Saturday, September 23, 2017

Book Review: Versailles

34227567Author: Catherine Pegard
Publication Date: September 12, 2017
Publisher: Vendome Press

Versailles is one of the most photographed places in the world. Yet masses of tourists make it virtually impossible to imagine the splendor of the palace as it existed from the time of Louis XIV, the Sun King, in the 17th century, until the fall of Napoleon III in 1870. Now, four talented photographers were granted unlimited access to Versailles when the château was closed to visitors, and their work allows privileged access not only to the private suites of Louis XV, the boudoirs of Marie-Antoinette and Madame de Pompadour, the celebrated Hall of Mirrors, the Royal Chapel, the charming Orangerie, and Marie Antoinette’s bucolic Hamlet, but also to mysterious chambers and hushed apartments never normally seen. Captions describe daily life at Versailles and the momentous events that have taken place there, all published in a sumptuous oversize format befitting its majestic subject.

The queen, who was distinctly bored by these dinners, had a podium for musicians installed.

At dawn on 6 October 1789, the famished crowd – furious with ‘the Austrian woman,’ and having waited all night in the rain – broke open the gate of the Princes’ Courtyard. When the queen found she could not open the door to the Antechamber of the Grand Couvert, which had quickly been bolted, she had to turn back to the king’s apartments, which gave her time to escape.

Only the king was allowed to sit in this carved and gilded walnut chair that recently became part of the Versailles collections. It was never used in his absence, and the other members of the council sat on the folding stools commissioned from the Foliot family.

The king was a man who concealed his thoughts: the Duc de Luynes described him as ‘impenetrable not only in his secrecy, but also very often in the movements of his soul.’ 

This beautiful, absolutely mesmerizing book was something very new and very different for me, but I feel like I have been missing out on a part of the book world and I will forever regret that it took me this long to find books like this one. This book is filled with incredibly detailed photographs that display the ambiance and luxuriousness that make up Versailles, the Sun King’s palace. I have always had a profound interest in Marie Antoinette, which I know is what led me to request this book in the first place. However, I was not expecting to be swept away in the pages of this marvelous find. I have never been to France, let alone the palace of Versailles, but by spending the few hours that I did reading and enjoying this book, I felt as if I were walking the mirrored halls and corridors myself.

At the bottom of each page, there is a detailed, historical description of each photograph. I learned so much history just from the few sentences that I read per page. I found myself pausing periodically to read and re-read each little snippet, hoping that I missed nothing. I was most of all mesmerized by the close up pictures of the embroideries and little trinkets that belonged to the royals. The photographs were so crystal clear that I was left in awe and astonishment when I realized they were not actually sitting before me. As I flipped through the pages, it was so hard for me to believe that this palace has been around for as long as it has. It all seemed so real and so modern, which I attributed to the quality and crispness of the images I saw before me. Anyone would appreciate the marvelousness that is this book – I cannot wait to read and view many more books just like this one. I will forever cherish its beauty and magnificence.

***A free copy of this book was provided to me by the publishers at Vendome Press in exchange for my honest review*** 

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Book Review: The Dazzling Heights

The Dazzling Heights (The Thousandth Floor #2)Author: Katharine McGee
Publication Date: August 29, 2017
Publisher: HarperCollins
Series: The Thousandth Floor #2

All that glitters is not gold.

New York City, 2118. Manhattan is home to a thousand-story supertower, a breathtaking marvel that touches the sky. But amid high-tech luxury and futuristic glamour, five teenagers are keeping dangerous secrets…

Leda is haunted by memories of what happened on the worst night of her life. She’ll do anything to make sure the truth stays hidden—even if it means trusting her enemy.

Watt just wants to put everything behind him…until Leda forces him to start hacking again. Will he do what it takes to be free of her for good?

When Rylin wins a scholarship to an upper-floor school, her life transforms overnight. But being there also means seeing the boy whose heart she broke, and who broke hers in return.

