Tag Archives: Tracy Chevalier

Book Club Reflection: The Virgin Blue by Tracey Chevalier

31 May

I’m afraid I’m going to lose my rights to pick books for my book club. For this group, the last two books I’ve suggested, One Hundred Years of Solitude and now The Virgin Blue by Tracy Chevalier, have been flops in the group. The difference, this time, is that I really liked Chevalier’s book while the rest of the group hated it. I recognized a lot of the plot holes they pointed out, but I loved the writing and style enough to look past them. It seems not everyone could do that. I agreed that it was hard to remember the beginning by the time you got to the end. I missed that Isabelle’s maiden name, Moulin, was the name of the woman who owned the Bible. I also recognized it was too convenient that the archivist gave the Bible to Ella. Anyway, I’m getting ahead of myself.

This book had a lot of information about religious tensions in Europe that many of us were not aware of. In the last paragraph, we thought Jacob was deciding to return to France, to go back to the Catholics because he disagreed with what he saw of the Calvins, which was not very accurate. His father, Etienne, practiced the old religion where human sacrifice could save a house. We suspected that one of Etienne’s brothers was under the hearth of the hold house and that his presence protected the Bible during the house ransacking. One of the few things that bothered us universally about the book was the inclusion of French passages with no translation. It seemed arrogant to assume every reader speaks French but since this book was first published in England, it’s less assuming but still annoying for an American reader.

There were some strong similarities between Isabelle and Ella though there were superficial. Both had problems with skin reactions, both were in bad marriages and had to give up their midwife careers and strangely, both lay naked in rivers. Both had men named Paul that they were attracted to. We felt that Isabelle might have run off with Paul at the end. For a while, we thought he was a figment of her imagination, but she traded messages with him through the Italian courier so he had to be real. The France they lived in was similar as well. Both found hostilities and were able to escape to Switzerland where things were calmer. However, for Isabelle, things were still rough though it was easier on her family.

As I said in my review, Ella’s relationship with Rick bothered me most. She treated him unfairly as she fell out of love. Some of our members didn’t like Rick as much as I did. They felt he was shallow, being afraid to touch her psoriasis and being concerned with his flowing hair. I thought he was confident enough that he didn’t care what others thought about his appearance.

Our impressions of Jean Paul changed through the book. He was a good listener when Rick wasn’t and he really cared about Ella’s project. He got sucked in even when he was trying to withdraw. We understood why he wanted to withdraw after hearing about his past relationship and it made him sympathetic.

Ella’s hair change was one of the strangest parts of the book to me. It was very unbelievable and for me, planted this book in the magical realism realm. We believed it more with Marie, whose hair seemed to be slowly changing.

Ella is very convinced that the baby she conceived is Rick’s. We thought she felt less guilt in carrying Rick’s baby than Jean Paul’s. Who know who the real father is, but she wanted it to be Rick. We wondered if he would stay involved in the child’s life. He’s moving to Germany and doesn’t seem to be around for the pregnancy. Does he want to be? I explained the situation to my husband and he said if I was pregnant and was going to leave him for a lover, he’d want me to be carrying the other man’s baby. He would not want to be involved. That was a fun thought exercise.

I’ve already read our next selection, Brooklyn, and I think it will be a fun discussion.

Until next time, write on.

You can follow me on Goodreads, Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, and Instagram. I’m available via email at SamAStevensWriter@gmail.com. And as always, feel free to leave a comment!

Advertisements

Book Review: The Virgin Blue by Tracey Chevalier (4/5)

17 May

I’ver read and enjoyed several of Chevalier’s previous novels. Before this blog, I read The Girl with a Pearl Earring and The Lady and the Unicorn. When I found a copy of The Virgin Blue at a bag sale, I grabbed it, figuring it would be a good read for somewhere down the road when I finally got to the bottom of my infinite TBR. Luckily, it was a title my library owned in mass quantities for book clubs and I convinced my book club to read it this month. The catch is that I have to lead the discussion but that’s hardly a hardship for me.

