Sunday, October 30, 2011

The House at Riverton (Kate Morton, 2006)



The Heroine: Grace Reeves, a former maid to the aristocratic Hartford sisters at the beginning of the twentieth century. Told from her death bed in present day, Grace reveals the secrets she had kept for her charges, wise and restless Hannah and the glittering socialite Emmeline, by recording her story on tape for her grandson. Loyal, self-sacrificing and kind, Grace recounts a story of mystery, romance and suspense that brings England in the era of war, tradition and sparkling parties to life.

The Highs: I simply love Kate Morton's way with words. Her prose is gorgeous, both simple enough to understand and descriptive enough to suck you in and enrapture you in her universe. She also has a great understanding of suspense; the way she slowly unfolds the story, revealing a little at a time, keeps you from putting down her books. For a debut novel, The House at Riverton is a piece of spectacular writing.

I adore her characters, specifically the sisters Hannah and Emmeline. The character of Hannah is written so realistically, with a juxtaposition of being both duty-bound and restless for change. Hannah's competing values make her unpredictable and exciting to read about. Emmeline, on the other hand, is fascinating in her slow decline to delusions. Both characters are the kind of beautiful, charismatic, tragic heroines that ignite my imagination.

The historical detail included in The House at Riverton give every location, setting and event a very vibrant sense of authenticity, so important in writing a historical drama. Not only is every gas lamp, petticoat and kid glove in place, but the novel also uses real historical events, such as World War I and the beginning of the Jazz Age, and thoughts, like worker's unions and socialism, to shape each characters perspective and view on the world. Furthermore, this book is written in the true Gothic tradition, the type of story popular in the Victorian era, including the English country manor, the haunted characters, the intersecting of the present with the past... Overall, a beautiful and haunting read whether or not you're a history buff.

The Lows: I felt the novel could have been made even better if the evolution of Hannah and Emmeline's relationship from close sisters to competitors would have been given more attention. I feel that Emmeline's thoughts, emotions and actions were made too subtle to notice, until suddenly the climax of the story pops up. I would have enjoyed spending more time reading about Emmeline. It would have made the sense of impending doom, suspense and unpredictability more dramatic.

I also would have felt more closure with the story if Grace's relation to the Hartford's would have been more solidified, though I understand why the story turned out the way it did. Since I enjoyed this book so much, it's hard to find anything wrong with it beside nit-pickity annoyances.

Final Thoughts: The House at Riverton is a must-read, no matter what type of fiction you enjoy.

Rating: The House at Riverton deserves nine shorthand letters out of ten. 

Buy 'The House at Riverton' on Amazon here
Connect with author Kate Morton here
Photo by Charlotte Rutherford, found here

NEXT UP: A review of The Paris Wife by Paula McLean

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

How to Be an American Housewife (Margaret Dilloway, 2010)



The Heroine: Shoko, a Japanese war bride who left for America with her soldier husband in the 1940s and never returned to her home country again. Set in the present day, Shoko is now elderly and ill and is forced to ask her daughter, Sue, to return to Japan in her place in order to be reunited with her estranged brother. Honest, demanding and intelligent, Shoko hasn't always gotten along with her artistic and sensitive daughter, but the two must now find a way to bond over their shared lost heritage.

The Highs: The mother/daughter relationship between Shoko and Sue is very realistic and actually reminds me very much of conversations I've had with my own mother. While Shoko is well-meaning, Sue takes her critiques as insults and retreats into her shell – a common dynamic that is expressed beautifully in this story through a mixture of emotion and anecdote. I feel like I got a lot of meaning from this book just based on this relationship.

I really loved Shoko's flashbacks to growing up in World War II Japan. This is not a setting that I know much about, and it had actually never occurred to me what happened to the average young girl like Shoko at the end of the war. Shoko's struggles to find a successful life really touched me and I especially appreciated the story of her lost love, Ronin.

