Book Review: “The Duchess” by Danielle Steel

Hello!

Last month, while I was away, I was able to start and finish two books and they were “Murder On the Orient Express” by Agatha Christie and Danielle Steel’s “The Duchess” and they also were my first reads for both authors, so I might be interested in reading other books in the future. The only reason why I will not be sharing a review on MOTOE is because I’ve already seen the 2017 film and it is considered a classic so thought it belonged in my other journal, but I thought you’d love to know my thoughts on this book instead.

To be quite honest with you, I thought this would be a different story, in my mind I thought it was about Georgiana, Duchess of Devonshire. I saw the words “The Duchess” and immediately became excited to finally read the actual book based on the film that came out in 2008, but it wasn’t. The author who wrote that book is Amanda Forman. What I didn’t expect was continuing to read this other story and absolutely loving it!


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NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER • The incomparable Danielle Steel breaks new ground as she takes us to nineteenth-century England, where a high-born young woman is forced out into the world—and begins a journey of survival, sensuality, and long-sought justice.

Angélique Latham has grown up at magnificent Belgrave Castle under the loving tutelage of her father, the Duke of Westerfield, after the death of her aristocratic French mother. At eighteen she is her father’s closest, most trusted child, schooled in managing their grand estate. But when he dies, her half-brothers brutally turn her out, denying her very existence. Angélique has a keen mind, remarkable beauty, and an envelope of money her father pressed upon her. To survive, she will need all her resources—and one bold stroke of fortune.

Unable to secure employment without references or connections, Angélique desperately makes her way to Paris, where she rescues a young woman fleeing an abusive madam—and suddenly sees a possibility: Open an elegant house of pleasure that will protect its women and serve only the best clients. With her upper-class breeding, her impeccable style, and her father’s bequest, Angélique creates Le Boudoir, soon a sensational establishment where powerful men, secret desires, and beautiful, sophisticated women come together. But living on the edge of scandal, can she ever make a life of her own—or regain her rightful place in the world?

From England to Paris to New York, Danielle Steel captures an age of upheaval and the struggles of women in a male-ruled society—and paints a captivating portrait of a woman of unquenchable spirit, who in houses great or humble is every ounce a duchess.

taken from Goodreads.

After I quickly found out this wasn’t at all what I wanted to read originally, I never thought to turn away from it. I had surprised myself in a way because I’ve DNF’d (did not finish) a lot of books this year, and I was half expecting this to be added onto that list.

“She had no idea where the future would lead her or what it would look like, but whatever happened, she was determined to survive it.”

And then I learned more about Angelique Lantham’s story, and I couldn’t stop turning the pages and I started to really hate sleeping at night because the pull to hear more about her and the world Danielle was able to create was so strong.

As familiar as relearning the customs of that time, which as a reader you should take note early on because this is based in an earlier setting than most historical fictions. This is set in the later period of the Regency, after George IV is actually king and it goes on until the start of Queen Victoria’s reign. So, being a woman–a daughter, wife, and/or aunt was rough because you were not entitled to inherit anything, especially if you were a daughter of a duke. The young daughters and orphaned nieces of the wealthy were subjected to find a suitable husband during the Season and were introduced to others in their social class, plus the royals of the time.

For Angelique, she was the favorite of her only living parent, the Duke of Westfield, but she had two older brothers Tristan and Edward who knew they were next in line to their father’s titles, houses and wealth after he died. And their little sister would get nothing, or so they believed. Once their father passed away, he couldn’t protect her from their wrath, much less the law keeping her away what should have been hers in the first place.

What I found interesting, and mesmerizing was Angelique’s will to fight the odds in her own little modest way.

Every time I thought where the story was going, it would twist around and lead into a new direction just like life had been for her. After being forced to leave her little world at her beloved home, she was sent to a family who needed a nanny for their five children. As a reader, this puzzled me because taking care of that many children under the age of five–despite the changes in history–seems very daunting, and in the beginning, Angelique was nervous about this prospect too, but she pushed through it with grace until her final day.