Avery is tormented by her love for the one person in the world she can never have. She’s desperate to be with him…no matter the cost.

And then there’s Calliope, the mysterious, bohemian beauty who arrives in New York determined to cause a stir. And she knows exactly where to begin.

But unbeknownst to them all, someone is watching their every move, someone with revenge in mind. After all, in a world of such dazzling heights, just one wrong step can mean a devastating fall.

“Even if nothing happens between you and Atlas, you aren’t really going to let that girl get away with trying to seduce him and steal from him, are you?”

I can’t take anyone for granted every again, she promised herself, except that she was already losing the people she cared about.

It made her feel surprisingly vindicated, proving that the only boy who’d ever rejected her wanted her after all. Finally. It was about damn time.

He needed a drink if he was going to keep getting further tangled in the Gordian knot of these highliers’ screwed-up lives. 

Like most second books in a series, this one let me down in more ways than one. We start with the usual cast of characters: Watt, Leda, Rylin, Avery, and Mariel. However, we have a new face on the scene, Miss Calliope Brown, who brings with her mystery, a little bit of drama, and intrigue. The drama in this book is at an all-time high, but this book lacked the intensity that the first one carried all the way through. I liked that a new character was brought onto the scene and let me say that she is worth the hype. I loved the fleshing out of Calliope’s character and the drama that she added in the lives of our friends. On the other hand, I disliked the relationship progression between Avery and Atlas. In fact, Atlas annoyed and frustrated me. He seemed a bit whiny and I grew to dislike him very quickly.

My biggest issues with this book was that it was predictable; I saw the end coming a mile away. McGee did not seem to add any more depth to any of these main characters. The angst that I felt in the first book between many of the characters was just not there this time around. The first book had a crazy, ridiculous ending that was totally unexpected, for me at least, and left me DYING to read the next book. The ending of this book was a bit of a letdown. Please don’t think that I hated the entire book because that is not so. Like I said, I loved Calliope’s character and I LOVED that McGee decided to incorporate another big city like New York City with a thousand floor tower. A short period of the book is spent in Dubai and I thought it was nice to see a short snippet of life in another city.

Monday, September 18, 2017

Book Review: A Study In Scarlet Women

A Study in Scarlet Women (Lady Sherlock, #1)Author: Sherry Thomas
Publication Date: October 18, 2016
Publisher: Berkley
Series: Lady Sherlock #1

With her inquisitive mind, Charlotte Holmes has never felt comfortable with the demureness expected of the fairer sex in upper class society. But even she never thought that she would become a social pariah, an outcast fending for herself on the mean streets of London.

When the city is struck by a trio of unexpected deaths and suspicion falls on her sister and her father, Charlotte is desperate to find the true culprits and clear the family name. She’ll have help from friends new and old—a kind-hearted widow, a police inspector, and a man who has long loved her.

But in the end, it will be up to Charlotte, under the assumed name Sherlock Holmes, to challenge society’s expectations and match wits against an unseen mastermind.

“Do not undervalue what you are ultimately worth because you are at a momentary disadvantage.” 

“Worrying about outcomes over which I have no control is punishing myself before the universe has decided whether I ought to be punished.”

“That the loss of a man, even if he had been the love of her life, was not the end of a woman's existence.” 

A gender bender Sherlock Holmes retelling? Sign me up! Everything that I love about literature is in this book: Victorian London, ladies in beautiful dresses, mystery and intrigue, and a heroine that defies the rules society has laid out for her. While this story is primarily a historical fiction novel, Sherry Thomas also weaves in some appealing romantic undertones as well. The writing is eloquent and the descriptions are so vivid that you might find yourself stopping to reflect over the beauty of the lines you have just read. Charlotte is just like the famed Sherlock Holmes with highly impressive deduction skills and odd social habits that makes her all the more endearing. In the opening pages, Charlotte Holmes does something quite scandalous that hooked me and kept me waiting around to see just how fleshed out her character would be.