I was also very intrigued by Sue's character, a young single mother, stuck in a career she hates. Sue's lack of guidance really struck me, as I often feel similarly lost in life, and I found her personal journey to change and self-discovery very inspiring.

The Lows: I would have appreciated more suspense in the plot. Shoko reveals the novel's "shocking twist" quite early on in the story and that drains most of the interest out of the story right there. While it's still a lovely book, there's nothing much else to force you to continue flipping the page.

I also would have appreciated more depth to Shoko's relationship with Ronin. It didn't seem like her feelings were deep enough for him to inspire her to risk her family's reputation. Another character where more development would have been appreciated is Shoko's mother. Perhaps there would be more insight to Shoko and her parenting techniques if the novel explored more about Shoko's relationship with her own mother.

Final Thoughts: While this book was enjoyable, the lack of suspense made it feel dry at times.

Rating: How to Be an American Housewife earns five paper cranes out of ten. 

Buy it on Amazon here
Connect with author Margaret Dilloway here
Photo from We Heart It

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Bride of New France (Susanne Desrochers, 2011)



The Heroine: Laure Beausejour, a poor young woman living in a Paris dormitory reserved for the women that French society has no place for. A skilled lace worker, Laure dreams of one day owning her own dress shop and marrying into high society. However, when Laure is caught breaking dormitory rules, she is sent to Canada as a filles de roi: a woman of France designated as a wife for the fur-traders in Canada. Adventurous, resilient and often ill-tempered, Laure's selfish temperment benefits her survival in the harsh Canadian wilderness.

The Highs: Laure is a very interesting character to read about because she is not the typical insprational woman. She is snobbish towards her roommates, scornful and bitter towards those who have more money than herself and takes advantage of her only friend Madeleine. However, she is such a realistic character that its easy to become to attached to her and hope for her survival. The author should be congratulated on creating such a life-like character, especially on her first endeavour as a novelist.

It is obvious that a lot of historical research went into the writing of this novel. The book is stuffed full of historical facts and details that make the world of seventeenth century France come alive, though in a very different way than most descriptions of Paris. Laure lives in the underbelly of Paris, a place that typically remains untouched by authors. If anything, this book is very unique in every way.

I also enjoyed the star-crossed love between Laure and her Iroqouis friend, Deskaheh. It was an unusual pairing, but it made sense for Laure, as an unusual girl, to be attracted to such an odd match for the time.

On a more personal note, I enjoyed this book just based on the fact that it taught me a lot about my heritage that I wasn't aware of. My ancestors arrived on one of the first ships from France to Canada and its likely that there is a filles de roi somewhere on my family tree. I would recommend this book to anyone with a French-Canadian background!

The Lows: There were quite a few plot points that probably held symbolical value that went right over my head, particularily a scene where Laure's stomach is cut. I didn't always find Laure's emotional state very clear and therefore her actions were sometimes a mystery to me. I wish this book had better clarity on why certain things happened the way they did.

While I liked the love story between Laure and Deskaheh, as I mentioned before, I wish the author had taken it further to the next level. It would have made the story much more interesting and passionate, turning this novel into the type of book that's hard to put down. As it is, I'm left wanting more from the interaction between Laure and Deskaheh.

I also felt that the story ended rather adruptly. I would have liked to know what happened to Laure and how her life ended up.

Final Thoughts: This book is based on a really original idea and is a great read for anyone whose a history buff like me!

Rating: This book earns six animal pelts out of ten. 

Click here to purchase this book on Amazon
Click here to connect with the author Suzanne Desrochers
Photo from Weheartit.com

Top Ten Tuesdays!


Top Ten Books that the Title or Cover Made Me Buy

1. The Slap by Christos Tsiolkas: The simple yet intriguing title forced me to purchase this book, a decision I later regretted. I had to push myself to finish this book and its now collecting dust at the back of my bookcase. 

2. Juliet by Anne Fortier: I love the antique-looking rose on the cover, not to mention the romantic connotations of the name Juliet. 