Cover image via Goodreads

Cover image via Goodreads

The Virgin Blue by Tracy Chevalier

Other books by Tracy Chevalier reviewed on this blog:

Burning Bright

Summary from Goodreads:

Meet Ella Turner and Isabelle du Moulin—two women born centuries apart, yet bound by a fateful family legacy. When Ella and her husband move to a small town in France, Ella hopes to brush up on her French, qualify to practice as a midwife, and start a family of her own. Village life turns out to be less idyllic than she expected, however, and a peculiar dream of the color blue propels her on a quest to uncover her family’s French ancestry. As the novel unfolds—alternating between Ella’s story and that of Isabelle du Moulin four hundred years earlier—a common thread emerges that unexpectedly links the two women.

This was much more magical than the other Chevalier books I’ve read but the summary had prepared me for that. I liked the alternating points of view and how Chevalier used them to move the plot along. At first, I was angry that Isabelle’s timeline jumped around, but it was done very well and I understood why after a while. My biggest complaint with the whole novel was Ella cheating on Rick. That really really bothered me. I hate books where people cheat on each other (Brooklyn for example) and it can often ruin a perfectly good book for me. Besides that, I liked Ella and I thought she was a really great character to tell this story.

I liked Ella, but she was unlike anyone I know and it made it a bit hard to relate to her. She was an American abroad, which I could relate to from my time studying in Europe, but she didn’t try to fit in and she didn’t know the language which would have frustrated me beyond reason. She seemed very lost and had little to do, which is NOTHING like me. I’m always so busy I can’t think. I appreciated her interest in her relatives. I’ve used the free ancestry sites and traced my family back to Germany in the 1500s (if all that can be believed). Her lifestyle and clothing were nothing like what I would do or say so it was hard to sympathize with her. When she cheated on Rick, I had a hard time liking her at all.

Jean Paul was my favorite character despite what he and Ella did together. He was dark and mysterious, the kind of guy I fall in love with in a book. I could see what attracted Ella to him and I loved that he was a librarian. I liked that he was strong but still delicate. In short, he fulfilled my ‘bad boy’ desires for a male lead while still being relatable. I just wish he didn’t smoke. Or sleep with Ella. I wish they were friends with a frustrated sexual chemistry. And no cigarettes.

I related to Ella’s sense of meaninglessness in France. When I studied in Spain and England, it was hard to fill my day. I’d spend hours and hours on school, but that could only take up so much time. I was (and still am) slow to make friends so that wasn’t how it would happen. I felt alone and wanted to go home so I could spend time with my boyfriend (now husband) and friends in Indiana. It’s hard to find something to take up your time. In Spain, I read a lot. In England, I joined a comedy troupe. It’s not ancestry, but it was my way of coping.

Tracy Chevalier Image via Wikipedia

Tracy Chevalier
Image via Wikipedia

I liked the flashbacks to Isabelle best. She was a great character and I found it easier to relate to her. I think it’s easier to relate to people in a time and place so removed from my own because I can’t compare her to myself. With a modern timeframe, I can criticize relationships, choices, clothing and much more easily whereas I don’t know what I would have been like in Isabelle’s time. I enjoyed how Chevalier made the punctuation different for Isabelle’s sections. It helped me remember whose head I was in if I had to put the book down.

I’ll say it once more, but I hated that Ella cheated on Rick. He never did anything that upset her other than his job and she didn’t give him much of a chance. She hid her life from him and it felt like she cheated on him because she was having nightmares. How does that become his fault? I’ve gone through depressions and it’s never made me want to cheat on my husband so I couldn’t comprehend that and it ruined the book for me just enough so it didn’t get a full 5 stars.

 

The two themes I got from this book is that our history matters and that family will always support you. The first is more interesting to me so I’ll talk about that. Ella felt lost in France but felt her family might help her connect to it, only to find out what she really needed was in Switzerland. It didn’t end up making her connect with a country but with herself. She was able to see herself as part of a history of people instead of a lost individual. Her distant relatives were people she could confide in because they had the same history. Susanne and she were both connected by the nightmare to Marie and Isabelle. Though this was the magical element, knowing their past gave them peace.

