Ribbons of Scarlet – Review


Ribbons of Scarlet
A Novel of the French Revolution’s Women

by:
Kate Quinn
Sophie Perinot
Laura Kamoie
Stephanie Dray
E. Knight
Heather Webb

Genre: Historical Fiction

Length: 560 Pages

Release date: October 1, 2019

Publisher: William Morrow Paperbacks

Synopsis: 

Six bestselling and award-winning authors bring to life a breathtaking epic novel illuminating the hopes, desires, and destinies of princesses and peasants, harlots and wives, fanatics and philosophers—six unforgettable women whose paths cross during one of the most tumultuous and transformative events in history: the French Revolution.

Ribbons of Scarlet is a timely story of the power of women to start a revolution—and change the world.

In late eighteenth-century France, women do not have a place in politics. But as the tide of revolution rises, women from gilded salons to the streets of Paris decide otherwise—upending a world order that has long oppressed them.

Blue-blooded Sophie de Grouchy believes in democracy, education, and equal rights for women, and marries the only man in Paris who agrees. Emboldened to fight the injustices of King Louis XVI, Sophie aims to prove that an educated populace can govern itself–but one of her students, fruit-seller Louise Audu, is hungrier for bread and vengeance than learning. When the Bastille falls and Louise leads a women’s march to Versailles, the monarchy is forced to bend, but not without a fight. The king’s pious sister Princess Elisabeth takes a stand to defend her brother, spirit her family to safety, and restore the old order, even at the risk of her head.

But when fanatics use the newspapers to twist the revolution’s ideals into a new tyranny, even the women who toppled the monarchy are threatened by the guillotine. Putting her faith in the pen, brilliant political wife Manon Roland tries to write a way out of France’s blood-soaked Reign of Terror while pike-bearing Pauline Leon and steely Charlotte Corday embrace violence as the only way to save the nation. With justice corrupted by revenge, all the women must make impossible choices to survive–unless unlikely heroine and courtesan’s daughter Emilie de Sainte-Amaranthe can sway the man who controls France’s fate: the fearsome Robespierre.

ratingfive

My thanks to NetGalley and William Morrow for sending me an advance copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. All opinions are my own and are not influenced by the publisher. 

“Beautiful, terrible humanity. Capable of the most inspiring and creative genius and the greatest and most unimaginable abominations.”

I’ve had a bit of an ongoing effort to read more historical fiction that isn’t set during World War II, and this novel was an easy choice because, hello, Kate Quinn. If you’ve never read any of her work, I (obviously) recommend this book, but also The Alice Network and The HuntressRibbons of Scarlet is set during the French Revolution and focuses on women’s role in these events.

The format of this novel worked very well. I’ve seen a lot of misunderstanding about this book online. Because of the number of authors listed, a lot of people have assumed it is a collection of short stories set during the same time period, and this is not the case. The novel follows a single linear narrative following the course of the revolution, but each section introduces a new point of view character. This is different from most novels with multiple POV characters in that, for the most part, we do not return to a character once we move on from her singular section. We get one peek into each woman’s perspective and then she is lost to us. I worried that this would feel disjointed overall, but this was absolutely not the case, and it provided an excellent opportunity to look at some of the same events through different eyes.

Despite what must have been a very difficult process, the six authors meshed very well together. Even while jumping from one one woman’s perspective to another relatively unrelated woman’s section, there is a strong sense of a central narrative following the course of the revolution. Each woman has a wildly different perspective on the historical moment they are inhabiting, and each perspective seems fully fleshed out and genuine.

It was refreshing to see a war novel which focuses exclusively on women’s experiences, as these are often overlooked. French women played a significant role in the revolution and women of different social classes were impacted in very different ways. It was particularly interesting to me to spend time in the mind of a female members of the aristocracy, who, while they did enjoy the benefits of wealth leading up to the revolution, often had little to no power of their own. In the end, they bore the consequences of the actions of their husbands and fathers alongside them.

Ribbons of Scarlet is an illuminating novel about a fascinating piece of French history. Seamlessly told and heartbreaking, this book is a jewel.

