Review: 13 Rue Thérèse, Elena Mauli Shapiro

I found a copy of Elena Mauli Shapiro’s novel 13 Rue Thérèse at a used bookstore in Northampton, MA, where we spent my birthday weekend last year. As such, I suppose this book was a birthday present for myself. I loved the cover, and in flipping through the book, I was intrigued by the premise.

An American historian named Trevor Stratton is given a box of artifacts belonging to a woman named Louise Brunet, who lived at 13 Rue Thérèse in Paris with her husband Henri after World War I. He discovers through piecing together her story that she lost a cousin with whom she was in love and whom she wanted to marry in World War I. She married a man who worked in her father’s shop, and she was desperate for a child. She embarks on a flirtation with a new neighbor, a teacher, who surprises Louise by taking her up on her suggestions. Meanwhile, Trevor can’t explain why he knows things about Louise’s life that don’t appear in the artifacts. How can he know, for example, so intimately how Louise feels and what she does as she goes about her life in Paris in November 1928?

This book is based on an interesting idea. Shapiro apparently has a box of relics belonging to a real-life Louise Brunet who died alone. The landlord of 13 Rue Thérèse allowed the residents to claim her belongings, and Shapiro’s mother selected this box. From the artifacts in the box, Shapiro constructed this story. I’m not sure how I feel about her taking that kind of license with a real person’s life, especially when so much of the story is speculation and doesn’t necessarily cast Louise in a positive light. She is a likable character, but I wonder what her descendants, had she had any, would have thought about her fictional treatment. There is a time-travel element that is not quite gracefully handled as well. One wonders about the necessity of including Trevor Stratton at all. His story seems somewhat superfluous, perhaps because it isn’t woven into Louise’s story as seamlessly as it might be. I love a good time travel story, but I wonder if this book might not have been better as strictly historical fiction. In addition, I would have liked to have seen the plot hang together a bit more tightly.

Despite some flaws, I didn’t give up on it, and it was a very quick read, if not a gripping one. I think in the case of this particular book, I am probably just not the right audience because many reviewers seem to have liked it more than I did. The QR codes in the back of the book are a nice touch; they allow the reader to see higher resolution photos of the artifacts. I found the color images in the book sufficient. The book is a beautiful book, as well, with a gorgeous cover and thick creamy pages and a pleasant font. It isn’t quite like any other book I’ve read before. You might enjoy it if you like quirky French films.

Rating: ★★★½☆

I’m counting this book for several reading challenges. It’s Paris setting makes it my French book for the European Reading Challenge. I’ve had it on my backlist at least since September when I bought it, so I’m also counting it for the Beat the Backlist Reading Challenge. Finally, it is set mainly in 1928, so I’m also counting it for the Historical Fiction Reading Challenge.

European Reading Challenge 2017 Beat the Backlist

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Review: The House Between Tides, Sarah Maine

Sarah Maine’s novel The House Between Tides begins with a mystery. Hetty Deveraux (which feels too much like a name only a novel character would have) travels to a remote manse belonging to her ancestors and discovers a body has been found under the floorboards. Hetty soon finds herself untangling a century-old murder as she tries to determine what to do about Muirlan House—tear it down and try to preserve the island’s unique character, as the inhabitants of Muirlan Island think best, or renovate it into a resort hotel as her partner Giles urges her to do. Meanwhile, Hetty becomes curious about her ancestors. The island had once been the inspiration and refuge of her great-grandmother Emily’s brother Theo Blake, a famed painter. Hetty discovers that Theo’s wife deserted him under mysterious circumstances, and she begins to fear she knows whose bones were found underneath the floorboards of Muirlan House. Meanwhile Beatrice Blake, Theo’s wife, tells her story in flashbacks. The the stories of two women, living a century apart, link inextricably with family secrets and a crumbling ancestral home in the space between them.

I have to admit this book was a slow starter for me, even with the discovery of a body under the floorboards. Maine does a great job of creating the atmosphere of Muirlan Island in the Outer Hebrides, a remote and unforgiving landscape that nonetheless lures both Hetty and Beatrice with its fierce beauty. Once the story gets going, however, it’s pretty good. Some aspects of the plot were a little easier to guess than others, and the unraveling of the mysteries that lay buried for so many years made for a satisfying ending. However, I was a good third of the way through the book and contemplating giving up on it before it started to capture my interest. I enjoyed the rest of the book. The parallels between Hetty and Beatrice were interesting, and the family secrets intrigued me enough to persevere through some of the parts that dragged. I have seen some reviewers claim not to have enjoyed the parts set in 2010 with Hetty, but I actually found them more interesting because the discovery of the body as well as Hetty’s conflicted feelings about her partner and his plans for her ancestral home were intriguing to me. I love historical fiction, and at first, I found Beatrice’s story the less interesting of the two. However, as I kept reading, Beatrice grew on me. The book is compared to Daphne Du Maurier’s atmospheric writing, which is a shame because few writers can create a brooding setting like Du Maurier, and anyone suffers by comparison. I think I need to stop having such high expectations of anyone whose work is compared to Du Maurier’s. Still, it was a good read, and the setting was well drawn, if perhaps the characters were not always—I found the minor characters very difficult to keep straight, and the family trees impossible. I also found parts of the story frustrating as I hoped Maine was going somewhere with a thread that was never quite woven in well enough.

