A Bridge Across the Ocean by Susan Meissner

February, 1946. World War Two is over, but the recovery from the most intimate of its horrors has only just begun for Annaliese Lange, a German ballerina desperate to escape her past, and Simone Deveraux, the wronged daughter of a French Résistance spy.

Now the two women are joining hundreds of other European war brides aboard the renowned RMS Queen Mary to cross the Atlantic and be reunited with their American husbands. Their new lives in the United States brightly beckon until their tightly-held secrets are laid bare in their shared stateroom. When the voyage ends at New York Harbor, only one of them will disembark…

Present day. Facing a crossroads in her own life, Brette Caslake visits the famously haunted Queen Mary at the request of an old friend. What she finds will set her on a course to solve a seventy-year-old tragedy that will draw her into the heartaches and triumphs of the courageous war brides—and will ultimately lead her to reconsider what she has to sacrifice to achieve her own deepest longings.

A Bridge Across the Ocean by Susan Meissner
Published March 14, 2017 by Berkley Books
Format: Netgalley e-book; 368 pages
Historical Fiction
Also By This Author: Secrets of a Charmed LifeA Fall of Marigolds
Goodreads | Amazon | Author’s Website
My Rating: ♥♥♥♥

Thoughts

When I first heard about A Bridge Across the Ocean, I was not aware of the paranormal aspects. I thought it was going to be purely historical fiction; however, the fact that Brette is able to see and speak with ghosts did not make this story fantastical. Susan Meissner wrote it in a realistic way that blended well with the other story lines.

I was originally drawn towards this novel because of the cover. This ship on the front looks very similar to the Titanic, and I have been obsessed with the story and legacy of the Titanic since the third grade. This novel has nothing to do with the Titanic, though. It revolves around two women, from Germany and France, surrounding the WWII era. One of the women, Simone, is a subtle part of the Nazi Resistance in France while the other woman, Annaliese, is the unfortunate wife of a Nazi official. They meet aboard the RMS Queen Mary, while traveling to America after the war. Decades later, Brette crosses paths with both women while searching for a ghost on the now memorialized Queen Mary.

Honestly, I was more interested in the flashbacks of Simone and Annaliese’s lives before, during, and even after WWII than I was in Brette’s present day journey of self discovery. Some of the flashback scenes are hard to read, but that’s typical of wartime settings. Brette is a pretty mild character, while Simone and Annaliese have stronger personalities and act, rather than react, like Brette does. I feel that Brette only serves to reconcile Simone and Annaliese’s storylines, which is where the meat of the story takes place.

“Her life had morphed into an existence defined always by losses.”

Read This Book If…

…you enjoy historical fiction, especially WWII historical fiction.
…you like books that have twists and unexpected endings.
…you don’t mind reading books with multiple narrators.
…you can enjoy a book even if you connect more with the supporting characters than you do the main character.

Final Musings

“Love is always what you get to keep when someone you care about dies. You will always have that love.”

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Mademoiselle Chanel by C. W. Gortner – Blog Tour & Giveaway!

Mademoiselle Chanel

“My hands reflect who I am. I see in them the struggle that has always existed between the humble girl I once was and the legend I deliberately created to hide my heart. Who is Coco Chanel?”

Mademoiselle Chanel by C. W. Gortner
Published March 17, 2015 by William-Morrow/HarperCollins
Historical Fiction
Format: paperback; 400 pages
Also From This Author: The Spymaster Chronicles, The Last Queen
Goodreads | Amazon | Website
My Rating: 4/5

Synopsis:

For readers of The Paris Wife and Z comes this vivid novel full of drama, passion, tragedy, and beauty that stunningly imagines the life of iconic fashion designer Coco Chanel-the ambitious, gifted laundrywoman’s daughter who revolutionized fashion, built an international empire, and became one of the most influential and controversial figures of the twentieth century.

