First line: If great talent can arise from adversity, mine must have been forged in the cauldron of my childhood.
Summary: The most famous actress of her time, Sarah Bernhardt, rose from obscurity to stardom in France. She was the daughter of a high-class courtesan. She is raised in a convent until her mother decides to start her in the family trade even though Sarah has hopes of being an actress. With the help of influential men like Alexandre Dumas she gets her chance to shine of on the stage and become a worldwide superstar. But even with stardom comes tragedy too.
My Thoughts: Before reading this I had never heard of Sarah Bernhardt but after finishing it I want to know even more. Her life had so many ups and downs. She achieved so much in a time when women still had very little power. She used her skills and strong will to rise. She may have had help but she knew who she was and what she wanted and took it. And she used her influence to help others like during the Franco-Prussian War, another event that I knew very little about.
Unfortunately, most of Sarah’s work was on the stage and before motion pictures and sound but there are a few examples from early recordings that can be found on Youtube. Even though her acting would be out of date in the present at the time it was revolutionary. She changed the way actors spoke to the audience and portrayed the characters on stage. We are lucky to have any piece of her and her skills available for us to see.
Gortner is a phenomenal historical fiction author. He really makes the story gripping. He brings the women he writes about to life. I learn more about the time period then I have ever known while being entertained by the story.
FYI: I highly recommend Gortner’s last book, The Romanov Empress, about the mother of Czar Nicholas II of Russia.
First line: I bear ad deep red stain that runs from my left
shoulder down to my right hip, a trail left by the herbwitch’s poison
that my mother used to try to expel me from her womb.
Ismae is forced into an arranged marriage. However, when her new
husband sees the scars on her body, he knows that she has been cursed.
She escapes before he can kill her and flees to the convent of St.
Mortain. Upon arrival she learns that she has a special gift. If she
wants to stay they will train her to use that gift and become an
assassin for the god of death.
My Thoughts: Medieval.
Assassin. Nuns. Yes please! I have been meaning to read this book for
years. Recently I bought a copy of it and finally decided it was time to
dive in. I enjoyed it from the very first page. It was a fast story
with great characters and an intriguing plot. I like that the author
wove actual historical events into the story making it almost seem
It is always fun seeing girls kick butt and take
names. This story does just that. Ismae has a gift that allows her to
survive poisons but she is also skilled in weaponry and deception.
Several other girls from the convent are mentioned but not much is done
with their stories. I hope that the next books dive into their stories. I
cannot wait to see what happens next!
First line: The things a woman has to do to make her way in this world…
Summary: The villainess of the classic novel, The Three Musketeers,
is Milady de Winter. She is accused of many terrible crimes. However,
maybe Dumas’ story got it wrong? Milady now wants to tell her story.
is a young girl, raised in England on a small estate. When her father
decides that she is old enough to be of use to him he takes her to the
court of King James I of England. There she meets that handsome rogue,
George Villiers. They are both taught how to manipulate and use the
people around them to gain power. But when Clarice learns something she
is sent away to a convent in France. Here she learns more about who she
is and sets her on the path to becoming one of the most notorious women
My Thoughts:The Three Musketeers is one of my favorite books. I love the action, the love, the revenge and of course Milady! When you read the original story it is easy to see her as the villain but Sullivan gives us a look at who she might have really been. It was fascinating and loads of fun to read.
I loved how the author switched between the events of the TTM and Milady’s past. Giving her a past makes her much more likeable and easier to understand her motives. She does do a lot of terrible things to the musketeers but she is also a victim. I never considered the interactions between Milady and D’Artagnan as rape but as I read this I realized that it totally is. Crazy! This romantic hero did what?!
When I began reading I was highly anticipating the events mentioned in TTM at Milady’s trial. I loved her time at the convent. Sullivan twisted the original story and its characters to fit into her story. I could tell that she did lots of research in order to make the story plausible. If I had not recently reread TTM I would have almost believed that things happened the way she wrote it.
My second and probably favorite part was her relationship with the Vicomte de la Fere. He is one of the major twists in the classic novel. I could not wait to see what their relationship was like and how it turned so deadly. It was well worth the wait. I loved seeing her change over time but in the end she could not escape her past.
FYI: If you love swashbuckling tales then this one is for you! And please read The Three Musketeers. It is wonderful! Read my review in our July newsletter.