Rating: ★★★½☆

I am counting this book toward the following reading challenges:

Beat the BacklistI am counting this book for the Beat the Backlist Challenge. This book has been on my Kindle since last September, but I didn’t start reading it until recently. It was published in 2016, and therefore meets the challenge’s qualification of being released before 2017. I read this on my Kindle, but Goodreads says the paperback version has 400 pages, which is the equivalent of 40 points for Ravenclaw, and posting this review should net 50 more points for a total of 90.

Because about half the book takes place in 1910, I’m also counting it for the Historical Fiction Challenge. In addition, Sarah Maine is a British writer, so this book counts towards the British Books Challenge.

British Books Challenge

Finally, as the book is set in Scotland, part of the UK, it also counts as part of the European Reading Challenge, though this is the only UK book that will count toward the challenge.

European Reading Challenge 2017

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A Few More 2017 Reading Challenges

I have found a few more 2017 reading challenges I want to participate in since my recent post about next year’s reading challenges. I have to thank Tanya Patrice at the GirlXOXO for maintaining such a comprehensive list of reading challenges. I have been checking in periodically to see what’s been added to her list.

The Backlist Reader Challenge 2017The Backlist Reader Challenge will give me a reason to read some of the older books that have been on my shelf for a while. I tend to do that anyway, and to review them, even if they are not new and have been out in some cases for years and years. What I like about this challenge is any books that are older than 2016 and have been on my TBR pile can count, whether I own them already or not. I can think of plenty of books that meet both qualifications. Anyway, my goal is to read 20 books for this challenge, but I think I’ll play it by ear and see how the year goes. It will be a good opportunity to chip away at my backlist.

Beat the BacklistTo that end, I’m also participating in the Beat the Backlist Reading Challenge mainly because there is a House Cup competition. Ravenclaw, represent! Just to make it interesting and to challenge myself to chip away at more of my backlist, I am not going to count books toward both challenges. I will count them for one or the other, trading back and forth as I chip away. This challenge allows books published in 2016, so I may put in some books I published this year that I haven’t read yet for this one. I will also try to read 20 books for this challenge, but I’m not sure which ones I will target yet.

British Books ChallengeI love British literature, and I was pleased to find the British Books Challenge, which is similar to one I’ve done in the past, but hadn’t been able to locate again. I’m supposed to declare which authors I plan to read, but I’m honestly not sure. I have a ton of authors in my backlist as well as some I’ve been meaning to read for a while. Definitely some Zadie Smith, I think. I have been wanting to read her for a while, and this challenge will give me a good excuse. I might try to tackle George Eliot finally. I need to read Middlemarch. I was also thinking about Elizabeth Gaskell because I really want to watch the miniseries of North and South, and I was thinking of reading it first. Perhaps I can return to some favorites: the Brontë sisters and Jane Austen? I’ve also wanted to read “The Goblin Market,” so perhaps a collection of Christina Rossetti poems? It might also be time to re-read Possession by A. S. Byatt. When is the third Cromwell book by Hilary Mantel coming out, anyway? I promise, if it’s 2017, I’ll put everything aside when it comes out to finish that series. I never did finish her book on the French Revolution, either. I am sure I’ll think of others. I will probably count books I read for either backlist challenge toward this challenge as well, if they fit the parameters. I’m setting a goal of ten books for this one.

The Chronological Sherlock Holmes ChallengeI am really tempted by this Chronological Sherlock Holmes Challenge, particularly in light of new Sherlock episodes. I think I’ll sign up and see if I can make it work. I haven’t read all the stories in over 20 years. I did fly through all of Sherlock Holmes one summer when my oldest was a baby, and she’s 23 now. I reckon I could give it another go. I remember that being quite an enjoyable reading summer, too. The idea of this challenge is to read all four novels and all 56 short stories. I actually have the complete collection around this house somewhere. The challenge runs for 16 months, too, which seems completely reasonable.

Well, I think that’s enough to be getting on with for now. Still, I’m excited about all four of these challenges. I don’t think I’ll sign up for any more, however, unless the Historical Fiction Challenge runs again (haven’t seen a sign-up post for it yet), and, of course, the R. I. P. Challenge. One further goal: to actually post linkups to my reviews on the challenge websites and participate in the challenges beyond crossing books off my list.

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