Book chat: ‘Jane Austen’s First Love’ by Syrie James

Jane Austen's First LoveRomantic, wistful and richly engrossing, fans of the beloved Miss Austen will delight in Syrie James’ well-researched, evocative story of the summer Jane is believed to have first fallen in love.

For a month in 1791, 15-year-old Jane Austen is welcomed with her sister and brother to the vast, beautiful world of Goodnestone to celebrate the engagement of her brother, Edward, to Elizabeth Bridges, one of the young ladies of the estate. On their way to the celebration, their carriage meets with calamity — and Edward Taylor, a handsome and educated young man who lives nearby, comes to their rescue.

As their connection to the Bridges family brings them together, Jane and Edward pass many enjoyable weeks in each other’s company . . . much to the chagrin of the chaperones entrusted with making sure the reputations of both families remain unsullied. Though she knows a match between a wealthy heir and a reverend’s daughter is unlikely, their affection continues to grow — even as Jane meddles in the romances of those around her, causing disturbances and miscommunications.

Based on the scholarly belief that Jane did, in fact, meet one Edward Taylor through her brother — and snippets of letters in which she mentions both Him and Bifrons, Edward’s actual home — James has constructed a lively, entertaining tale of the man who may have stolen young Jane’s heart. With generous and creative nods to future characters (especially Emma Woodhouse, intrepid but misguided matchmaker), Jane Austen’s First Love is a treat for fans of the author and historical fiction alike.

The way Jane falls in love with Edward was sudden but believable — a feat not easily accomplished. As a young woman with little experience away from Steventon (and her mother’s grasp), Jane is enamored to be passing time as she chooses — and in the company of new, exciting, accomplished people. In addition to being handsome and well-traveled, Edward is adventurous and kind. Though a bit of a daredevil with a reputation to match, he has no trouble questioning the status quo: unique in a society that places propriety above all else.

Jane comes from different stock, of course. Visiting Goodnestone for her brother’s engagement celebration, she and Cassandra are under immense pressure to behave well and not present as “country folk.” At 15, Jane is too young to actually be “out” in society . . . but her mother relents for the special occasion, allowing her to participate in the many events and balls held in honor of two sets of soon-to-be newlyweds (the sister of Edward Austen’s intended is also to marry). This new independence delights Jane — but it comes at a cost.

The early feelings of love and affection blossoming between Jane and Edward Taylor — the nerves; the excitement; the desperation to see each other again — are familiar to all of us. Indeed, it’s tough to read Jane Austen’s First Love and not feel transported back to your own first brush with romance. James does a remarkable job of drawing us into the easy banter and camaraderie the two share . . . but of course, we know the ending of the story.

Is it a spoiler to talk of the fate of a famous author who passed nearly 200 years ago? Austen fans know that, for all her exquisite explorations of the human heart, Jane herself never did marry — nor did her sister, Cassandra, after losing a fiance as a young woman. Jane passed at age 41 and left an enormous legacy that still has us talking, speculating and daydreaming centuries later.

Knowing the end of her romance with Edward Taylor even before it began did nothing to harm it; in fact, James beautifully demonstrates how reasonable it was that Jane could have fallen in love . . . but how, in the end, first loves are not always forever loves. What could have been a bittersweet ending was, instead, satisfying and realistic.

I loved my time at Goodnestone — and any time spent in the company of dear Jane is always well spent. Syrie James does a remarkable job of returning us to Regency England in the company of “characters” that actually feel like friends, with a story that felt both familiar and fresh. Jane Austen’s First Love will be a welcome addition to the shelves of Janeites everywhere — and those interested in a good love story will rejoice in it, too.

4.5 out of 5

Pub: August 2014 • GoodreadsLibraryThingAmazonAuthor Website
Paperback copy provided by publisher for review consideration


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Book review: ‘Sedition’ by Katharine Grant

SeditionRacy, entertaining and unexpected, Katharine Grant’s Sedition was nothing like I expected and better than I had hoped.

