Friday, January 18, 2019

The Gown by Jennifer Robson (TLC Book Tour Review and GIVEAWAY!)


The Gown was a delightful book that I literally couldn’t put down.  I was so engrossed in the story, I had a hard time going to bed at night as I just wanted to keep reading it.  I thought I would enjoy the book from its premise, but Probst wrote a gripping story with intriguing characters that kept me riveted.

The Gown has three viewpoints and takes place in two different time periods.  The novel opens in post WWII London in 1947.  Times are still rough with English citizens still being rationed for clothing and food as they try to rebuild from the upheaval of war.  Ann Hughes has lost her family in the war and her one remaining relative, her sister-in-law, decides to emigrate to Canada.  Ann is left alone, but adores her job working for top British designer, Norman Hartnell as a skilled embroiderer.  Hartnell is the designer for the queen of England herself.  Ann is more than a little excited when Hartnell is selected to be the designer for Princess Elizabeth’s wedding gown. 

Miriam Dassin has moved to England from France trying to put the horrors of war behind her.  What did Miriam and her family have to endure?  Miriam becomes friends with Ann and brings her artistic skills to life.

Heather Mackenzie lives in Toronto in 2016.  Her beloved grandmother has just passed away and she is trying to figure out why she left a box of people embroidery that matches Queen Elizabeth II’s wedding dress to her.  As Heather digs into her grandmother’s life, will she find what she is looking for?

I love Ann, Miriam, and Heather’s viewpoints.  I was partial to the viewpoints set in the past, but I enjoyed Heather’s as well as she ties up the story of what happened to Ann and Miriam in the future.  I enjoyed that the novel put the spotlight on the regular women who worked on a wedding dress that was seen all over the world.  I’ll admit that I love reading and watching royal weddings, so this book was right up my ally.  I’ll also admit that I’ve never really thought about all the work that goes into making the beautiful wedding gowns.

For historical fiction, I really liked how this book focused on 1947 and highlighted how times were still tough in Britain.  I’ve always just assumed things were okay as they were in the US, but it makes sense that in a country that had been bombarded for years that it would take a while to rebuild.

Favorite Quotes:
“The peony lived on in her memory.  She could see it so clearly, its petals glowing and bright and perfect.  Unchanged.  Whole and alive.”

“She had said good-buy to her Nan, without really knowing what she was doing, for there was so much to tell her, still, and now she would never get the chance.  She had never once imagined it would be good-bye.”

“She did not, and you were the one who saw the ray of light peeking through, and you were the one to open the door.  It is past time that she, along with all of us who made the gown, be recognized for our work.”

Overall, The Gown is not to miss historical fiction in 2019 with great characters, story, and setting!
Book Source:  Review Copy from William Morrow.  Thanks!

For more reviews, check out the TLC Book Tours Schedule located at this link.

About The Gown

• Hardcover: 400 pages • Publisher: William Morrow (December 31, 2018) The Gown is marvelous and moving, a vivid portrait of female self-reliance in a world racked by the cost of war.”--Kate Quinn, New York Times bestselling author of The Alice Network From the internationally bestselling author of Somewhere in France comes an enthralling historical novel about one of the most famous wedding dresses of the twentieth century—Queen Elizabeth’s wedding gown—and the fascinating women who made it. “Millions will welcome this joyous event as a flash of color on the long road we have to travel.” —Sir Winston Churchill on the news of Princess Elizabeth’s forthcoming wedding London, 1947: Besieged by the harshest winter in living memory, burdened by onerous shortages and rationing, the people of postwar Britain are enduring lives of quiet desperation despite their nation’s recent victory. Among them are Ann Hughes and Miriam Dassin, embroiderers at the famed Mayfair fashion house of Norman Hartnell. Together they forge an unlikely friendship, but their nascent hopes for a brighter future are tested when they are chosen for a once-in-a-lifetime honor: taking part in the creation of Princess Elizabeth’s wedding gown. Toronto, 2016: More than half a century later, Heather Mackenzie seeks to unravel the mystery of a set of embroidered flowers, a legacy from her late grandmother. How did her beloved Nan, a woman who never spoke of her old life in Britain, come to possess the priceless embroideries that so closely resemble the motifs on the stunning gown worn by Queen Elizabeth II at her wedding almost seventy years before? And what was her Nan’s connection to the celebrated textile artist and holocaust survivor Miriam Dassin? With The Gown, Jennifer Robson takes us inside the workrooms where one of the most famous wedding gowns in history was created. Balancing behind-the-scenes details with a sweeping portrait of a society left reeling by the calamitous costs of victory, she introduces readers to three unforgettable heroines, their points of view alternating and intersecting throughout its pages, whose lives are woven together by the pain of survival, the bonds of friendship, and the redemptive power of love..

