor Brown

The Light of Paris by Eleanor Brown

Madeleine is trapped—by her family’s expectations, by her controlling husband, and by her own fears—in an unhappy marriage and a life she never wanted. From the outside, it looks like she has everything, but on the inside, she fears she has nothing that matters.

In Madeleine’s memories, her grandmother Margie is the kind of woman she should have been—elegant, reserved, perfect. But when Madeleine finds a diary detailing Margie’s bold, romantic trip to Jazz Age Paris, she meets the grandmother she never knew: a dreamer who defied her strict, staid family and spent an exhilarating summer writing in caf├ęs, living on her own, and falling for a charismatic artist.

Despite her unhappiness, when Madeleine’s marriage is threatened, she panics, escaping to her hometown and staying with her critical, disapproving mother. In that unlikely place, shaken by the revelation of a long-hidden family secret and inspired by her grandmother’s bravery, Madeleine creates her own Parisian summer—reconnecting to her love of painting, cultivating a vibrant circle of creative friends, and finding a kindred spirit in a down-to-earth chef who reminds her to feed both her body and her heart.

Margie and Madeleine’s stories intertwine to explore the joys and risks of living life on our own terms, of defying the rules that hold us back from our dreams, and of becoming the people we are meant to be.

Reading The Light of Paris was a study in contrasts - one half was delightful and romantic while the other half was tedious and exasperating.  Margie's narrative was fitting - set in 1924, her struggle for independence and freedom of expression made sense. Especially in the context of Jazz Age Paris, her search for her true self is intriguing. Contrast that with Madeleine's existential dilemma to be married to a cold narcissist ... or not.  I couldn't really sympathize with her angst, considering that her narrative was set in 1999. The struggle of should I be a trophy wife and go to endless committee meetings or paint just earned eyerolls and impatient groans from me.  It's 1999, leave him and do your thing. Staying married to keep up appearances and not disappoint your overbearing mother seemed like an anachronistic dilemma.  Not worth endless chapters of internal monologue. 

At least I had Paris in the alternating chapters:

Paris was none of those things.  It was bread and cheese for dinner in the Luxembourg Gardens, or a cheap plate at Rosalie’s at ten o’clock at night.  Paris was parties lasting until dawn, where you danced until you were breathless and drank until the world itself seemed to have become unmoored, the floor unsteady beneath your feet.  Paris was sunrises and sunsets, was art and music and books and the people who made them, unstoppable around you.  Paris was endless music and endless joy, and to get married, to change anything at all, would have ruined it.