Born into rural poverty, Gabrielle Chanel and her siblings are sent to an orphanage after their mother’s death. The sisters nurture Gabrielle’s exceptional sewing skills, a talent that will propel the willful young woman into a life far removed from the drudgery of her childhood.

Transforming herself into Coco–a seamstress and sometime torch singer–the petite brunette burns with ambition, an incandescence that draws a wealthy gentleman who will become the love of her life. She immerses herself in his world of money and luxury, discovering a freedom that sparks her creativity. But it is only when her lover takes her to Paris that Coco discovers her destiny.

Rejecting the frilly, corseted silhouette of the past, her sleek, minimalist styles reflect the youthful ease and confidence of the 1920s modern woman. As Coco’s reputation spreads, her couturier business explodes, taking her into rarefied society circles and bohemian salons. But her fame and fortune cannot save her from heartbreak as the years pass. And when Paris falls to the Nazis, Coco is forced to make choices that will haunt her.

An enthralling novel of an extraordinary designer who created the life she desired, Mademoiselle Chanel explores the inner world of a woman of staggering ambition whose strength, passion and artistic vision would become her trademark.

Thoughts

I dove into this novel having no previous knowledge about Coco Chanel, other than recognizing her status as the most influential fashion designer of the 20th century. I was quickly captivated by her story, which was so heartbreaking yet inspirational at the same time. Although Mademoiselle Chanel is a work of fiction, it follows the major events in Coco Chanel’s life, from growing up as an orphan in a convent to losing loved one after loved one, to risking her life in secret operations during World War II. It instills feelings of hope, love, fear, suspense, and guilt, and I was surprised at how easily it captivated me.

My favorite part about this novel was the character of Coco Chanel. The voice that Gortner created for her felt impressively real. It was effortless for me to imagine Coco spewing off her declarations to people who doubted her and also speaking words of love and encouragement to her closest friends and family members. When she felt betrayed, so did I. When she suffered loss and pain, I wanted to be the friend who comforted her. Even if you are like me and have no interest in fashion, that will not keep you from enjoying and connecting to this fictional retelling of Coco Chanel’s life.

Read This Book If…:

…you love historical fiction, especially involving romance and/or a WWII atmosphere.
…you’re inspired by strong female pioneers.
…you enjoy reading novels set in France.
…you’re looking for a main character who has a real voice and is unabashed in speaking her mind.

Final Musings

Mademoiselle Chanel banner

I’m reviewing Mademoiselle Chanel as part of a blog tour hosted by France Book Tours. Please click on the banner to see a list of other bloggers participating in the tour!

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

CW GortnerC.W. Gortner is the international bestselling author of six historical novels, translated in over twenty-five languages to date. His new novel, Mademoiselle Chanel, traces the tumultuous rise to fame of iconic fashion designer, Coco Chanel. In 2016, Random House will publish his eighth novel, Vatican Princess, about Lucrezia Borgia. Raised in Spain and a long-time resident of the Bay Area, C.W. is also dedicated to companion animal rescue from overcrowded shelters.

Visit his website. Follow him on Facebook, Twitter

Subscribe to his newsletter

Buy the book: HarperCollins | IndieBound | Amazon | Barnes & Noble

GIVEAWAY

You can enter the giveaway here or on the book blogs participating in this tour.
Be sure to follow each participant on Twitter/Facebook, they are listed in the entry form below.

Entry-Form

Visit each blogger on the tour:
tweeting about the giveaway everyday
of the Tour will give you 5 extra entries each time!
[just follow the directions on the entry-form]

6 winners
Open to US only:
5 printed copies
+ 1 beautiful, handcrafted beaded bracelet
inspired by Coco’s black-and-white signature colors
and camellia design

Mademoiselle Chanel bracelet

CLICK ON THE BANNER
TO READ OTHER REVIEWS, EXCERPTS, GUEST-POST AND INTERVIEW

Mademoiselle Chanel banner

From the Fifteenth District by Mavis Gallant – Blog Tour & Giveaway!

from-the-15th-district

“A woman can always get some practical use from a torn-up life, Gabriel decided. She likes mending and patching it, making sure the edges are straight. She spreads the last shred out and takes its measure: ‘What can I do with this remnant? How long does it need to last?’ A man puts on his life ready-made. If it doesn’t fit, he will try to exchange it for another. Only a fool of a man will try to adjust the sleeves or move the buttons; he doesn’t know how.”