Writer’s Takeaway: One of my biggest frustrations with books that head jump is that I can’t remember who is speaking when I pick the book up. I loved how Chevalier managed this by using both a different punctuation rule and different points of view. I could read one sentence and know that it was first person modern punctuation (Ella) or third person unconventional punctuation (Isabelle). I loved this stylistic choice.

I really enjoyed this book and I can’t wait to discuss it with the book club. 4 out of 5 Stars.

This book fulfills 1500-1599 for my When Are You Reading? Challenge.

Until next time, write on.

 

You can follow me on GoodreadsFacebookTwitterPinterest, and Instagram. I’m available via email at SamAStevensWriter@gmail.com. And as always, feel free to leave a comment!

Related Posts:
The Virgin Blue, Tracy Chevalier | A Novel Thing
The Virgin Blue by Tracy Chevalier | She Reads Novels
Book Review: The Virgin Blue by Tracy Chevalier | Imperfect Happiness

WWW Wednesday, 11-May-2016

11 May

Welcome to WWW Wednesday! This meme was formerly hosted by MizB at Should be Reading and revived here on Taking on a World of Words. Just answer the three questions below and leave a link to your post in the comments for others to look at. No blog? No problem! Just leave a comment with your responses. Please, take some time to visit the other participants and see what others are reading. So, let’s get to it!

IMG_1384-0

The Three Ws are:

What are you currently reading?
What did you recently finish reading?
What do you think you’ll read next?

Note: For users of Blogspot blogs, I’m unable to comment on your posts as a WordPress blogger unless you’ve enabled Name/URL comments. This is a known WordPress/Blogspot issue. Please consider enabling this to participate more fully in the community.


AskingCurrently reading: I’m finally getting back to Harry Potter y el misterio del príncipe (Half-Blood Prince) by J.K. Rowling and it feels so good! I’m not sure how long it will take for me to finish this, but I’ll enjoy the ride.
I made small progress with In the Garden of Beasts by Erik Larson again. I’m at about 20% but I’ll get there to be sure. It might take a while, though.
My audiobook now is The Art of Asking by Amanda Palmer. It’s nice for runs because music from her band will randomly come on during it but the narration is a bit quiet which is frustrating when I have to play with the volume so much.

ClashofKingsRecently finished: I finished A Clash of Kings by George R.R. Martin! I’m glad I finished it and I honestly don’t think I’ll get to the next book anytime soon. I felt this one was a lot less exciting than the first book. I dunno. I’ll get to it eventually, but I’m not sure when.
I flew through The Virgin Blue by Tracey Chevalier. The book was a bit more magical than her others books have been, but I still enjoyed it a lot. I’m excited to discuss this one with the book club. I’ve volunteered to lead the discussion.

27 Days_HighResReading Next: I’m posting about this tomorrow, but my friend Kristine Kruppa released a book last week and I plan to read it next. It’s called 27 Days to Midnight and I’m really looking forward to reading it!


Leave a comment with your link and a comment (if you’re so inclined). Take a look at the other participant links in the comments and look at what others are reading.

Have any opinions on these choices?

Until next time, write on.

You can follow me on GoodreadsFacebookTwitterPinterest, and Instagram. I’m available via email at SamAStevensWriter@gmail.com. And as always, feel free to leave a comment!

WWW Wednesday, 4-May-2016

4 May

Welcome to WWW Wednesday! This meme was formerly hosted by MizB at Should be Reading and revived here on Taking on a World of Words. Just answer the three questions below and leave a link to your post in the comments for others to look at. No blog? No problem! Just leave a comment with your responses. Please, take some time to visit the other participants and see what others are reading. So, let’s get to it!

IMG_1384-0

The Three Ws are:

What are you currently reading?
What did you recently finish reading?
What do you think you’ll read next?

Note: For users of Blogspot blogs, I’m unable to comment on your posts as a WordPress blogger unless you’ve enabled Name/URL comments. This is a known WordPress/Blogspot issue. Please consider enabling this to participate more fully in the community.


