July 23, 2010

Book Review: Madame de Stael the First Modern Woman by Francine du Plessix Gray, from Jennygirl

Please welcome another review from Jennygirl of Jenny Loves to Read. She writes that this book was a biography of Madame de Stael who was an important figure in society during the French Revolution.

Madame de Stael: The First Modern Woman
Author: Francine du Plessix Gray
Publisher: Atlas & Co. (October 9, 2008)
Genre: Biography
Jennygirl's Rating: 4/5

"A writer of scintillating style and resonant substance," (Publishers Weekly), bestselling author Francine du Plessix Gray chronicles the incandescent life of the most celebrated woman of letters of the Revolutionary and Napoleonic era.

The daughter of the second most important man in France, Louis XVI's Minister of Finances, Jacques Necker, Madame de Staël was born into a world of political and intellectual prominence. Later, she married Sweden's ambassador to the French court, and for a span of twenty years, she held the limelight as a political figure and prolific writer. Despite a plain appearance, she was notoriously seductive and enjoyed whirlwind affairs with some of the most influential men of her time. She always attracted controversy, and was demonized by Napoleon for her forthrightness, the sheer power of her intellect, and the progressiveness of her salon, which was a hotbed for the expression of liberal ideals. The emperor exiled her, on and off, for the last fifteen years of her life.

Madame de Staël—force of nature, exuberant idealist, and ultimate
enthusiast—waged a lifelong struggle against all that was tyrannical, cynical,or passionless in her time, and left a legacy of enlightened liberalism that radiated throughout Europe during the nineteenth century.

Truth be told I picked this book up based on it's cover. Yes, I do judge books by their covers...sometimes. It is a biography, and I have never had any luck with these. This one however, was well written and to the point.

The author doesn't relate the entire early childhood. Just the parts necessary to the story, and her development as one of the greatest conversationalists of France. Madame de Stael had the most prominent salon in France. She entertained many prominent and important persons involved with the future of France, such as Tallyrand. de Stael was friends with those persons one needed to be friends with in the days of the revolution and the Terror. She also counted many royals and aristocrats among her friends. I guess you can say she straddled the political fence. de Stael was very involved in the politics of France, throughout her entire life actually, which includes the French Revolution to Napoleon's empire.

Madame de Stael's musings regarding the reasons behind the Terror, why and how it became so out of control, are very insightful. In my opinion, her arguments are logical and on point. Later, she goes toe to toe with Napoleon in her writings, and it's quite comical to read what he has to say about her.

I guess I was really taken with this book, because I had never heard of Madame de Stael, and apparently her writings were very influential during her tumultuous times. Is it because history is written by men, thus this great woman was left out? I haven't extensively studied the French Revolution or French history for that matter, however from what I read in this book, I can not believe I have never heard of de Stael before. Regardless of whether you agree with her tactics or views, it seems to me that de Stael truly loved her adopted France, and just wanted the best for her country and its people.

It should be noted, that her personal life was a quite a mess. The time and effort she put into French politics, could have been better spent on her family. However, due to her upbringing and other factors, this probably never occurred to her.

Overall, this book was a quick and easy read; it didn't read like a biography to me. I found the book and it's subject matter very fascinating. I would highly recommend this book. Madame de Stael was a fascinating women before her time, and she deserves her place in history.

I think I see some historical research in my future, with respect to women in history and the French Revolution.

Reprinted with permission from Jennygirl of Jenny Loves to Read. If you would like to submit a review, please click this link for further information.

July 18, 2010

Book Review: Captivity by Deborah Noyes

Welcome Lisa from Lit and Life

"Captivity" by Deborah Noyes
352 pages
Published June 2010 by Unbridled Books
Source: the publisher--thanks, Caitlin!

Kim, of Sophisticated Dorkiness, recently coined the term "non-fiction fiction" in a guest post on The 3 R's Blog. "Captivity" fits squarely into that term. In the mid-19th century, the Fox sisters of rural New York created a sensation when they claimed to be able to communicate with the dead. Noyes has taken those facts and written them into a work of fiction.