From the Fifteenth District by Mavis Gallant
Published December 16, 2014 by Open Road Integrated Media
Historical Fiction/Short Stories
Format: e-book; 228 pages
Also By This Author: Varieties of Exile, The Cost of Living
Goodreads | Amazon Barnes & Noble | Apple iBookstore

Synopsis:

Even as we grow and change, the consequences of what we have left behind often linger.

Mavis Gallant has a unique talent for distilling the sense of otherness one feels abroad into something tangible and utterly understandable. In this collection, she relates the stories of those stranded in relationships, places, and even times in which they don’t belong.

In “The Moslem Wife” a woman is entrusted to look after a hotel in France when her husband is trapped in America after the breakout of World War II. As the situation progresses, the two grow in surprising and profound ways. In another tale, a German prisoner of war is released from France and returns home to a mother whose personality has been as irrevocably changed by the war as his has. In one of the most poignant entries, Gallant follows the life of a Holocaust survivor, illustrating how his experiences tint his outlook on life forty years later.

With its wide breadth of subject matter and the author’s characteristic way with nuance, From the Fifteenth District is classic Mavis Gallant.

Thoughts:

This was my first time reading anything by Mavis Gallant, and because of that, I was not expecting her writing style. These aren’t stories that you can breeze through; you really have to take the time to digest everything because Gallant writes with some truly beautiful figurative language. The quote I cited at the beginning of this post is an example of the type of metaphors she uses throughout the nine stories included in this collection. Each story focuses on a different character living in Europe during the WWII era. Although these characters do not connect with each other, their stories all share the same themes and tones, the most poignant being a sense of otherness the characters can all relate to.

One of the stories that particularly stood out to me was “The Four Seasons,” which follows Carmela, a young Italian girl living with an American family. She does not speak English very well and thus feels separated from her housemates. Even when she does gain a better understanding of the language, she pretends not to because by that point she has become too withdrawn from the family to develop an authentic relationship with them. I could relate to Carmela’s situation. When I was living in France, it was sometimes easier for me to pretend I was ignorant of the French conversations going on around me because that was easier to cope with than the awkwardness of cultural differences. Each of the other characters in Gallant’s stories face this same type of displacement; some feel a distance from the people around them, others feel dislocated from their physical surroundings.

Read This Book If…:

…you enjoy short stories collections.
…you like stories that can be read in one sitting but continue to stay with you long after you’ve finished reading them.
…you feel drawn to historical fiction, especially fiction that takes place during WWII.
…you’re touched more by books that are theme-driven instead of plot-driven.

Final Musings

From the 15th district banner

I’m reviewing From the Fifteenth District as part of a blog tour hosted by France Book Tours. Please click on the banner to read other reviews as well as an excerpt of the book.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

From the 15th district Mavis GallantIn 1952 Mavis Gallant (1922–2014) left a successful career as a journalist in Montreal to live independently as a writer of fiction in Europe. She had gained international recognition in 1951 when she was published in the New Yorker, which in subsequent years released over one hundred of her short stories, most of which are set in European cities or Montreal. Random House published twelve volumes of her work. Gallant was awarded the 1981 Governor General’s Award for Home Truths, the 2002 Rea Award for the Short Story, and the 2004 PEN/Nabokov Award for lifetime achievement. She was a companion of the Order of Canada, the country’s highest honor. After traveling widely in Europe, in 1960 Gallant settled in Paris, where she died in 2014. The Journals of Mavis Gallant: 1952–1969 is tentatively scheduled for publication by Alfred A. Knopf in 2015.