Let me explain.

Though firmly in the historical fiction camp, Katharine Grant’s Sedition is and isn’t romance. Set in London during the 18th century, Grant’s romp is centered on a group of wealthy fathers eager to marry off their daughters — five spoiled, disinterested young women. As the men conspire to teach their girls piano by purchasing an instrument from an eccentric shopkeeper, the girls cook up schemes of their own . . . namely with Monsieur Claude, their new instructor. And he, in turn, has secrets to keep.

Though it seems rather complicated, everything is actually straight forward — at first. He wants her; she wants him; she wants her; he wants none of them. It’s a comedy of errors that often results in some entertaining misunderstandings — but there’s plenty of heart here, too.

The novel centers mostly on Annie Cantabile, the piano virtuoso daughter of the man who sells the families their pianoforte, as well as the woman she befriends and eventually loves. Though every woman takes a turn in the spotlight, we get to know Annie and Alathea Sawneyford the best — and I really felt for both. Born with a cleft palate, Annie is hidden in the shadows at the shop . . . but longs to play music and start a new life away from her callous father. Dedication to her sick mother keeps Annie rooted in London, but a friendship forged unexpectedly with Alathea gives her renewed purpose.

Grant’s story is engrossing, unique and captivating. Not really knowing what to expect going in, I found myself delighted by Sedition and stealing time on vacation to meet up with the characters. The racy content level is pretty high — higher than I would have guessed — but hey, I’m a married woman; I could handle it. Some may take offense to the content, however. (Also, there are some graphic depictions of incest. Just so you know.)

With its endlessly dark subject matter, Grant still managed to keep the tone and feel of the novel light. There were some disturbing messes going down, no doubt, and I did feel disgusted on several occasions, but I think that was intentional. To understand the struggle and longing, we must know the depravity. We must understand the hurt and betrayal and pain.

Sedition is about push-pull power struggles . . . the struggle of women to take control of their bodies and sexuality; a movement to break away from familial expectations. Still, the girls were without many options aside from marrying well . . . and they throw themselves into learning the pianoforte in order to dazzle at a concert attended by the gentlemen of London: a sort of debutante ball without the dancing.

And they dazzle, all right.

Memorable and titillating, Sedition was an enjoyable story. After I got over my initial shock at all the behind-closed-doors carryings-on, I really felt the emotional changes of the characters and thought them realistic. Grant writes with humor and a keen eye for pacing — enough to keep me flying through the pages.

This is a fairly quick read, but it wasn’t without depth and wisdom. I felt connected to Annie Cantabile long after I’d finished the story. Her plight — and desire to break free of expectation, of restraint — was moving. Though selfishly I longed for a happier ending for many of the women, I also knew Sedition concluded in just the way it needed to. Not a novel I’ll soon forget!


4 out of 5!

Pub: April 1, 2014 • GoodreadsLibraryThingAmazonAuthor Website
Review copy provided by publisher in exchange for my honest review


Book review: ‘Letters from Skye’ by Jessica Brockmole

Letters from SkyePoet Elspeth Dunn isn’t sure what to make of her first fan letter. Arriving in Scotland’s Isle of Skye all the way from America, its author — a young college student named David Graham — has a way with words himself. As David reveals more of his life through their continued correspondence and Elspeth finds herself opening up, too, their friendship — flourishing just before the onslaught of World War I — gradually turns to love.

Having never left the Isle of Skye, any plans to meet in person are thwarted by Elspeth’s fears . . . until she pushes herself to venture outside the isolated landscape. They unite just before David leaves to volunteer as an ambulance driver in France, leaving Elspeth to savor and sort through their stolen days together. Two decades later, Elspeth’s daughter stumbles across the countless letters her mother exchanged with a mysterious American and struggles with her own romantic entanglements at the start of World War II. In 1940, Elspeth’s world has greatly changed — but it also hasn’t. Whatever became of David? Is the past really past?