ClashofKingsCurrently reading: I hope to get back to Harry Potter y el misterio del príncipe (Half-Blood Prince) by J.K. Rowling soon. It’s sitting on my bedside tale for now.
I’m making great progress with A Clash of Kings by George R.R. Martin. I’m about four hours from the end and in the midst of the final battle. I got the eaudio back and the battle is great listening during my long runs!
I got through a bit of In the Garden of Beasts by Erik Larson but nothing to brag about. I’ll be working on this one for a while!
I’m really enjoying The Virgin Blue by Tracey Chevalier. I always love her books so no surprise to me here. I’m hoping I can tear through this one and get back to Harry!

 

Child44Recently finished: I finished two books! The first was Child 44 by Tom Rob Smith which I got through just a few days after my book club meeting last week. I was so close to finishing in time, but it slipped past me. Oh well. I wasn’t a big fan of the book. My review went up yesterday where I explained why I gave it 2 out of 5 stars. I’ve still got a book-to-movie review and a book club reflection to write on this one so it will be around for a bit.
The other book I finished was Silver Sparrow by Tayari Jones which I loved! The book was really well written and I loved the characters. A full 5 out of 5 stars. My review is already up for this one so check it out.

AskingReading Next: I’ll be grabbing my next book club selection, The Art of Asking by Amanda Palmer. I haven’t decided if I’ll do the physical or audio copy yet, but I’m leaning toward audio so I can fee myself up to finish Harry and work on some other books I’ve been waiting to read.


Leave a comment with your link and a comment (if you’re so inclined). Take a look at the other participant links in the comments and look at what others are reading.

Have any opinions on these choices?

Until next time, write on.

You can follow me on GoodreadsFacebookTwitterPinterest, and Instagram. I’m available via email at SamAStevensWriter@gmail.com. And as always, feel free to leave a comment!

WWW Wednesday, 27-April-2016

27 Apr

Welcome to WWW Wednesday! This meme was formerly hosted by MizB at Should be Reading and revived here on Taking on a World of Words. Just answer the three questions below and leave a link to your post in the comments for others to look at. No blog? No problem! Just leave a comment with your responses. Please, take some time to visit the other participants and see what others are reading. So, let’s get to it!

IMG_1384-0

The Three Ws are:

What are you currently reading?
What did you recently finish reading?
What do you think you’ll read next?

Note: For users of Blogspot blogs, I’m unable to comment on your posts as a WordPress blogger unless you’ve enabled Name/URL comments. This is a known WordPress/Blogspot issue. Please consider enabling this to participate more fully in the community.


VirginCurrently reading: I’ve just put aside Harry Potter y el misterio del príncipe (Half-Blood Prince) by J.K. Rowling so I can start a new book. I hope to get back to it soon, I was getting to the meat of it!
I’m really hoping to start back with A Clash of Kings by George R.R. Martin very soon! Maybe on disk, but it will take me a while to find where I am. We’ll see.
I was so embarrassed about my minimal progress with In the Garden of Beasts by Erik Larson that I made a point of reading it this week. I’m at 13% now, so much better but still behind.
I wasn’t able to finish Child 44 by Tom Rob Smith before my book club met. I was close, one disk left, but I watched the movie in order to see how it ended. I’ll still finish it, though. I’m looking forward to comparing the book and movie.
It’s not the ideal running book, but I’ve made good progress with Silver Sparrow by Tayari Jones while running this past week. I’m getting toward the end so I hope to finish it soon.
I started  The Virgin Blue by Tracey Chevalier on Monday night. Not too far into it yet so no comment but I do love this author! Yes, I realize I have WAY too many books going at once. I hope to clear this list up really soon.

Recently finished: Just one. I finished the quick read of The Tales of Beedle the Bard by J.K. Rowling and wrote a review which I posted Monday. It’s not much, but it’s something!

Reading Next: No plans again. I’m going to try to get through my massive list before I take on anything new!


Leave a comment with your link and a comment (if you’re so inclined). Take a look at the other participant links in the comments and look at what others are reading.

Have any opinions on these choices?

Until next time, write on.

You can follow me on GoodreadsFacebookTwitterPinterest, and Instagram. I’m available via email at SamAStevensWriter@gmail.com. And as always, feel free to leave a comment!

