Review: Chanel’s Riviera

Chanel’s Riviera: Glamour, Decadence, and Survival in Peace and War, 1930-1944 by Anne de Courcy

Genres: History, Non-fiction
Maturity Level: 4

(content warnings: harm to children, holocaust)
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Rating: ⋆⋆⋆

The Cote d’Azur in 1938 was a world of wealth, luxury, and extravagance, inhabited by a sparkling cast of characters including the Duke and Duchess of Windsor, Joseph P. Kennedy, Gloria Swanson, Colette, the Mitfords, Picasso, Cecil Beaton, and Somerset Maugham. The elite flocked to the Riviera each year to swim, gamble, and escape from the turbulence plaguing the rest of Europe. At the glittering center of it all was Coco Chanel, whose very presence at her magnificently appointed villa, La Pausa, made it the ultimate place to be. Born an orphan, her beauty and formidable intelligence allured many men, but it was her incredible talent, relentless work ethic, and exquisite taste that made her an icon.

But this wildly seductive world was poised on the edge of destruction. In a matter of months, the Nazis swooped down and the glamour of the pre-war parties and casinos gave way to the horrors of evacuation and the displacement of thousands of families during World War II. From the bitter struggle to survive emerged powerful stories of tragedy, sacrifice, and heroism.


Chanel’s Riviera is almost two books in one. Partly it is the story of Chanel’s Riviera home, La Pausa, and partly it is the story of France in World War II. While these two things are linked, the different narratives had very different tones and themes. The Chanel aspect of the book was like reading a decade’s worth of gossip magazines: affairs, fashion, betrayals, becoming rich and gambling it all away. The WWII half was like reading a war book: factual, full of first-hand and second-hand accounts, death, hunger, terrible deeds. Together they show a France that is both gilded and war-torn. Like Chanel, the country is far more complex than we make it out to be.

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Audiobook Review: Agent Zigzag

Agent Zigzag: A True Story of Nazi Espionage, Love, and Betrayal by Ben Macintyre

Narrated by: John Lee
Genres: Non-fiction, History, Biography
Maturity Level: 3+ (some mention of prostitutes)
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Rating: ⋆⋆⋆

Eddie Chapman was a charming criminal, a con man, and a philanderer. He was also one of the most remarkable double agents Britain has ever produced. Inside the traitor was a man of loyalty; inside the villain was a hero. The problem for Chapman, his spymasters, and his lovers was to know where one persona ended and the other began.

In 1941, after training as a German spy in occupied France, Chapman was parachuted into Britain with a revolver, a wireless, and a cyanide pill, with orders from the Abwehr to blow up an airplane factory. Instead, he contacted MI5, the British Secret Service. For the next four years, Chapman worked as a double agent, a lone British spy at the heart of the German Secret Service who at one time volunteered to assassinate Hitler for his countrymen. Crisscrossing Europe under different names, all the while weaving plans, spreading disinformation, and, miraculously, keeping his stories straight under intense interrogation, he even managed to gain some profit and seduce beautiful women along the way.

The Nazis feted Chapman as a hero and awarded him the Iron Cross. In Britain, he was pardoned for his crimes, becoming the only wartime agent to be thus rewarded. Both countries provided for the mother of his child and his mistress. Sixty years after the end of the war, and ten years after Chapman’s death, MI5 has now declassified all of Chapman’s files, releasing more than 1,800 pages of top secret material and allowing the full story of Agent Zigzag to be told for the first time.


Agent Zigzag was my first non-fiction audiobook, and I’m afraid I didn’t enjoy the experience as much as I expected to. I found the narrator, John Lee, to be a bit dry. Listening to him drone on and on and on about World War 2 was a bit like listening to an uninteresting lecture. That’s not to say he did a poor job. He pronunciation in particular was on-point, and I was impressed by his ability to imitate different accents. And his inflection was fine, giving me a clear idea of tone and personality. It just … never ended. He never seemed to pause for a breath. I needed time every paragraph or so to process what I’d learned.

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Review: The Nightingale

The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah

21853621Genre: Historical Fiction
Maturity Level: 5
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Rating: ⋆⋆⋆⋆


In the quiet village of Carriveau, Vianne Mauriac says goodbye to her husband, Antoine, as he heads for the Front. She doesn’t believe that the Nazis will invade France…but invade they do, in droves of marching soldiers, in caravans of trucks and tanks, in planes that fill the skies and drop bombs upon the innocent. When France is overrun, Vianne is forced to take an enemy into her house, and suddenly her every move is watched; her life and her child’s life is at constant risk. Without food or money or hope, as danger escalates around her, she must make one terrible choice after another. 

