‘When Paris Sizzled’ by Mary McAuliffe

wpbSTORY: When Paris Sizzled vividly portrays the City of Light during the fabulous 1920s, les Annees folles, when Parisians emerged from the horrors of war to find that a new world greeted them one that reverberated with the hard metallic clang of the assembly line, the roar of automobiles, and the beat of jazz. Mary McAuliffe traces a decade that saw seismic change on almost every front, from art and architecture to music, literature, fashion, entertainment, transportation, and, most notably, behavior.

The epicenter of all this creativity, as well as of the era s good times, was Montparnasse, where impoverished artists and writers found colleagues and cafes, and tourists discovered the Paris of their dreams. Major figures on the Paris scene such as Gertrude Stein, Jean Cocteau, Picasso, Stravinsky, Diaghilev, and Proust continued to hold sway, while others now came to prominence including Ernest Hemingway, Coco Chanel, Cole Porter, and Josephine Baker, as well as Andre Citroen, Le Corbusier, Man Ray, Sylvia Beach, James Joyce, and the irrepressible Kiki of Montparnasse. Paris of the 1920s unquestionably sizzled.

Yet rather than being a decade of unmitigated bliss, les Annees folles also saw an undercurrent of despair as well as the rise of ruthless organizations of the extreme right, aimed at annihilating whatever threatened tradition and order a struggle that would escalate in the years ahead. Through rich illustrations and evocative narrative, Mary McAuliffe brings this vibrant era to life.”

REVIEW: 1922

Ernest Hemingway was born in Chicago to a father with mental problems and a mother who was a voice teacher. One of five siblings, Ernest drove an ambulance in the Great War. He married a young woman of wealth and they moved to Paris where he worked as a reporter.

Now, Adolf Hitler is stirring up trouble in France. We also see the beginning of the silent black and white films. At this time, the Impressionists paints were being snapped up. The big thing to do was parties and heavy drinking.

Americans were drawn to Paris in large numbers totaling around 30,000 at the time. Prices were up and inexpensive housing was scarce, but many restaurants catering to Americans and their food preferences were opened. In 1924, Paris hosted the Summer Olympics Games.

Josephine Baker hit Paris like a bombshell. A black woman, here she was readily accepted by whites. At this time, Paris enjoyed jazz and the black musicians who played it. Art Deco became popular and chic. The Citroen became “the” car even though Renault fought to stay viable.

Jazz continued to be very popular. It was termed “le jazz hot.” Josephine Baker had become so popular that she opened her own club called Chez Josephine.

Josephine Baker started to break into films and soon proved herself to be a true diva. Hemingway had divorced his wife, Hadley, and was about to marry Pauline. This was also the time that Charles Lindbergh flew his plane, The Spirit of St. Louis from New York to Paris. Coco Chanel became a great philanthropist but her models were paid a mere pittance. The well-known restaurant, La Coupole, opened in December of this year and became a huge hit serving more than 1,000 people a day. It was then that Charles de Gaulle began to gain recognition.

George Gershwin came to Paris in 1928 and began work on An American in Paris. Josephine Baker has grown bored with Paris and decided to take a European tour. The Citroen still continued to be a popular car and in 1928, one-third of all cars were a Citroen. The company was able to produce 800 cars a day.

The October 1929 Wall Street Crash did not affect France as much as it did America and Britain. But many saw the end of the decade to be the end of the good days. Before long, many of the expats living in France soon began to feel the effects of having less money to spend. Les annees folles were nearly over.

This book depicts various authors of the period such as James Joyce and Gertrude Stein who coined the name “The Lost Generation” which was a large group of literary and artistic expatriates living in Paris in the 1920’s. There are artists, writers, and musicians all looking to share their talents. I have touched on just a few of the famous people who lived and worked in Paris during this time period.

I enjoyed the book immensely. Having lived in Paris, I am familiar with a lot of the things I read about here and it was very interesting to see it all together in one book.