Jessica Brockmole’s Letters From Skye has enough atmosphere and carefully-curated twists to keep readers invested in its wartime-era drama, spanning two battles and countless family struggles. Told entirely through letters, most passed between Elspeth and David, it’s a romance that unfolds on the page and emphasizes the power of the written word.

Given I’m such a mail nerd, I was all over this.

And I enjoyed it. I actually picked up Letters from Skye after my fiance began emailing me breathtaking photos from the remote Scottish area, his “subtle” way of suggesting we add it to our shortlist for honeymoon destinations. The Isle of Skye is undeniably beautiful, and the idea of anyone living in such an isolated area — especially 100 years ago, when communication was relegated to the occasional slow-moving letter and the ferry your only transportation option — was fascinating.

In terms of place, which plays such an important role in the novel, Skye didn’t disappoint. It was easy to picture Elspeth writing poetry and letters by candlelight, battening down the hatches as a cold wind blows. David’s letters from Chicago held the American warmth and charm one would expect from an optimistic young man on the other side of the Atlantic, and their chemistry on the page was clear. As they laid their hearts through cursive, especially Elspeth’s heavy burdens, it was hard to feel indifferent to their plight.

But something — maybe something small; maybe something big — was missing to push this novel up to 4-star status for me. David was dashing and their romance interesting, but I remained disconnected from Elspeth. Maybe part of it was switching so rapidly between time periods? One second we’re in 1913, the next in 1940. Bombs are falling in Edinburgh just before a younger Elspeth is writing in Skye. Though each chapter and letter is clearly marked, the transitions felt herky-jerky at times. Elspeth’s daughter, Margaret, is enjoying a romance with a young British pilot, but I didn’t feel I really knew or understood her until the end . . . and because her character was never really explored, I couldn’t get psyched about the decisions she was making.

But maybe I’m being overly critical. For those who enjoy historical fiction, as I do, this World War I- and II-era love story spun in enough directions that I was never bored, never flipping pages just to flip ’em. I rooted for the young lovers, even as things got extraordinarily complicated, and the boom! of an ending was totally worth the price of admission. It’s a memorable scene and a powerful one — sweet, maybe not unexpected . . . but I can’t say I wasn’t pleased with how it all turned out.

If WWII-era London or Edinburgh gets your blood pumping or you simply love the epistolary format, Letters from Skye is an engaging read that satisfied my anglophile thirst. I was glad Brockmole didn’t leave us adrift in a loch, making sure to wrap up the messy ends, and I appreciated the additional explorations of family, sacrifice and love. A quick, enjoyable read.


3.5 out of 5!

Pub: July 9, 2013 ♥ GoodreadsLibraryThingAmazonAuthor Website
Review copy provided by TLC Book Tours in exchange for my honest review


Book review: ‘The Last Camellia’ by Sarah Jio

The Last CamelliaIn 2000, American Addison Sinclair has packed up to live the dream of many an anglophile: she and her writer husband, Rex, are freshly arrived at a newly-purchased family estate in the English countryside. Livingston Manor’s past unfurls through the stoic and elderly housekeeper, Miss Dilloway, and the many botany books Addison discovers in the home.

Once she learns of Flora, an amateur botanist and fellow American once contracted to care for Lord Livingston’s four children as a nanny . . . and something more sinister. What became of her? As Addison learns more about the Livingstons’ camellia orchard and the ill-fated woman who once loved them, decades-old murder mysteries combine with the ghostly specter of Addison’s past to unearth a hotbed of secrets.

Sarah Jio is quickly becoming a star in the world of historical fiction. With The Last Camellia, her fourth novel, the dual narratives of two Americans marooned at Livingston Manor in England intersect in consistent — if somewhat predictable — ways.

So. The good. It’s impossible to traverse Livingston Manor without pausing to smell the roses, so to speak. The atmosphere Jio creates is intoxicating: a grand British estate; a severe but kindhearted housekeeper; mysterious children kept under lock and key; a glorious, hidden conservatory in the center of the mansion. Though all the camellia talk became tiring, especially when discussing the elusive Middlebury Pink, I appreciated the warmth and grandeur conveyed in this vivid story. I never forgot where I was — and the manor could easily have been something out of “Downton Abbey.”