3. The Thirteenth Tale by Diane Setterfield: The title is a two-fold suspense: what's the thirteenth tale, and if there are thirteen, what are the first twelve all about?

4. The Witch of Portobello by Paulo Coelho: I love books about magic and the contrast of the woman's red hair and blue background on the cover really caught my eye. 

5. The Weight of Silence by Heather Gudenkauf: The figure of the little girl holding the necklace behind her back made me curious to read this book. 

6. The Summer Garden by Paullina Simons: Of course I would have read this novel anyway (being a devoted lover of her Tatiana and Alexander trilogy) but I thought I would include it for the striking model featured on the front cover. 

7. The Time-Traveler's Wife by Audrey Niffenegger: This title is pretty fantastic, though I didn't enjoy this book.

8. Divine Evil by Nora Roberts: I love the cover of the 2009 edition printed by Bantam, with the beautiful woman in the deep red cloak. Simply fabulous. 

9. Suite Francaise by Irene Nemirovsky: I love the vintage-looking cover of this book. 

10. Bride of New France by Suzanne Desrochers: This title really interested me, since my heritage stems from the first settlers in Canada from France. 

Click here to join the Top Ten Meme hosted by The Broke and the Bookish

Friday, October 14, 2011

The Forgotten Garden (Kate Morton, 2008)



The Heroine: Cassandra, an Australian antique dealer who has recently lost her husband and son in a terrible accident. When her grandmother Nell dies, she is pulled into the mystery of Nell's unknown origins: where did she come from, and how did a child end up alone at the Queensland wharf? Cassandra is serious, lonely and grieving, but she uses Nell's mystery to help her find purpose in life again and ultimately turn over a new leaf in her life.

The Highs: The Forgotten Garden is full of interesting characters who are each given their time to shine. Even better, the majority of them are women who all contribute something important to the story. There is Eliza Makepeace, a poor orphan with enough spunk to unsettle the somber Montrachet estate. There is Rose Montrachet, the sickly debutante with romantic aspirations. And there is even the evil Lady Adeline Montrachet, who controls the estate with iron talons. Each character is colourful and left me flipping the pages to learn more about them.

I also adored the interwoven story plot. Cassandra's discoveries in the present day would lead into a flashback that made the story and the mystery itself richer and gave it more layers. The novel is laid out perfectly for maximum suspense and leaves you wanting more at the end of each chapter. The author's use of weaving in details in also fantastic. I especially adored the scene involving Frances Hodgson Burnett (author of The Secret Garden) viewing Eliza's hidden garden. Interesting and quirky details like that make me really impressed with an author's work.

I loved the setting, specifically the Montrachet estate on the Cornish coast. What girl doesn't dream of living in a breath-taking stately stone castle with sea views? I was very intrigued by the maze and the hidden garden, as well. Overall, I really had a very strong picture of the scenery in my mind.

The Lows: There were a few things I wish the author had elaborated on, specifically the purpose of the maze and Linus Montrachet. First of all, why was there a maze planted on the property to begin with? I feel like so much more could have been done with the maze, since it is such a dark and mysterious sort of place. And as far as Linus Montrachet goes, I am still curious as to the kind of relationship (so to speak) he had with his sister. I also wonder whether or not he had a mental illness. Either way, I wish I had answers to these questions.

I also wish Nathaniel Walker, Rose's husband, played a bigger role in the story. He comes off a little like a stock character or a prop. I found that he was sketched out as an interesting character (a poor painter with a deep love for illustration and his wife!) but in actual practice, he seemed a little flat. I know the author is capable of writing great characters, so I'm not sure what went wrong.

Final Thoughts: I loved The Forgotten Garden. It definitely appealed to my romantic tendencies and soft heart. I've already recommended this book to friends!

Rating: The Forgotten Garden earns nine plot twists out of ten. 

Click here to buy it on Amazon
Click here to connect to the author Kate Morton
Photo from I Heart Elegance

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Wishlist Wednesday!


