To Capture What We Cannot Keep

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To Capture What We Cannot Keep

by Beatrice Colin

February 2017

To Capture What We Cannot Keep jumped into my hands while perusing the new shelf at the library. I’m always drawn to anything French, so it’s little surprise I went for this book. Plus, it has a gorgeous cover! The book takes place in 1880’s Paris at the time when the Eiffel Tower is being built. It is a beautiful book filled with flowing, descriptive language that truly transports you to a different place and time. I was drawn in by the first chapter and was reminded of North and South by Elizabeth Gaskell. The love story, Cait, and the social issues discussed were reminiscent of Gaskell’s book (which happens to be a favorite of mine). Simply put, this book is beautiful and I loved it.

Cait is a young widow and has recently been charged with the job of chaperoning Alice and Jamie Arroll, a brother and sister from Scotland, on a European tour. They are ending in Paris and bump into Émile, one of the designers of the Eiffel Tower. Jamie, who is searching for career guidance is quick to establish a connection with Émile, while Cait makes quite a different connection. Before anything can evolve, the the Scots return home. Once there, Cait is proposed to, but it is not out of love, and there’s just something that doesn’t sit well even though it’s a respectable match. Alice and Jamie’s uncle (also their guardian) steps in and purposes a solution. Jamie wishes to apprentice under Émile and Cait could return to Paris with him and Alice and be their chaperone again. Without hesitation Cait agrees. Spoilers: once in Paris, Cait and Émile get swept into a passionate affair. At the same time Alice is searching for a husband, considering Émile only because it is expected of her. She is silly and naive and spends most of her time at fittings, or complaining. Jamie meanwhile is a horrible apprentice, spending his time at a brothel and gambling, losing thousands of francs. Émile steps in at one point and helps bail him out of debt in order to ease Cait’s distress (unbeknownst to Jamie Cait is aware of his debt). Émile has his own worries though. His mother is dying and would never approve of a match between him and Cait, but she desperately wants him to marry and have children. Cait isn’t worry-free either. Her past is shrouded in pain. Her husband was cruel and abused her to the point of harming her when she was pregnant; causing the baby to die. A procedure was done to save Cait, but left her unable to have any more children. While Cait wants love, she realizes she can’t be with Émile and tries to cut it off. He won’t accept it, to the point of walking out with Alice in order to be near Cait. Finally, everything comes to a head with scandal. Émile’s former amour, Gabrielle, wants to ruin his life, so sets up an elaborate ruse that gets Alice pregnant, making it look like it’s Émile’s. Émile is threatened to lose his job if he doesn’t marry Alice, and Cait will have nothing to do with him (in her attempt to do what’s socially acceptable). He can’t go against his heart though and refuses to marry Alice. Meanwhile, Alice miscarries and just wants to go home, so they do, leaving Émile without so much as a goodbye. Émile rides out the scandal and becomes a great success when the Eiffel Tower is completed and is spectacular. After the completion his mother passes away, leaving him no reason to stay in Paris. So after the hype of the tower settles, he travels to Scotland to find Cait. Once there he finds Alice, who has wed a noble, and Jamie who has finally matured, but Cait however, is gone, having left to become a missionary in Africa. Undeterred, he follows her there and surprises her. Cait is thrilled and they are happily, finally able to be together!

Summing it up: I highly recommend this beautiful book. In a lot of ways it is a masterpiece. I loved every bit!

All the best, Abbey

 

The Dressmaker’s War

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The Dressmaker’s War

by Mary Chamberlain

December 2016

I came across The Dressmaker’s War a while ago when I was looking for one of my book club books, The Dressmaker by Kate Alcott. It looked interesting, so I put a request in. I was way down the line, so literally six months later, I got it. Honestly, while this book was phenomenally well written, the main character, Ada, drove me nuts the entire book! She was selfish, stupid, and never ever learned. So, lots of mixed feelings, but because of the character, I really have to say I didn’t like this book.