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The Broken Girls, by Simone St. James (Review)


The Broken Girls
by Simone St. James

Genre: Mystery, Historical Fiction, Suspense

Length: 336 Pages

Release date: March 20, 2018

Synopsis: 

A breakout suspense novel from the award-winning author of The Haunting of Maddy Clare.

Vermont, 1950. There’s a place for the girls whom no one wants–the troublemakers, the illegitimate, the too smart for their own good. It’s called Idlewild Hall. And in the small town where it’s located, there are rumors that the boarding school is haunted. Four roommates bond over their whispered fears, their budding friendship blossoming–until one of them mysteriously disappears. . . .

Vermont, 2014. As much as she’s tried, journalist Fiona Sheridan cannot stop revisiting the events surrounding her older sister’s death. Twenty years ago, her body was found lying in the overgrown fields near the ruins of Idlewild Hall. And though her sister’s boyfriend was tried and convicted of murder, Fiona can’t shake the suspicion that something was never right about the case.

When Fiona discovers that Idlewild Hall is being restored by an anonymous benefactor, she decides to write a story about it. But a shocking discovery during the renovations will link the loss of her sister to secrets that were meant to stay hidden in the past–and a voice that won’t be silenced. . . .

rating

four

The Broken Girls is the perfect novel to pick up in October. It’s creepy, atmospheric, and also surprisingly heartfelt. It’s categorized as a mystery/suspense novel and a ghost story is a large driving force in the narrative. These kinds of novels often fall flat for me because the characters tend to be cardboard cutouts instead of fleshed-out human beings. The Broken Girls is very character-driven, and feels like it has more substance than a lot of novels in the same category.

The main character of the modern story line is a journalist, Fiona, whose life has been altered by the death of her older sister twenty years prior. Her sister’s boyfriend is in prison for the murder, but little inconsistencies have always nagged at the back of Fiona’s mind, and she’s been unable to move on. When she finds out that a developer has purchased the old abandoned girls’ boarding school where her sisters body was found, her personal connection to the place leads her to want to cover the story.

“Idlewild was the boarding school of last resort, where parents stashed their embarrassments, their failures, and their recalcitrant girls. Hidden in the backwoods of Vermont, it had only 120 students: illegitimate daughters, first wives’ daughters, servants’ daughters, immigrant girls, girls who misbehaved…”

The 1950’s sections of the novel explore the lives of various girls who were living at the boarding school at the time. These sections were ridiculously engaging and the characters were each sympathetic in their own way, as St. James explores some of the reasons a girl might be considered “troubled” at the time and simply sent away. For example, one of the girls stopped speaking entirely after experiencing a traumatic event; her parents made some attempts to get her help, but when these were ineffective, off to Idlewild she went.

“It was infuriating how many people got things wrong about you when you were a teenage girl, but as she had learned to do, Katie took her anger and made it into something else.” 

There are two main driving forces in these sections of the novel: a piece of school lore about a possibly malicious ghost named Mary Hand who appears to each of the students sooner or later, and the disappearance of one of the girls, quickly dismissed by authorities as a runaway. In the course of covering the story of the renovation of Idlewild in the modern day, Fiona also gets caught up in these stories and hopes to solve both of the mysteries. At the same time, she begins to uncover new information about her own sister’s murder which may put her in danger herself.

The various mysteries in The Broken Girls are woven together so seamlessly and the story is expertly paced. I fell in love with these characters and was anxious for them in the moments of tension sprinkled throughout the book. The eerie atmosphere is perfect for this time of year.

(This is a repost of a prior review – I wanted to feature this book again because it’s the Girly Book Club pick for this month. If you haven’t heard of them and you’re looking for a book club to join, I definitely recommend checking them out. It’s an international book club for women with chapters all over. If there isn’t one near you, you can reach out to them at info@girlybookclub.com to inquire about starting your own chapter!)

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Thanks for reading! Have you been reading any ghost stories in the days leading up to Halloween? What’s your favorite novel that features a ghost story?