Related to kings in two countries, and daughter of a duke, banished by her brother, she was reduced to working as a domestic, and at the mercy of anyone who would hire her.

Afterwards, she travels to France, another ancestral home but with the same heartbreaking results. She finds no job, and everything feels so numb until she comes across a young woman named Fabienne battered and beaten, and she nurses her back to health. Fabienne has had a rough life and has resorted to prostitution, and this part of the book is where things become slightly more interesting, as these two young women decide to create a high-class brothel in Paris, and as the reader, you never see it coming until afterwards; this was the first twist of the story to me and I was stunned by the fact that Angelique would want to do it in the first place and that really threw me for a loop, but then again we are at the last stages of the Regency period–despite being settled in another country!–so the story of brothels, madams, and hookers wasn’t necessarily a bad thing, but don’t get me wrong, it was frowned upon respectable women, but sex work has always been available and people (mostly men) have engaged in this sort of act for every part of history!

However, as Angelique has been quick to find out, life can change in an instant, and she has to abandon her life in France and start all over again, but this time she moves to America, and as she’s on the boat, she meets a nice young man by the name of Andrew and he definitely changes Angelique’s piece of mind about what it means to be in love and suddenly wants everything she’s never wanted in the beginning of the story. This relationship was different compared to all of the others she had in Paris, and it’s in this section that two more things turn for this character that makes you feel very happy inside for a while.

For anyone who has never read anything by Danielle Steel, I think you should consider looking into this book and seeing if it had the same effect on you as it did on me. I have picked out a few other books by her to check out in the future. Maybe I’ll find a chance to read them in 2023?

Have you read “The Duchess” by Danielle Steel before? If you have, what were your thoughts on it?

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Book Review: “The Yellow Wall-Paper” by Charlotte Perkins Gilman

Hello there!

In a way to get me ready for fall and of course, Halloween, I wanted to find something that would reflect my mood and I thought my favorite thrillers. Now, I am not a very big fan of horror despite my love for vampires, witches and werewolves, but I do enjoy a good psychological thriller here and there.

I thought it was Victoria Helen Stone’s Jane Doe that got me interested in this genre, but then I started to remember when I was in high school, and I took two separate classes for each semester and the first was Novels where my interest in the genre was tested as we read Frankenstein by Mary Shelley and Helter Skelter by Curt Gentry and Vincent Bugliosi. However, it wasn’t until I went into Short Stories that I was introduced to Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s classic The Yellow WallPaper and this really made me realize that this was only the beginning.


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A woman and her husband rent a summer house, but what should be a restful getaway turns into a suffocating psychological battle. This chilling account of postpartum depression and a husband’s controlling behavior in the guise of treatment will leave you breathless. 

taken from Goodreads.


When I finally decided that I would re-read this story, I did it for a specfic reasons: I didn’t exactly remember how it ended, all I could figure out was that it creeped me out. Fast forward, I wasn’t wrong with my initial rememberance but things that wouldn’t make sense to me at that time of the first read; I knew of very little history about how women were treated in that timeframe, so by the time I had went back to it, I had the knowledge to back everything up in my brain.

Our main character Jane is forced to stay indoors and recover from a fit of “nervousness” as she calls it, and if the word “baby” didn’t turn up in a sentence later, we wouldn’t know it’s actually name as we call it postpartum depression. For her and other women of that time, it had another name completely “hysteria” and it wasn’t the best diagnosis for a woman as there is evidence (and lots of it!) towards how husbands, sons, brothers, and doctors put various women and girls in asylums for their overwhelming feelings in the 19th Century.

“It is the strangest yellow, that wallpaper! It makes me think of all the yellow things I ever saw – not beautiful ones like buttercups, but old foul, bad yellow things.”

