The Wardrobe Mistress: A Novel of Marie Antoinette: A Review

Giselle Aubry hopes that her position as undertirewomen to Marie Antoinette will help her achieve her dream of designing opulent dresses. The tedium of the day-to-day work of dressing the queen and maintaining her wardrobe is mitigated by living in Versailles while she works and being so close to the grandness and beauty of the palace.

Within the palace the nobles are aware of the growing unrest among France’s poor. But unlike the queen, most of them lack even the most basic sympathy or even understanding of the political unrest.

Ambitions aside, Giselle is eager for more adventure so she jumps at her uncle’s suggestion that she begin reporting on the queen’s movements. Working for her uncle, a retired spy from Louis XV’s secret du roi, Giselle thinks she has found a grand game. But she soon realizes that the stakes are higher than she could have imagined.

Torn between her growing affection and loyalty for the queen and her undeniable attraction to a young revolutionary, Giselle will have to make difficult choices to protect her heart . . . and maybe even her head in The Wardrobe Mistress: A Novel of Marie Antoinette (2017) by Meghan Masterson.

The Wardrobe Mistress is Masteron’s debut novel.

Through Giselle’s first person narration Masterson creates an evocative vision of revolutionary era France. Despite demonstrably thorough research to set the scene, The Wardrobe Mistress fails to fully immerse readers into the setting thanks to dialogue that, while stilted, fails to feel authentic.

With her position above the working class but beneath the nobility Giselle has the chance to have a uniquely nuanced view of the revolution as it unfolds. Unfortunately Giselle’s guileless narration still manages to frame many aspects of the story as a strict binary between good and bad. The story’s focus on Giselle also limits the scope of the plot and relegates many key moments (notably the Flight to Varennes) are related to readers in lengthy recounts between characters.

The Wardrobe Mistress is an entertaining introduction to this turbulent moment in history. Recommended for readers eager to try historical fiction for the first time or those interested in the time period who enjoy their history with a healthy dose of romance on the side.

Possible Pairings: Revolution by Jennifer Donnelly, A Place of Great Safety by Hilary Mantel, Madame Tussaud: A Novel of the French Revolution by Michelle Moran, The Witchfinder’s Sister by Beth Underdown

*An advance copy of this title was provided by the publisher for review consideration*

Painting Pepette: A Picture Book Review

Painting Pepette by Linda Ravin Lodding and Claire Fletcher Josette Bobette lives at #9 Rue Laffette, Paris with her family and her toy rabbit, Pepette. Josette loves Pepette dearly and takes her everywhere. One day when she and  are cuddling in the great room, she notices that every member of the Bobette family has a portrait hanging on the wall. Except that there is no portrait of Pepette!

Determined to fix this egregious omission, Josette and Pepette take to the streets of Paris to find an artist who can paint Pepette’s portrait and create a picture as special as she is in Painting Pepette (2016) by Linda Ravin Lodding, illustrated by Claire Fletcher.

Traveling through the busy streets of 1920s Paris, Josette and Pepette meet Pablo Picasso, Salvador Dali, Marc Chagall, and Henri Matisse. Each artist is eager to paint Pepette but Josette soon realizes that none of them quite capture everything that makes her rabbit so special (and Pepette has to agree). After a busy day and several portraits, Josette realizes that she is the best candidate to paint a portrait of Pepette and she finally finds a picture just as special as her special friend, Pepette.

Rhyming names and a repeated refrain (And Pepette had to agree) make this an excellent story time title with a lot of potential as a read-a-loud. Bold illustrations take advantage of the large page size alternating between detailed two-page spreads and closer shots of individual characters. Fletcher excellently conveys the individual styles and aesthetics of each artist that Josette encounters during her travels.

The famous artists are not mentioned by name in the story. Instead, each artists presents Josette with their portrait of Pepette which demonstrates their artistic style. An author’s note at the end of the book details exactly who Josette meets during her day too. The references to actual artists make Painting Pepette a versatile read sure to appeal to art enthusiasts both young and old.

Painting Pepette is a charming picture book filled with riotously colorful illustrations and naturally flowing text which easily moves readers through the story.

*An advance copy of this title was provided by the publisher for review consideration*

Two Summers: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

Two Summers by Aimee FriedmanAn unexpected phone call at the airport forces Summer Everett to make a split second decision. Should she answer the phone? Should she get on the plane?

One decision will lead to two very different outcomes as Summer’s choices play out in parallel worlds.

