Review: Scarlet Women by Ian Graham

25663862

In 1965, an impoverished elderly woman was found dead in Nice, France. Her death marked the end of an era; she was the last of the great courtesans. Known as La Belle Otero, she was a volcanic Spanish beauty whose patrons included Kaiser Wilhelm II, the Prince of Wales (later King Edward VII) and Grand Duke Nicholas of Russia. She accumulated an enormous fortune, but gambled it all away. Scarlet Women tells her story and many more, including:

Marie Duplessis, who inspired characters by both Dumas and Verdi; Clara Ward, a rare American courtesan who hunted for a European aristocrat, but having married a Belgian prince, ran away with a gypsy violinist; Ninon de L’Enclos, who was offered 50,000 crowns by Cardinal Richelieu for one night. Money left in her will paid for Voltaire’s education.

Featuring a cadre of scandalous women, you’d think this book would be more salacious than it is, yet the cover is about the most tawdry thing about it. More focused on the unusual lives of some of the most infamous (and often forgotten) women who rubbed elbows with the rich and powerful in history, the book rarely addresses anything going on between the sheets and more looks at how unique their lives and situations often were. The over arcing theme is often that many times these women had little choice in the matter of whether they were “scandalous” or not. Some had big personalities, some were pushed into the life of a courtesan by their families, and some were simply beautiful women who wanted some measure of freedom in their lives. Many of the women I’d never heard of before, but they are presented sympathetically and often with humor. The book has sort of a choppy style in the writing, which is the only minor complaint I had. I’m sure someone looking for in depth about any of these women would be disappointed, but as a general collection of stories about some fascinating figures this book is a wonderful read.

4 out of 5

Review: The Reader by Traci Chee

25064648

Sefia lives her life on the run. After her father is viciously murdered, she flees to the forest with her aunt Nin, the only person left she can trust. They survive in the wilderness together, hunting and stealing what they need, forever looking over their shoulders for new threats. But when Nin is kidnapped, Sefia is suddenly on her own, with no way to know who’s taken Nin or where she is. Her only clue is a strange rectangular object that once belonged to her father left behind, something she comes to realize is a book.

Though reading is unheard of in Sefia’s world, she slowly learns, unearthing the book’s closely guarded secrets, which may be the key to Nin’s disappearance and discovering what really happened the day her father was killed. With no time to lose, and the unexpected help of swashbuckling pirates and an enigmatic stranger, Sefia sets out on a dangerous journey to rescue her aunt, using the book as her guide. In the end, she discovers what the book had been trying to tell her all along: Nothing is as it seems, and the end of her story is only the beginning.

Having heard nothing about this book I didn’t really have any expectations going in, but it ended up being one of the best YA I’ve read this year. Not only is it diverse, but the YA take on the high fantasy tone works perfectly. The structure of the novel is also unique as the conceit is that books are magic and Sefia has a book that has EVERYONE’S story in it. Because of that, reading the actual book is an adventure because you have to question, what book are YOU reading? This is billed as the start of a series and I’m very interested in where it goes.

5 out of 5