Ada is a young, naive mannequin and seamstress at a local dress shop in England right before WWII begins. She is very skilled and reliable until she meets a young man named Stanislaus. He is handsome, gentlemanly, and mysterious. Ada doesn’t tell her parents much about him because she’s afraid they’d judge him because of his accent. She also lies to him about her parents because she doesn’t want him coming over (says they’re unwell). One day he convinces her to skip work to spend the day with him and she almost gets fired. Another time, he asks her to spend some time in Paris with him. She convinces her employer to allow her to shop for samples and doesn’t tell her parents anything. This is right before war comes to France and England, so she and Stanislaus get trapped. Spoilers: they manage ok, traveling a bit when it gets dangerous, but they don’t return to England. Ada believes he contacted her parents and she happily lives as his wife and works so they can survive. Stanislaus never tells her about his work because it “doesn’t concern Ada” and she never pushes it. They live like this for a while until the war gets worse. Stanislaus takes her to Belgium where he soon abandons her without a word. The Germans are coming, so she manages to gain refuge at a monastery. When the Germans arrive to capture anyone whose British, the nuns lie and say she’s one of them (for her protection). All of the nuns are forced to go to Munich to care for elderly Germans. Ada goes with them and after a while discovers she’s pregnant with Stanislaus’ baby. She’s able to hide it and deliver undetected. Sadly, The baby is stillborn (but Ada refuses for years to believe/accept it). She carries on with her work and one older man seeks her out for his own pleasure, getting Ada alone and forcing her to help him masturbate. Finally, he offers her a job as a dressmaker if she’ll have sex with him and she agrees because it is her greatest dream to be a dressmaker – and someday to own her own shop in Paris. Soon after she is sent to a private house and begins years of captivity, forced into hard labor while being starved and beaten. She is also given the job of dressmaker and mender, and that’s what keeps her alive – designing new gowns, making the wearer shine, etc. Even though it’s for Germans, she finds satisfaction in her work, and is truly forced into it whether she liked it or not. Finally, the Americans come and rescue her, but for a while she is tortured by memories and is very ill. She is returned to the nuns who nurse her and soon she’s ready to return to England and her family. She is also determined to make her way as a dressmaker, bringing with her the sewing machine she used during all her years in captivity. When she finally returns to England she finds her old employer’s shop bombed and her father dead (because he thought she was dead). She finds her mother, but her mother is furious that she never told her her plan and never contacted her (Stanislaus never did). Ada tries to explain, but her mother won’t hear a word and will not let her in the house or speak to her again. Ever the optimist, Ada finds a job and apartment, hoping to save money to find her son (she’s still delusional) and build up her own shop. One night she goes out for a drink and gets propositioned. She goes with it, thinking it’s a date, but later realizes she was taken as a prostitute, and that she can make good money: she goes out for drinks and goes home with someone who pays. One day she meets a man who wants her for more than one night. They hit it off and he becomes more and more involved in her life. His keeps his work quiet too, but Ada shrugs it off. He has connections and can get things like nylons that she sells to her friends. They have a nice little business and she considers him her boyfriend, letting him come home with her, etc. One of her friends warns her that he might be a pimp, but Ada ignores her. One night her boyfriend introduces her to his friend (whom she believes is a backer for her dressmaking business dream), who turns out to be Stanislaus. He doesn’t recognize her and neither man is interested in Ada’s business. Her boyfriend is indeed a pimp and has contracted her out to Stanislaus. She has no choice but to bring him home with her. She confronts him about the past, but he is drunk and makes it clear he never cared for her. After he passes out, Ada is furious and decides to kill him. She binds him to the bed, blocks any openings and turns on the gas before leaving for the bar. She gets hopelessly drunk and comes home to the police who arrest her after she confesses to murder. She goes on trial and her lawyer tries to make a case for “manslaughter under the duress of provocation,” but ultimately, the cards are stacked against her and she comes off looking like a pathological liar (which is kind of true). She gets convicted and sentenced to hang, which she does after writing her whole story down of what “really happened.” She writes about her war. I had such a hard time emphasizing with such a stupid, selfish character. I didn’t want her to die, but I wasn’t surprised in a way. It was just an awful storyline from start to finish, even if the writing was amazing.

Summing it up: I did not love this book, though I did enjoy the writing. I would not recommend it, unfortunately.

All the best, Abbey

The Forgotten Seamstress

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The Forgotten Seamstress

by Liz Trenow

October 2016

Totally in love with this book! The Forgotten Seamstress is another book I found whilst browsing and the synopsis drew me in. I sew, so maybe the word “seamstress” sold me too, but regardless, I’m so happy I found this book. It was a beautiful story about love and loss and finding yourself (one of my favorite themes). I loved the sway between the past and present and how everything connected in the end. The plot was clever and the characters interesting . . .I just loved it.