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Salt to the Sea, by Ruta Sepetys (Review)

Salt to the Sea
Salt to the Sea
by Ruta Sepetys

Genre: YA, Historical Fiction

Length: 416 Pages

Release date: August 1, 2017

Publisher: Penguin Books

Synopsis: 

While the Titanic and Lusitania are both well-documented disasters, the single greatest tragedy in maritime history is the little-known January 30, 1945 sinking in the Baltic Sea by a Soviet submarine of the Wilhelm Gustloff, a German cruise liner that was supposed to ferry wartime personnel and refugees to safety from the advancing Red Army. The ship was overcrowded with more than 10,500 passengers — the intended capacity was approximately 1,800 — and more than 9,000 people, including 5,000 children, lost their lives.

Sepetys (writer of ‘Between Shades of Gray’) crafts four fictionalized but historically accurate voices to convey the real-life tragedy. Joana, a Lithuanian with nursing experience; Florian, a Prussian soldier fleeing the Nazis with stolen treasure; and Emilia, a Polish girl close to the end of her pregnancy, converge on their escape journeys as Russian troops advance; each will eventually meet Albert, a Nazi peon with delusions of grandeur, assigned to the Gustloff decks.

ratingthree

“I became good at pretending. I became so good that after a while the lines blurred between my truth and fiction. And sometimes, when I did a really good job of pretending, I even fooled myself.”

What’s happening, bookworms? I’m back with another Minority Opinion Post™. This book has so many positively glowing reviews and came highly recommended by some friends of mine (shout out to my book club ladies… please don’t hate me). I went into it with high expectations and had a really lukewarm experience with this book.

Let me start with the positive. Sepetys has plenty of quotable passages and the writing is really stylistically lovely overall. There were some passages I loved that really packed a punch, like this one: “His smugness was annoying. This was the type of man who looked at a picture on the wall and instead of admiring the photo, looked at his own reflection in the glass.”

The story is technically a continuation of Between Shades of Gray (also published as Ashes in the Snow) but can be read without that background information without any confusion. There is a small overlap, but the story line and cast of characters is largely separate. That being said,  I do recommend reading Between Shades of Gray before Salt to the Sea. While it’s not necessary to follow the story, certain passages which call back to the first book will inevitably have more emotional impact if the books are read in order. I love this kind of flexibility in storytelling, when readers can jump in at either book but fans get that reward of a spark of recognition that won’t be there for all readers.

That being said, let’s get into my issues with this book. The chapters are extremely short, which would not be a problem in and of itself were it not for the fact that we are hopping from one point of view character to the next with these chapters transitions. The end result was that the reading felt very choppy and somewhat shallow; I had a hard time getting invested in characters when I was only spending a few pages at a time with each of them, and they ended up feeling very flat.

Albert, the Hitler fanatic, was the most compelling of the point of view characters. Sepetys seems to have a particular skill for writing a character the reader will despise without turning them off of the book. I sped through Albert’s chapters, with a mixture of horror and barely restrained glee as I waited for what was sure to be his inevitable fate.

Despite my somewhat lukewarm response to this book as a whole, I do love that the author chose to write about this topic. The sinking of the Wilhelm Gustloff had a death toll of around 9,000, compared to the Titanic’s death toll of just over 1,500, yet it has all but disappeared from the public consciousness. I was not familiar with these events prior to picking up this book, and one of my favorite things about historical fiction is that it can introduce us to times and events we would not have otherwise encountered, inspiring further research and learning. Sepetys handled this event with the sensitivity and respect for the real-life victims that was deserved. 

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Thank you for reading! What’s an overlooked historical event that you’d like to see explored more in fiction? Let’s discuss in the comments!

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Audio Book Popularity on the Rise… but Print Still Reigns Supreme

The Pew Research Center has published the results of a survey on the reading habits of Americans, revealing some interesting trends. The percentage of Americans who listen to audio books, for example, has nearly doubled since 2011. Print books continue to be more popular than e-books or audiobooks

Given the relative expense of audio books vs. print books, it would be interesting to know if their increased popularity corresponds with increased awareness of their availability through resources like the Overdrive and Libby through the public library system. (Using a new release as an example, Ribbons of Scarlet runs $26.99 for a hardcover copy or $13.42 for a paperback, compared to $29.94 for an Audible copy without a membership.)

Still, print books remain the most popular choice, with 37% of survey respondents saying they read print books exclusively.

