Saturday, July 14, 2012

Madame Tussaud by Michelle Moran


Historical Fiction (426 pgs.)


Smart and ambitious, Marie Tussaud has learned the secrets of wax sculpting by working alongside her uncle in their celebrated wax museum, the Salon de Cire. From her popular model of the American ambassador, Thomas Jefferson, to her tableau of the royal family at dinner, Marie's museum provides Parisians with the very latest news on fashion, gossip, and even politics. Though many people are starving and can no longer afford bread, Marie's business is booming. In salons and cafés across Paris, people like Maximilien Robespierre are lashing out against the monarchy. Soon, there's whispered talk of revolution.

Spanning five years, from the budding revolution to the Reign of Terror, Madame Tussaud brings us into the world of an incredible heroine whose talent for wax modeling saved her life and preserved the faces of a vanished kingdom. 


In honor of Bastille Day (July 14th), I thought this would be a perfect time to post my review of Michelle Moran's Madame Tussaud.

This tumultuous period of history, the era of French Revolution, enjoys quite a love-hate relationship with me. I love to read about the life of Marie Antoinette, the court of pre-Revolutionary France, the general foppery and carelessness of such a fairy tale world. I hate reading of the actual revolution, the devastation, the starvation, the enormous loss of life. Quite frankly, it scares me. I always think, "how was such destruction and mass murder possible?" It really makes you realize that such a frightening time actually existed, and can exist in the world.

Madame Tussaud isn't your typical French Revolution novel. I find that most novels set in this time period ultimately end up focusing on either the royalty side of the revolution, or the commoner's side. It was thrilling to read Marie Grosholtz's (a.k.a Madame Tussaud's) extraordinary story, because, for quite a long period of time, she was able to toe the line between pro-monarchy and pro-revolution. Her life coming to light on these pages was really astounding. I had really never before read of someone who was able to stay true to both sides of the Revolution in France, without ending up in the guillotine's embrace.  

Madame Tussaud herself is a awe-inspiring character, fabulously written by Michelle Moran. She is able to take her fate into her own hands, and craft her own life in a society of rules and regulations. Her human spirit is really what makes her such a fascinating character; like most of us, she makes some unwise decisions she comes to regret later. But it is her strength, her spirit, and her voice that connects the reader to her, in every possible way. Michelle Moran crafted such a brilliant character, and it was a pleasure to read her story.

The historical setting of this novel is absolutely flawless. Michelle is the end-all when it comes to blending history and story together. I really can hardly decipher the "fiction" part of this historical fiction novel. The two elements of this novel, the history and the fiction, are put together in such a way as to incredibly enhance one another, without the fiction bleeding over into the history, or vice versa. 

The plot is incredibly gripping, especially as the Revolution reaches its peak. Page after page I could hardly believe that the story unfolding actually occurred. Before I knew it, Marie was making death masks for the members of the guillotine's victims. The story is incredibly engrossing and all too easy to get lost in (in the best of ways, of course). 

All the historical figures in this novel are stunningly brought back to life. I felt as if I was really meeting all of them, glimpsing them as they would have been in their historical prime... everyone from Thomas Jefferson to Marie Antoinette herself. Michelle does a wonderful job of bringing these characters out of their glorified historical robes and making them what they truly were... humans, just like you and me. 

Once again, Michelle Moran has crafted an absolute masterpiece of historical fiction. You can absolutely tell when reading one of her books that she truly puts her heart and soul into her writing. This was a beautiful story of a woman's strength and fortitude, in a time when her world turned against her. This is historical fiction at its finest, ladies and gents, and it was an absolute pleasure to lose myself (once again) in one of Michelle Moran's novels.



Book #5 in Historical Fiction Reading Challenge

Saturday, July 7, 2012

Vixen by Jillian Larkin


YA Historical Fiction (421 pgs.)


Every girl wants what she can't have. Seventeen-year-old Gloria Carmody wants the flapper lifestyle--and the bobbed hair, cigarettes, and music-filled nights that go with it. Now that she's engaged to Sebastian Grey, scion of one of Chicago's most powerful families, Gloria's party days are over before they've even begun...or are they?

Clara Knowles, Gloria's goody-two-shoes cousin, had arrived to make sure the high-society wedding comes off without a hitch--but Clara isn't as lily-white as she appears. Seems she has some dirty little secrets of her own that she'll do anything to keep hidden.

Lorraine Dyer, Gloria's social-climbing best friend, is tired of living in Gloria's shadow. When Lorraine's envy spills over into desperate spite, no one is safe. And someone's going to be very sorry...

Vixen is the first novel in the sexy, dangerous, and ridiculously romantic new series set in the Roaring Twenties... when anything goes.


Something just gets to me about the Roaring 20's. Maybe it's the fast-living society, fresh from a gruesome world war, on the cusp of one of the biggest financial collapses in world history. Maybe it's the absolute discord stemming from the old money and the noveau riche, the prohibitionists and the flappers, the old society and the social climbers. Or maybe it's the booze, jazz, and fashion? As I traversed through Vixen, I realized the answer was all of the above. It was all of these discordant things  rolled into one bundle that makes the 1920's so special.  

Believe me, this novel covers every aspect of the 1920's. The jazz, flappers, social-climbers, fast living, etc. It's all here, and presented in a very appealing package. 

Jillian Larkin's characters are all magnificently written in their own right. The story centers around three girls (Gloria, Clara, and Lorraine) who all have something unique to offer to the story. I think readers will find bits and pieces of themselves mixed up in all three of the girls, which makes their unfolding stories really enjoyable.

The plot is extremely well written. Sometimes I can kind of figure out what is going to go down at the end of the book, but I was completely stumped (and very much surprised) regarding the ending. Definitely a page-turner, to be sure. During its serious moments, the plot is that: serious. It's serious without being heroically campy or cheesy. Almost more of an adult serious, which I very much enjoyed.

Jillian Larkin recreated the 1920's beautifully, from the high-society soirees to the underground speakeasies. I think she did a fantastic job in contrasting her settings, again playing up the discord that is so familiar of the 1920's. There is really great beauty and passion in her writing, as well as A+ historical accuracy. Jillian Larkin did her research!

And one of the things I most enjoyed about this novel was that I could not tell, for one second, that this book is part of a planned series. Hallelujah! This book absolutely stood on its own two feet, without having readers suspend their disbelief until part two. I felt that Jillian Larkin did an excellent job of delving into the story, as she should for any normal novel. I was extremely impressed with the pacing, detail, and plot. 

All in all, this is a fantastic read. Readers, do yourself a favor and skip Anna Godbersden's "Bright Young Things" series... it pales in comparison to this masterpiece. You will not be able to put this delicious romp through the 1920's down!



Book #4 in Historical Fiction Reading Challenge


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