The Fountains of Silence by Ruta Sepetys

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Madrid, 1957. Under the fascist dictatorship of General Francisco Franco, Spain is hiding a dark secret. Meanwhile, tourists and foreign businessmen flood into Spain under the welcoming guise of sunshine and wine. Among them is eighteen-year-old Daniel Matheson, the son of a Texas oil tycoon, who arrives in Madrid with his parents hoping to connect with the country of his mother’s birth through the lens of his camera. Photography–and fate–introduce him to Ana, whose family’s interweaving obstacles reveal the lingering grasp of the Spanish Civil War–as well as chilling definitions of fortune and fear. Daniel’s photographs leave him with uncomfortable questions amidst shadows of danger. He is backed into a corner of decisions to protect those he loves. Lives and hearts collide, revealing an incredibly dark side to the sunny Spanish city.

Master storyteller Ruta Sepetys once again shines light into one of history’s darkest corners in this epic, heart-wrenching novel about identity, unforgettable love, repercussions of war, and the hidden violence of silence–inspired by the true post-war struggles of Spain.

 

I got this ARC at Book Con this year and have really been anticipating it. Ruta is one of my favorite authors.

I really love that she writes historical fiction based on events that are not widely known.
In school I learned about the horrible dictatorships of Hitler, Stalin, and Mussolini. But they did not cover anything about Franco. They should.

“Between 1939 and the late 1980s, it is alleged that over 300,000 babies were stolen from their birth mothers and sold into adoption.” -Lucia Benavides.

CAN YOU EVEN FATHOM THAT!? It breaks my heart.

Then at the end they talk about amnesty. For stealing 300,000 babies? NO WAY! I wouldn’t grant it. There should be trials like they had for the Nazis. (I should look up if amnesty was granted or not.)

There is a quote at the beginning of the book, an anonymous epitaph from the Spanish Civil War mass grave that says, “We have only died if you forget us.”

You are not forgotten, and I think more authors should tell their stories.

I loved Daniel and Ana so much. Their stories and their families’ stories were so full of life. I really felt their feelings and became so invested in their fates. I was a mess of tears by the end. I didn’t care that I was on public transit.

I also loved how the novel told different POVs of living under Franco’s oppression. The fear, the rebellious streak, and even the indoctrination.

The inclusion of articles from presidents, ambassadors, and news clippings were insightful. As were the photographs at the end. Very fitting for a story that showed the importance and strength of photography.

As someone who was brought up Catholic, one part that really stood out to me was when all the characters were going to Confession and how differently they all felt about the Sacrament.

I feel like this may be my favorite of Ruta’s books. I haven’t figure out why that is yet. But I love all of her books that I read.

Some of my favorite quotes: (Yes, I know it’s an ARC but these quotes speak so strongly and I hope they are in the final version.)

Page 12: Photographs are spontaneous and exciting, something that he creates, not inherits.

Page 36: Julia’s fingers are silent narrators, embroidered with scars.

Page 214: God forgive me if I am wrong. If I am right, there is no forgiveness for you.

Page 278: But one day, far into the future when the pain is less sharp, the voices of the dead will find harmony with the living.

5 out of 5 Rolls of Film.

I did have one question and one wish but they are spoilers:

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The Last Collection: A Novel of Elsa Schiaparelli and Coco Chanel by Jeanne Mackin

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An American woman becomes entangled in the intense rivalry between iconic fashion designers Coco Chanel and Elsa Schiaparelli in this captivating novel from the acclaimed author of The Beautiful American.

Paris, 1938. Coco Chanel and Elsa Schiaparelli are fighting for recognition as the most successful and influential fashion designer in France, and their rivalry is already legendary. They oppose each other at every turn, in both their politics and their designs: Chanel’s are classic, elegant, and practical; Schiaparelli’s bold, experimental, and surreal.

When Lily Sutter, a recently widowed young American teacher, visits her brother, Charlie, in Paris, he insists on buying her a couture dress–a Chanel. Lily, however, prefers a Schiaparelli. Charlie’s beautiful and socially prominent girlfriend soon begins wearing Schiaparelli’s designs as well, and much of Paris follows in her footsteps.

Schiaparelli offers budding artist Lily a job at her store, and Lily finds herself increasingly involved with Schiaparelli and Chanel’s personal war. Their fierce competition reaches new and dangerous heights as the Nazis and the looming threat of World War II bear down on Paris.

