The Book of Summer by Michelle Gable

BLOG“Physician Bess Codman has returned to her family’s Nantucket compound, Cliff House, for the first time in four years. Her great-grandparents built Cliff House almost a century before, but due to erosion, the once-grand home will soon fall into the sea. Though she s purposefully avoided the island, Bess must now pack up the house and deal with her mother, a notorious town rabble-rouser, who refuses to leave.”

Michelle Gable is the author of one of my favourite books of 2016, I’ll See You in Paris. Her newest release, The Book of Summer, takes us to Nantucket and tells the story of a family and their summer home, from present day struggles to the people and events of the past. In present day, Bess is back on Nantucket and dealing with the events surrounding the slow demise of Cliff House due to erosion, and her mother’s battle to save their cherished summer home. The novel also flashes back to Bess’ grandmother, Ruby Packard and her life as a young newlywed and navigating life at the start of WWII. Also throughout the novel are entries from a guest book kept at the Cliff House, which Bess and family had come to refer to as The Book of Summer.

There are many aspects of this novel that are quite appealing, and there is a charm and likability to a number of the characters throughout. The issues surrounding erosion on Nantucket along with the history of Cliff House and the significance of this home to Bess’ family is what captured my attention the most. I did find it difficult to connect to any of the characters, which kept me from truly engaging with the stories throughout. As I mentioned, there is definitely a certain charm to these characters, but that does get kind of lost in the dialogue, which is full of expressions and lingo that I assume is of that region and also time period in regards to the 1940’s era. The book is very dialogue heavy, which is not something I typically enjoy, so that combined with the content of the dialogue itself kept taking me out of the story and made the characters feel far too unbelievable. Unfortunately, The Book of Summer simply did not work for me.

*ARC provided by NetGalley for an unbiased review. Publication date: May 9, 2017.

The Other Einstein by Marie Benedict

img_3128In 1896, the extraordinarily gifted Mileva is the only woman studying physics at an elite school in Zürich. There, she falls for charismatic fellow student Albert Einstein, who promises to treat her as an equal in both love and science. But as Albert’s fame grows, so too does Mileva’s worry that her light will be lost in her husband’s shadow forever.”

The Other Einstein is a historical fiction novel that attempts to bring to life the story and perspective of Albert Einstein’s first wife Mileva Marić during their time together. Mileva was a talented physicist in her own right and there is much debate and speculation as to how much she contributed to Einstein’s work and discoveries. The novel does have brief mentions of Mileva’s upbringing and early love of science, however it focuses almost entirely on her courtship and tumultuous relationship with Einstein.

The Other Einstein provides very little in terms of the story of “the other Einstein,” and instead provides an account of a highly dysfunctional relationship and lacklustre romance. Mileva is a fascinating person and a great subject for a work of historical fiction, however, she comes across as frustratingly meek in contrast to Einstein’s egotistical and condescending nature. There is a considerable lack of depth and nuance as one character is a constant victim and the other a villain. There is no real connection between the two, especially as Einstein transforms from a young and quirky University student into an arrogant and self-centred jerk. Their exchanges become increasingly more awkward as the story goes along, especially as it becomes peppered with the use of cringeworthy nicknames in almost every piece of dialogue. Unfortunately this novel fell short of what is a very interesting and compelling subject.

*ARC provided by NetGalley. Publication date: October 18, 2016.

Fates and Traitors by Jennifer Chiaverini

img_2927“Let history decide what to make of the misguided, vengeful man who had killed a great and noble president. That was not the man she had known and loved. She had already said all she ever intended to say about the assassin John Wilkes Booth.”

Fates and Traitors is a new historical fiction novel that looks at the life of John Wilkes Booth through the story of four significant women in his life: his mother, his sister, his love interest, and his confidant. Jennifer Chiaverini creates an in-depth look into the lives of these women and their relationship with John Wilkes Booth.

First we meet his mother, Mary Ann, who of course adored her children. The story goes back to before John was born and to Mary Ann’s complicated affair with John’s father, which shows a woman very much devoted to her family. We are then introduced to John’s sister, Asia who idolized her brother, and Lucy Hale, who was courted by John Wilkes Booth. He and Lucy were secretly engaged and Chiaverini’s fictionalized version of their relationship provides an interesting perspective. Lastly we meet, Mary Surratt, who was the owner of a boardinghouse where John planned much of his acts. The author also includes the perspective of John Wilkes Booth himself along with alternating perspectives to conclude the novel and show the aftermath of Wilkes’ actions.