GIVEAWAY

Click on Entry-Form to enter the giveaway:

Entry-Form

Visit each blogger on the tour:
tweeting about the giveaway everyday of the Tour
will give you 5 extra entries each time!
[just follow the directions on the entry-form]

US only giveaway:
your choice of kindle/epub of this book

A Separate Peace by John Knowles

aseparatepiece

“We reminded them of what peace was like, of lives which were not bound up with destruction.”

A Separate Peace by John Knowles
Published 1959 by Secker & Warburg

Classics/Young Adult
Format: paperback; 204 pages
Also By This Author: Peace Breaks Out, Phineas
Goodreads | Amazon

My Rating: 4/5 

Synopsis:

Set at a boys boarding school in New England during the early years of World War II, A Separate Peace is a harrowing and luminous parable of the dark side of adolescence. Gene is a lonely, introverted intellectual. Phineas is a handsome, taunting, daredevil athlete. What happens between the two friends one summer, like the war itself, banishes the innocence of these boys and their world.

Thoughts:

I first read A Separate Peace nearly 14 years ago while I was in 7th grade. I’ve always felt like my assigned reading choices in school were generally interesting books that made a long-lasting impact on me; A Separate Peace is no exception. Do you ever reread books you haven’t read in ages and find yourself thinking, “I do not remember imagining it this way”? For me it was more about remembering the characters differently.

Gene and Phineas are two 16-year-old boys living at an all-boys prep school, where most of the students and staff are affected by the outbreak of WWII. Gene and Phineas, along with a few other students, create the “Super Suicide Society,” where the whole goal is to do daring and rule-breaking stunts. This club, and the leadership of Phineas, reflect the escape the boys try to make from the reality of war. The irony, however, is that the boys have brought the war into their club.

Before I reread this book, I had the mindset that Phineas was that one friend we all have who always tries to “one up” us in everything. You know who I’m talking about–you do well on a test, they do better; you feel like you’re really good in a sport or hobby, they show you how much more talented they are (and make it look effortless); you receive an awesome present from someone, they tell you that they got one once and it just wasn’t that great. Well, when I reread this novel, I realized that Phineas is not that “one-upper” friend at all. Which means that I obviously relate a lot to Gene, who creates this whole unspoken competition between himself and Phineas.

I think a lot of people can relate to the characters and circumstances in this novel, even though it takes place in the early 1940s. That’s why this book had so much impact on me when I was 12 and when I was 25; you can put those themes into any context and will still be able to empathize with the characters.

Read This Book If…:

…you enjoy short, powerful novels.
…you like reading historical, young adult books that deal with mature subject matter.
…you’re intrigued by themes of war, childhood innocence, jealousy, and forgiveness.

Final Musings:

One of the things I love most about these short & powerful novels is that they always have so many good quotes to reflect on!

“Because it seemed clear that wars were not made by generations and their special stupidities, but that wars were made instead by something ignorant in the human heart.”

The Beautiful American by Jeanne Mackin – Blog Tour & GIVEAWAY!

thebeautifulamerican

“Some memories, the more you talk about them, the stronger they become.”

The Beautiful American by Jeanne Mackin
Published June 3, 2014 by New American Library/Penguin
Historical Fiction
Format: paperback; 352 pages
Cover Appeal: A
Also From This Author: The Sweet By and By, The Frenchwoman
Goodreads | Amazon | Website
My Rating: 4/5

Synopsis:

As recovery from World War II begins, expat American Nora Tours travels from her home in southern France to London in search of her missing daughter. There, she unexpectedly meets up with an old acquaintance, famous model-turned-photographer Lee Miller. Neither has emerged from the war unscathed. Nora is racked with the fear that her efforts to survive under the Vichy regime may have cost her daughter’s life. Lee suffers from what she witnessed as a war correspondent photographing the liberation of the Nazi concentration camps.

