I have been on a really good reading run lately, These titles aren’t new releases and have little relationship to each other. They do, however, reflect various times in history. With the exception of Strapless which I read for one of my book groups, I picked them up because they looked good or came highly recommended. Although it’s great fun to read the new release everyone is talking about, I sometimes worry that focusing my reading there eliminates way too many good books. I’m trying to mix it up.
The Golden Hours by Beatriz Williams is one title (and not a new one) in her long series of historical fiction, a genre I really enjoy. This book alternates between the early days of WWII, in the Bahamas, when the Duke and Duchess of Windsor were in residence (and they play a significant role in the WWII story) and twenty years before during WWI. Lots of romance and intrigue and — thanks to the Windsors — a fair amount of glam.
The Paris Library (and who even knew there was one) by Janet Skeslien Charles is another novel that moves between two distinct time periods — the Nazi occupation of Paris in WWII and a small Montana town in the early 1980’s. I found the Parisian story fascinating when it focused on the various subscribers to the library and how the staff and subscribers survived during the occupation, although I found the young heroine in Paris was maybe too naive. However, the intergenerational friendship between Lily and Odile in Montana was inspiring.
After watching The Empress on Netflix, the story of Elisabeth “Sissi” von Wittelsbach, Princess of Bavaria who became Empress of Austria upon her marriage to Emperor Franz Joseph, I picked up a copy of Siri: Empress on Her Own by Alison Pataki. A friend recommended it a few years ago and I just didn’t get around to it until now, but it picks up where The Empress left off. Despite its fairytale beginning, Sisi and the emperor did not enjoy a happy marriage, but she was beloved by her Austrian and Hungarian subjects and played an often pivotal role in the politics of the day.
I’m sure I shared with you earlier that my book group was reading Strapless by Debra Davis, about Virginie Gautreau, the subject of John Singer Sargent’s controversial painting, unveiled at the 1884 Paris Salon. Both were relatively unheard of at the time, and hopeful that the painting would change that. Unfortunately Gautreau’s reputation did not assume the stardom of Sargent’s. In fact she was shunned socially, though Sargent, of course, eventually assumed a stellar reputation.
The story behind the story
At the beginning or end of a book do you read the writer’s notes on how they got the idea for the book, did the research, and/or perhaps struggled to get this particular story all on paper? Often these comments are thrown in with long lists of thank-you’s to publishers, editors, assistants, researchers, family and friends. In some respects that makes them somewhat forgettable to the average reader. We just want to dig into the story itself. But then there are the times they reveal so much. I don’t know how or when i started reading these notes, but this book had such interesting roots, I think they are worth sharing.
Davis happened onto the story when a friend compared a dress Davis wore to that of Madame X, AKA Gautreau.. Curious, Davis researched and discovered the woman, the painter and the painting. And then, of course, the story and the mounting research carried her along. This is more history than novel and unlike historical fiction there is almost no dialogue. In fact another member of the book club and I both wondered when the Preface would end and the story begin, until we realized it wasn’t the preface we were reading, but the book!
So much of this is so interesting to me: the way Davis discovered the story, the amount of research she did on both of the main characters as well as other, more minor characters, to flesh out Sergant’s artistic background and the world of artists and patrons in which he moved. The same is true of Madame Gautreau who was initially something of a sensation in Parisian society and then, after the painting, led an increasingly circumscribed life.
The most appealing bookstore
And while we’re talking about books, if you have not yet seen these pictures and many more of Beacon Hill Books and Cafe, You need to up your Instagram game. Recently opened on Boston ‘s Charles Street, photos of the charming, uber-stylish interior (which is apparently also available for private parties) are popping up everywhere. Or just visit the website for a closer look.
Looking ahead, one of my book groups has chosen Dinners with Ruth by Nina Totenberg as our next read. Totenberg is the legendary NPR correspondent and Ruth refers to her friend, Ruth Bader Ginsburg. I just downloaded this to my Kindle and I can’t wait to read it! These two remarkable women were friends for nearly 50 years. I’ll also be catching up the the Book of the Month Club recommendations of my daughter and daughter-in-law.
What about you? Read any good books lately?
Thanks for taking the time to stop by. I’ll be back again soon!