 

I won this ARC through a Goodreads giveaway! My first win! Thank you to Goodreads and Berkley Pub.

I was very interested in this novel because not only do I love Historical Fiction but I also love fashion. I was surprised to learn by reading other reviews – and even from my own sister – that they never heard of Elsa Schiaparelli. I assume it is because the Chanel brand still exists and Schiaparelli went out of business.

Although I knew about the lasting fashion influences and the signature looks of Schiaparelli and Chanel, I was not familiar with their political beliefs nor what they did and were accused of before and during World War II. Jeanne Mackin really did her research well and I learned a lot about both iconic designers.

(Side note: I learned that Schiaparelli’s daughter had polio, and her granddaughter, Berry, married Tony Perkins and she died in the 9/11 attacks. Berry was on one of the planes that went into the World Trade center. I was shocked.)

The novel is a great blend of historical and fictional elements as told by the fictional character of Lily. I saw some reviews mention that they wished it was just from the point of view of Schiaparelli and Chanel, and that Lily was a dull and unnecessary narrator. I disagree. Through Lily get to know these influential designers, but it is not just about their rivalry. We also get to see the beautiful city of Paris pre-WWII and the people who live there and then see the sad, sometimes bitter-sweet, aftermath of WWII.

My one critique for not giving the novel a perfect score is that sometimes, not overwhelmingly so, but sometimes it did get a little bit repetitive.

There were a few quotes I really liked. I know they say not to quote an ARC and check it against the final publication, but I am not doing that. Do it yourself 😉

This one made me laugh. Page 134: Men who persist in the belief that women are soft, sentimental creatures have never worked in the fashion industry.
4 out of 5 Couture Gowns

Book review and book signing of Time’s Convert by Deborah Harkness

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From the No. 1 New York Times bestselling author of A Discovery of Witches, a novel about what it takes to become a vampire.

On the battlefields of the American Revolution, Matthew de Clermont meets Marcus MacNeil, a young surgeon from Massachusetts, during a moment of political awakening when it seems that the world is on the brink of a brighter future. When Matthew offers him a chance at immortality and a new life free from the restraints of his puritanical upbringing, Marcus seizes the opportunity to become a vampire. But his transformation is not an easy one and the ancient traditions and responsibilities of the de Clermont family clash with Marcus’s deeply held beliefs in liberty, equality, and brotherhood.

Fast-forward to contemporary Paris, where Phoebe Taylor—the young employee at Sotheby’s whom Marcus has fallen for—is about to embark on her own journey to immortality. Though the modernized version of the process at first seems uncomplicated, the couple discovers that the challenges facing a human who wishes to be a vampire are no less formidable than they were in the eighteenth century. The shadows that Marcus believed he’d escaped centuries ago may return to haunt them both—forever.

A passionate love story and a fascinating exploration of the power of tradition and the possibilities not just for change but for revolution, Time’s Convert channels the supernatural world-building and slow-burning romance that made the All Souls Trilogy instant bestsellers to illuminate a new and vital moment in history, and a love affair that will bridge centuries.

On September 24th I went to Barnes & Noble on the Upper West Side to hear Deborah talk about Time’s Convert.

The main theme of Time’s Convert centers around parenting. The book is split into three stories: Diana and Matthew with their 18 month old twins, Marcus reminiscing about his early life, and Phoebe’s first 100 days as a vampire.

Phoebe’s chapter titles are numbered to tell how many days old she is as a newborn vampire. New born vampires have a faster development and each day represents a year.

The Bishop-de Clermont family have been through the wringer and need a break. So they get a summer vacation with no dire life or death situations.

Being a historian, Deborah was somehow going to weave history into her book. Diana can’t time walk in this story because she has too many responsibilities being a wife, mom, witch, and a professor with tenure, so Marcus reminisces about his life as a human and as a young vampire.

The story is also about kids rebelling, and Marcus is certainly a rebel having served in the American Revolution and being a fan of Thomas Paine. In contrast, his vampire father, Matthew, is from the Middle Ages, so they sometimes clash. Deborah has fun writing those moments.

Writing a story that took place during the American Revolution allowed Deborah to become a student again because her focus is the 16th century Europe.

Deborah said she wants to write more stories in the All Souls world like this, where it moves forward in time and we get to see how the twins grow but also incorporate elements of history. So it will be an ongoing series, instead of another trilogy where there is a beginning, middle and end.