In one world Summer ignores the phone call and heads to France as planned for what should be a perfect trip. Summer is thrilled with the chance to catch up with her dad and get to see his portrait of her hanging in a fancy gallery–all while enjoying the beautiful French countryside.

In the other world Summer answers the phone and her plans are ruined. No trip to France. No time with Dad. Just three boring months off from school in her same old small town. She has the chance to take a photography class for the first time, but it’s hard to think of that as anything but a consolation prize.

Neither outcome is quite what Summer expects.

In France or her home town Summer will find unexpected surprises and growing pains, along with the promise of first love and self-discovery. Each vacation will also bring Summer closer to a shocking secret whose revelation will have lasting repercussions regardless of Summer’s initial choice. Some decisions might lead Summer to the same outcomes in both worlds, but it’s up to her to decide what shape her life will take from here in Two Summers (2016) by Aimee Friedman.

Two Summers gives readers the best of both worlds in this two-for-one story of one (or perhaps two) pivotal summers. 

Summer is a smart, authentic narrator who learns a lot in each plot whether its how to stand up for herself in France or how to appreciate her own artistic abilities in a photography class at home. Throughout the novel Summer also learns how to be alone and how to step out of her comfort zone. Sweet romances and well-developed characters round out this charming novel that brings the lazy heat and possibility of a long summer vacation to life.

Careful plotting allows readers to watch both timelines play out in “real” time with little nods to the dual narrative which help to bring a cohesive quality to the overall story. The idea of causality and that some outcomes are inevitable is another interesting thread throughout as Two Summers builds toward a satisfying conclusion for both plots. A great summery story and a delightful introduction to time travel and parallel worlds. Highly recommended.

Possible Pairings:  In Some Other Life by Jessica Brody, Parallel by Lauren Miller, Now That You’re Here by Amy K. Nichols, Just Like Fate by Cat Patrick and Suzanne Young, The Square Root of Summer by Harrier Reuter Hapgood, Thirteen Little Blue Envelopes by Maureen Johnson, The Shadow Society by Marie Rutkoski, Time Between Us by Tamara Ireland Stone, Pivot Point by Kasie West, Memoirs of a Teenage Amnesiac by Gabrielle Zevin

Be sure to enter my Two Summers giveaway too!

You can also check out my exclusive interview with Aimee!

*An advance copy of this title was acquired from the publisher for review consideration*

A Little in Love: A (Rapid Fire) Review

A Little in Love by Susan Fletcher (2015)

A Little in Love by Susan FletcherA Little in Love is a retelling of Les Miserables which focuses on Eponine’s story. In reading this book I discovered that, despite seeing the musical in college, I had retained very little of the story. Worse, I realized I had very little interest in reading a new retelling.

In retrospect this should have been obvious to me, but A Little in Love is not a fun story. One might even go as far as to say that it was, well, miserable. Eponine has a hard life which Fletcher aptly fleshes out in this story. Unfortunately, it just wasn’t enough to hold my attention.

The characters, particularly Eponine’s cruel parents, came across as thinly-drawn caricatures while the story lacked much forward momentum and demanded little investment from me as a reader. The writing also felt stilted with florid descriptions to no particular purpose.

I could see this appealing to fans of Hugo’s original novel or the musical. It would also work well for readers who enjoy reading sad stories. For me, however, this one largely missed the mark.

*An advance copy of this book was acquire from the publisher for review consideration at BEA 2015*

Exquisite Corpse: A (Blog Tour) Review

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Exquisite Corpse by Penelope BagieuZoe isn’t sure what she wants to do with her life except that she doesn’t want it to involve her lousy boyfriend and her totally unsatisfying job as a merchandise exhibitor at trade shows.

Zoe is frustrated by everything and everyone. At least until she meets the eccentric Thomas Rocher. Zoe doesn’t recognize him as a literary genius and (supposedly) deceased author.

Turns out dead authors can still get pretty great book deals–especially Thomas since his ex-wife Agathe is also his agent.

Zoe has a lot to learn about publishing but she also might teach Thomas and Agathe a thing or two in Exquisite Corpse (2015) by Pénélope Bagieu.

Exquisite Corpse was originally published in Bagieu’s native France in 2010. Now it is happily available in English translation.

Bagieu combines humorous scenes and snappy dialog in this laugh-out-loud comic adventure. Although many of Zoe’s problems are decidedly adult (lousy job, a boyfriend who wants sex while Zoe is busy fuming), her lack of direction and uncertainty about her future will feel universal to many readers.

With detailed characters and a plot ripe for follow-up, readers will also wonder Exquisite Corpse might only be the first act for Zoe, Thomas and Agathe.