This week, I'm wishing for a copy of The Little Shadows by Marina Endicott. I found this book by browsing the new releases in historical fiction on Goodreads (another great tool on this all-around amazing website!). Here's the summary: 

The Little Shadows revolves around three sisters in the world of vaudeville before and during the First World War. We follow the lives of all three in turn: Aurora, the eldest and most beautiful, who is sixteen when the book opens; thoughtful Clover, a year younger; and the youngest sister, joyous headstrong sprite Bella, who is thirteen. The girls, overseen by their fond but barely coping Mama, are forced to make their living as a singing act after the untimely death of their father. They begin with little besides youth and hope, but Marina Endicott’s genius is to show how the three girls slowly and steadily evolve into true artists even as they navigate their way to adulthood among a cast of extraordinary characters – some of them charming charlatans, some of them unpredictable eccentrics, and some of them just ordinary-seeming humans with magical gifts. 
I'm so excited to read this book for so many reasons! I personally find the most satisfaction from books about the relationships between women, so I'm really interested to read about a trio of sisters and how they interact. I also am attracted to the allure and mystery in vaudeville (to me, it brings up images from Water for Elephants). And I don't think I even need to mention my love for historical settings!

If you've read The Little Shadows, let me know what you thought!

Click here for Goodreads
This meme is hosted by Pen to Paper

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Top Ten Tuesdays!


This is a feature hosted by The Broke and The Bookish that I've decided to add to the roster here at Books Are My Heroine. Every Tuesday, I'll be posting a top ten list that answers the questions posted at The Broke and The Bookish. As a big David Letterman fan, I'm psyched to have my own Top Tens!

This Tuesday.... Top Ten Books I Wish I Could Read Again for the First Time

1. Harry Potter (1-7) by JK Rowling: I think this will hit the top spot on most readers' lists. JKR is a master at suspense, mystery and action and while re-reading these books still excite me, I wish I could feel that on-the-edge-of-my-seat sensation I felt the first time I cracked them open. 

2. The Bronze Horseman by Paullina Simons: I'm pretty sure everyone who reads my blog is aware of my adoration of this book. I still re-read it constantly, but I still remember being curled up in my bed at 4 a.m., tears streaming down my face, unable to put the book down for the night. 

3. Twilight by Stephenie Meyer: The first time I read this book, I was so compelled by the story that I failed to notice the weak writing, bad plot and the constant repetitions of the same cliches. Alas, I am no longer able to open this book without cringing. 

4. The Forgotten Garden by Kate Morton: I simply adore this book. I devoured it over the course of two days, determined to find out the solution to the mystery of Nell's family. While I think this book will still be enjoyable the next time I read it, everyone knows that mystery's just aren't as intriguing when you already know how its solved. 

5. Sarah's Key by Tatiana De Rosnay: This book enraptured me the first time I read it, mostly because of the shock factor: not to spoil anything for anyone who might not have read it, but there's a particular bit of goriness that stuck with me. However, when I read it a second time (as well as her follow-up novel, A Secret Kept) I found the writing rather dry and simplistic. 

6. The Pact by Jodi Picoult: This book made me cry, threw me into fits of rage and depressed me for weeks. However, I still to this day think that its an amazing book - it takes a fantastic story and an even better writer to provoke that kind of response. Unfortunately, I can't bring myself to pick up this book very often because I fear it may cause me to be thrust into a depressive episode a la Emily Gold. 

7. The Da Vinci Code by Dan Brown: Whatever anyone says about Dan Brown and his books, I still love The Da Vinci Code. It prompted my first spark of interest in art, a passion that I have now chosen as a career path. However, while I still re-read this at least once a year, a mystery is never as good the second time around. 

8. Cat's Eye by Margaret Atwood: I remember reading this book as a fourteen year old, still stuck in the middle of high school drama with my own, real life Cordelia. I loved this book fiercely because it seemed like the main character was kindred spirit. This book, now that I'm out of high school, doesn't cause the same effect in me as in my childhood self (though its still a great book!)

