Tuesday, March 12, 2019

American Duchess by Karen Harper (TLC Book Tour)

Consuelo Vanderbilt is a beautiful young girl in love during the springtime of her life.  But her strong-willed mother, Alva, does not want Consuelo to marry her true love and has her sights set much higher.  Alva has decided Consuelo must marry to build her family’s prestige using their wealth to entice a titled suitor.  Alva takes Consuelo on a European tour and Consuelo meets the Duke of Marlborough, the only non-royal in England to own a palace.  Consuelo is horrified to discover that her mother has set her sights on making Consuelo the future Duchess of Marlborough.  How will she survive marrying a man she doesn’t love?

American Duchess is told from a first-person point of view as Consuelo navigates her life.  It tells her story from a teen through her life as an older woman.  She had quite the adventure as a Duchess and a lifetime goal of helping others.  She was a loving mother and really wanted to find true love in her life.  She also worked on repairing the difficult relationship she had with her mother.  I also was very intrigued with her friendship with her husband’s cousin, Winston Churchill.

My favorite part of the novel was the end of the novel as Consuelo and her second husband Jacques escape from France as the Nazis invade.  It was a harrowing and fast paced read.  I enjoyed this novel, but I did kind of wish the rest of the novel would have been written with this intensity.  With so much packed into this book, sometimes the focus was lost.  In particular with Consuelo and the Duke’s relationship.  The difficulties between the two were not that pronounced in this novel.

I also thought the first chapter did an excellent job of pulling the reader into the story with Consuelo breaking down and being forced into her marriage with the Duke. She was in a horrible situation.

The end of the novel also has a section about the author, the inspiration and sources for the book, and a reading discussion guide.  I always enjoy this additional information, especially for a historical fiction novel.

I am a giant fan of Downton Abbey.  This book really reminded me of that series, Consuelo would have been a contemporary of Cora from Downton Abbey.  I also love the novel The Buccaneers by Edith Wharton and I loved that Wharton is a character in this novel.

Favorite Quotes:
 “’I like the sighing sound of the wind in the big trees here,’ he said, and I realized that was the most romantic, poetic thing he had ever said to me.”

Overall, American Duchess tells the story of a remarkable woman, Consuelo Vanderbilt, and her life journey through intriguing times in our history.
Book Source:  Review Copy from William Morrow Books for being a part of the TLC Book Tour.  Thank-you!  For more stops on this tour, please check out this link.

About American Duchess

• Hardcover: 368 pages • Publisher: William Morrow (February 26, 2019) Before there was Meghan Markle, there was Consuelo Vanderbilt, the original American Duchess. Perfect for readers of Jennifer Robson and lovers of Downton Abbey. Karen Harper tells the tale of Consuelo Vanderbilt, her “The Wedding of the Century” to the Duke of Marlborough, and her quest to find meaning behind “the glitter and the gold.” On a cold November day in 1895, a carriage approaches St Thomas Episcopal Church on New York City’s Fifth Avenue. Massive crowds surge forward, awaiting their glimpse of heiress Consuelo Vanderbilt. Just 18, the beautiful bride has not only arrived late, but in tears, yet her marriage to the aloof Duke of Marlborough proceeds. Bullied into the wedding by her indomitable mother, Alva, Consuelo loves another. But a deal was made, trading some of the vast Vanderbilt wealth for a title and prestige, and Consuelo, bred to obey, realizes she must make the best of things. At Blenheim Palace, Consuelo is confronted with an overwhelming list of duties, including producing an “heir and a spare,” but her relationship with the duke quickly disintegrates. Consuelo finds an inner strength, charming everyone from debutantes to diplomats including Winston Churchill, as she fights for women’s suffrage. And when she takes a scandalous leap, can she hope to attain love at last…? From the dawning of the opulent Gilded Age, to the battles of the Second World War, American Duchess is a riveting tale of one woman’s quest to attain independence—at any price.

Purchase Links

HarperCollins | Amazon | Barnes & Noble

About Karen Harper

New York Times and USA Today bestselling author KAREN HARPER is a former Ohio State University instructor and high school English teacher. Published since 1982, she writes contemporary suspense and historical novels about real British women. Two of her recent Tudor-era books were bestsellers in the UK and Russia. Harper won the Mary Higgins Clark Award for Dark Angel, and her novel Shattered Secrets was judged one of the best books of the year by Suspense Magazine. Find out more about Karen at her website, and connect with her on Facebook.