Deborah writes long hand for her first draft. She writes in loops where she’ll write a scene or maybe just two lines of dialogue, then do some research and go down that route before returning to a scene. She was writing The Serpent’s Mirror about Matthew’s life with the Tudors, but then Matthew “stopped talking” and Marcus wouldn’t stop. And that is how we got this book first. She also is writing a story about Gallowglass.

She read a scene from Chapter 9 where Marcus meets Sarah Bishop during the American Revolution. She chose that scene because it was not considered a spoiler since it is mentioned in ADoW. (I liked that scene very much.)

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The Tournament by Matthew Reilly

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“A complete success; action fans and PBS types can share their enthusiasm” (Booklist, starred review) when a young Queen Elizabeth I is thrust into a gripping game of deception and lust at the height of the Ottoman Empire in this edge-of-your-seat historical thriller from the New York Times bestselling author of The Great Zoo of China and Temple.

The year is 1546, and Suleiman the Magnificent, the feared Sultan of the Ottoman Empire, issues an invitation to every king in Europe: You are invited to send your finest player to compete in a chess tournament to determine the champion of the known world.

Thousands converge on Constantinople, including the English court’s champion and his guide, the esteemed scholar Roger Ascham. Seeing a chance to enlighten the mind of a student, Ascham brings along Elizabeth Tudor, a brilliant young woman not yet consumed by royal duties in Henry VIII’s court.

Yet on the opening night of the tournament, a powerful guest of the Sultan is murdered. Soon, barbaric deaths, diplomatic corruption, and unimaginable depravity, sexual and otherwise, unfold before Elizabeth’s and Ascham’s eyes. The pair soon realizes that the real chess game is being played within the court itself and its most treacherous element is that a stranger in a strange land is only as safe as her host is gracious.

 

I got this book last year at NYCC.

There were many things I enjoyed about The Tournament, but I have a few criticisms.

This is very much like a fan fiction of actual historical figures.  But I like fan fiction and historical fiction so it was right up my alley. Besides Elizabeth I, Roger Aschman, and Suleiman, there are appearances from Michelangelo, Ivan the Terrible, and Ignatius of Loyola. Fictional characters are mixed in and the chess tournament and the murders are completely fictional.

I was invested in the murder(s) mystery and read through it quickly to find out the results. Sometimes I felt that Aschman was spelling things out to Elizabeth (and thus the reader) like a child, but then I remembered that she’s 13 and in 1546 a lot more innocent than than 13 year olds of today.

I liked how each part began with a brief, one page history of the history of chess pieces. I never knew the rook was once a chariot,  the bishop were elephants and the queen was the king’s minister. Besides solving the murders, the chess tournament was my favorite part.

Thank goodness for the maps printed at the beginning and for the list of the players for each match. I would have been lost without them.

One critique I have is that the language seemed a bit too modern for the time period. It’s not a huge distraction, but at times I said to myself, “That’s not how they would have phrased that.”

Another critique was the repetitive descriptions of gratuitous sex. Yes, there is a warning at the very beginning of the book.  I understand getting the point across that the horrible exploitation of women and children happened then (and sadly happen still).  So, I guess what my issue is is that Elise’s descriptions night after night were like – enough already. And that no one, except for a few voiced concerns from Elizabeth (that Elise brushed off), told her how naive she was being. (Did she learn nothing from Anne Boleyn and Catherine Howard?) Also, I was fully expecting Elise or someone to start showing signs of a STD, or the Plague.

4 out of 5 chess pieces.

The Blue Tattoo by Steven Laffoley

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From Pottersfield Press Fall 2014 Catalogue:
From award-winning author Steven Laffoley comes a compelling tale of love and loss, despair and hope, based on real people and real events, that brings to life one of the most extraordinary stories of our time — The Halifax Explosion.

