European Historical Fiction to Fill the Void Found on Snowy Days (Or Not)

If you've ever lived in the southern US, you are going to know what I mean when I claim that last Friday a "snowpocalypse" was announced. Forecasters threatened a large falling of 2-4 inches in the metro Atlanta area, and bloggers, business people, executives, and service workers all ran to the nearest 7-11 or Kroger to obtain milk and bread.

In general, the assumption is that the store will look like this by the time you are able to go:

Photo credit: yooperann via Visual Hunt / CC BY-NC-ND

But more often than not, especially recently, the store looks like this:

Photo credit: dno1967b via Visual hunt / CC BY

A few things bought, for sure, but, still, plenty to go around.

On this fateful Friday though, despite the fact that recent weather had been in the 50s-70s and we hadn't seen rain for days, the threatening forecast called for some schools to be cancelled and others to be delayed, and, in the case of the kids I watch, some were let out early.

Rather than have me go pick the kids up early, the parents decided a play date was an order with the neighbors down the street. This way, if the weather did get bad, they didn't have to worry about coming home from work any earlier so that their babysitter could make it home before the ice and snow got too bad and the roads became impassable. (A nice gesture on their part, but it still left me with a free day and no pay. Thanks weather.)

However, if there is one thing I've learned in the crazy fluctuating world of service work, it is that you make the best of the time you have. Thus, I pulled out a book or two. Then cuddled up and watched a movie. Not a bad way to spend a non-snow day in. (Because despite everyone's preparation and planning, Georgia did not see a whole lot of snow that day. Perhaps a bit of ice but that was it.)

To Capture What We Cannot Keep by Beatrice Collin (Buy here.)

synopsis: At the end of the 19th century the lovely widow Cait is seeking employment. Her marriage has come to a tragic end, and, as with societal norms at that time in Scotland, she had to find an appropriate way of making a living. Luckily, she finds a chaperoning job that takes her to Paris as she keeps watch over two wealthy teenagers, much younger than herself, who are also trying to find their way in the world. Alice needs to find a suitable marriage match and Jamie a strong career that will enable to care for the family he will eventually have. Only these are normal children, not, for example, the children of royalty. They are naive and not especially fond of listening to their elders; more often than not, they do what they want when they want. Then, of course, the children and Cait must suffer as a result of their actions. But the children aren't alone in their misbehavior. Midway through the book, Cait throws away a suitable marriage match to return to Paris with her charges. She has fallen in love with Émile Nouguier – the man she is supposed to be setting up with Alice, the man who supposed to be teaching Jamie the ways of the workforce. What will happen when the children discover her dark secret?

my opinion: The book is trash.

While I want to tell you only about the good things in life, I feel it's also necessary to warn you about the things I simply don't like. Maybe this type of book is one you would enjoy? I mean – the cover is beautiful! Who doesn't dream of a snowy evening in Paris?! I know that I certainly do! :) But, for me, all of the characters were simply unrelatable and, truthfully, a bit unlovable. How can I respect a woman who deceives her employer intentionally? And not only that but, without going into details, goes against societal standards setting herself up for a downfall. (Do you catch my drift?)

When I read about a woman of the late 19th century, I want to read about a respected woman of class. Even if she has no money of her own, I want to see someone who knows how to work the "system", who uses her beauty and brains (or lack thereof) to make a positive difference in the lives of the people around her. Especially if there is an image of Paris on the cover.

In the end, what I got was a woman who can't control her desires or the teens she is supposed to be watching. Everything falls apart, just as the reader expects it to. And, in my opinion, the ending is quite cliche. (I won't give it away though you may be able to infer through my review how it ends.)

I think the worst part about this book is that it felt like the author actually put some effort into telling her story, but the characters were so predictable that I never fully found myself immersed in the story. A few days ago, I heard an interview with Chazelle, the screenwriter for La La Land, where he claimed that he "learned how to convince someone to turn the page, which is really all it comes down to, you know - knowing that every page is an opportunity for someone to close the script and just, you know, stop reading it" (from the NPR interview Fresh Air with Terry Gross). I feel like, if Collin had taken that perspective, along with making her characters more likeable, this would have been an enjoyable book concept.