Complimentary copy provided by the publisher

Connie for b2b


‘Liar, Temptress, Soldier, Spy’ by Karen Abbott

Sltss kaTORY: After shooting a Union soldier in her front hall with a pocket pistol, Belle Boyd became a courier and spy for the Confederate army, using her charms to seduce men on both sides. Emma Edmonds cut off her hair and assumed the identity of a man to enlist as a Union private, witnessing the bloodiest battles of the Civil War. The beautiful widow, Rose O’Neale Greenhow, engaged in affairs with powerful Northern politicians to gather intelligence for the Confederacy, and used her young daughter to send information to Southern generals. Elizabeth Van Lew, a wealthy Richmond abolitionist, hid behind her proper Southern manners as she orchestrated a far-reaching espionage ring, right under the noses of suspicious rebel detectives.

Using a wealth of primary source material and interviews with the spies’ descendants, Abbott seamlessly weaves the adventures of these four heroines throughout the tumultuous years of the war. With a cast of real-life characters including Walt Whitman, Nathaniel Hawthorne, General Stonewall Jackson, detective Allan Pinkerton, Abraham and Mary Todd Lincoln, and Emperor Napoleon III, Liar, Temptress, Soldier, Spy draws you into the war as these daring women lived it.

Liar, Temptress, Soldier, Spy contains 39 black & white photos and 3 maps.

Karen Abbott illuminates one of the most fascinating yet little known aspects of the Civil War: the stories of four courageous women—a socialite, a farmgirl, an abolitionist, and a widow—who were spies.

REVIEW: What attracted me to this story was its intriguing subject matter. I wanted to know about these women that were strong and had convictions. What I got is … well, I’m still sorting that one out.

If I read this as a fiction, then I’m on board with the story. However, this was not written as such, and because it was presented to me as non-fiction and part of American history, I was hoping for the content to be as historically accurate as possible.

In the end, I’ll say this. This was a well written, albeit not as well documented story and I’ll leave it at that.

Melanie for b2b

Complimentary copy provided by the publisher

‘Royal Weddings: A Very Peculiar History’ by Fiona MacDonald

rwavphSTORY: With the echo of regal church bells set to ring in the ears of royalists and well-wishers worldwide, what better time to take a look at the quirky, odd and downright bizarre circumstances surrounding the weddings of the kings, queens, princes and princesses of Britain.

One must leave one’s sense of decorum at the palace gates as Fiona Macdonald tells the wacky stories surrounding the preparations, dresses, ceremonies and national moods that went with the excitement of a royal wedding, from England’s resident marriage addict Henry VIII, through Anne Hyde, the ‘commoner’ who birthed two queens, right up to Prince Charles, Princess Diana and their son and daughter-in-law to be.

Featuring facts, figures and family trees, Royal Weddings, A Very Peculiar History is sure to get one in the spirit of things come the marriage of Prince William and Catherine ‘Kate’ Middleton. Just make sure there’s room in your cupboard for a few more commemorative plates!

REVIEW: This tiny little book is simply chock full of all kinds of tidbits about European royals throughout the ages.

If I was an author writing about this period, I would definitely have this sitting right by my dictionary and thesaurus.

Anyone who loves this time period as I do, would enjoy reading this book. I highly recommend it.

Connie for b2b

‘America’s First Daughter’ by Stephanie Dray

afd sd lkSTORY: In a compelling, richly researched novel that draws from thousands of letters and original sources, bestselling authors Stephanie Dray and Laura Kamoie tell the fascinating, untold story of Thomas Jefferson’s eldest daughter, Martha “Patsy” Jefferson Randolph—a woman who kept the secrets of our most enigmatic founding father and shaped an American legacy.

From her earliest days, Patsy Jefferson knows that though her father loves his family dearly, his devotion to his country runs deeper still. As Thomas Jefferson’s oldest daughter, she becomes his helpmate, protector, and constant companion in the wake of her mother’s death, traveling with him when he becomes American minister to France.

