Audiobook Review: Chanel Bonfire


And thus the heart will break, yet brokenly live on.

Thank you to both Edelweiss and Tantor Audio for allowing us to listen to Chanel Bonfire by Wendy Lawless. Based on the description of what Chanel Bonfire was about, I knew reading it would be a personal journey for me. Or perhaps, I thought, maybe her experiences would be so wild and crazy, mine may pale in comparison? It’s been a bit of an emotional roller coaster for me of late, so I was both drawn to and repelled by the premise of Chanel Bonfire.

Here is the description from Wendy’s website: A stunning memoir about an actress’s unconventional, heartbreaking childhood with an unstable alcoholic and suicidal mother — a real-life Holly Golightly turned Mommie Dearest — and the unusual strength that allowed her to rise above it all.

By the time Wendy Lawless turned seventeen, she’d known for quite some time that she didn’t have a normal mother. But that didn’t stop her from wanting one.

Georgann Rea didn’t bake cookies or go to PTA meetings; she wore a mink coat and always had a lit Dunhill plugged into her cigarette holder. She had slept with too many men, and some women, and she didn’t like dogs or children. Georgann had the ice queen beauty of a Hitchcock heroine and the cold heart to match.

In this evocative, darkly humorous memoir, Wendy deftly charts the highs and lows of growing up with her younger sister in the shadow of an unstable, fabulously neglectful mother. Georgann, a real-life Holly Golightly who constantly reinvents herself as she trades up from trailer-park to penthouse, suffers multiple nervous breakdowns and suicide attempts, while Wendy tries to hide the cracks in their fractured family from the rest of the world.

Chanel Bonfire depicts a childhood blazed through the refined aeries of The Dakota and the swinging townhouses of London, while the girls’ beautiful but damned mother desperately searches for glamour and fulfillment. Ultimately, they must choose between living their own lives and being their mother’s warden.

While Wendy’s mother is beyond unhinged and the level of her selfishness and narcissism is stunning, while listening I wondered if others reading, and those coming out of a more stable or “mother-loving” home-life, may have felt Wendy complained about her life? After all, she lived in New York (on Park Avenue), London, England, Boston, travelled to exotic vacation places like Morocco and got to wear designer clothes and hang with the jet-set crowd. But, while her mother may not have been very physically abusive, her level of selfishness, manipulation and narcissism is nothing at all, ever, to sneeze at. Coming of age and accepting a mature and more responsible role in this unstable and wildly confusing home does nothing to achieve a high level of self-esteem or allow for trust and the development of stable relationships.

Chanel Bonfire may have been an expose about Georgann, but I also found it to be a very touching coming of age tale for Wendy. What I thought would be a wildly different experience from mine turned out to be one where I strongly identified and shared many similar experiences with Wendy. Mind you I didn’t have the “happy hooker” for a mom, as Wendy referred to hers, but far too many other experiences were quite similar. Often I was giving imaginary fist-bumps and saying “I hear you sista!”

In the end, and heartbreakingly so, it was still only the money or the material possessions that made Georgann happy- this woman could have cared less about her children – she only wanted money, material possessions and the facade of well-to-do and a lofty lifestyle. An attention seeking, incredibly selfish woman that kept her two girls from their father for over a decade.

“I was a 19 year old idiot who had been playing the enabling eldest daughter to mother’s Joan Crawford for so long now I didn’t know any other way of life. “

During the final exchange between Wendy and her mother, when Wendy finally gives up and moves on, again it is just the money Georgann wanted, she could sincerely and honestly (and so painfully) care less about her children. They would never come first. Wendy rises above and finally moves on and takes the reins of her own life. To say I stood and applauded her final exchange with this woman would not really provide you an accurate visual.

The postscript is a mind-blowing, yet not unrealistic end to Wendy’s mother’s life. Alone, suffering from colon cancer, she died in her bed, (again, alone,) was not found for 4 days and lay in the morgue, unclaimed for 3 weeks. Boom! That’s what that felt like! Boom! Wow.