9. Russian Winter by Daphne Kalotay: I love Russia, I love ballet, I love romance. Most of all, I love a good mystery. This book is a great read, though I wish I could get that "whodunit" curiosity back. 

10. Ella Enchanted by Gail Carson Levine: I loved this book when I was a young girl, and I still love it as an adult. I cannot wait to have children just so I can share this story with them! But it often makes me wish I could be a child again and go back to the time when fairies and magic seemed real...

NEXT UP: a review of The Forgotten Garden by Kate Morton

Monday, October 10, 2011

The Reinvention of Love (Helen Humphreys, 2011)



The Heroine: Adele Hugo, the wife of Victor Hugo, living in Paris during the mid-1800s with her four children. Secretly in love with her husband's closest friend, the journalist Charles Sainte- Beuve, Adele ultimately chooses between leaving her family to be with her lover or suffering through a lifetime of loneliness with her distracted husband Victor. Wise, selfless and intuitive, Adele Hugo is a beautifully rendered character.

The Highs: The narrative in this novel is split between Adele and her lover, Charles. Charles is a character that would perhaps be loathsome in reality (snarky, proud and jealous), but makes the reader feel a sense of empathy towards him on the page. Charles' experiences provide the reader with an interesting sense of Paris in the 1800s, especially within the literary community. All around, Charles is a grounded character that provides a sense of realism to the story.

While I thought this book may be a fluffy tale of romance (though I would not object to that!), The Reinvention of Love is actually quite a serious story made up of strung-together vignettes that forms an overall commentary on humanity and love. For those that enjoy fiction that also includes social commentary and philosophical wisdom, I would definitely recommend this book.

The prose in this book is beautiful, clear and perfectly crafted. Helen Humphreys is clearly an experienced writer with a lot of talent. I am interested in reading some of her other books, based on her obvious skill in this story.

The Lows: I didn't particularly care what happened between Charles and Adele, mostly because of my confusion over the purpose of their affair to begin with. Their affair was not driven by sexual passion, a shared intellect or common interests. I had trouble believing in the legitimacy in their love for that reason.

There wasn't many exciting events in the plot to keep me hooked. The book moves from scene to scene, with no real action to break up the monotony of deep reflections and emotion. While written beautifully, I would have appreciated the loveliness of the narrator's observations more if their were some scenes of great action to generate excitement. I like to feel passionate about the books I read, and this book did not light my fires.

Final Thoughts: While this book was well-written and intelligent, I found it void of passion and excitement. Overall, I enjoyed reading it.

Rating: The Reinvention of Love gets six duels out of ten. 

Buy "The Reinvention of Love" on Amazon here
Connect with the author Helen Humphreys here
Photo from weheartit.com

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Wishlist Wednesday!



Sorry I'm a little late, guys! I have a late-night lecture on modern art on Wednesday nights, so please forgive me if I'm a little late on posting.

Tonight, I'm lusting after The Old Mermaid's Tale by Kathleen Valentine (2007). This book was recommended to me by Goodreads and the title and cover really caught my eye. Here's the summary:

Set against the background of the maritime and sea legends of the Great Lakes, The Old Mermaid's Tale weaves a romance - the story of Clair Wagner and the two men she loves: Pio, a handsome young fisherman and Baptiste, the mysterious Breton seafarer and musician she is fascinated by - that pays homage to the importance of stories in our lives.
First of all, as a Canadian, I'm intrigued by the setting of the Great Lakes, an area very well known to me. Its not often that the Canadian landscape makes an appearance in popular literature, so its interesting to see a place so close to home on the back of a book! I also love the idea of myths and "sea legends" included in the story. Not to mention, I'm a sucker for a romantic subplot.

This book will probably appear up on this blog sooner or later . In the meantime, if you've read it (or even if you haven't!) let me know what you think.

