Belle Cora by Phillip Margulies (591 pages). Another historical fiction for this reader! This one was probably a little more fiction than historical, but I enjoyed it all the same. Arabella Godwin is the daughter of a wealthy businessman in New York in the 1800's. When her mother dies of consumption and her father immediately commits suicide, she and her younger brother are sent to live with family on a farm in upstate New York. This proves to be a decision that sends Belle down a path on which she never imagined herself. Between falling in love, being raped, and needing to save her brother from jail, Belle finds herself in the unfortunate position of having to become a prostitute. But Belle had more gumption than most. She eventually became a successful madam, both in New York and in San Francisco. When her long-time lover, Charles Cora, is accused of murder, Belle tries everything to get him acquitted. It doesn't work and she is left a widow. Meanwhile, other characters from her past come back into her life. She is able to create a new life for herself, even after being the notorious Belle Cora. The book is told as a narrative, which made it very enjoyable. And, in true NotSoPlainJane fashion, I did a little research on Belle to learn what was fact and what was fiction (at least in regards to this book). I finished it in 7 days.
Cousin Bette by Honore de Balzac (462 pages). I've had this classic on my shelf for years. It's always baffling to me when I haven't read a classic just so that I can read some modern piece of crap (I'm looking at you, Fifty Shades). Slowly but surely, I need to rectify that situation. Maybe at least one classic a month? Because the modern crap is a lot of fun! Anyway, this one was just wow. Sooo scandalous. A little bit confusing too. Cousin Bette lives in a misery of her own design. She is jealous of her beautiful cousin, with her marriage to the Baron and her children. So she decides to take advantage of the Baron's proclivity to cheat and encourages a beautiful neighbor Valerie to begin an affair with him. Valerie, along with the mistresses of his past, drives the Baron into financial ruin. Cousin Bette, when thwarted in her own passion for a young artist when he falls for her young cousin, encourages Valerie to go after him as well. Basically it's a vengeance story the likes of which I have never seen. Cousin Bette will not rest until her entire family is brought to ruin. In the midst of it all, she tries for her own chance at happiness. Turns out karma isn't kind. No one truly turns out happy in this story except for the younger generation. There was so much double crossing that I got rather confused by some of the connections. There were also several titles assigned to each character, which is always confusing. Other than that, it was an okay book. I can see why it was banned. For petes sake, Valerie is having affairs with four different men, all while trying to convince her husband that the baby she is about to have is his! Scandalous for the time, to be sure! I finished it in 6 days (yay for pool time)
Little Face by Sophie Hannah (310 pages). Alice Fancourt is a new mom. She, her husband David and their newborn Florence live with David's mother Vivienne and David's son Felix (Felix's mother had been murdered a few years prior) in Vivienne's home, the Elms. Alice left Florence at home with David for the first time since giving birth. When she returns home from her errands, she finds the front door open, her husband napping, and a strange child in her daughter's bed. But for some reason, no one believes her when she says that the baby isn't Florence. A week later, both Alice and Not Florence have disappeared. As the detectives delve deeper into the case, they learn that things at the Elms, and those who are connected to the Elms, are not always what they appear. The book got more and more fascinating as I read it (yay for flying).
The Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood (311 pages). I decided I wanted to read this book when they started showing previews for it on Hulu. But I have so many books at my house that I was going to hold off buying it. But when you are in Nashville and get the opportunity to shop at a local bookstore, you buy the book! The story takes place some time in the future in the new nation of Gilead. The world is very different now. In some ways, it's more puritanical. In others, it's not. Women are divided into groups- the Wives (in blue), the Daughters (in white), the domestic Marthas (in green), the Aunts (in brown), the poorer women (in multi-colored) and the Handmaids (in red). Handmaids have one purpose- to provide a child to a childless couple. By having sex with the husband (while laying between the Wife's legs). Creepy. Our narrator, Offred (literally the handmaid Of Commander Fred), isn't really content with the way life is. She remembers life before Gilead. She thinks about her past (her husband and daughter). She thinks about her future (if she can't have a child, she will be sent off to the Colonies). And she worries about her present. Her Commander wants more than just a once a month interaction for the sole purpose of siring a child. Meanwhile, the Wife is so desperate for a child that she convinces Offred to begin an affair with Nick, the chauffeur. She becomes friends with one of the other Handmaids, who is involved with an underground resistance. It was a fascinating book. And I really wish I had Hulu because I would love to watch the show! I finished it in 3 days (yay for layovers).
All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr (530 pages). This one is hard to describe. It takes place before, during and after World War II. Marie-Laure is a blind 12 year old living in Paris with her father when the war breaks out. They are sent to Saint-Malo with what might be the most famous jewel from the museum where her father had been employed. Werner is a teenaged orphan living with his sister in Germany. He is extremely gifted with radios and other electronics. During the war, their paths, briefly, intersect. But the war rages on. At first it was a little too much bouncing around between the characters' stories and the different decades. Once I got into the flow of the novel, and the true meat of the story, it won me over. I finished it in 6 days (yep, pool time strikes again).