37% say they only read print books

Finally, Pew found that those with a college education were the category most likely to read, regardless of the specific format chosen. What’s interesting, however, is that those in the youngest demographic surveyed (18-29) were more likely to have read a book in the past year than any other age group… despite the tendency of some in the older generation to mourn the death of literacy due to the emergence of smart phones. Perhaps such concerns are premature.

College graduates especially likely to read books in a variety of formats

Overall, I think this last graphic is the most important in a lot of ways. When you examine various categories, it becomes clear that accessibility may be a running theme when it comes to how likely any given American is to pick up a book. Higher income means more expendable income to spend on books, and we see higher rates of reading in those with higher income. A college education is correlated with a higher income. Those living in urban or suburban areas will generally have a library closer to home than those in rural areas; we see lower rates of reading in rural areas.

We see a decline in ages 65+, and I think this can also be related to accessibility in some ways; this age group is more likely to experience mobility problems and other health issues, making a trip to a book store or a library low on the list of priorities for a lot of people. Vision and hearing problems are also more common with age, creating difficulty reading standard print size or hearing an audio book.

Read more on these stats from the Pew Research Center here!

What are your thoughts on these figures? What is your favorite way to read? Please feel free to discuss in the comments! 

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Book Rec ~ Salt Slow, by Julia Armfield

Salt Slow
by Julia Armfield

Coming October 8, 2019

This collection of stories is about women and their experiences in society, about bodies and the bodily, mapping the skin and bones of its characters through their experiences of isolation, obsession and love. Throughout the collection, women become insects, men turn to stone, a city becomes insomniac and bodies are picked apart to make up better ones. The mundane worlds of schools and sea side towns are invaded and transformed by the physical, creating a landscape which is constantly shifting to hold on to the bodies of its inhabitants. Blending the mythic and the fantastic, the collection considers characters in motion – turning away, turning back or simply turning into something new.

From the winner of The White Review Short Story Prize 2018, salt slow is an extraordinary collection of short stories that are sure to dazzle and shock.

 

I rated this book 4.5/5 stars. The writing is visceral, magical, and sometimes horrifying. You can read my full review over at The Girly Book Club’s website!

❤️ Jenna

The Nobody People, by Bob Proehl (Review)

43334292
The Nobody People
by Bob Proehl

Genre: Science Fiction

Length: 496 Pages

Release date: September 3, 2019

Publisher: Del Rey Books

Synopsis: 

After decades in hiding, a group of outcasts with extraordinary abilities clashes with a world that is threatened by their power.

When Avi Hirsch learns that his daughter Emmeline has special abilities, he tries to shield her against an increasingly hostile society. Carrie Norris can become invisible, but all she wants is to be seen by the people she loves. Fahima Deeb has faced prejudice her entire life, but her uncanny connection to machines offers her the opportunity to level the playing field. These are just a few of the ordinary nobodies with astonishing gifts who must now band together against bigotry and fear, even as one of their own actively works to destroy a fragile peace. Will their combined talents spark a much-needed revolution–or an apocalypse?

ratingthree

My thanks to NetGalley and Del Rey Books for sending me an advance copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. All opinions are my own and are not influenced by the publisher. 

The Nobody People was a bit of a lukewarm read for me. I love superhero stories, but the concept has been done to death at this point, making it really difficult to write one that doesn’t feel stale. There needs to be an interesting twist, super engaging characters, or just… something new to say. Unfortunately, The Nobody People felt just a bit too cookie-cutter for me.

As other reviewers have noted, one of the bigger flaws of the novel is that it feels like someone has taken a four or five book series and tried to cram it all into a novel. Proehl is trying to do a lot of interesting things with his varied cast of characters, and the book has a bit of a long timeline. In the end, it was too much for one book, and none of it got explored with the depth needed to actually engage readers. Avi, for example, who is one of the major characters, has to come to terms with a crumbling marriage and essentially losing his super-powered daughter as she finds a sense of community with others like herself. All of this ends up feeling very surface level, as there is simply too much going on with the many other characters at the same time.

With super-powered humans going to a school and living largely segregated from regular humans, the novel with inevitably draw comparisons to X-Men. One thing I did like about this book was that it took a lot of the things that were purely allegorical in X-Men (i.e., parallels between the civil rights movement, the fight for gay rights, etc.) and brings them to forefront of the novel. Prejudice against super-powered people doesn’t suddenly mean your garden variety racism has been forgotten, and some of the characters in Proehl’s novels are dealing with intersecting levels of marginalization due to their status as, for example, immigrants, mix-race people, or members of the LGBTQ community, making their experiences more complex.