This is a detailed and descriptive historical fiction novel that paints a portrait of a man’s life through those who played a significant part in it. The individual perspectives and stories of the four women are each fascinating in their own way and create a view of Wilkes’ life that is not typically explored. An intriguing take and depiction of an infamous historical figure.

*Book provided by publisher for an unbiased review.

The Dollhouse by Fiona Davis

blog“The Dollhouse. . . . That’s what we boys like to call it. . . . The Barbizon Hotel for Women, packed to the rafters with pretty little dolls. Just like you.”

The Dollhouse is set in the 1950’s at The Barbizon Hotel for Women, home to women working towards success in New York City, which included models, secretaries, and editors. It focuses on a woman named Darby who arrives at Barbizon in 1952 to attend secretary school. While overwhelmed with the city and feeling out of place among her model roommates in the beginning, Darby soon befriends a hotel maid, Esme, and discovers a world she never thought she would experience. Jump forward to 2016, where a journalist named Rose becomes curious about her new, mysterious neighbour in what used to be The Barbizon Hotel and has since been turned into a condominium. The story jumps back and forth in time from Darby’s time at Barbizon to years later when there are rumours and an investigation into an incident that had occurred during the 1950’s at the hotel, that Darby was involved in.

I found this to be a compelling novel based around a very fascinating time and place in history. It provides a great sense of what it would have been like during that era and the characters themselves are quite interesting. Particularly enjoyable is exploring Darby’s story and experiences in 1952 and the characters surrounding The Barbizon Hotel for Women. While the present day storyline has its moments, I did find that certain aspects of Rose’s life as well as actions somewhat distracted from what I felt was a really strong narrative of Darby’s life. There is a parallel between Rose and Darby that is created, however, as Rose does not come across as a particularly sympathetic character, that parallel is not as successful as it could have been. We do get a better understanding of Rose as the novel concludes and the stories wrap up. Overall, I found The Dollhouse to be a very enjoyable read.

The Last Painting of Sara de Vos by Dominic Smith

IMG_2596“…tracking a collision course between a rare landscape by a female Dutch painter of the golden age, an inheritor of the work in 1950s Manhattan, and a celebrated art historian who painted a forgery of it in her youth.”

Inspired by female Dutch painters of the Golden Age, The Last Painting of Sara de Vos is composed of stories from three different time periods, which center around a painting created by the fictional Sara de Vos. In the author notes, Dominic Smith explains that he used “biographical details from several women’s lives of the Dutch Golden Age” in creating the character of Sara de Vos, and her story and the time period are brought to life through beautiful and expressive detail.

As mentioned, the book moves back and forth between three different time periods chapter by chapter. The first one being Amsterdam in 1631 when Sara de Vos becomes the first female painter to be admitted to the Guild of St. Luke as a master painter. We are taken through momentous moments of her life including how she came to create the painting called At the Edge of a Wood, which becomes the centrepiece and connecting thread in the novel. The second time period is set in 1957 New York, where we meet Marty de Groot who is the owner of At the Edge of a Wood and what has come to be known as the only surviving work of Sara de Vos. A grad student, Ellie Shipley agrees to create a forgery of the painting for an art dealer and her story inevitably becomes interconnected with the owner of the painting. Lastly these stories converge in the year 2000 in Sydney, Australia where Ellie is a successful art historian and curator, and her past involvement in creating a fake Sara de Vos painting may become exposed.

The Last Painting of Sara de Vos is an intriguing novel that weaves together three interesting stories and brings to life a fascinating figure in Sara de Vos and an historic part of the art world in the Golden Age. It is very well written with characters that are full of depth and nuance. The stories and time periods weave together seamlessly, with each being captivating and engrossing in its own way. I enjoyed delving into the various aspects of the art world and particularly learning a little about female painters during the Dutch Golden Age, which I am interested in learning more about and exploring further. This is a well written and researched novel that I would recommend to those with an interest in art and history.