Book Addiction: Becoming Bonnie

My latest book addiction is Becoming Bonnie by Jenni L. Walsh. I devoured this riveting novel in less than two days because I couldn’t bear to put it down. Evocative and honest, Jenni L. Walsh’s prose will immerse readers in the darkness and glamour of the 1920s, through the desperation of the Great Depression and the sultry jazz rhythms of Doc’s, the speakeasy where Bonnie Parker works. Going by Bonnelyn, she’s a wholesome, intelligent girl with big dreams. But as the Great Depression and strictures of prohibition show their teeth, she’s able to adapt to the pepper of gunfire. Bonnelyn is a likable, relatable narrator, and I felt like I knew her. And when she meets Clyde Barrow, his self-assurance and loyalty won me over, too. Thank goodness there’s an upcoming sequel, because I need more of these characters. Plus, it’s been optioned for a TV show!

One of my favourite aspects of the book is Bonnie and Clyde’s shared musical interest. They even write a song together, an adventurous, true-to-character ballad that I wish I could hear for real. I also enjoyed the relationship between Bonnelyn and Blanche, her sharp-tongued but pure-hearted best friend.

This is an extra special blog post, because Jenni kindly agreed to an interview. Welcome, Jenni!

Did you face any unexpected challenges or pleasant surprises while working on the novel?

Interestingly enough, Becoming Bonnie isn’t the story I first sought to tell. Driven by my desire to write the story of that iconic figure, I first began writing my own version of Bonnie and Clyde’s 1930s crime spree. I quickly put on the brakes, realizing my first challenge: I needed readers to understand who Bonnie really was at her core. What made her tick? What was her background? What were her aspirations, at the beginning and the end? Why was she so loyal to Clyde Barrow? So I put what I’d written aside, hoping to one day use it in a sequel, and started over, going back five years to tell Bonnie Parker’s origin story, which also allowed me to drop Bonnie into a 1920s speakeasy in the middle of a foxtrot. Now that was a good time (and a pleasant surprise!).

What was your favourite scene to write?

As Meghan mentioned, Bonnie and Clyde pen a song together in Becoming Bonnie. It was such a fun element of the story to write, so I’d like to share a snippet of the scene where Clyde reveals their first verse.


Clyde settles himself on the couch, then the instrument on his knee. He pats the spot beside him, pauses with his fingers ready to strum. I sit and fold my hands in my lap, watching as he clears his throat, swallows, clears his throat again. Clyde’s head tilts down, and he looks up at me from under his lashes.

“I started this here song a while ago, but she ain’t done,” he says. “Was hoping you’d help me finish her.”

“Me?”

His fingertips slide down the strings once, letting the soft sound vibrate ’round us. “You’ll see.”

He goes back for more, a dark melody forming with each stroke, and moistens his lips. Clyde says, more than sings, “Death is a five-letter word, with a five-finger clutch.”

His head stays down, his jaw relaxed, eyes closed. “It cornered him, pitting him against the bigger man . . . By the throat, edging closer, nearing Death’s final touch.”

The rhythm quickens, the beat an unexpected surprise.

Then there she was, light in the dark, defying Death’s plan . . . She stared it down, held on tight, fired off a shot all her own . . . Ohh”—he draws out the word, as if taunting Death—“Oh, oh, oh, death for the boy has been postponed.”

Clyde’s fingers shift to a higher pitch on the guitar. He smirks and sings from the corner of his mouth, “’Cause lean closer, listen close . . . How the story ends, no one knows . . . But one thing’s clear, you’ll see . . . Bonnie and Clyde, meant to be, alive and free.”

That last line, that last note hangs between us.

I forget how to breathe.

“That’s all I got for now,” Clyde says softly. “Thought maybe we could do the next verse together.”

“Together?” I wring my hands, staring into the eyes of Clyde Barrow, the criminal, the charmer, the . . . boy who wrote me a doggone song to show me how he cares.

“Yeah, Bonnie. You and me. What do you say?”

© 2017 Jenni L. Walsh


This plot element became doubly fun when a friend put the last line of the chorus into sheet music for me!

What’s your writing process like? Do you have a strict schedule or can you write anywhere, anytime?