All in all, this was an okay book, but not necessarily one I’d recommend to anyone. If superhero stories are your speed, there are much better ones out there to read. Some of my favorites are the books in the Reckoners series, by Brandon Sanderson, which takes the interesting angle of making all the super-powered humans villains and giving us a cast of ordinary people fighting back.

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Thank you for reading! Who is your favorite super hero and why? Let’s talk in the comments!

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Conversations With Friends, by Sally Rooney (Review)


Conversations With Friends
by Sally Rooney

Genre: Contemporary

Length: 304 Pages

Release date: July 11, 2017

Publisher: Hogarth

Synopsis: 

A sharply intelligent novel about two college students and the strange, unexpected connection they forge with a married couple.

Frances is twenty-one years old, cool-headed, and darkly observant. A college student and aspiring writer, she devotes herself to a life of the mind–and to the beautiful and endlessly self-possessed Bobbi, her best friend and comrade-in-arms. Lovers at school, the two young women now perform spoken-word poetry together in Dublin, where a journalist named Melissa spots their potential. Drawn into Melissa’s orbit, Frances is reluctantly impressed by the older woman’s sophisticated home and tall, handsome husband. Private property, Frances believes, is a cultural evil–and Nick, a bored actor who never quite lived up to his potential, looks like patriarchy made flesh. But however amusing their flirtation seems at first, it gives way to a strange intimacy neither of them expect.As Frances tries to keep her life in check, her relationships increasingly resist her control: with Nick, with her difficult and unhappy father, and finally even with Bobbi. Desperate to reconcile herself to the desires and vulnerabilities of her body, Frances’s intellectual certainties begin to yield to something new: a painful and disorienting way of living from moment to moment.

Written with gem-like precision and probing intelligence, Conversations With Friends is wonderfully alive to the pleasures and dangers of youth.”

ratingtwo

“Gradually the waiting began to feel less like waiting and more like this was simply what life was: the distracting tasks undertaken while the thing you are waiting for continues not to happen.” 

As you can clearly see by the rating, I was not a fan of this book. I was so excited to get into it because I’d heard lovely things about the author and I stumbled across an autographed copy. (I’ll buy pretty much anything that’s autographed. It’s a problem.) Unfortunately, Conversations with Friends was immensely disappointing.

First and foremost, the prose is all very matter of fact and devoid of feeling. This may have been an intentional writing choice to reflect some level of emotional numbness of the protagonist while she’s going through an odd and difficult time in her life. Nonetheless, the end result makes for a very dry reading experience. Frances is dealing with some really heavy things in regards to her mental and physical health, but none of it was emotionally evocative in the slightest for the reader.

The story, which focuses on the relationships between Frances, her best friend Bobbi, and a married couple whom they befriend,  can essentially be summarized as “terrible people being terrible to each other.” The dry writing style could have easily been redeemed for me by an interesting plot, but nothing about this drew me into the story. The major thrust is an extra-marital affair that is wholly uninteresting in every way. Bland Frances gets together with a married, bland, almost-famous actor who’s using her 21-year-old body to make himself feel like he’s worthwhile as his youth and chances at success and fame fade away. Blah.

Frances seems so passive throughout the entire narrative and it drove me crazy. Frances doesn’t do much. Things happen to Frances and she says, “Oh, okay, I guess this is happening.” The affair with the married man, the come-ons from her best friend, life in general, it all just seems to happen without Frances giving much thought as to whether or not she wants these things or expending much effort to exert any semblance control over her life.

Her best friend, Bobbi, is even worse, practically oozing smugness at every opportunity. (Bobbi remarks at one point that Frances doesn’t really have a personality. Bobbi is right, but lord, this is how she talks to her best friend, so you can imagine how she comes across to the rest of the world.

I was so prepared to like this book. Lesbian and bisexual representation, mental and physical health themes, and explorations of complicated relationships? This could have been so interesting. Instead, it was simply boring and occasionally irritating. Oh, well. On to the next one!

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