Wishlist Wednesday is hosted by Dani at Pen to Paper
Click here to read the summary on Goodreads
Click here to connect with the author, Kathleen Valentine

Saturday, October 1, 2011

The Soldier's Wife (Margaret Leroy, 2011)



The Heroine: Vivienne de la Mare, an housewife struggling to take care of her two daughters on the French island of Guernsey during the German Occupation, beginning in 1940. With her estranged husband off at war, Vivienne finds herself falling in love with a German soldier living next door. Shy, thoughtful, dreamy and wistful for love, Vivienne is caught in a moral dilemma: how can she love a man responsible for the death and destruction that surrounds her on her dear island?

The Highs: The description in this book is reminiscent of Madame Bovary: colourful details, metaphors and beautiful prose paint a picture of the Guernsey flora and fauna, the domestic details of life in the 1940s and vintage clothing that appeals to all five senses. Elegantly written, the story flows naturally and organically. To add to the whimsical appeal to the book, the author uses the fairy tales Vivienne reads to her younger daughter to reflect on the events in their lives, an adorable use of fore-shadowing.

I also love the character of Vivienne herself. Her inner conflicts are really the main focus of the story, not her love affair. She displays amazing bravery in a way that is believable for her characters and is so admirable as both a woman and a mother. Forced to juggle to roles of nurturer, protector and provider (so much like the modern woman), Vivienne navigates her choices with an inspiring amount of capability.

All the characters in this story are very interesting, well-written and thoroughly developed: Vivienne's young daughter Millie, precocious and still living in a world of make-believe; Vivienne's teenage daughter Blanche, yearning for a glamourous life in London; and Evelyn, Vivienne's mother-in-law who is balancing on the edge of sanity. This is predominantly a book about women and relationships between women. The author manages to make each character distinctly real and creates a domestic world that makes it all believable.

The Lows: There are parts of the story where I longed for more detail, such as on the intricacies of surviving winter with little food and resources. I think, by holding back the details, the author made life during the Occupation seem easier than it probably was. I'm a stickler for historical fact, so I drink up these sort of things.

I also wish the hero, Gunther, was more appealing. While I can understand why Vivienne would be interested in him, I didn't feel that there was enough sexual tension to make their attraction seem truly real. I think that their affair would have made more sense (considering the risk Vivienne was taking by being with him) if Gunther seemed more irresistible.

Final Thoughts: I'm longing for a sea view off the coast of France, a pair of silk stocking and a cup of coffee in my back garden after reading this. The Soldier's Wife is a gorgeous book that I enjoyed reading.

Rating: The Soldier's Wife earns seven floral teacups out of ten. Vive la France!

Buy "The Soldier's Wife" on Amazon here
Connect with author Margaret Leroy here
Photo from here


The Versatile Blogger Award!


Big thanks go out to Lindsay from The Little Reader Library for choosing Books Are My Heroine to send this  lovely feel-good award. I'm so grateful that you enjoy reading my thoughts on books, Lindsay, and to all my other followers. Thanks, guys!

About the Versatile Blogger Award: 

There are three rules:
1. Thank and link back to the person who gave the award to you.
2. Share 7 things about yourself.
3. Send it along to 15 other bloggers and let them know you have awarded them!

So...Seven Things About Me

1. I dream of visiting each continent at least once (three so far, only four more to go!)
2. I am currently in my second year of my Art History/English Lit degree
3. My guilty pleasure is fashion magazines and drugstore Harlequin romances
4. My favourite nail shade is OPI's Affair in Red Square
5. I don't think a girl can ever have too many shoes
6. I love to write as well as read: I have completed one novel and I'm almost done my second attempt
7. If I wasn't blogging about books, I would definitely be writing a make-up blog

And, finally, those other bloggers I want to recognize!


These are the blogs I follow regularily. If I think of others to make up fifteen, I'll post them in the comments area below. I love all my readers! Thanks to all of you for making my blogging experience so wonderful!



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