Purchase Links

HarperCollins | Amazon | Barnes & Noble

Photo by Natalie Brown/Tangerine Photo

About Jennifer Robson

Jennifer Robson is the USA Today and #1 Toronto Globe & Mail bestselling author of Somewhere in France, After the War is Over and Moonlight Over Paris. She holds a doctorate from Saint Antony’s College, University of Oxford. She lives in Toronto with her husband and young children. Find out more about Jennifer at her website, and connect with her on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.

 GIVEAWAY

One lucky winner has a chance to win a copy of the Advance Reader's Edition of The Gown By Jennifer Robson. I accidentally received two to review so I figured I would give the extra copy away! If you would like to win this book, please leave a comment on what interests you about this book. Do you have a favorite designer or royal wedding gown??
 
As part of your comment, you must include an email address. If I can't find a way to contact you I will draw another winner.

For an additional entry, blog about this giveaway or post it on your sidebar. Provide a link to this post in your comment.

I will be using random.org (or a Monte Carlo simulation in excel) to pick the winners from the comments.

This contest is only open to addresses in the United States.

The deadline for entry is midnight on Friday January 25th!

Please make sure to check the week of January 28th to see if you are a winner. I send emails to the winner, but lately I've been put in their "junk mail" folder instead of their inbox.

Good luck!

2019 Historical Fiction Reading Challenge

I'm once again joining the Historical Fiction Reading Challenge.  Historical Fiction is my favorite genre.  I love to share reviews and read the reviews of others that participate in the challenge.  This year I am aiming for a "Medieval" history level of 15 books.

Thursday, January 3, 2019

2018 Christmas Book Roundup



I’ve read several Christmas books the last couple of weeks, but with the business of the holidays, I’ve gotten behind on my blog.  I thought I would write a brief summary of the Christmas books to catch back up again! Otherwise it seems too daunting of a taste to catch up!

Christmas Camp by Karen Schaler
Haley has a rewarding career, but her entire life is based on work and trying to move ahead.  She needs to land another big account in order to become a partner.  She is not sure that she will land the account due to her lack of Christmas spirit compared to her competing co-worker.  Her boss helps her out by sending her to a Christmas camp.  Will Haley be able to find her Christmas spirit at the camp?
Ben runs the Christmas camp with the help of his architect son, Jeff.  Ben’s wife has passed away and the future of the Christmas camp is in jeopardy.  The purpose of the camp it to find your Christmas spirit and to relax without modern life taking you away from pure Christmas enjoyment.  What will the future hold for the Christmas camp?

I enjoyed this fun Christmas novel. Does it sound like a Hallmark movie?  It is getting made into a movie – but I didn’t look for it yet.  It was just like a Hallmark movie with an overworked female lead going out to the country and finding Christmas spirit and love.  I love Hallmark movies, so this worked for me.

Favorite Quotes:

“Sure, she had given up some things along the way to become one of the youngest vice presidents the company had every had – like a personal life vacations, and weekends -but she had never regretted it, and now she was finally getting everything she had worked so hard for:  a promotion to partner.”

“The library had opened up the whole world to her.  It was the one place where it didn’t matter how much money you had; you could travel anywhere, be anyone, and learn anything.  Books became her escape and the library, her happy place.”

“I feel like books are part of your history, your story, they help make you who you are so to just leave them behind doesn’t seem right somehow.”

Overall, Christmas Camp is a light hearted and fun story about rediscovering the spirit of Christmas.