Blanche Auzello, the wife of the Ritz hotel director, is living a
beautiful life in Paris until June 1940 when the Nazis invade. They take
over the grand hotel and life changes drastically. Life under the
occupation becomes strained especially for Blanche who is hiding a
secret that could potentially harm her and those she loves. However, she
and her husband are determined to do what they can for France and the
staff of the Ritz, even if it means their lives are forfeit.
I am a big fan of Melanie Benjamin. Her novels are always very
interesting and filled with fascinating women. I had never heard of
Blanche or her husband before picking up this novel. It sounds like life
in Paris was very tense during the occupation but not nearly as bad as I
imagined it would be. It seems as if people continued to live life as
normal as possible during those years.
One of the issues I had
with the story was that it seemed to almost center on her husband,
Claude, rather than her. He references her often and thinks about her
during his chapters but he almost takes over the narrative. And
strangely I enjoyed his storyline more than hers. He could be a jerk but
his story was more interesting except for when Blanche was with her
FYI: Perfect for fans of Kate Quinn’s book, The Alice Network.
I love to hold a paper book. There is something about feeling the pages in my hands. However, sometimes I find I like the convenience of a digital copy. I can take it with me where ever I am using an app on my phone. How cool is that? Plus, we have such a great selection of books available on our Sunflower eLibrary. The app used to be called Overdrive but is slowly migrating over to Libby by Overdrive. It is a fantastic upgrade. Definitely check it out if you enjoy ebooks and audio books.
*This review will be a little different because the library does not own a physical copy but only a digital one that is available on Sunflower eLibrary.*
Eleanor of Aquitaine Trilogy by Elizabeth Chadwick
Summary: This is the story of Eleanor of Aquitaine (or Alienor as she is called in the book). She was married to two kings, one of France and one of England. She was the mother of kings. However, she was a duchess in her own right and a very strong and determined woman. She traveled to the Holy Lands on a crusade. Through her the Plantagenet dynasty began. Her life was not all easy, she faced imprisonment, war and death but managed to achieve greatness in the face of it all.
Highlights: I loved this trilogy. This was my first interaction with Elizabeth Chadwick’s work and I was very impressed. Chadwick brings Eleanor to life. She shows what a strong woman she was. I loved seeing her take on kings and prove that a woman is just as powerful. The writing is superb. I will definitely be reading more of her books.
I had heard very little about Eleanor before picking up these books. As I read I learned so much about her and life in the 12th century. Her family life was very erratic and messy. I find it hard to believe how dysfunctional her family was. Her sons were constantly fighting with one another and their father. She had to be the peace keeper but also an instigator once in a while. But I found her fascinating! I think after Anne Boleyn, Eleanor is my favorite female historical figure. She did so much, lived a long life and is still remembered nearly 900 years later.
FYI: This is perfect for fans of Philippa Gregory!
Summary: When Myriam decides to go back to work she is tasked with finding someone to watch her two children. Along comes Louise. She is perfect. She works late, cleans the house and the kids love her. As time goes on the family and Louise become even more reliant on each other, which leads to jealousy and resentment.
Highlights: For such a short novel there is a lot of story. It was a slow burn. There are no twists and turns. There is just an underlying darkness to the novel. Louise has a past that haunts her but she seems to overcome it. As we delve deeper into the plot, it becomes apparent to Myriam that the perfect nanny is not quite so perfect. Little things begin to happen. Who is the woman that they let into their life? So much is packed into the pages. It is not the next Gone Girl but it is still worth the read.
Man, it feels like we were just here talking about early August new releases, and now it’s time for late August new books already! The good news is we have THREE more Tuesdays in August for that much more good reading to be available!
Here are a few of the books we think will make an end-of-summer splash with their releases later this month. Which ones will make it onto your list of to-reads?
Aug. 15: Bonaparte Falls Apart by Margery Cuyler (picture book)
If you have a child who is anxious about starting school, check out this adorable picture book about Bonaparte, who has issues when playing catch (his arm flies off with the ball) and other minor mishaps. His good friends Franky Stein, Black Widow and Mummicula are there to help him out.
Aug. 15: How to Behave in a Crowd by Camille Bordas
Meet Isidore Mazal, an average 11-year-old who lives in France with his five exceptional older siblings. While his siblings are on track to have their doctorates by age 24, writing a novel or playing with a symphony, Isidore notices things and asks questions others are afraid to ask. When the Mazal family experiences a tragedy, Isidore is the one to notice how the rest of the family is handling their grief and he may be the only one who can save the family, if he doesn’t decide to run away from home first.