Exquisite Corpse is filled with brightly colored panels and Bagieu’s clean-lined, sleek artwork that perfectly highlights the interplay between what is written and drawn on each page. Laugh-out-loud twists and a surprise ending make this graphic novel an enjoyable quick read sure to brighten a dull lunch hour or commute.

*An advance copy of this title was provided by the publisher for review consideration*

Faces of the Dead: A Review

Faces of the Dead by Suzanne WeynMarie-Therese Charlotte is the Child of France despite never setting foot outside the palace. As the daughter of Louis the XVI and Marie Antoinette, Marie-Therese lives a life of luxury and isolation save for her dear friend Ernestine.

When the two girls realize they are strikingly similar in appearance, Marie-Therese hatches a plan to see the real Paris once and for all. But what Marie-Therese sees outside the palace is a shock. People are hungry and angry at the royal family. There is talk of revolution everywhere. After befriending a boy she meets in Paris, Marie-Therese is no longer sure who is right or even what to believe.

But as revolution rages and the Terror cuts a bloody path through Paris, Marie-Therese will be forced into hiding while Ernestine holds the princess’ place as a captive. Taking refuge with Henri at a well-known wax exhibit, Marie-Therese will learn that she is not the only one in Paris with a secret. Even the wax figures themeselves may be hiding something in Faces of the Dead (2014) by Suzanne Weyn.

Weyn delivers a powerhouse novel with high appeal and lots of action in a slim and easy to read volume. Although Marie-Therese often comes across as immature and naive, it generally makes sense in the context of the story and her origins.

A supernatural twist with wax figures and historical characters add a fun layer to this story as Weyn draws out real details to fantastical conclusions. Although the romantic element here is not always the most convincing, Faces of the Dead remains a solid story that serves as a fine introduction to both voodoo and the French Revolution.

An author’s note at the end of the story separates fact from fiction and highlights the real figures from history who feature in the story for further reading options.

*A copy of this book was provided by the publisher for review consideration*

Isla and the Happily Ever After: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

Isla and the Happily Ever After by Stephanie PerkinsIsla Martin has had a hopeless, all-consuming crush on Josh Wassertein since their first year at the School of America in Paris. After years of pining, Isla has grown used to watching Josh from afar.

Then one magical, painkiller-fueled, chance encounter in New York the summer before their senior year changes everything.

After years of bad timing and missed connections, Josh and Isla are finally together. But with false-starts and near-misses aplenty, neither of them is sure this relationship is meant to last. Isla doesn’t understand how someone like Josh can ever feel as deeply for her as she does for him. Neither is sure how to deal with the growing pains and doubts that stem from their new, intense relationship.

With uncertain plans for college and the future looming,  Josh and Isla will have to learn to be apart before they have any chance of staying together in Isla and the Happily Ever After (2014) by Stephanie Perkins.

Isla and the Happily Ever After is the highly anticipated conclusion to Perkins’ loose trilogy that began with Anna and the French Kiss and continued with Lola and the Boy Next Door. These books function as perfect companions to each other but Isla’s story is very much her own and functions as a standalone. Readers who have followed these books from the start, however, will be pleased with cameos from all the obvious suspects toward the end of the novel.

While much of the story focuses on Isla and Josh’s fledgling relationship, Perkins also artfully explores changing friendships as well as the complexities relationships with sisters. Kurt, Isla’s best friend, is an especially wonderful addition to the story. Isla’s panic at facing her future both in terms of college and life beyond is authentic and well-handled throughout the story.

Although Josh and Isla are perfect together, Isla’s growth is happily a solo endeavor as she is forced to acknowledge her flaws as well as her strengths and wants. Isla (and Josh) are often foolish and make mistakes but they also both learn and begin to thrive because of them.

Perkins is a master when it comes to writing clever, swoony romances. Josh and Isla are perfect counterpoints to each other in this story about first love and growing up. Isla and the Happily Ever After is an apt conclusion for these characters and a perfect romance for anyone looking for a smile.

Possible Pairings: Girl Overboard by Justina Chen, Graffiti Moon by Cath Crowley, When It Happens by Susane Colasanti, Better Off Friends by Elizabeth Eulberg, King of the Screwups by K. L. Going, To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before by Jenny Han, Alice, I Think by Susan Juby, The Piper’s Son by Melina Marhcetta, Damaged by Amy Reed, Eleanor & Park by Rainbow Rowell, The Geography of You and Me by Jennifer E. Smith