It is in Paris, at the glittering court and among the first tumultuous days of revolution, that fifteen-year-old Patsy learns about her father’s troubling liaison with Sally Hemings, a slave girl her own age. Meanwhile, Patsy has fallen in love—with her father’s protégé William Short, a staunch abolitionist and ambitious diplomat. Torn between love, principles, and the bonds of family, Patsy questions whether she can choose a life as William’s wife and still be a devoted daughter.

Her choice will follow her in the years to come, to Virginia farmland, Monticello, and even the White House. And as scandal, tragedy, and poverty threaten her family, Patsy must decide how much she will sacrifice to protect her father’s reputation, in the process defining not just his political legacy, but that of the nation he founded.

REVIEW: This story revolves around Thomas Jefferson and his daughter, Patsy Jefferson. It begins with the death of Jefferson’s wife, Martha, leaving behind 3 daughters, Patsy, Polly, and baby Lucy. Jefferson is left bereft and Patsy takes over the responsibility for her father and sisters.

Jefferson is then sent to France and Patsy accompanies him. There, she acts as her father’s hostess, learns French, and how to interact well with international people. She also meets William Short who steals her heart. When it comes time to return to America, Short wants Patsy to stay in France but she feels she cannot leave her father so they are parted.

Back in America, Patsy meets and marries Thomas Randolph.

Without going into a long dissertation here, suffice to say that Patsy becomes her father’s lifelong advocate including taking the name, Martha, as her mother was named. We learn of Jefferson’s illicit long affair with Sally, a slave, and the children they had. Martha’s marriage to Randolph is rocky and she gives birth to 11 children.

There are hardships faced by many members of the family and while Martha does not like slavery, in Virginia, it is accepted.

Much of the story here is gleaned through the letters Jefferson wrote and the numerous papers he amassed.

This is a difficult review for me to write because there is so much I want to share. But it such a beautifully written novel that I hope will find itself on everyone’s bookshelf. I would love to see this book as required reading in every American history class.

A huge thank you to the authors for their amazing research in writing this novel. It is a must read.

Complimentary copy provided by the publisher

Connie for b2b

‘Elizabeth the Queen: The Life of a Modern Monarch’ by Sally Bedell Smith

etq sbsSTORY: From the moment of her ascension to the throne in 1952 at the age of twenty-five, Queen Elizabeth II has been the object of unparalleled scrutiny. But through the fog of glamour and gossip, how well do we really know the world’s most famous monarch? Drawing on numerous interviews and never-before-revealed documents, acclaimed biographer Sally Bedell Smith pulls back the curtain to show in intimate detail the public and private lives of Queen Elizabeth II, who has led her country and Commonwealth through the wars and upheavals of the last sixty years with unparalleled composure, intelligence, and grace.

In Elizabeth the Queen, we meet the young girl who suddenly becomes “heiress presumptive” when her uncle abdicates the throne. We meet the thirteen-year-old Lilibet as she falls in love with a young navy cadet named Philip and becomes determined to marry him, even though her parents prefer wealthier English aristocrats. We see the teenage Lilibet repairing army trucks during World War II and standing with Winston Churchill on the balcony of Buckingham Palace on V-E Day. We see the young Queen struggling to balance the demands of her job with her role as the mother of two young children. Sally Bedell Smith brings us inside the palace doors and into the Queen’s daily routines—the “red boxes” of documents she reviews each day, the weekly meetings she has had with twelve prime ministers, her physically demanding tours abroad, and the constant scrutiny of the press—as well as her personal relationships: with Prince Philip, her husband of sixty-four years and the love of her life; her children and their often-disastrous marriages; her grandchildren and friends.

Compulsively readable and scrupulously researched, Elizabeth the Queen is a close-up view of a woman we’ve known only from a distance, illuminating the lively personality, sense of humor, and canny intelligence with which she meets the most demanding work and family obligations. It is also a fascinating window into life at the center of the last great monarchy.

REVIEW: I have read many books about Queen Elizabeth but I must say this is one that was well-researched and interestingly written.

The story of Queen Elizabeth’s life is presented in a open way without any type of author opinion expressed.