WWW Wednesday, 20-April-2016

20 Apr

Welcome to WWW Wednesday! This meme was formerly hosted by MizB at Should be Reading and revived here on Taking on a World of Words. Just answer the three questions below and leave a link to your post in the comments for others to look at. No blog? No problem! Just leave a comment with your responses. Please, take some time to visit the other participants and see what others are reading. So, let’s get to it!

IMG_1384-0

The Three Ws are:

What are you currently reading?
What did you recently finish reading?
What do you think you’ll read next?

Note: For users of Blogspot blogs, I’m unable to comment on your posts as a WordPress blogger unless you’ve enabled Name/URL comments. This is a known WordPress/Blogspot issue. Please consider enabling this to participate more fully in the community.


PrincipeCurrently reading: I’ still making my way through Harry Potter y el misterio del príncipe (Half-Blood Prince) by J.K. Rowling and thoroughly enjoying it. There’s so much I’d forgotten about and I’m having a great time reading it all again.
Unfortunately, still on hold with A Clash of Kings by George R.R. Martin. I’m not happy about it. Urg.
I think I read three pages of In the Garden of Beasts by Erik Larson. This is just the nature of me and ebooks, we’ll see how it goes.
I’m getting worried about finishing Child 44 by Tom Rob Smith before my book club meets. It’s really not a book for me, I’m not a fan of the thriller genre and this narrator is still grating on me with terrible Russian accents. Blah.
I’m enjoying Silver Sparrow by Tayari Jones while I wait to get Martin back. I was hoping to put this one aside and finish Martin if I got the hold back quickly, but it doesn’t look like that is going to happen. Sigh.

Recently finished: I’m sad to say I haven’t finished anything! I need to buckle down and focus on some of these books but my semester will be over in another two weeks and I’ll be a lot more available then… until the next semester starts. Ugh.

I posted my review of Texts from Jane Eyre by Mallory Ortberg. A lot of you were asking about that so go check it out!

VirginReading Next: I’m still planning on The Virgin Blue by Tracey Chevalier. I’ll put Potter aside for this one so my ‘currently reading’ list is only going to grow, much to my chagrin. I put too many things on hold. Ugh.


Leave a comment with your link and a comment (if you’re so inclined). Take a look at the other participant links in the comments and look at what others are reading.

Have any opinions on these choices?

Until next time, write on.

You can follow me on GoodreadsFacebookTwitterPinterest, and Instagram. I’m available via email at SamAStevensWriter@gmail.com. And as always, feel free to leave a comment!

WWW Wednesday, 13-April-2016

13 Apr

Welcome to WWW Wednesday! This meme was formerly hosted by MizB at Should be Reading and revived here on Taking on a World of Words. Just answer the three questions below and leave a link to your post in the comments for others to look at. No blog? No problem! Just leave a comment with your responses. Please, take some time to visit the other participants and see what others are reading. So, let’s get to it!

IMG_1384-0

The Three Ws are:

What are you currently reading?
What did you recently finish reading?
What do you think you’ll read next?

Note: For users of Blogspot blogs, I’m unable to comment on your posts as a WordPress blogger unless you’ve enabled Name/URL comments. This is a known WordPress/Blogspot issue. Please consider enabling this to participate more fully in the community.


SparrowCurrently reading: It’s been great to work on Harry Potter y el misterio del príncipe (Half-Blood Prince) by J.K. Rowling lately. I love this story and there’s so much I’ve forgotten since I last read it. I’m half way through now!
I wasn’t doing too well with A Clash of Kings by George R.R. Martin and then I lost the hold! I still have the physical audiobook but I have to finish Child 44 first so as of now, this one is unfortunately on hold.
I don’t think I’ve read any of In the Garden of Beasts by Erik Larson since last week. Being on vacation slowed that down a lot. If you’ve been here a while, you know I’m slow on ebooks anyway. This one will take a while.
Slow progress still on Child 44 by Tom Rob Smith. I’m still not enjoying it much at all. The narrator does a terrible Russian accent for each character and I can’t see any semblance of a plot yet. It’s very meandering and there were two prologues which turned me off right away.
While I’m waiting to get A Clash of Kings back (again), I started listening to Silver Sparrow by Tayari Jones. This is a book that appeared on the book calendar I had in 2013 that grew my list exponentially. I’m glad I found it on eaudio.