The writing/narration was difficult to follow in the very beginning, but I quickly attributed that to plot/background building. This is the first book in the series, so a little bit of background is necessary in setting the stage for the brave Miss Charlotte “Sherlock” Homes. Charlotte is a bit of a snarky character and I absolutely adored seeing and reading her interactions with other characters. The dialogue and witty banter was the best part of this book, aside from seeing Charlotte defy the odds for women during this time period. The chapters moved quickly and the mystery was solid all the way through. I am surprised it has taken me a year to read this book, but the second in the series was just released and I am so anxious to read it next.

***A copy of this book was provided to me by the publishers at Berkley in exchange for an honest review***

Monday, September 4, 2017

Book Review: The Wardrobe Mistress

The Wardrobe Mistress: A Novel of Marie AntoinetteAuthor: Meghan Masterson
Publication Date: August 15, 2017
Publisher: St. Martin’s Griffin

It's Giselle Aubry's first time at court in Versailles. At sixteen, she is one of Marie Antoinette's newest undertirewomen, and in awe of the glamorous queen and her opulent palace life. A budding designer, it's a dream come true to work with the beautiful fabrics and jewels in the queen's wardrobe. But every few weeks she returns home to visit her family in the Parisian countryside where rumors of revolution are growing stronger.

From her position working in the royal household, Giselle is poised to see both sides of the revolutionary tensions erupting throughout Paris. When her uncle, a retired member of the secret du roi, a spy ring that worked for the old King, Louis XV, suggests that she casually report the Queen s actions back to him as a game, she leaps at the chance. Spying seems like an adventure and an exciting way to privately support the revolution taking the countryside by storm. She also enjoys using her insight from Versailles in lively debates with Leon Gauvain, the handsome and idealistic revolutionary who courts her.

But as the revolution continues to gain momentum, and Giselle grows closer to the Queen, becoming one of the few trusted servants, she finds herself dangerously torn. Violence is escalating; she must choose where her loyalty truly lies, or risk losing everything...maybe even her head.

The Wardrobe Mistress is Meghan Masterson's fascinating and visceral debut, not to be missed.

“I turn away from the smell of death, pressing my lavender scented handkerchief as tight as I can against my nose.” 

“There must be no repercussions to this,” says Marie Antoinette. Her quiet voice slides through the room like the whisper of a steel blade.” 

“I falter in the doorway, swept with memories of my reckless behavior last time I saw him. I sipped wine from a bottle. I kissed him. And as my pulse flutters with excitement, I know I would do it again, given the chance.” 

Ever since middle school, and discovering my love for history and all its wonder, I have been in love with anything referring to Marie Antoinette. This story paints an entirely different picture than the one that history has left us of the “let them eat cake” Queen of France. This story gives us a caring, loving woman who just wanted peace and unity amongst her people. The book follows Giselle, the newest wardrobe lady, for the Queen. Giselle is fascinated by learning more about the infamous Marie Antoinette and while others pour all their energy into hating her, Giselle is enamored by what seems to be a sad, lonely woman who just wants love and admiration. Giselle is surrounded by many people, some of her closest friends included, that are supporters of the revolution so she is often torn regarding the new King and Queen of France.

As much as I would have loved to have read the story from Marie Antoinette’s point of view, Giselle was a happy second. Her character was naïve at times, but quickly grew into a rather loveable dynamic character. She is surrounded by people who would have her think ill about the Queen, especially her uncle who has charged her with spying on the Queen. I loved the detail that Masterson gives readers about the revolution and how she covers important events like the storming of the Bastille. The action leapt off the page and I was glad that the fact was mixed with fiction. The best part of this book by far was the romantic relationship between Giselle and Leon – two young lovers with opposing political viewpoints. Such a beautifully written tale that took me no time at all to read!

***A free copy of this book was provided to me by the publishers at St. Martin’s Griffin in exchange for my honest review***