The book opens in 1848 when teenaged Maggie Fox and her younger sister, Kate, claim that rapping sounds in their house are the communications of a peddler who was murdered and buried in the house. Word quickly spreads and soon men are madly digging for the body in the basement and the family has had to remove themselves to a brother's farm. There they were soon surrounded by people camped all over the property. The girls' sister, Leah, certain that all of the uproar is merely a hoax, convinces their mother that the girls should be brought to Rochester. The thing is, the rappings continue no matter where they girls are living--it seems there are spirits living every where and Leah quickly decides that there is much to be gained by promoting the girls' "ability" to communicate with the dead. All of which leads to the founding of the American Spiritualist movement and makes the girls both famous and infamous. Maggie quickly begins to have mixed feelings about what's happening, no longer sure of what's real or if she wants to be a part of it all.

"And what's the difference, after all, between real and unreal when people react precisely the same way to either? Doesn't the Bible say somewhere, Ask and you'll receive? Well, Maggie's asking, and since this spirit game started, no one's told her no. Her whole life before the peddler was one agonizing no."

Clara Gill and her father have come to the United States following a scandal in England. Clara has become a recluse, a situation her father has been more than happy to encourage.

"She's spent her lifetime reining herself in, not for society's sake but for her own: she has a knack and a preference for revealing next to nothing about herself."

"Sometimes she feels she is nothing now but consciousness, unmoving in her chair, tracking the ever-changing light, the astonishing clouds flying past, the fat fly that circled and circled inside the shade of her reading lamp, knocking like a drunken fool at her thoughts She forgets she has a body, and when she remembers, grief rests like lead on her chest, in which her heart still beats in its old frame, stubborn as rain."

But when a woman trying to woo Mr. Gill convinces him to hire a couple of girls to help around the house, Maggie Fox comes into Clara's life. Maggie is desperate for someone to connect with and is willing to do whatever it takes to break through Clara's substantial shell. And Clara, who is fully aware of Maggie's notoriety, has her own reasons for allowing Maggie in to her life. As the book progresses, Clara is drawn more and more into her past, a time when she was young, an artist and in love. Together, the two women explore skepticism in all things.

Noyes deftly blends the fiction and the non-fiction, the story of Maggie and the story of Clara, the present time of the novel and Clara's past. It is a work that explores love, grief and faith with a shadow overhanging all things.

"Lyrical" is a word that appears in many of the reviews for this book. For good reason; Noyes writing is often poetic in its descriptions.

"Real death is not a parlor game but a flat heaviness that weights the limbs, that makes every step a struggle, every breath reproach and volition. It is mold on the morning firewood and a chill that won't go even when the hearth is banked to roaring, even when the familiar quilt is wound full round weighted legs and feet on a stool like a winding sheet. It is the bitterness of herbs in an undertaker's parlor and damp shoes by a hole in the ground and the absence of sunlight and emptiness beyond reckoning."

Noyes drew me in immediately and made me care about the characters, particularly Clara. I was compelled to read on to find out what had happened to her in England and what might become of her once Maggie came into her life. I promised Caitlin, at Unbridled Books, I'd review this book a while ago. And I wanted to--I mean that cover alone screamed "read me now." But I also knew that I wanted to make sure I had time with this book and I'm so glad I held off on reading it. It is every bit as beautiful and mysterious as that cover.

Thanks to Lisa for allowing us to republish this review here. Visit Lisa and read more of her book reviews at her website Lit and Life

July 12, 2010

Q&A: For the King with Catherine Delors by Christy English

Still ongoing at this site is the Giveaway of For The King, enter here.
And now for an interview of the author of For the King, Catherine Delors, submitted by Christy English:

Years after our revolution, the French had one of their own…the lovely and knowledgeable Catherine Delors has written two novels that bring post-Revolutionary Paris to vivid life. First there was Mistress of the Revolution, and now we are lucky enough to have a chance to read Catherine's latest novel, For the King.

Catherine has been kind enough to answer some questions for us about her novel and her process in writing it…

1. Catherine, thank you so much for being here today. Your first novel, Mistress of the Revolution, was set a few years before the events of your latest book, For the King. Is there any one thing that draws you back to this period of time again and again?

 While researching writing Mistress of the Revolution, I realized how important and relevant for us the French Revolution has remained, how many of the issues raised then are still current. I became familiar with the political moods, the ways of thinking of the times… And now I don't want to leave the late 18th century!

2. Your fabulous new novel literally begins with a bang. Before the explosion meant to murder Napoleon rocks Paris, you spend the first chapter introducing us to the people who are soon to die. The portraits of these people, so beautifully yet unsentimentally drawn, captured my mind and touched my heart. What was it like to write about the deaths of so many innocents?