Maybe that’s why I was initially drawn into the story? The talk of servants and lords, the distinctly British feel. The air of mystery is inescapable, having me question Addison’s present and Flora’s past in one fell swoop.

But then I figured everything out.

Look, putting the pieces together doesn’t always preclude me from enjoying a story. As a reader, I’m not always astute; sometimes I read for the sheer pleasure of it, refusing to slide the various clues into place. I’m the same way with movies. Though the answers seem obvious, I don’t play along. I just keep turning the pages, waiting to be surprised the way an author likely intended.

Other times, though? Well, other times I just can’t help but figure things out. Little clues feel learn toward sledgehammers instead of  subtleties. For as much as I enjoy Jio’s stories, I can’t shake the feeling that they’re a little too much “tell” and not enough “show” for me.

In the case of The Last Camellia, I was far more invested in Flora than Addison; an air of mystery lingered longer with our mysterious nanny-turned-flower-stalker than it did for our modern character. I never really got a sense of Addison — and her back story felt hokey, honestly. The transitions were clunky. We shuffle from 2000 to 1940 and then to “fifteen years earlier,” when a teenage Addison was taken in by a drunken aunt. The circumstances surrounding Addison’s childhood and formative years, meeting Rex, getting married — all left out. I never got a sense of Rex and the Sinclair family, either; they were just kind of . . . there. We know Rex is at Livingston Manor to write a novel and is, perhaps, drawing inspiration from his wife’s discoveries about previous tenants, but he feels a bit like a prop. The story isn’t about him, I know, but it was hard to ignore someone tossed into the action with no real part to play.

The Livingston family, on the other hand, felt much better realized. Eldest daughter Katherine was realistically drawn and sympathetic. Her interactions with Flora could be frustrating, but one can’t help but feel for a girl who has lost her mother. Flora’s yearning for her family was palpable, while the developing “romance” with a character connected to the Livingstons in an unexpected way was never fully developed. Because I never dug in deep with Flora and her beau, I couldn’t fully appreciate the dramatic conclusion. And the mystery that failed to really be a mystery just left me indifferent.

Despite my issues, I don’t want to give the impression that I didn’t enjoy this story — because I really did. I read the whole thing in a few days, tearing through it once I’d reached the halfway point. Jio has a talent for wrapping readers up in her stories and a gift for the dual narrative. The shifts between past and present weren’t always seamless, but it’s a quick read with enough historical intrigue to keep readers happy. If you’ve enjoyed Jio’s previous novels or are simply looking for a fun story with a modern and vintage vibe, The Last Camellia may be just the ticket.


3.5 out of 5!

Pub: May 28, 2013 ♥ GoodreadsLibraryThingAmazonAuthor Website
Review copy provided by TLC Book Tours in exchange for my honest review


Book review: ‘Cascade’ by Maryanne O’Hara

CascadeI have to sort out my feelings on this.

Maryanne O’Hara’s Cascade has been on my radar since I caught a glimpse of its gorgeous cover last summer, and Audra’s review tipped this into “book lust” category. Why it took me another nine months to read it? Honestly, I don’t know.

But since finishing Cascade early Sunday morning, it’s been lingering behind my eyelids. I read the last 100 pages in a sitting, almost breathless to discover what would become of star-crossed Desdemona, but felt something akin to grief upon finishing O’Hara’s captivating story.

I didn’t want to say goodbye.

Sometimes books speak to us — uniquely, exclusively. The elements of a particular story combine to seem formed just for you . . . and so it was with Cascade. I should preface my review by acknowledging my deep, overwhelming fear of water. Of drowning. Of being pulled under. The idea of an entire town being purposely dismantled and flooded to form a reservoir — of a place that once existed but has since been razed, morphed into a lake — is both fascinating and horrifying.