Texts from JaneRecently finished: Hoping my loss of Martin would only be 24 hours while the system reset, I took Mallory Ortberg’s Texts from Jane Eyre with me on a business trip. It was really fun and passed the hour drive quickly. Review to come next week.

Two reviews to share! I posted my thoughts on Slaughterhouse-Five by Kurt Vonnegut on Friday. I liked it enough though I probably would have liked it more had I read it in a shorter time-span. Three out of Five stars.
I also reviewed Norwegian by Night by Derek B. Miller while I loved. I’m excited to talk to my book club about this one in a few weeks and see if anyone else felt the same.

VirginReading Next: Next will likely be The Virgin Blue by Tracey Chevalier for my book club. This is one I’ve had on my shelf for a while because I’m a fan of Chevalier’s books. I suggested it for the book club and they said yes! Hahaha! I’m hoping to finish Potter before I start this, but no promises with how long it takes me to get through one of those in Spanish.


Leave a comment with your link and a comment (if you’re so inclined). Take a look at the other participant links in the comments and look at what others are reading.

Have any opinions on these choices?

Until next time, write on.

You can follow me on GoodreadsFacebookTwitterPinterest, and Instagram. I’m available via email at SamAStevensWriter@gmail.com. And as always, feel free to leave a comment!

Friday 56, 6-February-2015

6 Feb

Welcome to the ‘too much snow’ edition of The Friday 56 hosted by Freda on Freda’s Voice. Head on over there and check out the other participating blogs.

Friday 56

The way this meme works is pretty simple. If you want to join in, head over to Freda’s blog and add your link.

Rules:
*Grab a book, any book (I grab the one I’m currently reading)
*Turn to page 56 or 56% in your eReader
*Find any sentence, (or few, just don’t spoil it) that grab you.
*Post it.

I haven’t cracked a new physical book this week and I’m so early in my eBook that I don’t want to look at 56% and have anything ruined, so I grabbed a book off my shelf. This week it’s Girl With a Pearl Earring by Tracy Chevalier. If you haven’t read this one, I recommend it, especially if you like historical fiction. Here’s page 56:

Catharina had little will to climb the stairs these days, but I wondered what Maria Thins, or Cornelia, or anyone would think if they saw us.

This is a great quote and comes during a turning point between Griet (the narrator) and her employer. There was always the undertone of a sexual relationship between the two but I think this quote shows that it’s all based in how Griet is afraid people will perceive them, not how they actually behave. Or maybe I’m not remembering right. Anyone who can correct me?

Until next time, write on.

You can follow me on Goodreads, Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, and Instagram. I’m available via email at SamAStevensWriter@gmail.com. And as always, feel free to leave a comment!

My Favorite Authors Across Genres

27 Nov

Asking a reader who their favorite author is usually feels like picking a favorite child (I’m assuming, I have no children, this is what I’ve been told). So, instead, I’ll tell you about my favorite authors for each genre that I read, long one or two runners-up who are worthy of mention.

This list is a bit short. I realized I’m not much of a repeat-reader as far as reading multiple books from an author. Unless it’s a series, which you’ll see a bit below. I like variety, some say it’s the spice of life.

Action: Steig Larsson

Contemporary Fiction: Khaled Hosseini

General Fiction: John Irving

Historical Fiction: Phillipa Gregory
Honorable Mention: Tracy Chevalier

Non-Fiction: A.J. Jacobs

Young Adult: J.K. Rowling (are you really surprised?)
Honorable Mention: S.E. Hinton

If I have to pick overall, I usually say John Irving. He gets a little repetitive if you read him a lot, but I love his storytelling style.

Who are your favorite writers? What other genres would you have chosen? Anyone I should read? Leave a comment and let me know!

Until next time, write on.