Thanks for saying this, Christy, because those deaths, in their random cruelty, touched my heart as well. In the novel, the names, the occupations of the victims, their circumstances, are taken from real people. I was moved in particular by the story of Captain Platel and his landlady. Ordinary people, returning home from a Christmas Eve celebration with friends. It was important for me to remember the victims. History is as much about regular Parisians as Napoléon.

3. Your protagonist, Roch Miquel, is the quintessential outsider. Did you choose to emphasize his place outside the Parisian power structure by making him a man from the Auvergne? Did you have other reasons also for choosing the Auvergne as his home province?

 Oh, yes, there is an excellent reason: my father's family is from Auvergne, and I have a very strong connection to that remote and hauntingly beautiful province. Also in the late 18th century, and still much later, many in the Paris underclass came from Auvergne. They were despised, foreign-looking and foreign-sounding, generally despised, much like migrant workers nowadays. I wanted to pay homage to them, to their struggles, and hard-won successes.

4. I was struck by the beautifully written historical detail in your narrative. Reading For the King was like being set down in the center of post-Revolutionary Paris. The sights, the sounds, even the smells were vivid for me. How many years did it take you to research this novel? What were your methods?

 Thank you! There is simply no substitute for 18th century sources. Louis-Sébastien Mercier's Le Tableau de Paris and Le Nouveau Paris are irreplaceable. Also, Nicolas-Edme Restif de la Bretonne provides a wealth of details in his 400 (yes, 400 or so!) novels. I also read and reread the works of a modern French historian, Arlette Farge, which are based on police reports. Those provide a candid, direct glimpse at the everyday lives of the poorest in Paris.
5. The title, For the King, comes to mean more and more to the reader as the story goes on. How did you come up with the title? At any point in your work, did you think to call this book by another name?

 Many other names! I probably forgot a few, but some I liked very much. I thought of Nivose, the month of the Revolutionary calendar during which the attack took place. To me the name, inspired by the snows of winter, is very evocative. Probably less so to many American readers, though… Also I liked Painters and Assassins. As I followed the records of the investigation, I was struck by how many painters cropped up in the real story. And finally I settled with my editor on For the King. I find that coming up with the title is always the hardest part of writing a novel.

6. Each character in your novel lives and breathes, even if they are only in sight for a page or two. These characters, so well drawn, add deeply to the richness of the setting of the city of Paris itself. Did these people live in your mind as vividly as they live on the page?

They do! Some, like Pépin the street urchin, are purely fictional. Others are directly inspired by their depositions, taken by the police after the attack, and preserved in the French archives. Police depositions may sound like dry, uninspiring material. Far from it, in fact. As I read on, I could listen to the witnesses' voices, watch their facial expressions. This is particularly true of the deposition of Short Francis, with its mix of cunning and naivete.

7. Your novel begins with this quote from Napoleon: "From triumph to downfall, there is but one step. I have noted that, in the most momentous occasions, mere nothings have always decided the outcome of the greatest events."
For the King is populated by the "mere nothings," from Napoleon's quote. More than anything besides Roch Miquel's brains and courage, these "mere nothings" determine the events of the novel. Am I right in assuming that these smaller characters fascinated you as much as Roch Miquel himself?

 Quite right. So-called secondary characters deserve no less of the writer's attention than the protagonists. They are the ones who give depth and complexity to a novel. And, from a purely selfish standpoint, often they are more fun to write too.

8. In your heart, are you a Royalist, a Jacobin, or a follower of Napoleon? Or perhaps some combination of all three?

 None of the above. A reader of Mistress of the Revolution wrote me that she liked the novel because I didn't demonize anyone. I hope I managed the same here. I can sympathize with the followers of Louis XVIII, Robespierre and Napoléon alike. To me even the assassins are human.

9. For the King transported me to another time and place. What are you working on now? What is your next novel about, and when can we get our hands on it?

I am writing a prequel to Mistress of the Revolution, which focuses on the character of Hélène de Montserrat, Gabrielle's elder sister. It is a thriller in the 18th century Gothic manner. The prequel is going slowly, though, because at the same time I am researching Jane Austen's French connections for a fourth novel. As you see, I remain firmly grounded in my beloved 18th century!

