Book Review No. 2
Oh Em Gee you guys. I am SO excited to talk about these three books today because I loved every single one SOOOO much! Like I wanted to do a review before I even finished the third book bc I just wanted to share the book love so badly. Summer is when we all try to squeeze in more reading -- the days are longer, we go on vacation, we travel -- and I highly recommend adding these three reads to your summer reading list. I'm going to start giving letter grades to each individual book, as well as a recommendation. This time I kinda feel like I'm cheating because each one gets an A haha!
Also, a little bit about my style of reviewing books. I like to give a brief plot synopsis to set the stage of the book without giving anything away. I really don't like when book reviews tell me everything that happens - why would I read it after I already know how the plot unfolds? So I'll share more of a book summary teaser and some personal thoughts on why each one resonated with me. Or why it didn't.
Now that we've established house rules, let's get to the good stuff!
The Perfume Collector
Have you ever played that game, maybe when you were little, about which sense you couldn't live without? It's a shitty game to begin with bc obviously we need all five but you know how we play these weird hypothetical games with ourselves. Anyhoo, The Perfume Collector made me value our sense of smell like I never have before. Specifically how it triggers memories and transports us back to another time and place.
This story uses scent as both an object (the literal perfume sold in a Parisian shop) and an idea (how it attaches us to a memory, person, or place). It switches points of view between Grace, a naive, newly married British girl living in London in the mid 1950s, and Eva, a scrappy teen thrown into the furnace of New York life in the 1920s. Early on in the plot you find out that they're somehow linked but you have to read the whole book to find out how.
Over the course of the story, the plot winds you through New York, London, Monte Carlo, and Paris, each place introducing people with different pasts and perspectives on the world. Grace is confronted with painful questions, wondering if she's really happy in her life or just going through the motions of what's expected of her. Eva is tortured (in the figurative sense), strong, frail, aloof, and totally unique. I loved how the characters contrasted with one another while each presented similar ideas to the reader about life, our expectations of it, and of ourselves. And I LOVED all the beautiful ways in which the author, Kathleen Tessaro, used scent to fill in the faded corners of memories in her two female characters.
Oh my heavens, I loved every page of this charmer of a book. Southern Solstice follows heartbroken Larken Devereaux back to her hometown of Charleston after getting dumped by her fiancé in Seattle. On one hand, she gets to come back to her big family home on the Battery and the easy life her family's money affords her. On the other hand, she doesn't want the same things out of life that her meddling mama, Bunny, does and she's always having to stand her own ground to stand up to Bunny. She's got a good ally in her grandmother, Lil, and the two of them together just warmed my heart and made me think of my own special bond I have with my grandmother.
Okay SO! I love how amazingly well Sarah Sadler paints the picture of Charleston life. I lived there for six years and just kept saying 'OMG yes that's exactly right' about so many things. And I loved reading about the high life of southern aristocrats. Even if it's not your cup of tea, it IS fun to dream about.
But the thing that makes this one really FUN to read is the romance. Larken is torn between two men: the hot family friend she grew up with and shared a brief fling with when she was growing up; and, the rugged outdoorsy doctor who doesn't live life remotely like her wealthy family does. Let me put it this way: if you loved the whole 'Team Edward vs. Team Jacob' thing from Twilight, you'll love trying to decide who you want Larken to end up with. I was really torn until almost the very end and then I knew without a doubt. Also, Sarah Sadler writes a birthing scene that brought me to tears for how real it was. I knew she was a mom when I read it because it was so authentic and emotionally charged.
Recommended? Hell yes!
Y'all know I love me some historical fiction. Usually I read stories inspired by the British monarchy but ever since I watched the TV show Versailles I've been wanting to read more about Louis XIV's reign, particularly his relationships with his famous mistresses. And more about the opulence of his court and court life. I have to say, I don't think today's club/party culture can touch what they were doing in 17th century France. All night ragers, drinking, debauchery, and somehow you were expected to wake up and be polished and presentable in front of the king the next day??? It's not like they had yoga pants, Netflix, and cheeseburgers. They were wearing freaking corsets hungover AF!
Anyways, let's get to the book. The plot revolves around three plot points: the development of Louis and Louise's love; the tension between Louis and his minister Nicholas; and the mystery of the man in the iron mask. All the characters are wonderfully fun, from the vivacious Henriette, to the emotionally volatile Philippe, to the impertinent Guy and his sister, Catherine de Monaco. It takes place at the palace of Fontainebleau and paints a portrait of French court life that just blows my mind.
You should know going in that the narrative switches POV all the time, even within chapters. One minute you'll be reading the story through the eyes of Louis XIV himself, then it'll switch to his first famous mistress, Louise de la Vallière, then to his minister, then to Queen Anne, and so forth. I like that because I love knowing each character's thoughts, and in this case it proves really helpful because the plot is like one big chess game of moves and counter moves between the characters. Like the title implies, this book talks about Louis XIV before he really centralized power around the monarchy. France had been through a series of civil and religious wars that empowered power-hungry opportunists to disrespect the throne more than I realized. I love how the author, Karleen Koen, writes Louis XIV's character as the boy inside him is slowly replaced by the authoritative monarch.
Recommend: Yes, it's so fun and kind of soapy
I've already picked out the next few books I plan to read. They are: Southernmost (also by Sarah Sadler); Limelight; Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo; and, Where'd You Go, Bernadette?
Let me know of any must-reads you think I should pick up!