The Forgotten Seamstress follows two heroines in two time periods: Maria and Caroline. Maria is a young seamstress serving the Prince of Wales’ household in the 1930’s, while Caroline is a recently single/jobless woman struggling to find her way in present day. The story oscillates between these two women’s stories, culminating in a beautiful ending. Spoilers: Maria is young and headstrong. Raised in an orphanage, she secures a job as a seamstress with her best friend, Nora, in the Buckingham Palace. She catches the eye of the Prince of Wales and they have a short affair, which leaves Maria pregnant. When she is close to delivering, she is taken away to an asylum where her baby is taken away from her as soon as he is born. Maria is desolate and forced to stay “tucked away” at the asylum where everyone tells her her past is a fantasy. She undergoes many treatments, one of which leaves her mute. A young woman comes in and helps her learn to speak again, for which Maria is forever grateful. When she is about 50, Nora finds Maria and is able to take her home. Maria is also reunited with her son’s family. He has died, but she finds his adopted mother and his daughter. Through this whole time Maria has been crafting a quilt that tells her life story and holds love and the truth to her story (a love letter from the Prince of Wales). The other protagonist, Caroline, is struggling with her future. She is in her thirties, recently broken up with her boyfriend of 5 years, and jobless. On top of it all her mother has dementia and is starting to get worse and need more looking after. She is going through her mom’s house and finds a mysterious, beautiful quilt that belonged to her grandmother. Something draws Caroline to the quilt and since she is jobless she decides to try and find out the quilt’s provenance. She asks a local reporter, Ben, to help her look into it. Slowly, they start unearthing Maria’s complex history and putting the pieces together. Things culminate when Caroline discovers a letter in her mom’s house, written to her father. It is from her grandmother and tells the story about how she was never able to have a baby, so her husband brought one home one day for her and even though it was mysterious (and shady) she accepted it and raised her son. When he was in school, she decided to volunteer at the asylum down the road where she met a seamstress who was mute. She helped her regain speech and learned that her baby was taken away the same day that she was given her baby boy. She puts things together and leaves, keeping silent until years later when she tells Maria the truth and introduces her to her granddaughter, Caroline. Caroline is shocked, but everything makes sense and she is finally able to have clarity and peace about her past and her future. She has always wanted to be an interior designer, so using the quilt as inspiration she launches her own business. Her mom is settled in a home nearby where Caroline can visit her often. She decides to run her business out of her mom’s home, sell her London flat, and naturally, she and Ben have fallen for each other and are starting a relationship. It is such a sweet ending! I just loved this book!

Summing it up: I absolutely loved this book and loved the history. There were sad/difficult moments, but it was beautiful and touching and inspiring. I definitely recommend it!

All the best, Abbey

At the Water’s Edge

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At the Water’s Edge

by Sara Gruen

September 2016

I loved this book! At the Water’s Edge was brilliant, moving, captivating, and thrilling. I loved every second and I am just floured by Gruen’s ability to write. It is as if you are right there with the characters, seeing what they see and feeling what they feel. I just got swept away. I loved the plot and the characters and the journey that Maddie (the main character) takes.

Maddie is a privileged woman in 1940’s Philadelphia. She is married and enjoys a life filled with nightly parties and sleeping in until noon. She does nothing herself and has no cares, except one. Her husband is color blind and is “unfit” to fight in WWII, so they are ostracized from family and friends, especially by her in-laws, who have cut Ellis’ allowance down and forced him and Maddie to move in with them. Ellis is tired of his parents’ lack of understanding and wants to get away. He decides to sail to Drumnadrochit, Scotland with his best friend, Hank, and Maddie to search for the Loch Ness Monster. Maddie is opposed, but she sees that this is what Ellis really needs and so reluctantly agrees. After a horrendous journey, where Maddie witnesses the horrors of war, they arrive in Scotland and get settled in a little inn. Maddie is restless and upset, while Ellis and Hank are rude and inconsiderate. They continue in their poor attitudes as they dive into their search, while Maddie is soon left behind. Spoilers: As time goes on, Ellis and Hank show more of their true selves, especially Ellis. They get drunk every day and when they return to the inn Ellis is rude, bordering on cruel, to Maddie. For a while, Maddie has been diagnosed with a heart condition. She is hesitant to take her pills, only ever having one, while Ellis helps himself to her medication. In Drumnadrochit, Ellis steals more and more of her pills, which begins to worry Maddie. Ellis also leaves her behind on several overnight trips, not telling her when he is coming back. At first Maddie is hurt, but as she sees more and more of Ellis’ despicable behavior, she starts putting two and two together, culminating with the realization that Ellis is faking being color blind. All this time, Maddie has been forming friendships with the two girls who work at the inn and the owner, Angus (who is kind, generous, and quiet, having tragically lost his wife and baby three years earlier). Maddie has begun helping with the housework while Ellis is away and becoming a part of the community. She has also fallen in love with Angus and he with her. Things come to a head when Ellis realizes that Maddie has figured out his secret. He is clever though and begins putting his plan into action: he arranges things so that Maddie looks like she is crazy and needs a lobotomy, frames Angus for poaching, and fakes a picture of the Loch Ness Monster. He leaves with Hank to get his picture and then the police come to take Angus away. What they don’t know is that Angus is actually the laird and has been “poaching” off his own land, so they can’t arrest him. In delight, Maddie leaves to lord it over Ellis and demand a divorce. She arrives at the lake and catches Ellis in the boat. He gets angry and she gets knocked over the edge. Instead of helping Maddie, Ellis tries to drown her. Angus has been close on Maddie’s heals though and rescues her. When Hank realizes Ellis’ real character, he beats him up and follows everyone back to the inn. It is a close call for Maddie, but she pulls through and then finds out that Ellis drown in a few inches of water after being beat up by Hank. No charges are pressed and Maddie and Angus are free to be together. They get married, have children, and open up their huge house to recovering soldiers! It is beautiful to see Maddie grow from a proud, ignorant woman, to a kind, helpful, generous woman. She truly grows and I was so happy that she was able to be rid of her awful husband and be truly happy and fulfilled.