Book Review: Burning Bright by Tracy Chevalier

16 Oct

It’s been a while since I did a book review so I’m excited to be able to do this one.  I added Burning Bright to my To-Read Shelf because I was thinking about Chevalier’s other title, The Girl With the Pearl Earring. I loved that book and the subsequent movie was enjoyable as well.  Chevalier’s ability to tell the story of an artist through another person’s eyes was captivating to me.  Another of her books, The Lady and the Unicorn, had a similar structure and I enjoyed it equally as much.  While searching Chevalier’s book offerings, I looked for those that told the story of an artist and was delighted to see Burning Bright on that list.  I hadn’t heard of it before and instantly added it to the queue.

Book cover from Goodreads.com

Book cover from Goodreads.com

Burning Bright by Tracy Chevalier

The Kellaway family packed up their things and moved from a small town in Dorsetshire to London at the eve of the French Revolution.  Father Thomas Kellaway has been promised work by Philip Astley, a circus owner in the suburb of Lambath.  The family sets up shop and are soon overwhelmed by the quick-paced city life of Lambath.  Their neighbors are varied, from the up-tight landlady Miss Pellham, to womanizing circus-heir John Astley, and the French-sympathizing William Blake.  It’s around Mr. Blake that this story turns.  The Kellaway children, Maisie and Jem meet another neighbor, Maggie Butterfield, who grew up in the rough-and-tumble of London life and is intrigued by the ignorance of the Kellaway children.  Maggie makes fast friends with Jem and the two explore London together and delve into their interest in neighboring Mr. Blake.

At the time of the action, Blake has already published his book Songs of Innocence and is at work on Songs of Experience. Chevalier’s novel is set up so that the first half reflects the innocence of the children (Maisie, Jem, and Maggie) who are often shocked by Blake’s work-in-progress.  In the second half of the novel, Blake continues to run into the children in more ‘adult’ situations as the novel shifts to a second half focused on the experiences of growing up.

To me this book was not as enjoyable as Chevalier’s other works.  In the others, I liked how the reader got to know the artist as far as their work and their motivations.  In this novel, Blake’s character stays to the background, only coming forward at pivotal moments when the children are having realizations that are making them grow up (aka become more experienced).  Blake seemed like an almost unnecessary side character that could have been written out of the book.  Without him, the story of the Kellaways and Maggie would have gone on; he was not a critical piece of the puzzle.  In fact, I had to work to add him into my plot summary.

The first half was a little slow and seemed very childish to the point at which is was boring.  The second half of the book was much more enjoyable and interesting.  Based on some of the themes in the second half, I would say I’m part of the target age range for this book and it surprises me that such a large part was mainly juvenile.

A focus of the text is what lies between two extremes.  Blake has the children think about what lies between.  If innocence is the left bank of a river and experience is the right, what lies in between? The answer, we come to find, is life. Life is not black and white, good or bad, innocence or experience, but a combination and a fluid journey between the two. Maisie starts very ‘innocent’ and along her way gains experience, but never really loses her childlike joy.  Maggie starts the story very hardened by London ways and in the end finds herself seeking a simpler life.  The children cannot be categorized as one or the other and continually drift from one side of the metaphorical river to the other.  Maisie and Maggie’s shared common name, Margaret, shows again how the journey of two girls who start so differently and share something as crucial as a name can cross and cross again in the areas of grey.

This opinion can be related back to Blake’s books directly and is a theme in many other texts as well. It’s the crux of a coming of age journey in which a character finds that the world isn’t as simple as right and wrong.  Coincidentally, this is something I explore in my first WIP.  I think areas of grey are a big part of growing up. Maisie, Jem, and Maggie come to find this quickly.

Chevalier brings this to a head in the last scene of her novel, when Maggie and Jem have a copy of each of Blake’s books.  One was a gift for Maggie, the other for Jem and the two cannot figure out which is for whom.  They both reflect the contents and ideas of the two books together.

Writers Takeaway: Chevalier’s ability to weave historical everyday life into a story is commendable.  She is truly a master of the craft.  I enjoyed the rich characters she created and who all served a strong purpose in the book.  The one thing I hoped to learn to avoid is a slow start to the book.  I felt like the exposition went on forever without there being a real turning point to the plot. The story was a little too character-driven for me and I learned that there needs to be some more action to it to keep things interesting.

Overall, I do not recommend this book.  I give it three out of five stars.