Thank you so much for taking the time to be here with us, Catherine. I look forward to your next novel. Please visit Catherine at her website home, http://catherinedelors.com/
or her wonderful blog, http://versaillesandmore.com/

For everyone who still needs to get their hands on For the King, please hit the link below…
To Order from Amazon:

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 Reprinted with Permission from author Christy English. Visit Christy's site at http://www.christyenglish.com/

July 08, 2010

GIVEAWAY! Today's New Release: FOR THE KING by Catherine Delors

Most of you know of the Historical Fiction Bloggers Round Table site. They have already featured the author Catherine Delors with interviews and guest posts and reviews, and one of them is reprinted below.

To celebrate Catherine's release day, HF-Connection is hosting a giveaway of this beautiful hardcover book! Interested? Read the review and see for yourself, and see the rules for the giveaway at the end of the post.

For the King by Catherine Delors
July 8th 2010 by Dutton Books
Amazon USA
Hardcover, 352 pages
isbn 9780525951742
The Reign of Terror has ended six years earlier, and Napoléon Bonaparte has seized power, but shifting political loyalties still tear apart families and lovers.

On Christmas Eve 1800, a bomb explores along Bonaparte’s route, narrowly missing him but striking dozens of bystanders. Chief Inspector Roch Miquel, a young policeman with a bright future and a beautiful mistress, must arrest the assassins before they attack again. Complicating Miquel’s investigation are the maneuverings of his superior, the redoubtable Fouché, the indiscretions of his own father, a former Jacobin, and two intriguing women.

For The King takes readers through the dark alleys and glittering salons of post-revolutionary Paris. It is a romantic thriller, a tale of love, betrayal and redemption.

I am not as historically in tune to French politics as I am with Tudor politics. With Catherine Delors' newest novel that is focused on French politics, there is no preamble to the upheaval that France is facing after the pacification set in place by Bonaparte. The French Revolution had just ended and the novel begins in 1800 with a police officer called Roch Miguel who is investigating a bombing on the streets of  Paris that was a failed assassination attempt on Napoleon Bonaparte. There were several police agencies or ministries that were at odds with each other who were slightly hard to follow; along with who was Royalist, Jacobin or Chouan. If I had previously read a novel that dealt with the Republic and the aftermath of the French revolution I would probably have felt a bit less lost, but the writing of Catherine Delors pulled me through the story itself very quickly.

Written to be a historical mystery, the focus of the story is the investigation of the bombing in the Rue Nicaise. Roch, the investigator, is the main protagonist and is portrayed as a strong man with morals, and gets put in a bad situation when his father, affectionately known as Old Miguel, is suddenly arrested. Was he arrested to spur Roch's investigation in another direction? Between the several different factions of the police government it is hard to tell if Roch should trust anyone in the fearsome political times. And he has to move fast otherwise his father will meet a torturous fate meant for traitors.
Napoleon crossing the Alps (1800)~Jaques Louis David
One of the mentions in the novel is of a painter known as Jaques Louis David, who painted the famous portrait of Napoleon on the magnificent white horse. I loved how Delors included these small details of history into her novel which helped me experience France and their culture more than I ever have. And I took five years of French! Catherine Delors helped to reawaken in me the spirit of France for which I had fallen in love with long ago as a child. She surrounds the novel in historic details that really help shape the atmosphere and the turmoil of France at that time.

Catherine Delors' previous novel, Mistress of the Revolution (2008), was written in memoir fashion telling of a Frenchwoman exiled in England. This new novel departs from that point of view as it is told in third person allowing for multiple views to be presented. Using this narrative allows the reader to get an entire circumspective view from all parties involved which is very helpful in this thriller/mystery setting. It also helps to lend a greater understanding of a complicated period of time that could easily befuddle the unaware reader, like I was at first.

I found the story to be fast paced and I felt empathy for the character of the investigator Roch Miguel, and Delors was subtle with the added romantic undercurrents that we are treated to. Some of the other characters shifted over time, becoming more ominous as the story wore on and the mystery of who was behind the attack unfolded. Although the reader knows the names of the three who are responsible for the attack from the very beginning, the unfolding of the multiple aspects that lead to the attack and their hopeful apprehension was expertly presented. Lovers of France and those eager to immerse themselves in its historic setting following the revolution will definitely love this book. I love the fact that Delors is focusing her next novel on another mystery setting and I will definitely be reading that one as well.

Reprinted with permission from The Burton Review.

Catherine Delors blog: Versailles and More
Catherine's website.
Purchase Catherine's books.

Giveaway Rules:
One hardcover of FOR THE KING to USA or Canada residents only.
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