Cascade, Massachusetts is the kind of quintessential New England town you’d imagine Norman Rockwell’s subjects to inhabit. It’s idyllic and quaint, filled with friends and gossips — a place where everyone truly knows your name. Desdemona “Dez” Hart Spaulding grew up here, buried her mother and brother here, and shelved her dreams of art and New York to provide for her father in the last months of his life. Broke and facing homelessness, Dez agrees to marry Asa Spaulding, a goodhearted pharmacist, so William Hart will be safe in his final days. She’s so absurdly grateful for a roof over her head that she never hesitates to bind her life to Asa’s.

It’s the 1930s. The Great Depression. After the Roaring Twenties, after the Great War changed everything. As news of dust storms blotting out the sun clutter newsreels and bread lines curve around buildings, Dez knows she should be content — grateful — for the relatively comfortable life she shares with Asa. But after her father’s death, a feeling like claustrophobia pushes the air from her lungs.

And things are heating up in town. Long rumored but never made official, word is spreading that the state is finally ready to build a new reservoir for Boston. With its proximity to water and the city, Cascade seems the ideal choice. When Massachusetts sends out Stan Smith, a portly worker for the Water Authority, gossip and worry seep into the town’s very pores. Dez befriends Stan after he stops into her husband’s pharmacy, trying to glean information or a shred of hope for Cascade’s future, but the flood waters already seem to inch around the town. If chosen, Cascade faces imminent ruin. Complete demolition. To be filled until nothing remains.

In that atmosphere of uncertainty, a friendship between Desdemona and Jacob Solomon begins to blossom. A Jewish peddler carrying on his father’s traditions, Jacob also has artistic ambitions — and finds a kindred spirit in Dez, the savvy and creative daughter of a play master. With an appreciation for Shakespeare thanks to her father, Dez is worldly and interesting and nothing like most of the folks in Cascade: a group typically content to drink their root bear floats at Asa’s soda fountain and malign Jacob’s good name because he’s “one of them.”

With tensions brewing in Europe and in New England, Dez is faced with an earth rapidly shifting beneath her feet. And it’s time to make a move.

Reading Cascade was such a lush, complicated experience. My description doesn’t do justice to half the threads weaving O’Hara’s moving novel together — but a girl has to try. Of the many elements happening in one 350-page book, the connection brewing between Dez and Jacob captivated me completely. My heart literally ached reading about their friendship, however brief, and the story’s progression found me desperately hoping for something I knew could never be. Without giving anything way, I felt splintered by the novel’s close. Just splintered. Gut-punched.

And that’s the mark of a great story.

And this was a great story . . . the first 5-star book I’ve read in almost a year. A wholly unique tale. One with which I sympathized, and empathized, and became completely swept inside. Between its mirroring of Shakespearean classics and historical tidbits of life just before Pearl Harbor, O’Hara does a masterful job of portraying a town facing imminent destruction just as millions face a gruesome end in Europe. The distrust of the Jewish population — and of Jacob — was devastating, and made me thankful for the intervening years since World War II.

Just as interesting was the art scene — a vivid world portrayed through Dez’s work and connections. New York seemed a wholly familiar and unfamiliar place through O’Hara’s pen: a world I know but do not know. I loved the descriptions of Dez’s paintings and plans, and the light-filled studio rooms in which she would recreate safe spaces. It was romantic and lovely. And the overarching theme — “nothing gold can stay,” if you will, or nothing and no one lasts forever — made me sad and reflective but ultimately . . . hopeful? Yes. Hopeful.

There’s so much I want to talk about, but so much I cannot talk about. This is a story you need to experience and devour yourself. Though it took me 80 pages or so to become fully invested in Cascade’s future, I feel changed as a reader for having read this book. It was magnificent. There aren’t too many novels I’d herald as “a triumph,” the hyperbole of that making me squint, but seriously: Cascade is phenomenal. It touched me. It made me cry. It broke my heart. It raised so many questions.