So while I thought that I might seek comfort in someone else’s pain or more harrowing experience, I found myself, still find myself, thinking about Wendy and her experiences with a woman that you struggle to call Mom. An excellent read. Thank you Wendy for sharing your story.


Book Review: The House Girl

house girlThe House Girl by Tara Conklin holds every hallmark to become a favoured historical fiction novel.  Family secrets, pre-Civil War American history, perserverance of the human spirit, alternating time perspectives…it’s all in there!

Many may know of my personal penchant for the historical fiction genre,  especially if it involves personal history in some way and definitely when it shows the perseverance of the human spirit or the willingness of those few that put their own lives in danger for others. The House Girl offers all of this and more.

Here’s what The House Girl has to offer (taken from Tara Conklin’s site): Lina Sparrow, an ambitious first-year associate in an elite Manhattan law firm, is given a difficult, highly sensitive assignment that can make her career: find the “perfect plaintiff” to lead a historic class-action lawsuit worth trillions of dollars in reparations for the descendants of American slaves.

An unexpected lead comes from her father, renowned artist Oscar Sparrow, who tells her about a controversy currently rocking the art world. Art historians now suspect that the revered paintings of Lu Anne Bell, an antebellum artist known for her humanizing portraits of slaves from her plantation Bell Creek, were actually the work of her house slave, Josephine. A descendant of Josephine’s would be the perfect face for the firm’s lawsuit—if Lina can find one.  But nothing is known about Josephine’s fate following Lu Anne Bell’s death in 1852.  Did Josephine die at Bell Creek?  Was she sold? Or did she escape?  Searching for clues in old letters and plantation records, Lina begins to piece together Josephine’s story—a journey that leads her to question her own life, including the full story of her mother’s mysterious death twenty years before.

Alternating between antebellum Virginia and modern-day New York, this searing tale of art and history, love and secrets explores what it means to repair a wrong, and ask whether truth is sometimes more important than justice.

Josephine and Lina are two superb and inspirational women, but it wasn’t only them that drew me so deeply in to this story. No, because while I’m a sucker for personal historical fiction, I’m an even bigger devotee to ones that are written using letters as a way to tell the story. Oh how I adore those! And, The House Girl features much using this format, between sisters and in one part, and a letter from a father to his son in another. Through much of this book I couldn’t keep my eyes away from it, but when it came time to read the letters written by Dorthea Rounds to her sister Kate, I was enthralled. Dorthea has but a fleeting moment with Josephine, but it is her writing about her abolitionist work with her father that is truly fascinating. These letters describe the danger the Rounds involved themselves all in order to help the tortured and mistreated slaves seek freedom. Ms. Conklin has written complete fiction in these women and in this particular tale, but has done such an astounding job on making it seem as though we were reading about true historical figures. (Believe me, I was searching online!) Much like myself, Lina, while researching this “perfect plaintiff” becomes entranced in the correspondence written by Dorthea, and also develops this fierce bond with the history of a woman whom lived 150 years before.  The writing in these letters were like a gift and just added such richness to the tale.

Even when it flips back to the present day and we read of Lina and her personal and professional struggles, we are not left wanting for the quick return to Josephine’s tale, because Lina’s is just as engrossing! The House Girl is a thoroughly enjoyable tale! I know you will be seeing this book around quite often once it releases (mid-Februrary). It is definitely going to be sought after book-club read and is for certain a Literary Hoarders approved book!

Book Review: The Walnut Tree

walnut treeThank you to William Morrow and Edelweiss for advancing a copy of The Walnut Tree. It’s a novella occurring during the Great War and promised a cameo of Bess Crawford from Charles Todd’s Bess Crawford series. It was marketed as a holiday book and became available at the very end of October. Indeed, I was able to enjoy it over the Christmas holidays. And it was also something I enjoyed in one sitting as the weather outside was very frightful, with blowing snow and howling wind all day long. What a delightful way to spend a day curled up under the quilts reading! This was another perfect read for just that type of day too.