My process is slow. Real slow. I’m one of those authors who has to get a line/paragraph just right before I move on. Then, I’ll often go back to add in new details that’ll support the new scene I’m working on. It takes me forever to complete a first draft. The upside is that my first draft is usually pretty clean and ready for a second set of eyes. As far as when I write, I got to wait for the a’ok from my bosses (my 1-year-old and three-year-old). My oldest gives me the stink eye when she sees my laptop out, so I generally only write during naptimes and at night, unless my husband is distracting them on the weekends.

How can we stay updated on your book news?

I have a newsletter (and a firm no-spam rule)! I also have three books, one of which is the sequel to Becoming Bonnie, coming in 2018 that I’d love to tell you about, if ya want to sign up here. You can also catch me on Twitter and Facebook, along with my website.

From the book jacket:

From debut historical novelist Jenni L. Walsh, Becoming Bonnie is the untold story of how wholesome Bonnelyn Parker became half of the infamous Bonnie and Clyde duo!

The summer of 1927 might be the height of the Roaring Twenties, but Bonnelyn Parker is more likely to belt out a church hymn than sling drinks at an illicit juice joint. She’s a sharp girl with plans to overcome her family’s poverty, provide for herself, and maybe someday marry her boyfriend, Roy Thornton. But when Roy springs a proposal on her and financial woes jeopardize her ambitions, Bonnelyn finds salvation in an unlikely place: Dallas’s newest speakeasy, Doc’s.

Living the life of a moll at night, Bonnie remains a wholesome girl by day, engaged to Roy, attending school and working toward a steady future. When Roy discovers her secret life, and embraces it—perhaps too much, especially when it comes to booze and gambling—Bonnie tries to make the pieces fit. Maybe she can have it all: the American Dream, the husband, and the intoxicating allure of jazz music. What she doesn’t know is that her life—like her country—is headed for a crash.

She’s about to meet Clyde Barrow.

Few details are known about Bonnie’s life prior to meeting her infamous partner. In Becoming Bonnie, Jenni L. Walsh shows a young woman promised the American dream and given the Great Depression, and offers a compelling account of why she fell so hard for a convicted felon—and turned to crime herself.

 

Author Biography

​Jenni L. Walsh spent her early years chasing around cats, dogs, and chickens in Philadelphia’s countryside, before dividing time between a soccer field and a classroom at Villanova University. She put her marketing degree to good use as an advertising copywriter, zip-code hopping with her husband to DC, NYC, NJ, and not surprisingly, back to Philly. There, Jenni’s passion for words continued, adding author to her resume. She now balances her laptop with a kid on each hip, and a four-legged child at her feet.

For the mamas, Becoming Bonnie is her debut novel that tells the untold story of how church-going Bonnelyn Parker becomes half of the infamous Bonnie and Clyde duo during the 1920s. The sequel Being Bonnie will be released in the summer of 2018.

For the kiddos, the Brave Like Me series is her middle grade debut that features true stories from heroic women who, at a young age, accomplished daring feats of perseverance and bravery.

 

 


Okay, now everyone go check out this book so we can talk about it!

How cool are these mugs?!

Book Addiction: Feast of Sorrow

I was lucky enough to read Crystal King’s Feast of Sorrow in advance of publication – which is tomorrow! Set during ancient Rome, Feast of Sorrow is a sweeping, decadent tale that tells the story of Thrasius, a talented cooking slave, as he enters the kitchen of Marcus Gavinus Apicius, a wealthy and ambitious gourmet with designs on becoming the culinary advisor to the Emperor. The intertwined elements of dangerous political intrigue and luscious feasts lured me in right from the first page, and I kept turning pages late into the night, riveted.

In between biting my nails over Apicius’ unpredictability and sympathizing with Thrasius’ sense of honour, I also found myself craving some of the delicious meals prepared in the story. Since Crystal King has compiled a few of the recipes on her website, readers can even try a few of the dishes. She also agreed to an interview on my blog, making this an extra special post. Welcome, Crystal!

What was your inspiration for Feast of Sorrow?