I absolutely loved it, and it’s time to discover it for yourself.


5 out of 5!

ISBN: 0143123513 ♥ GoodreadsLibraryThingAmazonAuthor Website
Review copy provided by Historical Fiction Virtual Book Tours
in exchange for my honest review


Book review: ‘Laura Lamont’s Life in Pictures’ by Emma Straub

Laura Lamont's Life in PicturesGrowing up in her family’s homegrown theater in beautiful Door County, Wisconsin, Elsa Emerson wants nothing more than to bathe in the spotlight of her older sister. Beautiful Hildy is enigmatic, energizing, lovely — all attributes young Elsa can’t help but admire. When actors descend on the family farm each summer, Elsa admires the one-of-a-kind plays they perform — though the theater doesn’t draw her like it does Hildy.

After a family tragedy levels the Emersons, Elsa gets her first taste of the stage. Drawn in by the warmth of attention, Elsa makes an impulsive decision to marry a traveling actor and leave for Los Angeles. Elsa and Gordon have two daughters in short order — and while Gordon’s star ascends, Elsa’s dream of fame is sidelined by the babies. She struggles to be content with her new role in life, but can’t shake the feeling of more — and quietly begins to ready herself for another crack at acting. After a studio executive rechristens her Laura Lamont, Elsa/Laura takes her first tentative steps into Hollywood — and never quite knows if she’s rising or falling.

Spanning decades, Emma Straub’s Laura Lamont’s Life in Pictures is part family saga, part cautionary tale, part love story. Straub’s vivid language, pointed descriptions and phenomenal pacing drew me into Laura’s world and kept me captive. Though the book has a melancholic tone, I never felt desperately sad walking with Laura — and though I could have easily felt disconnected from her lifestyle, Straub’s lovely descriptions of golden-age Hollywood reminded me of Jess Walter’s Beautiful Ruins. I was engrossed.

Elsa’s story begins in the 1920s, and I loved the early descriptions of Door County. Wisconsin is wholly unfamiliar to me — and I enjoyed seeing the Emersons’ lives through Elsa’s lens. As the story shifts into the 1940s and beyond, showcasing Elsa/Laura’s life as a young mother and aspiring star, I sympathized with her attempts to create an identity beyond the young milkmaid she’d always been — though Elsa’s isn’t an identity easily shed.

Laura’s tale doesn’t follow a predictable arc. Eventually she earns top accolades for a pivotal role, but Straub doesn’t push Laura to the tippy-top of Hollywood only to watch her fall. It was wonderful to read a story without any real hint of where it was going, and I appreciated the twists. Though I got angry — really angry — by some of the unfair tragedies, this novel stayed one step ahead of depressing. A few events leveled me, and it’s been a while since I physically gasped while reading . . . but those are the literary moments that keep me coming back for more. Straub had me in the palm of her hand.

While some characters felt very two-dimensional, very stock, I feel that was the intention. Many of the rowdy, fake L.A. girls were just that: girls. Having come from the north, Laura always seemed a step above them — and beyond their simpering. I liked that Laura wasn’t weighed down by typical celebrity problems . . . especially when she had so many of her own issues at home. My only regret is that we didn’t learn more about Josephine, Laura’s eldest sister — a young woman with plenty of secrets and tragedies born alone. She could have a novel herself.

If you’re seeking a salacious story full of Hollywood gossip, Laura Lamont’s Life in Pictures ain’t it. It’s very much the introspective, quiet journey of one small-town woman battling grief, ambition and hope in equal measure. I really loved it, was mesmerized by it. Lovers of literary fiction will find much to absorb in Straub’s moving depiction of the many hats we wear throughout our lives — and the pink glow of hope that binds us all.


4.5 out of 5!

