Thursday, August 30, 2012

Yellow Crocus by Laila Ibrahim

Yellow Crocus by Laila Ibrahim

Synopsis from Goodreads:Mattie was never truly mine. That knowledge must have filled me as quickly and surely as the milk from her breasts. Although my family ‘owned’ her, although she occupied the center of my universe, her deepest affections lay elsewhere. So along with the comfort of her came the fear that I would lose her some day. This is our story...

So begins Lisbeth Wainwright’s compelling tale of coming-of-age in antebellum Virginia. Born to white plantation owners but raised by her enslaved black wet nurse, Mattie, Lisbeth’s childhood unfolds on the line between two very different worlds. Growing up under the tender care of Mattie, Lisbeth adopts her surrogate mother’s deep-seated faith in God, her love of music and black-eyed peas, and the tradition of hunting for yellow crocuses in the early days of spring. In time, Lisbeth realizes she has freedoms and opportunities that Mattie does not have, though she’s confined by the societal expectations placed on women born to privilege. As Lisbeth grows up, she struggles to reconcile her love for her caregiver with her parents’ expectations, a task made all the more difficult as she becomes increasingly aware of the ugly realities of the American slavery system. When Lisbeth bears witness to a shockingly brutal act, the final vestiges of her naiveté crumble around her. Lisbeth realizes she must make a choice, one that will require every ounce of the courage she learned from her beloved Mattie. This compelling historical novel is a richly evocative tale of love, loss, and redemption set during one of the most sinister chapters of American history.

 My Review:
This is a beautifully written book about a young white girl Lisbeth or Miss Elizabeth as her parents want her known as who grows up on Fair Oaks Plantation in the 1800’s. When Lisbeth is born she is handed from her mother to slave/wet-nurse Mattie who has been taken from the Quarters and her newborn son to the Big House and Elizabeth’s mother thinks she should be so grateful to be living in the lap of luxury. As time goes on Lisbeth learns to love and depend on Mattie much more than her own mother but Lisbeth is young and naïve and doesn’t realize there is much more to life on the plantation than she is seeing.

This is a coming of age story as we watch Lisbeth from the time she is born till she is a grown woman, we watch as innocence is replaced with knowledge and knowledge is not always a happy thing. This realization is a slow building and at times Lisbeth doesn’t want to see but when the time comes she has to make a choice- “ Decisions to make, she thought to herself. She was too tired to make any more decisions.”

These characters were so real to me I could hear their voices in my head; I could see what they saw. This author gave voice to these people in such a beautiful way I can’t even come close to finding the correct words to explain it. This is a debut novel and I am amazed by that and hope this author writes many. Many more books because I plan on reading them all!

Beautiful southern historical fiction I highly recommend!

5 Stars

I received this book from netgalley and have purchased the print version for the library

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

The Second Empress: A Novel of Napoleon's Court by, Michelle Moran

The Second Empress: A Novel of Napoleon's Court by, Michelle Moran

Synopsis From Goodreads: After the bloody French Revolution, Emperor Napoleon’s power is absolute. When Marie-Louise, the eighteen year old daughter of the King of Austria, is told that the Emperor has demanded her hand in marriage, her father presents her with a terrible choice: marry the cruel, capricious Napoleon, leaving the man she loves and her home forever, or say no, and plunge her country into war.

Marie-Louise knows what she must do, and she travels to France, determined to be a good wife despite Napoleon’s reputation. But lavish parties greet her in Paris, and at the extravagant French court, she finds many rivals for her husband’s affection, including Napoleon’s first wife, Joséphine, and his sister Pauline, the only woman as ambitious as the emperor himself. Beloved by some and infamous to many, Pauline is fiercely loyal to her brother. She is also convinced that Napoleon is destined to become the modern Pharaoh of Egypt. Indeed, her greatest hope is to rule alongside him as his queen—a brother-sister marriage just as the ancient Egyptian royals practiced. Determined to see this dream come to pass, Pauline embarks on a campaign to undermine the new empress and convince Napoleon to divorce Marie-Louise.

As Pauline's insightful Haitian servant, Paul, watches these two women clash, he is torn between his love for Pauline and his sympathy for Marie-Louise. But there are greater concerns than Pauline's jealousy plaguing the court of France. While Napoleon becomes increasingly desperate for an heir, the empire's peace looks increasingly unstable. When war once again sweeps the continent and bloodshed threatens Marie-Louise’s family in Austria, the second Empress is forced to make choices that will determine her place in history—and change the course of her life.

Based on primary resources from the time, The Second Empress takes readers back to Napoleon’s empire, where royals and servants alike live at the whim of one man, and two women vie to change their destinies.

My Review:

Before I started this one I knew nothing about Marie Louise or honestly that much about Napoleon (I thought he was still married to Josephine when he was exiled), I recently started reading more about French history including Michelle Moran’s last book Madame Tussaud and the confessions of Catherine de Medici plus one about the Hapsburgs (The Last Queen) by, CW Gortner. So I am slowly learning more about these two timelines & royalty. As with any Historical Fiction an author is going to take some liberties and I for one don’t mind this at all, I want to read a historical fiction that will make me want to research the facts for myself and this one did that.

I felt sorry for Marie as I’ve said before, these poor princesses just can’t catch a break, trotted off to marry an ogre who just wants you as birthing mare, but as Marie said the sooner she got pregnant the less she had to deal with Napoleon. I was glad Marie’s life turned out for the best; I think the best thing that ever happened to her was when Napoleon was overthrown and exiled.

I was a bit freaked out and disgusted with Napoleon’s sister Pauline she had a very unhealthy relationship with her brother and she seemed to be a nymphomaniac and was a very selfish, just not a nice person at all. But her story was fascinating as she flounced from man to man, and used old women as footstools but one has to wonder how many men she gave the clap to??

And Paul let us not forget poor put-upon chamberlain Paul, his love for Pauline was all he could think of even as she took lover after lover but I also loved his ending *no spoilers* all I could think was it’s about time!

I really like the authenticity added by the actual letters written by Napoleon & Josephine that showed they still cared very much for each other right to the end. Napoleon was a piece of work, talk about an egomaniac but you have to give it to him he came from the bottom of the barrel and made to Emperor so I suppose he had a right to be proud of himself but he took it way over the line with how he talked to people and what he thought was his “by right”.

I love Michelle Moran’s writing always takes you to a place and time where you can almost smell it and this book was no exception. Can’t wait for more books by this author!

4 ½ stars

I received this book from the Librarything Early Reviewers Program