Lady Elspeth Douglas, Scottish royalty and daughter of an Earl, is beckoned to her school friend’s house in France just as the war is starting top grow in intensity for the French. She has promised to stay with Madeleine until her first child is born. Madeleine’s husband is being sent to fight along with Madeleine’s brother, Alain Montigny. Handsome and dashing Alain is someone that Elspeth has long had a childhood crush on. Now that Elspeth is matured, Alain is returning the feelings. On the eve before his departure he has stated his intentions to her and will write to her Uncle, her guardian as soon as he is able.

As the war rages ahead, Elspeth feels she must make her way back to her home in Cornwall, but becomes trapped among the fighting and spends her time helping the wounded in any way she is capable. While in Calais, she meets another childhood acquaintance, Captain Peter Gilchrist, who ensures her safety and comfort as much as he possibly can. Feelings begin to rise within Elspeth for Peter and she becomes quite confused as to what she truly feels for Alain and for Peter.

Lady Elspeth, taken by the nursing she helped with decides to go against her station and sign on for nursing school where she become a Nursing Sister. This is done completely in secret from her Uncle Kenneth and she never uses her title in any of the application forms. For once she feels free of her title and that she has accomplished something independently.

While working with the wounded she finds out that Alain has been captured as a prisoner and is severely wounded. Peter is also severely wounded and she fears may die from infection. Can she live in a world without Peter? What of her promise to Alain? Her feelings for Peter are growing stronger and she questions if these are the same kinds of feelings for Alain? Whom will she choose and settle her heart with?

Charles Todd also introduces Bess Crawford, and her landlady Mrs. Hennessey of their Bess Crawford Series. Elspeth rooms with Bess in London and at times works side by side with her. A nice touch to the story. There is also just a tiny hint of mystery as Elspeth questions what appears to be theft of paintings when she happens upon the same man she sat next to on a train and runs in to him a number of times, always carrying a wrapped brown package. This is only a small hint of the story though as it is quickly solved and set aside and only mentioned briefly.  Todd also uses the floating hospitals in the story, as they did in the Bess Crawford Series. That series was the first to bring my attention to that and I enjoyed hearing of it once again in The Walnut Tree.

Alain is still missing and Peter is being released in to Elspeth’s care. A fellow nursing sister has offered Elspeth her mother’s cottage in Sussex as a place of respite and she takes Peter there to rest and recover. There, their love develops and yet, Elspeth still struggles with her feelings for Alain. Outside of the cottage is a beautiful walnut tree and is a source of comfort to both Peter and Elspeth.

Elspeth receives word that she is to return at once to France, as Alain is home and in great despair. She leaves without hesitation or information to Peter and finds Alain in a very depressed state. What will happen for Elspeth? Will she neglect her strong and true feelings for Peter or maintain her earlier promise and remain with Alain? I’ll not tell, you must read and discover for yourself.

This was a wonderful and quick war-time romance to lose yourself in while relaxing by the fire as the howling winds and swirling snow carried on outside. A perfect escape on a blustery,wintery day. 3.5 stars.

Book Review: The Silence of Bonaventure Arrow

silence of bon

“(They could never have explained Bonaventure anyway because there is no scientific word for miraculous.) They didn’t know that through his remarkable hearing he would bring salvation to the souls of those who loved him.”

“She could not understand that Bonaventure’s muteness was not a handicap at all but a gift – an extraordinary, inexplicable, immeasurable gift that allowed him to hear what no one else could. The silence that had taken Bonaventure’s voice was the very same silence in which exists the Universe of Every Single Sound, a place that reverberates with perfect peace and mirthful bliss, but also with despair’s deep moaning and the whispers of secrets…Those secrets were waiting for Bonaventure to hear them and find them and take them out for healing.”

Marvelous! Wonderful! Extraordinary! Splendid! A true gift to the reader! I am certain I will not properly convey how brilliant this story was, but please just believe me that this book was a true gift to read as the last one for 2012. It was such a special book.  Thank you so very much to HarperCollins and Edelweiss for advancing us a copy of The Silence of Bonaventure Arrow. This absolute brilliant gem is set for release in February 2013. So it’s not so very long away, but you must make sure to look for it!  Promise! When I first read the description of this tale, I immediately thought, “doesn’t this sound remarkable”? And oh how remarkable it truly was. The writing, so gorgeous, it just envelopes you in its beauty. “Though they had come together to mourning’s abyss, each looked into the gorge alone.” It truly makes you stop and listen.  The sense of Hearing and Listening are profoundly employed throughout this story. It also has ghosts, religion, spirits, mysticism, crazy evangelical preachers speaking in tongues, Hoodoo and Voodoo and everything else awesome!