Book Source:  Review Copy from William Morrow



A Holiday by Gaslight:  A Victorian Christmas Novella by Mimi Matthews
Sophie Appersett comes from a genteel family but has no dowry.  Her family has a grand country estate, but her father spends all the money the family has, including his daughter’s dowry to update the estate.  He has even updated the country estate with gaslight, which is no mean feat with the gas needing to be produced on the estate.  The family has gone to the London with its two daughters to secure husbands for them.  Ned Sharpe, a tradesman’s son who has grown rich, looks like a likely candidate.  He has been visiting Sophie and appears to be on the verge of asking her to marry him.  Sophie started the novella by turning him down for marriage before he even proposes.  Ned is stunned and not sure how to move forward, but he does decide to continue his Christmas trip to the Appersett estate.  Will Ned be able to open up to Sophie, so she can learn more about him?  Will Sophie and Ned find love for Christmas?

I really enjoyed this novella and read it quickly.  I love Victorian Christmas romances.  The traditions and the protocol of the time period are so interesting.  I loved the romance in this novel.  It reminded me a lot of the novel North and South by Elizabeth Gaskell and I was pleased to see at the end that the author noted that this was intentional.  

Favorite Quotes:
“But if I loved and lost, I believe I would feel it rather keenly.”

“I’d rather you stood at my side than in my shadow.

Overall, I highly recommend a Holiday by Gaslight.  It is an enjoyable romance set during the Victorian period and is great for fans of North and South by Elizabeth Gaskell.

Book Source:  Kindle Version Purchased from Amazon.com


Christmas with Anne and Other Holiday Stories by L.M. Montgomery
I love author L.M. Montgomery.  Back in the 1990s, I read all her novels and then eagerly awaited each short story collection that was released.  Christmas with Anne was the last collection I believe.  Editor Rea Wilmshurst tells in the introduction how she came across a scrapbook of short stories at L.M. Montgomery’s birthplace and then started to put the stories together in collections.  Most of the stories in Christmas with Anne are short stories that Montgomery published through the years, but also two of my favorite Anne Shirley Christmases, the Christmas where she receives the dress with puffed sleeves from Matthew and the Christmas where she invites Katherine Brooks back to Green Gables.  I enjoyed reading these favorite chapters from the Anne of Green Gables series again, but I also enjoyed the other stories.  Most of the stories have a message, but it a subtle one or a strong one.  I loved the stories where families were able to resolve differences at the holidays or when people discovered the true power of selfless giving.

Overall, Christmas with Anne and Other Holiday Stories by L.M. Montgomery is the perfect mix of holiday stories that value the true spirit of the season.  I saved this book to read for Christmas day!  

This is the only hard copy Montgomery book I have, and it even has a ribbon bookmark in it.  I need to update other copies of her books with hardcovers.

Book Source:  I purchased this from a B. Dalton in the mall in Battle Creek Michigan approximately 23 years ago.



His Promise by Shelley Shepard Gray
His Promise is an Amish romance story set during the Christmas season.  Grace King is a young pet sitter.  She took a job sitting a rascally dachshund for Christmas which she accepted before she unfortunately found out her family is leaving to visit other family out of state for the holiday season.
Grace runs into John Michael Miller, neighbor to her employer, and her sister’s ex-fiancĂ©e.  Grace has harbored feelings for John Michael Miller for years, but little does she know that the feels the same way which is why he called off the engagement.  Grace feels bewildered as she still feels the attraction but doesn’t want to spend any time with the man who broke her sister’s heart.   John Michael is a firefighter and feels especially protective of Grace with mysterious fires being set in the community.  Will Grace and John Michael find their way to each to each other and who is responsible for the mysterious fires?

His Promise is a nice light Christmas romance.  I enjoyed the mystery of the fires and robberies in the community. I also really enjoyed how Grace and John Michael helped an elderly member of the community who was suffering from dementia with no family to help. 

Favorite Quotes:

“He’d begun to realize he couldn’t control how people viewed him.  All he could control was the way he lived his life.”

“I’ve thought about others instead of myself, I took risks, I’ve made mistakes, and I’ve learned new things.”

Overall, His Promise was a good not only romance story, but a good story of growing up and learning how to think of others beside yourself.  I really liked the message.