In Pieces by Sally Field

Title: In Pieces
Author: Sally Field
Read by:  Sally Field
Publisher: Hachette Audio
Length: Approximately 10 hours and 41 minutes
Source: Purchased from Amazon.com

Sally Field’s memoir is a heartfelt look at her life and the people who helped to shape it.  This memoir is personal and very well written by Field herself.  I’ve read other ghost-written celebrity memoirs that are more about making the celebrity look important.  She brings up a lot of painful memories and it feels very honest.

Sally was born to a veteran father with whom she had a distant relationship after her parent’s divorce and a beautiful showbiz mother.  The memoir describes the history of her mother’s family and her childhood in a home with her mother, grandma, great-grandma, and aunt and how that shaped her.  Her mother Margaret remarried to legendary showbiz stuntman Jock Mahoney.  Unfortunately, Jock spent Sally’s childhood grooming her and abusing her.  It was heartbreaking to learn about. 

Sally discovered that acting was her forte during drama club at school.  She soon was the star of the Gidget TV series and then the Flying Nun.  She didn’t want to take the Flying Nun job, but Jock told her she may never work again if she didn’t take it so she did and hated it along the way.  Sally worked toward becoming a better actress by attending the actor’s studio and working to get better parts.  It was hard to get good roles as all anyone saw her as was the Flying Nun.  I have never seen the Flying Nun myself, but it seems like whenever you say “Sally Field” to anyone in my mother’s generation, they automatically say “the Flying Nun.”

During her career as a young actress Sally marries and becomes a mother and continues trying to get ahead while always afraid of failure and running out of money as she witnessed with her mother and Jock during her youth.  Poignant to me was when Sally would be working all day and she would have her mother take care of the kids while her husband did nothing, and she would still have to come home and do dishes and chores.  I can see why that marriage failed!!

As the novel reached its conclusion, it was a heart felt ending where Field and her mother are able to talk through events from the past including her abuse by Jock.  I’ll admit I had tears in my eyes at this point.  This last part of the memoir really made me realize that was what the book was all about.  Field’s difficult relationship with her mother and how her youth impacted her life and decisions.  I was glad she was able to have that conversation with her mother.

I was sad that the book had a great introspective look at the early years of Field’s life, but I was said that it glossed over 1980 to present day in what felt like a chapter.  I did love learning about her role as Mary Lincoln, but I wanted to learn more!  I especially wanted more on her relationship with Burt Reynolds.

In Pieces is the Kewaunee Library Book Club pick for March.  It should be interesting to talk about. 

Sally Field is a wonder narrating her own story.  It feels like a personal conversation with the author.  It was a wonderful audiobook to listen to.

Overall, In Pieces is a heartfelt, interesting memoir about a famous actress, but really about family relationships.

Wednesday, March 6, 2019

The Last Romantics by Tara Conklin (TLC Book Tour)

The Last Romantics is a beautifully written family drama novel.  Fiona is a 102-year-old author living in a future dystopian world.  At a speaking session, an audience member asks her about the Luna of her famous poem and where it came from.  Fiona goes into her history growing up to tell the story of Luna.

Fiona was the youngest of four children born in 1977.  After her father passes away suddenly in 1981, the family is thrown into chaos. Their mother, Noni, sinks into a deep depression that lasts three years, called “the pause” by the family in the future.  Oldest daughter Renee tries to keep the family together with the help of the second oldest daughter, Caroline.  Their brother Joe finds solace in playing baseball while youngest Fiona runs feral.  The lasting impressions from this period of their life follow all four siblings as they grow older.  The book explores their relationships and their exploration of love through their lives, all while searching for the answer to the question, “Who was Luna?”

I enjoyed the journey of this novel and looked forward to picking it up each night to continue the absorbing story.  I think I was even more enthralled with the story as I was born in 1978 as the oldest of four children, also three girls and a boy.  The timeline of their lives and the period of history that they lived through was very relatable.  As an environmental engineer, I also loved Fiona’s work for the environment and to the future dystopia being at least in part because of our disregard to the environment.  It was very believable future world.