I was reading a book about banquets throughout the ages, FEAST by Roy Strong, and came across an anecdote about the ancient Roman gourmand, Apicius, and the extraordinary way in which he died. I thought it was so unusual that I had to be the one to tell the story of how he ended up the way he did.

Did you face any unexpected challenges or pleasant surprises while working on the novel?

It took me awhile to find my voice for the book. I rewrote the first 15 chapters three different times in different points of view. It was necessary, but frustrating. I also ended up killing off a whole bunch of characters that I never expected to. I would look up from an afternoon’s worth of writing and think, wow, I didn’t expect THAT person was going to die.

Did you try cooking any of the fantastic meals featured in the book?

Not a whole banquet because that would be outrageous, but I’ve cooked many dozens of the individual dishes. My husband and I regularly make Parthian chicken for dinner.  There’s also an ancient cracker recipe that I make a lot for parties. The honey fritters are super easy and amazing too. In fact, I have a whole cookbook that I created as a bonus for book clubs reading the book that features all sorts of recipes of my own interpretation but also some from famous chefs. More information can be found on the Book Club section of my site.

What was your favourite scene to write? 

That’s difficult. I think that some of the most important and best scenes of the book are also the hardest for me to write. But I suppose that one of the darlings of the book is the curse scene, when several of the characters go to an ancient Roman cemetery to put a curse on someone. I struggled finding an agent because of the book’s length and it was a scene that my writing group and agents suggested I cut to help with the length. I hung on to it though, and while it used to be much longer, I managed to keep it. And while I can’t find the original reference now, the curse itself is an actual Roman curse that I found in some history book, which I modified just slightly to accommodate the person cursed and the family doing the cursing, plus the right Gods for the book.

What’s your writing process like? Do you have a strict schedule or can you write anywhere, anytime?

I wish I had a strict schedule. I go in spurts with my writing, depending on what is happening in my life or other deadlines that I have. I work full-time in marketing for a software company so writing at night is too taxing for my poor brain. I tend to work on weekends, usually devoting an entire Sunday to spitting out a chapter or two. I do like writing in cafes, on trains, libraries and other places from time to time to switch things up.

How can we stay updated on your book news? Readers can sign up for my mailing list and follow me on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and at my site, crystalking.com.

From the book jacket:

Set amongst the scandal, wealth, and upstairs-downstairs politics of a Roman family, Crystal King’s seminal debut features the man who inspired the world’s oldest cookbook and the ambition that led to his destruction.

On a blistering day in the twenty-sixth year of Augustus Caesar’s reign, a young chef, Thrasius, is acquired for the exorbitant price of twenty thousand denarii. His purchaser is the infamous gourmet Marcus Gavius Apicius, wealthy beyond measure, obsessed with a taste for fine meals from exotic places, and a singular ambition: to serve as culinary advisor to Caesar, an honor that will cement his legacy as Rome’s leading epicure.

Apicius rightfully believes that Thrasius is the key to his culinary success, and with Thrasius’s help he soon becomes known for his lavish parties and fantastic meals. Thrasius finds a family in Apicius’s household, his daughter Apicata, his wife Aelia, and her handmaiden, Passia whom Thrasius quickly falls in love with. But as Apicius draws closer to his ultimate goal, his reckless disregard for any who might get in his way takes a dangerous turn that threatens his young family and places his entire household at the mercy of the most powerful forces in Rome.

 

Author Biography

Photo by Wayne E. Chinnock

Crystal King is an author, culinary enthusiast and marketing expert. Her writing is fueled by a love of history and a passion for the food, language and culture of Italy. She has taught classes in writing, creativity and social media at Harvard Extension School, Boston University, Mass College of Art, UMass Boston and GrubStreet, one of the leading creative writing centers in the US. A Pushcart-nominated poet and former co-editor of the online literary arts journal Plum Ruby Review, Crystal received her M.A. in Critical and Creative Thinking from UMass Boston, where she developed a series of exercises and writing prompts to help fiction writers in medias res. She considers Italy her next great love, after her husband, Joe, and their two cats, Nero and Merlin. 