Summing it up: I absolutely recommend this book! It was incredible and I can’t say enough good things about it!

All the best, Abbey

The Gallery

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The Gallery

by Laura Marx Fitzgerald

July 2016

The Gallery was such a cute book. I loved it. I found it in the juvenile fiction section and (surprise, surprise) took it out because of it’s cover. I am really enjoying books geared for middle school aged kids. There’s something about them that is so serious in a lighthearted way. What I mean is, it’s a lighthearted plot, perhaps a bit outlandish, but the young heroine or hero takes things very seriously and must “save the day” even when the adults think it’s crazy (but of course those adults come around in the end). It’s just delightful and a great way to get caught up in a fun story. I’m very impressed by Fitzgerald’s way with words and ability to create clever, interesting characters. She moves the story along at a steady pace and pulls you into her story with ease.

The plot follows 12 year old heroine, Martha, a maid in a fancy New York house in the 1920’s. Her mother is the housekeeper and the owners are a newspaper tycoon and his mad wife. Or is she mad? Martha is determined to find out. Spoiler: Martha figures out that Rose (the wife) is in fact being poisoned and not actually mad at all. She sets about to rescue her, but when they get discovered Martha believes all to be lost. Rose however (along with Martha’s mother) is not deterred and uses a market crash to force her husband to leave town so she can start a life of her own.

This book is just so clever and fun and I’m going to read Fitzgerald’s other book, Under the Egg. Anyone else read either book? I’d love to know what you thought!

Summing it up: I highly recommend this book! It was clever, fun and an all around great read.

All the best, Abbey

The Corinthian

 

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The Corinthian

by Georgette Heyer

July 2016

The Corinthian swept me away immediately. I got lost in the characters, the language, the age, and especially the humor. Georgette Heyer is a master of effortlessly combining romance and humor. I loved everything about this book. I was so hooked that I stayed up until 2 am in order to finish!

The story takes place in London during the Regency Period. Sir Richard Wyndham is a 29 year old bachelor being pressured into marrying someone he does not love. He is wealthy, quite a dandy, and unwilling to settle down. Penelope Creed (Pen) is a 17 year old heiress who is being forced to marry her cousin, a “fish face,” whom she despises. One night, she decides to escape out her window, only to fall into the arms of  Richard (who has decided to give up love and marry for convenience, but is miserable about it). They quickly decided to “escape” together, Richard escorting Pen to her true love. Along the way they meet many characters and get into many hilarious scrapes before ending quite happily for everyone.

Summing it up: I highly recommend this book! It was a humorous, lighthearted, perfect read for the summer.

All the best, Abbey

The Dressmaker

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The Dressmaker

by Kate Alcott

May 2016

I’m leading my MOMS club book club this month and I picked a book that caught my eye because of it’s pretty cover: The Dressmaker. I’ve always been drawn historic fashion, so it wasn’t surprising that I liked the cover! Well, this book was a quick, sweet read. There was nothing I really disliked or loved about the story, it was simply a nice book.

The book is set around the sinking of the Titanic and the famous fashion designer, Lady Duff Gordon who survived the sinking with her husband and secretary. It was quite a controversy because they had a lot of room in their life boat. The protagonist is the secretary, Tess, and the story is told through her eyes. She is unhappy as a maid in England and convinces Gordon to take her as a maid on the Titanic so she can live a better life. Tess is very proud and is a terrible servant, but Gordon sees a bit of herself in Tess and decides to give her a chance. The majority of the book takes place after the sinking and involves the trial that follows. Tess has to choose her loyalty: will she stand by Gordon who may have purposely pushed people away from her boat, or a young seaman who is honest and upfront? She is also torn between two loves: the same honest seaman who is a village boy at heart, and a wealthy American who wants to give Tess the world? Tess learns to follow her heart and figure out what she truly wants. (Spoiler: she backs the seaman and chooses him as her love.)

I think I never really connected with Tess. She is very haughty and while she grows a bit through the story, she still stays pretty self-centered. The book was engaging and a quick read. While I enjoyed the book, I did not love it and I wouldn’t rave about it.

Summing it up: I recommend this book if you’re interested in the Titanic, as it was an interesting, quick read.

All the best, Abbey