Aug. 15: A Map for Wrecked Girls by Jessica Taylor (young adult)
Emma and Henri are sisters who have always been best friends. Emma trusted Henri implicitly, and then something happens that wrecks them and they end up washed ashore. They are stranded with only Alex, a troubled boy who has secrets of his own.
Aug. 22: Y is for Yesterday by Sue Grafton
In the second-to-last installment of Grafton’s alphabet mysteries, Kinsey Millhone finds herself in drawn into one of her most disturbing cases yet. In 1979, four boys sexually assaulted a teenage girl, videotaped it, and not long after the videotape went missing and one of the boys was killed. Fast forward to 1989 when one of the perpetrators is released from prison. A copy of the missing videotape shows up with a note demanding ransom, and the perpetrator’s family calls Kinsey in.
Aug. 22: The Half-True Lies of Cricket Cohen by Catherine Lloyd Burns (middle-grades novel)
From Goodreads: “Cricket Cohen isn’t a liar, but she doesn’t always tell the exact truth. She loves thinking about geology and astronomy and performing tricky brain surgery on her stuffed animals. She also loves conspiring with Dodo, her feisty grandmother who lives in the apartment right next door. And one Manhattan weekend when she’s in hot water with her teacher and her controlling parents over a fanciful memoir essay, Cricket goes along with Dodo’s questionable decision to hit the bricks. Imagining all sorts of escapades, Cricket is happy to leave home behind. But on a crosstown adventure with an elderly woman who has her own habit of mixing truth and fantasy, some hard realities may start to get in the way of all the fun.”
Aug. 22: Young Jane Young by Gabrielle Zevin
Aviva Grossman is a congressional intern in Florida. When she engages in an affair with her boss — a very married congressman — then blogs about it, she takes the fall when it goes public. She changes her name and moves to Maine to become a wedding planner. However, as events in her life unfold, she discovers that thanks to the power of the Internet, her past is never actually left behind.
Aug. 29:Glass Houses (Chief Inspector Armand Gamache #13) by Louise Penny
A mysterious figure appears on the village green in Three Pines. A body is discovered when it vanishes and it is up to Gamache to discover the ins and outs of the murder. The story takes the reader not just through the discovery of the body and the arrest of the suspect, but through the trial of the accused. All the while, Gamache wrestles with the actions he’s set in motion, and his conscience.
Aug. 29: Pretend You’re Safe by Alexandra Ivy
A serial killer buries his victims on the banks of the Mississippi. Years later, the rains and floods unearth the bodies. While his victims were disappearing, Jaci Patterson was finding “gifts” on her porch — the first was a golden locket with a few strands of hair wrapped around a bloodstained ribbon inside. The deputy sheriff at the time was convinced that Jaci was just a publicity-seeking teen. Until Jaci comes home again, and the nightmare has started again.
Aug. 29: Dog Man: A Tale of Two Kitties by Dav Pilkey
Dog Man is back in his third adventure from the author of the Captain Underpants series. Dog Man is on the police force, which hasn’t always been the best thing to happen. But now, Petey the cat has dragged in some trouble, in the form of a kitten, and Dog Man is going to have to work extra hard to stay top dog!
First Line: He saw her yellow dress before he saw her, glowing in the fading light; a beacon at the far end of the stables.
Summary: A young girl lives with her grandfather in London. He has been teaching her to ride and do very difficult tricks with her horse. But when her grandfather has a stroke she is in a difficult place. A young lawyer is going through a separation and dealing with high-profile cases. When she finds a young girl stealing from a local minimart she decides to take her in with the help of her soon-to-be ex-husband. The situation becomes harder than anyone expected.
Highlights: Jojo Moyes does such a great job bringing social issues to life in her stories. I was never one for chick lit but Moyes is amazing. I read a majority of this in two days. I know nothing about horses but now I want to go riding.
Lowlights: A little slow in the middle but worth it.
Wow, it’s almost Independence Day, and the year is already half over! Where has the time gone? My reading list has been dented pretty well this year, and I’m staying on track with my Goodreads goal. How about you? Are getting as much reading time in this year as you would like? Let us know how your reading goals are going in the comments below.
And if you need some help finding something new to read, here are a few books that will be released this week and next. Click on the title of the book to find it in the library catalog.
July 4: The Lightkeeper’s Daughter by Jean Pendziwol
This story explores the relationship between an elderly woman, Elizabeth, and a teenager, Morgan, as they explore journals of a lightkeeper written decades before. The journals were written by Elizabeth’s father, and while the discovery sheds light on Morgan’s family mysteries, it makes Elizabeth question who she really is.