 

Crystal is also happy to connect with book clubs, so if you’re a member of one, or looking to start a book club, I definitely recommend Feast of Sorrow. How fun would it be to read the book and then cook some of the meals? Contact information for book clubs is at this link.

 

Book Addiction: The Fortune Hunter

It’s time for another Book Addiction post, where I share a historical novel I recently read and couldn’t put down, so that someone else might discover it, too. This month is The Fortune Hunter by Daisy Goodwin.

One of the things I loved most about The Fortune Hunter is that it made me feel much empathy for each character, even when their interests conflicted. The story centres around Bay Middleton, an expert horseman who loves racing and hunting, and is also a bit of a scandalous ladies’ man. Charming and flawed, he’s exactly the kind of romantic hero you hope will find redemption by the end of the story, and he’s also the most attractive hero with a mustache that I can think of. Due to his reputation for horsemanship, Bay is selected to be Empress Elisabeth’s pilot for the fox hunts while she is visiting England. The Empress, known as Sisi to her friends, is also an extremely skilled rider. The bond that grows between them threatens Bay’s recent engagement to Charlotte Baird, a practical young heiress with a flair for photography.

Sisi. She also apparently had a nineteen (!) inch waist

I found Sisi to be a fascinating character. Famed for her beauty, she also fears its wane as she ages, and undertakes some extreme measures to preserve her looks, such as occasionally sleeping with raw veal on her face to soften her skin. I have to say, there’s no way I would ever be motivated enough to do that. And she slept thusly with her wolfhounds in the room, necessitating the use of a leather mask to keep them from getting the veal. That’s dedication! Her ankle length hair was also so thick and heavy that she sometimes had to tie it in two ropes to the ceiling in order to relieve the pressure from her scalp. Sisi stopped allowing photographs to be taken of her, fearing that people would scrutinize them for signs of age diminishing her beauty, but every existing image of her really showcases just how long her hair must have been.

Sisi finds so much happiness in Bay’s company that I often felt myself feeling torn, because ultimately I wanted Bay and Charlotte to marry. I won’t give any spoilers here, but suffice it to say that this is a bittersweet, moving love triangle, full of tension but not melodrama.

I enjoyed Charlotte’s interest in photography, which was a relatively new technology for the time period. Her photographs are an excellent lens through which to view the setting and the minute interactions between the characters.

Queen Victoria makes a couple of brilliant cameos, as well. Her voice is so clear that you’ll swear there’s a snobby English lady over enunciating everything right inside your brain. I suppose that doesn’t really sound like a compliment if taken literally, but it is for reading. Goodwin has written two other books as well, The American Heiress and Victoria, both of which are now going on my to-read list. Victoria is actually the most recent of her books (I’m a little late discovering this treasure trove of excellent historical fiction) and Goodwin is also involved in the television series of Victoria, which is also now on my To-Watch list. I’m going to be – happily – busy!

From the book jacket:

Empress Elizabeth of Austria, known as Sisi, is the Princess Diana of nineteenth-century Europe. Famously beautiful, as captured in a portrait with diamond stars in her hair, she is unfulfilled in her marriage to the older Emperor Franz Joseph. Sisi has spent years evading the stifling formality of royal life on her private train or yacht or, whenever she can, on the back of a horse.

Captain Bay Middleton is dashing, young, and the finest horseman in England. He is also impoverished, with no hope of buying the horse needed to win the Grand National—until he meets Charlotte Baird. A clever, plainspoken heiress whose money gives her a choice among suitors, Charlotte falls in love with Bay, the first man to really notice her, for his vulnerability as well as his glamour. When Sisi joins the legendary hunt organized by Earl Spencer in England, Bay is asked to guide her on the treacherous course. Their shared passion for riding leads to an infatuation that jeopardizes the growing bond between Bay and Charlotte, and threatens all of their futures.

The Fortune Hunter, a brilliant new novel by Daisy Goodwin, is a lush, irresistible story of the public lives and private longings of grand historical figures.

 

 

 

2016 Blog Flashback

My blog has been in existence for over three years now (!) but 2016 was the first year where I really made an effort to get into a regular posting routine and create some recurring features. I think it was worth it, because I had the most fun with my blog this year. As a bonus, my readership also increased. Thanks for joining me here! You guys are the best.