1917. The Great War has given rise to unprecedented prosperity to staid, Victorian Halifax. It has also given rise to an explosive desire for change. Medical student and daughter of a prominent Halifax family, Elizabeth Beckett dreams of bringing equality to woman in an age when men alone control the world of work and politics. She fights for suffrage to give women a voice in the politics of war. At the same times, sugar refinery worker Danny Cohen dreams of leaving Halifax and a deadly war machine that he sees as only serving the wealthy. He fights to make the money he needs to help himself escape. When their lives collide, their dreams and their views of the world are challenged by the promise of love. Yet their different views on the world prove too explosive. They are torn apart by the collision of their disparate dreams. Elizabeth returns to her suffrage movement for women. Danny escapes to Boston for a better life.However, when two ships collide in Halifax Harbour on December 6, 1917, and the greatest explosion the world had ever known is unleashed on the city, their eyes are opened to new truths. Elizabeth is swept up in the chaos that follows the Explosion and works courageously at a local hospital, overrun with the horribly injured, with dwindling medical supplies and worsening conditions, only to face a once-in-a-generation snowstorm that promises to take away whatever hope remains. Without fresh medical supplies, hundreds will soon die.
Meantime, desperate to return home, Danny hears of a medical relief train leaving Boston and conducted by Christopher H. Trueman, a man with with dark past, who promises to make Halifax in record time. Danny manages to make the train, only to face a snowstorm that stops the train in its tracks. Without action and personal sacrifice, the train may never make it.

Filled with a cast of unforgettable characters — from Boston mayor James Michael Curley to Group of Seven painter Arthur Lismer — The Blue Tattoo tells the sweeping story of the lives caught up in the unbelievable horror of The Halifax Explosion.

I recently went on a cruise to New England and Canada. One of the ports of call was Halifax, Nova Scotia. There I went on an excursion to the Maritime Museum of the Atlantic. Time there was limited so I really only spent time at the Titanic exhibit. (Halifax is where they brought the bodies for identification and the museum had Titanic artifacts that survived, as well as the stories of those who perished). The tour guide of the excursion also told us of the Halifax explosion of 1917. While I was in the Maritime Museum gift shop I saw this book and I had to buy it. I wanted to know more about it but have trouble reading non-fiction books. Since this was a novel I knew I would get through it without difficulty.

Laffoley describes the devastation very well. I saw a clear picture of the destruction, the wounded and the dead. I would get choked up and would have to take breaks because the images and heartache were a lot to read. But it was important to understand the scope of the explosion.

Laffoley was also good at showing the reader the before story of each ship, the SS Mont-Blanc and the SS Imo, without being technical and boring. We saw the point of views of the men on board both ships, their feelings, and seeing what lead to the two ships colliding.

A brief history about the explosion.

I did easily lose track of some of the characters, or in this case historical people. Many appear briefly, and others continued their story as they were important to the recovery. I wish there had been a character list or that I had wrote down my own to keep track of them.

I would have loved a detailed author’s note about his research, as well as what was fact and where he took artistic liberties.

I liked that the timeline of events was manly centered around the disaster. There was a small Act to show the reader the romance between Elizabeth and Danny. I liked Danny and Elizabeth as individuals but the romance was – eh. It was clichéd and rushed, but also not the main point of the story.

Putting that subplot aside it was still a good historical novel. I would recommend this book to anyone who would like to learn about the Halifax Explosion.

3.5 out of 5 Ships.

More about the artist, who appears as a character in the book, Arthur Lismer.
Arthur Lismer’s ‘Sorrow’ painting depicts aftermath of Halifax Explosion

CBC viewers get a rare look at “Sorrow”, one of Arthur Lismer’s Halifax Explosion-era paintings that had been lost for 75 years.

Some very descriptive quotes that stood out to me:
Page 124: Duggan glance over his shoulder and saw what he swore were the eyes of Satan, two lurid spurts of flame rising skyward, chasing a monstrous cloud that rose two hundred feet or more into the air. It was at that moment, beneath the unblinking green eyes of Satan, there came a thunderous howl.

Page 279: And though I feel an unfathomable exhaustion, I feel compelled to keep at it, as though to give up working would be to concede to the chaos so cruelly visited upon us.

 

The Winter Sea by Susanna Kearsley

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In the spring of 1708, an invading Jacobite fleet of French and Scottish soldiers nearly succeeded in landing the exiled James Stewart in Scotland to reclaim his crown.

Now, Carrie McClelland hopes to turn that story into her next bestselling novel. Settling herself in the shadow of Slains Castle, she creates a heroine named for one of her own ancestors and starts to write.

But when she discovers her novel is more fact than fiction, Carrie wonders if she might be dealing with ancestral memory, making her the only living person who knows the truth—the ultimate betrayal—that happened all those years ago, and that knowledge comes very close to destroying her.