July 4: The Reason You’re Alive by Matthew Quick
The newest novel from the best-selling author of The Sliver Linings Playbook is the story of Vietnam veteran David Granger. After Davis crashes his BMW, he learns he has a brain tumor, which he attributes to his exposure to agent orange during the war. After surgery, he decides to return something to one of his fellow soldiers, and the journey takes some challenging turns.
July 11: Where the Light Falls by Allison Pataki and Owen Pataki
Paris during the French Revolution, and the lives of Sophie, a young, aristocratic widow; Jean-Luc, a young lawyer; and Andre, a nobleman’s son, become intertwined in this period of hope and freedom. The story moves from the battlefields to the courtrooms and even into the alleyways of Paris, three years after the storming of the Bastille.
July 11: The Almost Sisters by Joshilyn Jackson
Leia comes from a conventional Southern family, with everything that entails, and when she finds herself pregnant at 38 after a one-night affair, she is faced with telling her family not only about being pregnant, but that the baby is biracial. On top of that, her sister’s marriage is falling apart and her grandmother has been hiding dementia. When Leia goes home to help put her grandmother’s affairs in order, she learns of a dangerous secret that dates back to the Civil War.
July 11: Watch Me Disappear by Janelle Brown
Billie Flanagan disappeared a year ago in the Desolation Wilderness a year ago, and her husband, Jonathan, and daughter, Olive, are coping as best they can. Then Olive starts having waking dreams that her mother is still alive. Jonathan is worried about Olive’s mental health, until he learns some secrets about Billie that have him questioning if he ever really knew her.
I have loved history since my 8th grade year when I had a teacher that made it fun and interesting. She was always excited about what she was teaching and it made me want to know more. I started reading about 90% historical fiction after this point. I had to learn about places and people while I was enjoying the story.
During my freshman year of college, as a history major, I finally bought a copy of a book I had had my eye on for several years. The book was The Other Boleyn Girl by Philippa Gregory. I was enthralled! Gregory’s writing was stunning and the characters were brought to life before my eyes. It centers around the younger sister of Anne Boleyn, Mary, who becomes the mistress of Henry VIII. Even though the story is centered around Mary it was Anne who fascinated me.
Anne Boleyn was the infamous second wife of Henry VIII and mother of Elizabeth I. She has been described in many ways from temptress, witch, whore, martyr and pawn. Her beliefs and stubbornness to stand up for them made her the target for many. Changes came to England during the years of her courtship and marriage to Henry that reshaped the world. She was executed in the Tower of London on May 19, 1536 on the charges of treason, witchcraft and adultery.
There are differing opinions about this woman who is still very unknown to historians even today. Little is known but many books have been written about her. One of the latest is by Alison Weir as part of her Six Tudor Queens series. As soon as I could get my hands on this book I was ready to read it!
First Line: Her skin was rather sallow, Anne thought as she studied herself in the silver mirror, and she had too many moles, but at least her face was a fashionable oval.
Summary: Anne Boleyn, the second wife of Henry VIII, spent her early years in the courts of Burgundy and France. She learned from duchesses and queens on how to be a lady but it is a king that truly changes her life. When the King Henry VIII notices her and wants her to be his mistress Anne decides that she is not going to be used like other women of her time. She tries to discourage the king but to no avail. But when Henry proposes marriage to her, even though he is already married, she sets her sights on the ultimate power. After years of legal and religious battles she finally is crowned queen but it turns out to not be all that was promised.
Highlights: The descriptions are very detailed. I could feel the frustration with the Great Matter as much as Anne and Henry. Anne is a smart and passionate woman who knows what she wants and is willing to do whatever she can to achieve it. There is so much in this novel about a woman that very little is known. The author takes you all the way back to Anne’s childhood which most books do not do.
Lowlights: I have read many books about Anne Boleyn. And a book that is written by a historian like Alison Weir, I was expecting more. There were things that I did not agree with in her descriptions of Anne such as the sixth finger. Plus she makes Anne seem more like a child at times when she was a powerful woman with strong beliefs.
FYI: Some of this is written for a more dramatic and fictional account than most historians have been able to back up. Great for a fun and interesting book about the life of Anne Boleyn, the unfortunate second wife of Henry VIII.
If you are ever lucky enough to visit the Tower of London, visit her grave in the chapel and the memorial to Anne Boleyn (and many others who lost their lives inside this fortress). It has been 481 years since that fateful day on Tower Green and people still remember this fascinating woman.