I rounded up some of my favourite posts from 2016, in case you missed them, or are in between books, or possible hiding out from the chaos of family holiday festivities and desperate for something to read on your phone. (Hey, I know the holidays can sometimes be a little too dramatic). Or, if I’m really lucky, you keep checking my blog because you can’t wait for The Wardrobe Mistress.

Without further ado, the blog flashback of my favourite posts, by month:

January

I kicked off the 2016 Reading Challenge with Fifteen Dogs and it made me feel all the emotions.

I had a lot of thoughts on the ‘singular they’

February

I talked about Resting Bitch Face and some of its excellent alternatives.

I grossed myself out with some thoughts about bugs.

March

I read Hamlet and I hate that guy. So much that I wrote about him twice.

April

My dream came true and I got to announce that The Wardrobe Mistress is being published

In what turned out to create some strange symmetry for this recap, I also had a nightmare and then researched it.

I wrote about Marie Antoinette’s attitude to the French Revolution.

May

I became obsessed with wolverines and I stand by it because they are delightful.

I wrote about a historical figure who wore several hats at once.

I devoured a wonderful gothic book called A Taste for Nightshade.

I took quizzes – for fun! Also I imagined philosophy incarnate as the grim reaper.

June

I learned that the Canadian accent uses a dipthong in the word ‘about’ that American accents don’t even have – no wonder it’s so mockable!

I went to my first writer’s conference and could barely control myself for buying tons of books and getting them signed.

July

I fell in love with Weina Dai Randel’s books about Empress Wu.

August

I went to another writer’s conference and started to feel vaguely like a professional writer. Fun fact that I have never yet disclosed – someone asked me a historical question which I didn’t really know the answer to, and so I naturally started researching it later on. And it sparked the whole idea for the book I’m currently writing! I just wish I could go back in time and not sound like such an idiot when first asked the question. More details on this book in 2017, but it’s under wraps for now.

I also shared my tips for researching historical fiction.

September

I learned that the worst makeup in history not only poisoned its wearers, but also made them sometimes need fake eyebrows made of mouse fur! Yuck.

I talked about theme in fiction, specifically in relation to The Wardrobe Mistress

In an uncharacteristic move, I read some poems.

October

I pretended to interview Medusa (wow, I am so cool).

I ensured you will be a hit at parties by enlightening you on everything you ever wanted to know about the guillotine

November

I neglected my household chores because I couldn’t put down A Song of War

My affections shifted from wolverines to include foxes, which I also stand by because they are charming and everyone has a crush on the fox version of Robin Hood.

December

I suggested books appropriate for holiday reading, along with festive food and/or drink pairings.

I posted a Flash Fiction story that’s a little darker than the picture of an adorable puppy would have you expect (Don’t worry! Nothing bad happens to the puppy).

General

During 2016, I also joined Twitter so if you are also there, please feel free to follow or tweet at me. I tweet a lot about books and also like to share interesting articles. I’m on Goodreads now too, so if a book-oriented social media platform is more your thing, come find me there. I’m super excited to see that a few people have voted for The Wardrobe Mistress on the Historical Fiction 2017 list – thank you, voters, you have generously given my confidence a boost! I’m also thrilled to see that some people have added it to their Want-to-Read list. Even though I’ve been through copy edits and revisions, it still feels so crazy and exciting that this is actually happening and my book will be out in about 6 months!

Can’t resist sharing my beautiful cover again.

So what can you look forward to on the blog for 2017? Some features will continue, including Bad Decisions in History and Book Addiction. In lieu of the now-completed 2016 Reading Challenge, I’ll be posting Flash Fiction instead. Also watch out for some more Imaginary Interviews.

Of course, there will also be plenty of posts related to the French Revolution and The Wardrobe Mistress, some informative and others a little more irreverent and fun. Stay tuned for publishing news and possibly some giveaways.

Lastly, I’m planning to attend two conferences again this year, the Historical Novel Society Conference in Portland in June and also When Words Collide in Calgary in August. Maybe I will see some of you there!

Lots to look forward to in 2017. All the best to everyone.