 

Picked this gem up at Book Con 2015.

I loved The Winter Sea and couldn’t put it down. I cried so hard at the “first ending”. I couldn’t see through my tears!

The past and present were interwoven flawlessly. (I loved the geneology aspect too.)
The setting was haunting. The prose was so poetic and I really felt the atmosphere of Slains Castle and Scotland.

I loved that the modern day romance was light and unproblematic. There was a slight love triangle between Carrie and two brothers, but it was not silly and immature.

I was happy to finally see a hero (Moray) actually go for the woman he loves and didn’t play the “I’m too dangerous for you” card.

I love when the authors tell you what research they did and what liberties they took for their fiction. The book I read before this one was The Freemasons’s Daughter so I can’t help compare the two. The Freemason’s Daughter takes place during the 1714 attempt, but tells little to nothing about the planning.

The Winter Sea tells the story about the failed 1708 Jacobite invasion and it tells it well. The character Sophia is not kept in the dark so we are aware of the political scheming, the betrayals, the Union, and the details about the plans to bring King James to Scotland. I learned a lot about the Jacobites.

This is why I love historical fiction. I love history but reading a non-fiction book can be so boring and bogged down with too many dates and names (especially when it’s the same name passed onto the children). But write it like a novel, show me a story, then you have my full attention.

4.5 out 5 White Sails.

Blood Rose Rebellion by Rosalyn Eves

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The thrilling first book in a YA fantasy trilogy for fans of Red Queen. In a world where social prestige derives from a trifecta of blood, money, and magic, one girl has the ability to break the spell that holds the social order in place.

Sixteen-year-old Anna Arden is barred from society by a defect of blood. Though her family is part of the Luminate, powerful users of magic, she is Barren, unable to perform the simplest spells. Anna would do anything to belong. But her fate takes another course when, after inadvertently breaking her sister’s debutante spell—an important chance for a highborn young woman to show her prowess with magic—Anna finds herself exiled to her family’s once powerful but now crumbling native Hungary.

Her life might well be over.

In Hungary, Anna discovers that nothing is quite as it seems. Not the people around her, from her aloof cousin Noémi to the fierce and handsome Romani Gábor. Not the society she’s known all her life, for discontent with the Luminate is sweeping the land. And not her lack of magic. Isolated from the only world she cares about, Anna still can’t seem to stop herself from breaking spells.

As rebellion spreads across the region, Anna’s unique ability becomes the catalyst everyone is seeking. In the company of nobles, revolutionaries, and Romanies, Anna must choose: deny her unique power and cling to the life she’s always wanted, or embrace her ability and change that world forever.

I picked up an ARC from NYCC in October.

At First In Line I showed them the email I received in exchange for the Blood Rose Rebellion. I got very excited when I read the jacket because I have a friend from Hungary named Noémi (No-amy). I messaged her about the book and asked if her name is popular in Hungary. She said:
“It’s not a very common name, actually. It was a writer who came up with it in 1872. In that book the main guy is an aristocrat and he goes on his boat and discovers an island where only a mom and the daughter lives. He falls in love with the daughter, whose name is noèmi. It means beautiful. So then he starts going back and forth between his real life and the mysterious island with his beautiful lover. And writers like to use the name in their books ever since.”

I liked the character Noémi and wish there was more of a storyline for her. Perhaps in book 2. I really appreciated the glossary and the character guide in the back. It helped immensely. I still pronounced words and names wrong. I would ask my friend Noémi if I was saying it correctly and I was embarrassingly wrong.

As the world building goes, I liked that magic was not a secret society but out in the open and controlled by the aristocracy. I think the mix with some Hungarian historical events made it an interesting historical fantasy novel. I don’t know much about Hungarian history so I learned a little bit.

I was glad I read The Bear and the Nightingale first so that I was familiar with some of the mythical creatures that make an appearance.

There were many things I did like about the story, like Anna’s struggle with her decision and how breaking the binding was not done in a simple 1,2,3 rushed plot. It took a few tries. However, towards the end of the book I lost motivation to finish. I pushed to finish and even started to skim it. I can’t say why I lost steam because I liked the story and the characters, but it took me more than a month to finish.

I can’t say I’ll go out and buy the second book of the series, but if I see an ARC at Comic Con or Book Con I’ll pick it up.

3 out of 5 Broken Spells.