Jane is unique though as her husband is a physician and he seems to love her enough, to support her in this condition at home. So, she is forced to recover in the master bedroom of their rental mansion, where it has decaying yellow wallpaper everywhere. Jane absolutely hates it. I understand her frustrations about it though, as I had purchased a pillow and sheet set that showed the color yellow to be as bright as the sun, but then we unwrapped it and found that the pillowcase fits the description to a T, but the sheet itself does not. It is so light that if nobody knew I had a brown mattress underneath, they certainly would as soon as they walked into my room… Anywho, like one does when they cannot explore freely, Jane starts to notice various things like the odd patterns and the disturbing figure that seems to appear at night.

Despite its small size, it definitely packs a punch worthy of a regular novel. I mean, as much as I love Frankenstein, my drive towards this book was stronger, and that’s saying something!

For anyone out there who is not too interested in horror, I highly suggest giving this story a shot before the end of the month. Although, if you feel comfortable waiting until after the Halloween festivities then by all means wait it out, but trust me when I say, you may end up enjoying it more than you think and want more like it afterwards, so as a nice warning, be sure to prepare yourselves!

Have you read Charlotte’s “The Yellow Wall-Paper” before? If your answer is yes, how did you come across it? I’d also like to know what you thought about it the first time you read it. Please tell me everything in the comments below!

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Book Review: “Queen of Martyrs: The Story of Mary I” by Samantha Wilcoxson

Hello!

I actually wasn’t going to post this review so soon, but in order to (hopefully) go with my plan for next month’s posts, I need more room within the last two weeks of October, so I had to come up with a Plan B, and this was it.

On Wednesday, I published my review for the first book in the Plantagenet Embers series, which was about Elizabeth of York. I mentioned that I was in the middle of a Plantagenet/Tudor phase, at the moment, and I was currently reading this book, while in reality I was flying through it, which is how it the review is coming out much sooner than I had originally planned. I hope you enjoy this post and maybe it’ll inspire you to check out Samantha’s books!


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How did a gentle, pious woman become known as ‘Bloody Mary’?
 
‘God save the Queen! God save our good Queen Mary!’

When these words rang out over England, Mary Tudor thought her troubles were over. She could put her painful past – the loss of her mother and mistreatment at the hands of her father – behind her.

With her accession to the throne, Mary set out to restore Catholicism in England and find the love of a husband that she had long desired. But the tragedies in Mary’s life were far from over.
 
Step into Tudor England

taken from Amazon.


I’ll be honest, I have never been interested with anything to do with Mary I.

I know what I’m about to say is debatable, but I wholeheartedly believe Matilda of Flanders and Lady Jane Grey were both Queen of England, as they were named heirs to the throne by their previous kings, so is Mary I truly the first queen? This question may never find an acceptable answer.

Mary had been raised as her father’s heir, a beloved princess who would one day rule in her own right,

It was interesting to meet this woman who was so caring of others, turn into this “monster” who ordered the deaths of heretics. I do know that for my first fictionized view of Mary’s life after the deaths of her beloved mother Catherine of Aragon and former governess Lady Margaret Pole, Countess of Salisbury until her final day on Earth.

You have an unique chance to see how she treated everyone, including her relationships with her younger siblings Edward VI and the future Queen Elizabeth I. She is so full of love being around them, although she never really grew to trust her sister, but with Edward, that connection was clearly different in the beginning, before he becomes king. You see her around her stepmother Katheryn Parr, to her ladies-in-waiting, counselors, husband Philip of Spain, and her cousin Cardinal Reginald Pole.

After reading this book, I believe she never found someone she could truly love and trust other than her God. I’ve personally never understood the Catholic faith, so I don’t want to pass judgement on her or anyone else. However, there’s a part towards the end where she asks her sister if she would like to be sent to a convent, after Elizabeth declines a marriage proposal. It’s interesting how devout Mary was to her faith, but she seemed like she couldn’t submit to God like a nun, if Mary hadn’t been next on the succession to the throne, would she have give up all of her royal things to become a nun? It’s just a thought really.