Nora and Lee knew each other in the heady days of late 1920’s Paris: when Nora was giddy with love for her childhood sweetheart, Lee became the celebrated mistress of the artist Man Ray, and Lee’s magnetic beauty drew them all into the glamorous lives of famous artists and their wealthy patrons. But Lee fails to realize that her friendship with Nora is even older, that it goes back to their days as children in Poughkeepsie, New York, when a devastating trauma marked Lee forever.

A novel of freedom and frailty, desire and daring, The Beautiful American portrays the extraordinary relationship between two passionate, unconventional women.

Thoughts

This novel brought on so many nostalgic feelings! One of my favorite things about reading novels set in France is all the cultural references I get to latch on to. I like reading about a city or cuisine or French habit and being able to say, “Yes! I know exactly what that is.” I’ve read some books set in France that had too many cultural and French language errors for me to be able to enjoy reading it. The Beautiful American is not one of those books. Jeanne Mackin depicts a vividly accurate and alive portrait of France, so that it is a character as much as it is a setting.

The book starts off to a slower tempo but that really adds to the whole suspense of the novel. We know right from the beginning that Nora, our main character and American expatriate, is searching for her missing daughter, and is also hiding a torturous and heartbreaking past. Then suddenly we are presented with detailed flashbacks of a promiscuous and carefree 1920s Paris. During these earlier flashbacks I kept comparing The Beautiful American to The Great Gatsby; they both play with themes of 1920s idealism, and the suspense I mentioned earlier is strengthened by the foreboding knowledge that everything is about to come crashing down. Once it finally does, you cannot put this book down until you know how it ends.

I was happy, and nothing in the world can make you oblivious to your surroundings like happiness.

As far as historical fiction novels go, this one is captivating and inspiring. Nora and her celebutante childhood friend are bold and courageous characters who witness some true horrors from the WWII era. As a warning to anyone interested in reading this book, there is some mild sex and violence that is unsettling but not explicit.

If you are a fan of historical fiction that feels real and intense, The Beautiful American will no doubt be an enjoyable novel for you! You’ll feel like you’ve been transported to WWII era France even if you’ve never been to France before in your life :)

Read This Book If…:

…you love France!
…you enjoy reading historical fiction that takes place in Europe during WWII
…you like The Great Gatsby (it has that same 1920s idealism that you just know is about to collapse)
…you’re longing for a book that will captivate you even after you’ve turned the last page

Final Musings

FranceBookTours I’m reviewing The Beautiful American as part of a blog tour hosted by France Book Tours. Please click on the banner to see a list of other bloggers participating in the tour!

Praise for The Beautiful American

“Readers will rank [it] right up there with The Paris Wife…. A brilliant, beautifully written literary masterpiece…”–New York Times bestselling author Sandra Dallas

“Will transport you to expat Paris… and from there take you on a journey through the complexities of a friendship…breathes new life into such luminaries as Man Ray, Picasso, and, of course, the titular character, Lee Miller, while at the same time offering up a wonderfully human and sympathetic protagonist in Nora Tours.”–Suzanne Rindell, author of The Other Typist

“Achingly beautiful and utterly mesmerizing… Sure to appeal to fans of Paula McLain’s The Paris Wife and Erika Robuck’s Call Me Zelda, or indeed to anyone with a taste for impeccably researched and beautifully written historical fiction.”– Jennifer Robson, author of Somewhere in France

“Beautiful…A fascinating account of a little-known woman who was determined to play by her own rules.”–Historical Novel Society

unnamedABOUT THE AUTHOR

Jeanne Mackin is the author of several historical novels set in France, and has earned awards for her journalism
as well as a creative writing fellowship from the American Antiquarian Society. She lives in upstate New York with her husband, cats and herd of deer, and is still trying to master the French subjunctive.

Visit her website.
Follow Jeanne Mackin on Twitter  | Facebook

Buy the book on Amazon | Barnes and Noble | Books a Million | Google Play | iBookstore | Indiebound | Powells

GIVEAWAY

Click here to enter a giveaway for Jeanne Mackin’s The Beautiful American. Five copies will be given away to US/Canada residents only.