 

Newsletter sign up:

Book Addiction: A Song of War

I just finished reading a fabulous anthology of stories of the Trojan War. With seven chapters by seven different authors, A Song of War skillfully weaves multiple perspectives into a vivid portrayal of the decade-long war and its many heroes. Sometimes the point of view is Achaean, sometimes Trojan, but it always engages the reader’s empathy for that character. I could barely put this book down. I fell seriously behind on my housework because I kept reading instead of vacuuming, but it was worth it. I think we can all agree that reading is much more fulfilling than cleaning.

life

One of my favourite aspects of A Song of War is the way the authors have infused a well-known tale with lots of excellent little twists, giving each character or tale a fresh spark. Kate Quinn’s Hellenus and Stephanie Thornton’s Cassandra, are biracial, twins of King Priam of Troy and a Nubian concubine. Hellenus isn’t the most well-known figure from the Trojan War, but he should be, especially because he’s one of the few Trojans who gets a somewhat happy ending. I love the way Cassandra, of the doomed prophecies, has a correspondingly dark interest in death, and knows things like how to preserve an eyeball in honey. And even though she’s often seen by her fellow Trojans as crazy, she has the affection and support of her twin, Hellenus, and some of her other brothers. It’s nice not to see her completely shunned by everyone, as is sometimes the case in other adaptations of the Trojan War. In fact, Hellenus and Cassandra are both a little bit distant from the rest of the family, being illegitimate offspring of Priam, but are loyal to each other.

Libbie Hawker’s Penthesilea, the Amazon warrior, seeks not only glory but absolution in her duel against Achilles. Another of Hawker’s characters, Philoctetes, nurses a secret love for Achilles, whose dark, troubled portrayal throughout various viewpoints within the novel wrenches your heart even when you sometimes want to slap him. Agamemnon, usually portrayed rather villainously, becomes far more nuanced under Russell Whitfield’s hand, scarred by his sacrifices for the war, and I soon found myself pitying him. Odysseus is just as clever as one would wish, but Vicky Alvear Shecter also gives him a delightful sharp impatience as he has to form his schemes around some of his more bumbling compatriots. Odysseus also has the most (welcome) appearances in the book. Christian Cameron’s Briseis, instead of merely being Achilles’ concubine, is a woman strong and skilled enough to leave her own mark on the battlefield, and to seize her own future. The novel closes from Aeneas’ point of view, written by SJA Turney. Aeneas is the perfect character to end the story. Through the point of view of other characters, he can seem like a bit of a snob at times, often referring to his divine heritage, but when he gets his own feature, he’s brave and loyal, and while you might not necessarily want to sit beside him at a hypothetical banquet, he is the kind of person you’d want fighting at your side.

a-song-of-war

This is such an intricate novel that I haven’t done all the characters justice. My ‘Book Addiction‘ posts are meant to share books that I recently read and immensely enjoyed, and that I hope others will discover, too. Definitely check this book out if you are looking for a book with: troubled heroes, noble heroes, good fight scenes, and of course, good death scenes.  Oh, the authors’ notes are fun, too.

 

From the jacket description:

Troy: city of gold, gatekeeper of the east, haven of the god-born and the lucky, a city destined to last a thousand years. But the Fates have other plans—the Fates, and a woman named Helen. In the shadow of Troy’s gates, all must be reborn in the greatest war of the ancient world: slaves and queens, heroes and cowards, seers and kings . . . and these are their stories.

A young princess and an embittered prince join forces to prevent a fatal elopement.

A tormented seeress challenges the gods themselves to save her city from the impending disaster.

A tragedy-haunted king battles private demons and envious rivals as the siege grinds on.

A captured slave girl seizes the reins of her future as two mighty heroes meet in an epic duel.

A grizzled archer and a desperate Amazon risk their lives to avenge their dead.

A trickster conceives the greatest trick of all.

A goddess’ son battles to save the spirit of Troy even as the walls are breached in fire and blood.

Seven authors bring to life the epic tale of the Trojan War: its heroes, its villains, its survivors, its dead. Who will lie forgotten in the embers, and who will rise to shape the bloody dawn of a new age?