Now let’s discuss her aliments that she seems to have suffered all throughout her life. The extreme headaches, nausea, and eventual mass in her abdomen. I was familiar with the story of her experiencing a phantom pregnancy, this really broke my heart as I had become somewhat sympatric to her up until this point. The part I was a bit confused on was what kind of sickness was she dealing with between the last of her father’s reign and beginning of her brother’s?

Well, this is my theory of it. both Henry VIII and Catherine of Aragon actually share a common ancestor, Catherine of Lancaster. Catherine was the daughter of John of Gaunt, the 1st Duke of Lancaster. She was born to the red side of what would be part of The War of the Roses. Sound familiar to you? Catherine would go on to marry Henry II of Castile. They had a son by the name of John II of Castile, who in turn fathered a daughter, the future co-ruler Isabella of Castile, who would later marry Ferdinand of Aragon. These were Catherine’s parents and Queen Mary’s grandparents.

Her coronation must include the traditions of those who had gone before her, with the vital exception that she was not male.

Let’s go back through John of Gaunt’s line. John had married three times, Blanche, Constance and lastly his mistress Lady Katherine Swymford. Katherine would give birth to four children; since their children out of wedlock, they were not given their father’s surname, instead they were the Beauforts. Their first son John Beaufort, 1st Duke of Somerset married and had children with Margaret Beauchamp, they had a single child: Lady Margaret Beaufort. She would fight to get her son Henry Tudor to the English throne and create a brand-new line of royals, thus how we got Margaret, Queen of Scots, Henry VIII, Mary, Queen of France, Duchess of Suffolk and their descendants.

It was common practice to marry into family lines, at one time Mary was actually betrothed to her uncle Charles V, the Holy Roman Emperor as a young girl. Instead, she married her cousin and Charles’s son Philip. He was the only husband to assume the title “King” and I can understand why on all fronts. Anyways, back to my theory, could have both Henry VIII, Catherine of Aragon and their oldest daughter suffer the consequences of marrying a cousin? We have to include Henry’s lack of hundreds bastard children (aside from his own daughters!) to understand that it wasn’t just Catherine’s fault he wasn’t getting a son. Could this have happened to Mary as well? She could have suffered from multiple conditions in the inbreeding of her parents. We just don’t know and may never know either.

Okay, I apologize for my mini family trees between Henry VIII and Catherine of Aragon. I figured if I didn’t include them, you would be lost in translation. I’ve included a couple of links into those two paragraphs to hopefully make it easier to look back on each of their lines.

Have you read the third and final book in Samantha Wilcoxson’s “Plantagenet Embers” series? If you have, do you have a favorite story? Let me know in the comments below!

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Book Review: “Plantagenet Princess, Tudor Queen: The Story of Elizabeth of York” by Samantha Wilcoxson

Hello!

I was on my Instagram stories the other day, and as I was passing through others, I saw a very small bit of Samantha Wilcoxson’s; sharing that the first book of her Plantagenet Embers series, The Story of Elizabeth of York was free for that day. In my mind, I thought it would be just like my other ‘freebies’ and store it for a later date once it was fully downloaded, but I didn’t wait to start it. I think I may have lasted about 12 hours total, which wasn’t a surprise at all. I have a strong weakness for historical fiction, especially if they discuss the Tudor dynasty.

In the midst of reading this book, Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II had died, and this story about another Queen Elizabeth (she was a Queen Consort, not Regent!) really helped me heal through the news of her death. I found these two women to have a similar story, they were not expected to ascend to their positions, as Elizabeth II’s father was the brother of the disgrace Edward VIII, so his younger brother Prince Albert, The Duke of York became King George VI in 1936, where his wife Lady Elizabeth Bowes-Lyons would later become referred as “Elizabeth, The Queen Mother” as their first daughter Princess Elizabeth would eventually be title Queen Elizabeth II. She obviously didn’t want to overshadow her daughter’s own name when she inherited the throne in 1952.