Book Source.  Review Copy from William Morrow.  Thank-you!


Joy to the World:  How Christ’s Coming Changed Everything (and Still Does) by Scott Hahn
Joy to the World was an Advent gift from my church to each member of the congregation.  I saved my copy to read closer to Christmas.  I enjoyed Scott Hahn’s The Lamb’s Supper in the past as well as several of his talks.  This book goes through the Christmas narrative and explores all the major figures from Mary to the Magi.  

My favorite part of the book was the first chapter where Hahn has taken a trip to the Holy Land to explore Bethlehem and his teenage daughter is not happy.  That changes when she visits an orphanage and a light is turned on for her.  This is a life changing event for her and she discovers the power of helping others.

I enjoyed the rest of the book as well, but is it is a light read.  I will admit I was annoyed that certain items were told to be true in this book as they were Catholic tradition even though they are not in the Bible and have no historical record.  I wanted more in-depth coverage of why on those topics.

Overall, Joy to the World is a good book to contemplate the Christmas story and true meaning of Christmas.

Book Source:  A gift from Holy Rosary


A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens (Radio Spirits Version – Dramatized)
Title: A Christmas Carol
Author: Charles Dickens
Read by:  Orson Welles and Lionel Barrymore
Publisher: Radio Spirits, Inc.
Length: Approximately 55 minutes
Source: Purchased from Amazon.com

“Orson Welles' dramatic anthology series Mercury Theatre on the Air, infamous for its Halloween broadcast of The War of the Worlds, found a sponsor and became Campbell Playhouse in December 1938. The program continued to feature the charismatic and fiery Welles as both a host and an actor. The great Lionel Barrymore portrayed Ebenezer Scrooge in Campbell Playhouse's annual performance of A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens.”
  
The description above is from Amazon. I listened to this classic radio program on Christmas day while I was making dinner and vastly enjoyed it. My husband seemed to as well as did my Mom. It really went with the ambience of my classic house. I only wish I had it on an old radio rather than streaming on my phone hooked up to a speaker.

You can’t beat Orson Welles and Lionel Barrymore for narrators. They both have great, expressive voices that brought the story to life. Barrymore is perfect as Scrooge and Welles was the narrator. As the program is only fifty-five minutes, it is a highly abridged version of the story, but it does hit all the highlights. I loved the dramatic music that was part of the program and I also loved that the classic commercials for Campbells soups were left in. It was perfect.




Lady Osbaldestone and the Missing Christmas Carols by Stephanie Laurens
Title: Lady Osbaldestone and the Missing Christmas Carols
Author: Stephanie Laurens
Read by:  Helen Lloyd
Publisher: Blackstone Audio
Length: Approximately 6 hours and 52 minutes
Source: Purchased from Amazon.com

Lady Osbaldestone and the Missing Christmas Carols is book two of the delightful Lady Osbaldestone’s Christmas Chronicles.  As readers of the blog know, I love Christmas books and I especially love regency Christmas novels.  This book was perfect for me and it did not disappoint. 

Therese, Lady Osbaldestone, has her three young grandchildren to visit just before Christmas in her dower house in Little Mosely.  They are joined by their 14-year old cousin, Melissa, for the visit.  The children had a great time solving a local mystery the pervious year so Lady Osbaldestone searches for a mystery for this Christmas season.  They soon find it when they discover the book of Christmas carols is missing from the local parish.  Without it, there will be no Carol Service as they traditionally have each year as the handsome new organist, Richard Mortimer is an inspired organist, but can not play without sheet music.  Will they find the music in time? Who exactly is Richard Mortimer and what is he hiding from?

I thought this book was just as delightful as last years story.  I love the cozy mystery as well as the romance that sparks between a few different characters. The romance is light like a Jane Austen novel. The narrator, Helen Lloyd, has the perfect pleasant voice with a light English accent that brings the characters and story to life.  Her voice is Lady Osbaldestone to me.

Overall, Lady Osbaldestone and the Missing Christmas Carols is a wonderful Christmas regency romance with great characters, mystery, and story. 

I vastly enjoyed this radio version of A Christmas Carol and would like to explore listening to other classic radio programs. Does anyone have any suggestions?