 

2016 Reading Challenge: Gigi

This month’s item off my 2016 Reading Challenge list is a book translated to your native language. I selected Gigi, by Colette, which was originally written in French. I read the version translated by Roger Senhouse. The story is set in 1899, during the height of the glamour of the Belle Époque.

gigi_colette

Gigi is a novella about a young girl (fifteen and a half, to be exact, as girls of that age always are when it comes to how grown up they are) named Gilberte. Gigi, as she is affectionately called by her family, lives with her mother and grandmother, and is quite close with her great aunt, as well. All three of these women are what we might refer to as fascinating. Her mother is a second-lead singer, and very focused on her career.  Since she isn’t home much, Gigi is mostly raised by her grandmother, Madame Alvarez, with frequent visits to her Aunt Alicia. Both of the ladies were never married, of their choice, since they preferred to spend their youth amid the glittering world of jewels and wealthy lovers. Indeed, they are grooming Gigi to be a courtesan as well. It sounds scandalous now, to think of a fifteen (and a half) year old being trained as a courtesan, but seems to be a product of the time period. The Belle Époque is full of beautiful and tempestuous courtesans who found fortune and fame through enticing stage performances and the arms of their wealthy patrons.

by W. & D. Downey, published by  A.P.P.S. Ltd, Rickmansworth, matte bromide postcard print, 1900s

And here’s one of them, Liane de Pougy

 

Aunt Alicia, being the elder of the two sisters, takes on some of the most fun parts of Gigi’s education, like teaching her all about how to wear jewels and which types are the best. While I suspect I’ll never have cause to use this advice in real life, I now know that the best emeralds reflect a fire of blue light, and that one should never wear ‘artistic jewelry’ like mermaid brooches. According to Aunt Alicia, it’s also a bad idea to wear ‘second rate jewels.’ One should wait for a good one. ‘Rather than wearing a wretched hundred guinea diamond, wear a half-crown ring.’ I’ve got that one covered anyway!

Gigi is also close with Gaston, a family friend who is well-off and cultured, spending his days doing exciting rich people things like going to the races and driving motorcars (remember, it’s 1899) and drinking champagne. With his era appropriate mustache and apparently attractive (especially in a bathing costume) physique, he’s considered quite the eligible bachelor and is often photographed. He also has a complicated romantic history, with a string of ex-mistresses. At thirty-three, he has never been married. Gigi affectionately refers to him as ‘Tonton’, and because of their age difference, sometimes also teases him by calling him her uncle. Gaston, in his turn, spoils Gigi with gifts like licorice and music cases and gold pencil-cases. Since Gigi, in spite of her young age, also knows how to drive a car, they have lots in common. She also drinks coffee, champagne, and smokes Egyptian cigarettes, so I think, in spite of living with her guardians, she is considered an adult.

As one might expect, with their similar tastes, as well as Gigi’s beautiful ash blond hair and pale skin, Gaston falls in love with her. He approaches Aunt Alicia and Madame Alvarez to secure Gigi as his mistress. To everyone’s surprise, Gigi refuses.

I have to interject here, I wasn’t really surprised, but the rest of the characters were. Colette is a good writer, but there weren’t enough scenes with Gigi and Gaston together in the story for me to root for them, maybe because it’s a novella and not that long. Also, I couldn’t forget that he was over twice her age and she jokingly called him her Uncle Tonton. It’s just not a romantic name.

Anyway, because Gaston’s mistresses always end up in the newspapers and inevitably surrounded with drama, Gigi doesn’t want any of that. She wants a quiet life, and invites Gaston to visit her even more than before, but not as her lover. This will not do, since he’s in love with her. Rather than winning her over at once, as Gaston may have hoped, this confession enrages Gigi. (She’s quite sassy, I like her). She says that it’s worse that Gaston would love her and still expect her to be ogled by the press and speculated about, and probably cast aside just like the others. She sends him away.