For anyone out there who would like to explore the story of Elizabeth of York’s story as a nonfiction, I definitely recommend Elizabeth of York: A Tudor Queen and Her World by Alison Weir, but if you should probably read something about her mother, The Dowager Queen of Edward IV and I suggest Elizabeth Woodville: Mother of the Princes in the Tower by David Baldwin.


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She was the mother of Henry VIII and wife of Henry VII, but who was Elizabeth of York? Raised as the precious oldest child of Edward IV, Elizabeth had every reason to expect a bright future until Edward died, and her life fell apart.

When Elizabeth’s uncle became Richard III, she was forced to choose sides. Should she trust her father’s brother and most loyal supporter or honor the betrothal that her mother has made for her to her family’s enemy, Henry Tudor?

The choice was made for her on the field at Bosworth, and Elizabeth the Plantagenet princess became the first Tudor queen.

Did Elizabeth find happiness with Henry? Did she ever discover the truth about her missing brothers, who became better known as the Princes in the Tower?

Lose yourself in Elizabeth’s world in Plantagenet Princess, Tudor Queen.

taken from Goodreads.

I find Elizabeth of York so fascinating! On one foot, she was born of Plantagenet blood, on the side with the “White Rose” full of Yorkists, with her father Edward VI at the head of the family and kingdom, with his common wife Elizabeth Woodville. She was their first child, and even though her parents wished for her to be a boy, she was still loved and could be a way to tighter alliances in the future of Edward’s reign, and she was brothel to a few people, the one Samantha discusses in the book was Louis, the Dauphin of France.

Elizabeth still wasn’t sure that she was ready for what she must face, but she had been given little choice.

Bess, as she was referred in the book, is a very important person in the aftermath of the Wars of The Roses, After the disappearances of her younger brothers and heirs to the throne, she has the unlucky advantage of becoming the wife to the Red Rose, the Lancastrian Henry Tudor. However, we see her in the presence of her uncle Richard’s eye at the start of the story and honestly, this arrangement could have worked, at this time she was considered a bastard, plus it wasn’t uncommon for royals to marry into their own family lines, I mean, just look into the lives of the Hapsburgs!

Another part of this though, Bess and her sister Cecily try to establish contact with their brothers who they assume are still alive and well somewhere in the country, away from court life in the thick of Richard’s reign. When Henry Tudor is proclaimed king, he and Elizabeth are married, and she gives birth to Prince Arthur, and they deal with the pretenders of the crown. Despite the fact there isn’t much about the real “Bess” opinions about politics as she wanted to be a submissive wife–the total opposite of her mother by the way!–I wonder what she really thought about these attempts of stripping her husband and son’s titles away. As a reader, it’s heartbreaking to try to decipher between her loyalty of her family, and if these men were in fact her brothers. I’m still reeling over the last paragraph of the book because it annoyed and stunned me at the same time.

The rose was white in the center and blood-red at the edges of the petals. A white York rose dipped in Lancastrian blood.

Back in 2020, I had read the second book of this series, Faithful Traitor, it was about Lady Margaret Pole, daughter of George Plantagenet, Duke of Clarence (who was Edward IV and Richard III’s brother and Lady Isabel Neville oldest child, and this one gives you more of an insight into the events that happen after Bess has passed away.

I am currently reading the third and final book Queen of Martyrs which is about Queen Mary I’s rise to the throne. Once I’m finished with it though, I will not be reading the novellas that go along with the other books in the series–I’ve tried to get through Once a Queen: The Story of Elizabeth Woodville and Prince of York: The Story of Reginald Pole, twice so I’ve put them in my DNF shelf (did not finish) on Goodreads. However, I do have one other book by another author on my list that discusses this time frame but on the point of view of the Lancastrian side, as it follows Lady Margaret Beaufort and her son, the first Tudor king, Henry VII. I’m aiming to get a review out towards the end of October, but we’ll see what really happens there.

Have you read “Once a Queen: The Story of Elizabeth of York” or any of the other books I’ve listed above? If you have, please share your thoughts in the comments section.