Bonaventure Arrow only experiences his world through sound. His early years are spent communicating only through a series of clicks, facial and hand gestures. It was wonderful to sit back and read about Bonaventure’s impressions of people, just by listening. The sound of his ghostly father is always familiar to Bonaventure, even though he doesn’t see him, has never seen him, he is always comforted by his deep, reassuring voice. His grandmother Roman however, is one person that causes Bonaventure distress and anxiety (and always for good reason! Grandmother Roman is a despicable and self-righteous woman). He is most at comfort laying against his mother’s chest and feeling her throat for the vibrations as she speaks. Bonaventure, we are told, has been placed on this earth to help heal the secrets, and there are aplenty in his family that need to be released, healed and put away forever.

The characters and their parts in this intricate story are each wonderful works of art:

The Wanderer: He is anonymous and responsible for the murder of the beloved son, husband and not-yet father, William Arrow. The Wanderer has returned from WWII missing half his face. Unable to properly communicate, he seems to become possessed or preoccupied with a mission that takes him from Michigan to New Orleans in order to kill William. Forever after that he remains as John Doe in an asylum. No one, not even himself, knows or understands what provoked him to shoot and kill William. All is revealed however in the end with great heartbreak.

William: ghostly William must take care of three tasks before he can fully move on to Heaven. He enlists the help of Bonaventure as he is one of only two people that know of his presence. Bonaventure is the only one to hear his ghostly father who watches over him. William’s completion of the tasks and his final letting go to move on to Heaven will make you cry. I cried. A lot.

“What does red sound like?” — it sounds like fireworks. Do you like fireworks? –“Yup, I can hear fireworks, but I can’t hear red. You’re the only one that can do that. You’re the only one that can hear a lot of things. You’re the only one that can hear me.”

The Grandmothers: William’s mother Letice, wracked with guilt over her son’s death and cannot overcome that it must have had something to do with those secrets long kept tucked away in a box.  Dancy’s mom Adelaide Roman: a despicable, hateful woman that is just mean-spirited and just one of those characters you love to hate, but also has secrets of her own. She is healed as well, but in a very unique and rightful way.

Bonaventure’s mother, Dancy: She is left bereft over William’s death and feels it is entirely her fault as well. As hard as it is for both William and Dancy to let go of one another, it is necessary for total healing.

Then there is Trinidad Prefontaine. In the beginning, she is constantly aware of an imp’s presence, her feet itch when she feels him near. She is eventually joined to Bonaventure, and becomes a significant person in his life. Trinidad has been given the gift of sixth sense, or The Knowing. She too will work with Bonaventure to expose and heal the secrets, and is aware of William’s presence in his childhood home, the same in which Letice, Dancy and Bonaventure live.

And of course there is Bonaventure. One spectacularly, amazingly special boy with an incredibly special gift. Through Bonaventure you hear, and you listen and it’s simply beautiful. It’s simply astonishing and amazing to read. It is definitely a book I did not want to see come to an end. You will want to relish and lose yourself in this beautifully written tale. Absolutely fan-fabulous-tastic! So many amazing poignant moments that cause you to stop and listen and just close your eyes at how beautifully those moments are written on the page.

Slowly and elegantly, the secrets are unveiled and it is up to Bonaventure and with help from Trinidad to interpret, discover and bury them in the past where they belong.

What a wonderful wonderful book to close out 2012 with! 5 beautiful stars! Again, make sure you pick this one up when it comes out! It does not disappoint in any way!

Bonaventure would come to know that life is not always made of beautiful sounds, that too many sounds make cacophony, and that every voice matters. 

He would come to understand that there’s a difference between the will of God and the will of man, that the acts of one person affects the lives of others, and that God reaches out when it all goes wrong.