It’s just the facts and facts that I have never read about before. For royal followers like myself, I highly recommend this enthralling book.

Connie for b2b


‘Behind the Palace Doors: Five Centuries of Sex, Adventure, Vice, Treachery, and Folly from Royal Britain’ by Michael Farquhar

bpd mfSTORY: Spanning 500 years of British history, a revealing look at the secret lives of some great (and not-so-great) Britons, courtesy of one of the world’s most engaging royal historians

Beleaguered by scandal, betrayed by faithless spouses, bedeviled by ambitious children, the kings and queens of Great Britain have been many things, but they have never been dull. Some sacrificed everything for love, while others met a cruel fate at the edge of an axman’s blade. From the truth behind the supposed madness of King George to Queen Victoria’s surprisingly daring taste in sculpture, Behind the Palace Doors ventures beyond the rumors to tell the unvarnished history of Britain’s monarchs, highlighting the unique mix of tragedy, comedy, romance, heroism, and incompetence that has made the British throne a seat of such unparalleled fascination.

• stories covering every monarch, from randy Henry VIII to reserved Elizabeth II
• historical myths debunked and surprising “Did you know . . . ?” anecdotes
• four family trees spanning every royal house, from the Tudors to the Windsors

REVIEW: A cute book with lots of gossipy bits and pieces about different royals throughout the ages. A rather quick read for a nice laugh.

Connie for b2b

‘Rose:  My Life in Service to Lady Astor’ by Rosina Harrison

rmlistla rhSTORY: In 1928, Rosina Harrison arrived at the illustrious household of the Astor family to take up her new position as personal maid to the infamously temperamental Lady Nancy Astor, who sat in Parliament, entertained royalty, and traveled the world. “She’s not a lady as you would understand a lady” was the butler’s ominous warning. But what no one expected was that the iron-willed Lady Astor was about to meet her match in the no-nonsense, whip-smart girl from the country.

For 35 years, from the parties thrown for royalty and trips across the globe, to the air raids during WWII, Rose was by Lady Astor’s side and behind the scenes, keeping everything running smoothly. In charge of everything from the clothes and furs to the baggage to the priceless diamond “sparklers,” Rose was closer to Lady Astor than anyone else. In her decades of service she received one 5 raise, but she traveled the world in style and retired with a lifetime’s worth of stories. Like Gosford Parkand Downton Abbey, Rose is a captivating insight into the great wealth ‘upstairs’ and the endless work ‘downstairs’, but it is also the story of an unlikely decades-long friendship that grew between Her Ladyship and her spirited Yorkshire maid.

REVIEW: Rosina (Rose) Harrison was born in 1899 and grew up in Yorkshire.  Hers was a close family but one where there was not much money.  Her goal was to obtain a job as a maid in a wealthy home.  After some years training and working as a maid, she is offered the position of personal maid to Lady Nancy Astor.  Knowing of her temperamental personality, Rose, finally accepts.  Thus, begins a journey of 35 years together.

The story takes the reader through the everyday life of Rose and Lady Astor including dressing her, care of her clothes, extra duties, responsibility for her jewels and traveling all over the world with her.  Rose shares with us Lady Astor’s angry outbursts, as well as her kind and generous gestures to lesser fortunate people.  While being extremely wealthy, Lady Astor was also known to be extremely tight, especially when it came to Rose.  She demanded Rose’s complete loyalty and attention.  We read how she verbally abuses Rose, but Rose learns to stand up to her resulting in a most unusual kind of lifetime friendship.

As one reads the book, it’s as if Rose is talking in an informal tone to the reader sitting right next to her. I found myself completely fascinated with the book and enjoyed reading about the trips they took and the famous people that were a part of Lady Astor’s life.

With the introduction of Downton Abbey, I find I truly enjoy reading more and more about the lives of those who served downstairs during that time period.

I highly recommend this biography and found it a great learning experience.  If you do read it, you will laugh along with me when you find:  “Shut up, Rose.”

Connie for b2b