The Painted Girls ~ Cathy Marie Buchanan
Publisher: Riverhead Books/Penguin USA
Rating: ««« ½
A gripping novel set in Belle Époque Paris and inspired by the real-life model for Degas’s Little Dancer Aged Fourteen and a notorious criminal trial of the era.
Paris. 1878. Following their father’s sudden death, the van Goethem sisters find their lives upended. Without his wages, and with the small amount their laundress mother earns disappearing into the absinthe bottle, eviction from their lodgings seems imminent. With few options for work, Marie is dispatched to the Paris Opéra, where for a scant seventy francs a month, she will be trained to enter the famous ballet. Her older sister, Antoinette, finds work—and the love of a dangerous young man—as an extra in a stage adaptation of Émile Zola’s naturalist masterpiece L’Assommoir.
Marie throws herself into dance and is soon modelling in the studio of Edgar Degas, where her image will forever be immortalized as Little Dancer Aged Fourteen. Antoinette, meanwhile, descends lower and lower in society, and must make the choice between a life of honest labor and the more profitable avenues open to a young woman of the Parisian demimonde—that is, unless her love affair derails her completely.
Set at a moment of profound artistic, cultural, and societal change, The Painted Girls is a tale of two remarkable sisters rendered uniquely vulnerable to the darker impulses of “civilized society.”
This is a gritty story of survival in the gutter of the Belle Époque in Paris. It was written in such a way that it felt as if I was transported back into the late 19th century Paris, back to a time of despair, poverty, where the poor would do anything to support themselves and their family. The tone of the book is dark, the dark side of Pairs, of ballet, of art. It was full of rich details, from the life of a petit rat, to that of a washerwoman, to that of lady of the night. The story is filled with both sisterly love and rivalry. I thought that Buchanan did a fantastic job building and developing the complicated relationship between the sisters.
Normally I am not a huge fan of the constant POV changes ... I find them to be extremely irritating and sometime downright confusing, pointless and even detrimental to the story. This however, was not the case with this novel. I actually enjoyed the dual POV approach for the majority of the novel. I think that Buchanan was able to successfully make each girl her own character and to have her own story while still intertwining throughout the story. It wasn't until the end of the book that the dual POV really started to bother me - when each girl was only given 1/2 a page at most before switching to the other.
It was a little slow paced for a while, it did not always hold my attention. I found that I was disappointed with the last quarter of the book - I really didn't like how the characters developed. I was a fan of Marie throughout the book until she started to fall apart, then I became annoyed with her. Immensely annoyed.
Overall, I would say that it was a decent read, however I feel that it could have been so much better.
The Harem Midwife ~ Roberta Rich
Publisher: Doubleday CanadaPages: 320
Book Blurb:Hannah and Isaac return in this opulent, riveting, and suspenseful tale--a continuation of the hugely successful Midwife of Venice.
The Imperial Harem, Constantinople, 1579
Hannah and Isaac Levi, Venetians in exile, have set up a new life for themselves in Constantinople. Isaac runs a newly established business in the growing silk trade, while Hannah, the best midwife in all of Constantinople, plies her trade within the opulent palace of Sultan Murat III, tending to the thousand women of his lively and infamous harem. But one night, when Hannah is unexpectedly summoned to the palace, she's confronted with Zofia, a poor Jewish peasant girl who has been abducted and sold into the sultan's harem. The sultan favours her as his next conquest and wants her to produce his heir, but the girl just wants to return to her home and the only life she has ever known. What will Hannah do? Will she risk her life and livelihood to protect this young girl, or will she retain her high esteem in the eye of the sultan?
An adventurous, opulent and deliciously exciting read, peopled with fascinating, unforgettable characters (a court eunuch; the calculating sultan's mother-in-law; the beguiling harem ladies; and a very mysterious young beauty from Venice who shows up on Hannah's doorstep causing much havoc), this novel is sure to please fans of The Midwife of Venice and extend Roberta's reputation as one of Canada's most loved historical fiction authors.
I thoroughly enjoyed The Midwife of Venice – and I have to say that the sequel did not disappoint. A lot of “series” out there now a days, you really don’t always have to read book 1 before book 2 – not the case here. This is a true sequel, you need to have read The Midwife of Venice before picking up this novel. The Harem Midwife continues the story of Hannah Levi, a Jewish midwife, who now makes her life in Constantinople with her husband Isaac and her son Matteo.
Like in The Midwife of Venice Hannah is forced to make a difficult choice: use her skills to help another woman in need or protect her family. Only this time, there is another problem to deal with that threatens Hannah’s family.
Again, I am impressed with Ms. Rich’s writing. It is beautifully written and very well researched. The characters are all well developed and have a life-like quality to them. The scenery is vivid and fascinating. The descriptions are wonderful – you can see things, you can smell things, you can feel things!!! Love it! I absolutely loved the description of the palace and the harem rooms. Ms. Rich is able to describe the grandeur and opulence of life in the harem of Constantinople. From the lavish bathing rooms, the menagerie, the gardens, the marketplace and the streets of Constantinople – the details given make it feel as if you are there and you see what the characters are seeing.
The only problem I had with this story was the ending. It was just too simple, too neat. Other than that, I loved the book.
Posted by Kyrsta at 21:13