ISBN: 1594488452 • GoodreadsLibraryThingAmazonAuthor website
Review copy provided by LibraryThing Early Reviewers
in exchange for my honest thoughts


Book review: ‘The Paris Wife’ by Paula McLain

Ernest Hemingway is a fascinating — and enduring — American icon. Since his death in 1961, “Papa” seems to be getting more, not less, popular; and recent novelizations of his life have proven wildly popular. Like this one.

Paula McLain’s The Paris Wife, a novel based on Hemingway’s first marriage to Hadley Richardson, is an ambitious and moving look at a couple’s early romance and disintegration set against the gritty backdrop of post-World War I Paris. Though the book ultimately left me a bit miffed at the couple, I realize these individuals weren’t puppets McLain could maneuver; Hemingway’s own A Moveable Feast provided extensive source material, and the author incorporated details from personal correspondence and more. I hate asking myself, “Is this real? Or maybe this,” which is why I often stick to pure fiction.

Knowing how faithful she was to Ernest and Hadley’s story actually allowed me to just relax into the narrative. McLain’s Hadley is so strong and vivid that I had to remind myself this wasn’t actually a memoir. As the older Hadley meets and is courted by a young, handsome writer with dreams the size of Chicago, it’s obvious why she would have fallen so completely for the man who would be Hemingway. Back in the early ’20s, Ernest was just a guy with ambition and a funny last name. Hadley feels loved by him, accepted by him — and barely hesitates in marrying and following him to Paris, where Ernest becomes a foreign correspondent and gets to work on his literary career.

All is not macarons and cream, of course. Post-war France isn’t a colorful, sparkly place; the Hemingways’ cramped apartment with its loud neighbors and dank location would have evoked misery in someone less in love than Hadley. She dutifully accompanies Ernest to his social gatherings, where she’s introduced to the “Lost Generation” crew of Gertrude Stein, F. Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald, Sara and Gerald Murphy and more. Being neither a writer or artist, Hadley seems to have little in common with this glittery gang — especially as McLain often emphasizes how unfashionable and “plain” she can be. But there’s something real about Hadley, something that makes her seem far more tangible than the other women in the book. She’s solid. Dependable. Honest.

Though Ernest doesn’t always see it that way.

I became completely entranced by Hadley’s Paris and her relationship with Ernest, her first love. The novel is told in retrospect, meaning we get all of Hadley’s asides and insertions decades removed from this early marriage. I couldn’t help feeling intensely sorry for Hadley, knowing how everything was going to happen . . . a terrible collision you predict but are powerless to stop.

Before picking up The Paris Wife, I knew little about Hemingway himself — and have even been known to fake reading his work. I’m not sure if the biographical information would be a little dull to a Hemingway aficionado, but it seemed artfully woven into the narrative and wasn’t distracting at all. I liked learning more about his family, especially.

McLain never presents Ernest as a saint, nor does she shape him into a villain . . . but he was quite a jerk all the same. By the end of the book, I was ready to wash my hands of this selfish man and read something a little more uplifting. I felt for Hadley and Bumby, wanting what was best for them, but I couldn’t believe she’d had the strength to stick it out as long as she did. It made me angry.

But these were real people . . . real people McLain brought beautifully to life. I certainly don’t fault the author for their personal faults and decisions; I guess I just got really sick of them. When Hadley was ready to leave Paris, so was I.

Hemingway fans, historical fiction lovers, Francophiles and devotees of the Lost Generation will find plenty to devour in McLain’s enveloping work. Though I was occasionally frustrated by the principle players, The Paris Wife is a memorable work that has me interested in learning more about the legendary Hemingway. And maybe Wife No. 2.


3.75 out of 5!

ISBN: 0345521307 • GoodreadsLibraryThingAmazonAuthor website
Audio copy borrowed from my local library


A word on the audio: Narrator Carrington MacDuffie had just the right breathy cadence for Hadley, a St. Louis girl, and I loved the quality of her voice. Something about it was both refined and innocent. Sometimes her “voice” for Ernest verged on becoming a caricature, but no matter. It wasn’t too distracting, and I really liked the audio’s flow.