Oh well. I read the book based on the cover, so that's something. Maybe next time she'll get more than just the cover right. <3.

Victoria by Daisy Goodwin (Buy here.)

synopsis: Based on the diaries of the real life Queen Victoria, Goodwin begins her story with Victoria awakening to the realization that her uncle, the king of England, has died and passed on the crown to her. Untrusting of her mother and her mother's advisors, the queen most assemble a group of people she can trust as she transitions from a young girl to that of a royal queen.

Quickly she learns that she needs to stand firm in her beliefs. She befriends Lord Melbourne, her prime minister who she thrills at having by her side as makes difficult decisions. Only, it is not right for her to remain unwed. Perhaps the young Prince Albert whom she met in childhood and despised could make a good match? But then again, maybe she should remain single forever?

Emotions tug at the heart of the queen as she fights for her desires and struggles with what the best options are for the country she oversees. Will she be able to find a happy median in what's right for her people as well as herself?

my opinion: meh.

I didn't like the way Goodwin approached Queen Victoria's relationship with Lord Melbourne. He comes off as a potential lover in the story, but, from what I understand about history (which isn't much. I don't know much at all about Queen Victoria or her life.), Lord Melbourne was never anything more than an advisor. Perhaps the change was made to sell books? Or to make the tv show more appealing to a larger audience?

If you want a quick beach or vacation read and love history or even the royal family, this book will probably appeal to you. Unlike To Capture What We Cannot Keep, Victoria is a quick and easy read. Victoria is also a pretty unlikeable character, but it's easier to understand why she is unlikeable. She has important decisions that affect more than just herself and, having had no real royal upbringing, she is likely to make mistakes. I especially recommend this book if you have watched and are enjoying the PBS mini-series based on this story.

The Girl on the Train (movie)

If you want to read my review of the book, check here.

synopsis: A girl on a train romanticizes a couple that she sees every day from the train window that lives just down the street from her old home. Longingly she wishes for their life. Until one day, while riding the train, she spots the woman cheating on her husband. Enraged, the woman on the train informs her friend that she will find the cheater and kill her.

Not too long after Rachel Watson spots Megan Hipwell cheating, Megan goes missing. And shortly thereafter is found killed. Rachel, attempting to help the police but not able to remember much due to a black out she experienced on the night of the disappearance caused by drunkenness, informs the police and Megan's husband that Megan was cheating. Only it gets more complicated than that. Rachel's ex-husband and new wife, who live on the same street as Megan Hipwell, have left a message on Rachel's phone indicating that they are afraid of her and what she did that night. They tell her to stay away.

Did Rachel do more than get drunk on the night of Megan's disappearance? Was she somehow involved?

my opinion: Don't read the book, then watch the movie. Or do. It's up to you. :)

My opinion of the book was meh. It was intense. Fast-moving. A bit confusing at first, but well thought out. I hated the main character. (Are you noticing a theme?)

The movie, however, was easier to follow. I don't know if it's because I had read the book and knew what to expect, or if the visuals and storyline made more sense in movie-format over book-format. There were some differences, though. Like, in the movie, Rachel was traveling on a train in New York to work and back every day instead of London. And the end, which I won't give away, also had some differences.

Overall, the movie felt contrived and pre-planned. It was like the director was just telling the story rather than encouraging you to feel the story. Perhaps if he had stuck with the main character Rachel the whole time the story wouldn't have felt so contrived? … But then the story would be breaking even further away from the way the book style.

Anyway, I'm not a movie director or screenwriter, so I don't know what needed to happen.

If you've read the book, I encourage you to see the movie. It gives you something to think about, a thing to compare and contrast, especially if you are part of a book club where you all read the book, watch the movie, and then go to dinner to talk about it. I think that would be fun. :) Otherwise, if you are just needing a film to take up time… I've seen worse. I mean – you could do better. Try watching The Accountant, for instance. But, you could also do worse – no movie has irritated more than Passengers, recently. As with everything, though, it all depends on your tastes and likes.

Have you read any good books or seen any good movies recently? Do you think people like myself are too hard to please? Is there anything you've read or seen recently that you would recommend?

* Both books were received as ARCs. Reviews were given on individual websites, but I was not compensated or requested to do a blog review. These reviews are entirely my own and were not influenced in any way.

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