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Book Review: “999: The Extraordinary Young Women of the First Official Jewish Transport to Auschwitz” by Heather Dune Macadam

Hello!

For the past three years, I’ve always ended my reading challenges with a book about the Holocaust. Of course, they were mostly fictionized, but they echo the stories of fellow inmates and survivors of the most infamous camp, Auschwitz. This time I managed to find a book that was on my Goodreads TBR (to be read) and it was free with Kindle Unlimited.

I knew what was getting myself into before I did the one click thingy, but I am never prepared to what would be in front of me with every page. I am always drawn to read about these awful years towards the end of each of my reading challenges. I doubt I’ll ever understand it, but here we are anyways.

WARNING: There are spoilers down below, so you might want to ignore this review today!


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A PEN America Literary Award Finalist
A Goodreads Choice Awards Nominee
An Amazon Best of the Year Selection

The untold story of some of WW2’s most hidden figures and the heartbreaking tragedy that unites them all. Readers of Born Survivors and A Train Near Magdeburg will devour the tragic tale of the first 999 women in Auschwitz concentration camp. This is the hauntingly resonant true story that everyone should know.


On March 25, 1942, nearly a thousand young, unmarried Jewish women, many of them teenagers, boarded a train in Poprad, Slovakia. Believing they were going to work in a factory for a few months, they were eager to report for government service and left their parents’ homes wearing their best clothes and confidently waving good-bye. Instead, the young women were sent to Auschwitz. Only a few would survive. Now acclaimed author Heather Dune Macadam reveals their stories, drawing on extensive interviews with survivors, and consulting with historians, witnesses, and relatives of those first deportees to create an important addition to Holocaust literature and women’s history.

taken from Goodreads.


Despite the evil of it all, this book was really interesting!

“We were nice girls from good families trying to learn how to steal from other nice girls from good families. This was not human. They dehumanized us.”

The author Heather Dune Macadam focuses on the original girls who were taken to Auschwitz in 1942. There are a lot of names and numbers to remember throughout the entire book, but I find it important that you mostly hear these heartbreaking stories from these lovely ladies. These were innocent girls expecting to work for the government (even though it was them who took practically their jobs and everything else before whole families were rounded up!) and end up in hell on Earth in a form of a new camp for anyone and everybody who was an enemy to the Nazis.

The conditions at the camps were downright awful! Each girl and woman was forced to strip their Sunday best, shave their heads, and get tattoos on their arms of their numbers the officers gave them. However, as you go on and learn about the jobs the prisoners vied for on a daily basis, and it wasn’t just the Nazi officers giving orders, it was fellow inmates too. They were offered a series of jobs in Auschwitz, none of them were ideal, some were downright dangerous like dig ditches and lakes in all seasons and temperatures! The women were being fed little unkosher meals, like soup made out of horsemeat and a piece of beard no bigger than a fist. And if that wasn’t enough, they also had to deal with diseases like typhus and sleep in places that were covered in fleas and lice!

And yet, we have survivors….

“Genocide does not simply go away. Just as it can continue to haunt the survivors, it shapes the lives of those who live with and love those survivors.”

As I see what is going on with the world nowadays, seeing Israel and what they are doing to their Palestine communities is another example of the Holocaust, as the Jewish were also kicked out of their homes and made to live in a one room with other families in the ghettos. Israel is an unique country with three main religions: Christians, Judaism and Islam. I used to think this was amazing until I saw what they don’t put on the mainstream news. I wonder how many Jewish people who were in these cocreation camps would support this violence. I think it would be a very low number. And then, we have what is going on with Russia and Ukraine, and you have the same exact story. History is just going to continue to repeat itself over and over again until we find out how to respect each other in our differences, and as much as I’d like to see that happen someday, I doubt it’ll happen in my lifetime and that’s the sad truth to it.

Have you read Heather’s “999: The Extraordinary Young Women in the First Official Jewish Transport to Auschwitz” yet? Do you find yourself interested in books like this one? How do you deal with the sadness they tend to bring us readers?

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