My only negative of this novel was the you didn’t really know Joe.  The sisters all had their own stories and point of view, but Joe never did.  Joe was a golden boy who had too much of a burden placed on him in his youth and he flamed out as an adult.  I understood it and really enjoyed the story, but I also felt like I hadn’t really connected with Joe as I did with all the other characters.  This probably was on purpose as he was always untouchable and not quite understood.

I had a lot of favorite quotes in the book.  It was a beautifully written book exploring love.  Family love, parental love, and romantic love.

Favorite Quotes:
 “It’s possible to exist under any number of illusions, to believe so thoroughly in the presence of things you cannot see – safety, God, love – that you impose upon them physical shapes.  A bed, a cross, a husband.”

“Back then I was a romantic.  I didn’t understand that there’s no stopping betrayal. If you live long enough and well enough to know love, its various permutations and shades, you will falter.”

“I will tell you this. The love of your life is always the one you have betrayed the most.  The love that defines you is the one upon whom you once turned your back.”

“I believe now that certain events are inevitable.  Not in a fateful way, for I have never had faith in anything but myself, but int eh way of human nature.  Some people will choose, again and again, to destroy what it is they value most.”

“We believe in love because we want to believe in it.  Because really what else is there, amid all of our glorious follies and urges and weaknesses and stumbles? The magic, the hope the gorgeous idea of it.  Because when the lights go out and we sit waiting in the dark what do our fingers see?  Who do we reach for?”

Overall, The Last Romantics it was a beautifully written book exploring the many dimensions of love.  It is a great family drama and I loved learning the answer to the mystery as it slowly unfolded through the novel.
Book Source:  Review Copy from William Morrow Books for being a part of the TLC Book Tour.  Thank-you!  For more stops on this tour, check out this link

About The Last Romantics

• Hardcover: 368 pages • Publisher: William Morrow (February 5, 2019) “Tara Conklin is a generous writer who deftly brings us into the world of this fictional family, an engrossing and vivid place where I was happy to stay. The Last Romantics is a richly observed novel, both ambitious and welcoming.” -- Meg Wolitzer The New York Times bestselling author of The House Girl explores the lives of four siblings in this ambitious and absorbing novel in the vein of Commonwealth and The Interestings. “The greatest works of poetry, what makes each of us a poet, are the stories we tell about ourselves. We create them out of family and blood and friends and love and hate and what we’ve read and watched and witnessed. Longing and regret, illness, broken bones, broken hearts, achievements, money won and lost, palm readings and visions. We tell these stories until we believe them.”

When the renowned poet Fiona Skinner is asked about the inspiration behind her iconic work, The Love Poem, she tells her audience a story about her family and a betrayal that reverberates through time. It begins in a big yellow house with a funeral, an iron poker, and a brief variation forever known as the Pause: a free and feral summer in a middle-class Connecticut town. Caught between the predictable life they once led and an uncertain future that stretches before them, the Skinner siblings—fierce Renee, sensitive Caroline, golden boy Joe and watchful Fiona—emerge from the Pause staunchly loyal and deeply connected.  Two decades later, the siblings find themselves once again confronted with a family crisis that tests the strength of these bonds and forces them to question the life choices they’ve made and ask what, exactly, they will do for love.

A sweeping yet intimate epic about one American family, The Last Romantics is an unforgettable exploration of the ties that bind us together, the responsibilities we embrace and the duties we resent, and how we can lose—and sometimes rescue—the ones we love. A novel that pierces the heart and lingers in the mind, it is also a beautiful meditation on the power of stories—how they navigate us through difficult times, help us understand the past, and point the way toward our future. Social Media Please use the hashtag #thelastromantics and tag @williammorrowbooks, @taraconklinauthor, and @tlcbooktours.

Purchase Links

HarperCollins | Amazon | Barnes & Noble

Photo by Mary Grace Long

About Tara Conklin

Tara Conklin has worked as a litigator in the New York and London offices of a corporate law firm but now devotes her time to writing fiction. She received a BA in history from Yale University, a JD from New York University School of Law, and a Master of Arts in Law and Diplomacy from the Fletcher School at Tufts University. Born in St. Croix, she grew up in Massachusetts and now lives with her family in Seattle, Washington. Find out more about Tara at her website, and connect with her on FacebookTwitter, and Instagram.