As some time passes, which they spend apart, both Gigi and Gaston are miserable without each other. Under the pretext of forgetting his straw hat at their house – an excuse they all mock, because he’s obviously too rich to care about a straw hat and would just buy another – Gaston finally stops by. Gigi tells him she’d rather be miserable with him than without him, evidently deciding to be his mistress. In turn, he decides she was right that he owed her better if he truly loved her, and asks for permission, as proper, from Madame Alvarez to marry her. The story ends rather abruptly there, leaving the reader to hope that their marriage will fare better than his previous romances. I want to root for them. It’s a light-hearted story, so it’s easy to imagine a happy ending, at least.

Colette, the author of Gigi.

Colette, the author of Gigi.

Gigi is intentionally a light-hearted story. Though set in 1899, Colette wrote it in 1944, during the height of World War II. During such bleak times, it must have been a consolation to briefly escape back to a setting of peace and luxury. In fact, Gigi might be one of the most vivid descriptions of the glamour of the Belle Époque I’ve encountered, with its descriptions of fashions and foods and entertainments of the time. Colette paints a colourful portrait of Gigi’s life, to the degree that the reader even knows her best friend is Lydia Poret, though she doesn’t make an actual appearance in the story. It felt a little slow to start, but once I got into it, I enjoyed the story thoroughly and recommend finding a fittingly decadent snack to pair it with. (Mine was coffee and some dark chocolate. You know, typical writer food).

If you’re leaning back in your chair and thinking to yourself, “Wow, this post seemed really specific in a lot of strange ways,” you’re right. I mentioned in my last post that there would be a quiz on Gigi, and there is! However, you’ll find that all the answers are in this post. If you pay close attention, you can score 100% without having read the novella. Now I’m just hoping there’s someone out there who actually needed to study Gigi and finds this useful.

I’ve made a bit of an error in the Reading Challenge list; I left a classic novel and one that’s over a hundred years old for close to last, and those are a bit the same, really. I’m not sure which I’ll be doing next – suggestions welcome!

2016 Reading Challenge List:
– A National Book Award winner– complete, Fifteen Dogs
– One of Shakespeare’s plays– complete, Hamlet
– A mystery – complete, And Then There Were None
– A graphic novel – complete, Bayou
– Book in a genre you usually avoid – complete, The Wild Seasons series
– Book about or set within a culture you’re unfamiliar with – complete, The Moon in the Palace and The Empress of Bright Moon (duology)
– Book you haven’t read since high school – complete, Anne of Green Gables
– At least three poems – complete, Tennyson, Rossetti, and Shakespeare
– A book translated to your native language – complete, Gigi
– Non-fiction about a subject you’ve been curious about
– A book that’s at least 100 years older than you
– A classic novel

Recreating 18th Century Paris

I stumbled across the most amazing thing this week – an animation recreating 18th century Paris. As an avid history enthusiast (fine, nerd) I would be fascinated by this anyway, but I’m particularly drawn to Paris because of my upcoming novel, The Wardrobe MistressRecreating a historic setting is one of the most fun parts of writing historical fiction, and it’s wonderful to see it in other mediums as well.

I’m the kind of person who gets excited about video reconstructions of the faces of historic figures, too, but this one of Paris has a broader scope because it includes sound. The animation, which is constructed based on a video game platform, walks you through different streets and around corners. As you move, the sounds change based on the settings. You hear everything from the clamour of voices, the cry of gulls, the sound of horses and wagons rolling on the cobblestones, even pigs and chickens in the market. Honestly, that’s one of the things I tend to forget when imagining historic cities. There were animals everywhere. You wouldn’t likely see a pig in downtown Paris now! The water noises at the start of the video are kind of soothing. I felt like they were lulling me deeper into the visual.

The animation is based on the Turgot-Bretez Map of 1739. It’s a few decades ahead of the time period for my novel, which starts in 1789, but it still gave me a thrill to see it, and made me feel like I was back in the exciting early research days of the novel.

view-of-paris-from-pont-neuf

And I know, I’ve once again muddled the schedule for the next 2016 Reading Challenge post. The truth is, I haven’t finished reading the book yet. I’ve been traveling for a couple of weeks, and then catching up on revisions. Stay tuned next week for the Reading Challenge item, this time which is a work translated to your native language. I’m reading Gigi by Colette. If you can get a copy, read along! There’s going to be a quiz this time!