Vianne’s sister, Isabelle, is a rebellious eighteen-year-old girl, searching for purpose with all the reckless passion of youth. While thousands of Parisians march into the unknown terrors of war, she meets the compelling and mysterious Gäetan, a partisan who believes the French can fight the Nazis from within France, and she falls in love as only the young can…completely. When he betrays her, Isabelle races headlong into danger and joins the Resistance, never looking back or giving a thought to the real–and deadly–consequences.


Well. I have so many mixed feelings about this book. I’m not quite sure where to start, or what order to go in…

Hmm. I guess I’ll start with the bit I’m not really knowledgeable to comment on: the historical accuracy. I don’t really know much about France in WWII. I heard some reviewers saying there were some very accurate details, and others saying it was inconsistent and that there were a lot of inaccurate details. All I know was that I felt like I was learning a lot about Occupied France, and it felt accurate. Continue reading “Review: The Nightingale”

Review: Mr. Churchill’s Secretary

10161216Mr. Churchill’s Secretary by Susan Elia MacNeal

Series: Maggie Hope Mystery
Genres: Mystery, Historical Fiction, Fiction
Maturity Level: 3 maybe?
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Rating: ⋆⋆⋆⋆


London, 1940. Winston Churchill has just been sworn in, war rages across the Channel, and the threat of a Blitz looms larger by the day. But none of this deters Maggie Hope. She graduated at the top of her college class and possesses all the skills of the finest minds in British intelligence, but her gender qualifies her only to be the newest typist at No. 10 Downing Street. Her indefatigable spirit and remarkable gifts for codebreaking, though, rival those of even the highest men in government, and Maggie finds that working for the prime minister affords her a level of clearance she could never have imagined—and opportunities she will not let pass. In troubled, deadly times, with air-raid sirens sending multitudes underground, access to the War Rooms also exposes Maggie to the machinations of a menacing faction determined to do whatever it takes to change the course of history.

Ensnared in a web of spies, murder, and intrigue, Maggie must work quickly to balance her duty to King and Country with her chances for survival. And when she unravels a mystery that points toward her own family’s hidden secrets, she’ll discover that her quick wits are all that stand between an assassin’s murderous plan and Churchill himself.


While perhaps not the most well-written book of all time, Mr. Churchill’s Secretary was a lot of fun. Maggie Hope was spunky and easy to relate to, and not too caught up in romance for a young woman. The plot was intriguing, moved quickly, and I often found I had a hard time putting the book down. However, I was often confused by the frequent point-of-view change, and the repeated period cliches in the dialogue were distracting. I was also distracted by the irrelevant references to British literature, as if Maggie somehow had to prove that she was living in War-Era Britain. But if you’re looking for a quick read and a little light entertainment, Mr. Churchill’s Secretary is perfect.

Review: The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society

2728527The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows

Genre: Historical Fiction
Maturity Level: 1
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Rating: ⋆⋆⋆⋆


January 1946: London is emerging from the shadow of the Second World War, and writer Juliet Ashton is looking for her next book subject. Who could imagine that she would find it in a letter from a man she’s never met, a native of the island of Guernsey, who has come across her name written inside a book by Charles Lamb….

As Juliet and her new correspondent exchange letters, Juliet is drawn into the world of this man and his friends—and what a wonderfully eccentric world it is. The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society—born as a spur-of-the-moment alibi when its members were discovered breaking curfew by the Germans occupying their island—boasts a charming, funny, deeply human cast of characters, from pig farmers to phrenologists, literature lovers all.

Juliet begins a remarkable correspondence with the society’s members, learning about their island, their taste in books, and the impact the recent German occupation has had on their lives. Captivated by their stories, she sets sail for Guernsey, and what she finds will change her forever.

Written with warmth and humor as a series of letters, this novel is a celebration of the written word in all its guises, and of finding connection in the most surprising ways. 


What a nice book. Wow, that sound’s awful, calling a book nice, but that’s exactly what it was. And no less sweet for being rather predictable. It’s exactly the sort of book I could picture middle aged women around the country falling in love with. As a younger person I enjoyed the book, but would by no stretch use the word “love.” While the use of written letters as the only story telling device was enchanting and nostalgic, all the characters read like old women, even the men. Still, there was plenty to enjoy.

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Review: Life after Life

15790842Life after Life by Kate Atkinson

Genres: Fiction, Historical Fiction, Fantasy
Maturity Level: 5
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Rating: ⋆⋆⋆⋆


On a cold and snowy night in 1910, Ursula Todd is born, the third child of a wealthy English banker and his wife. Sadly, she dies before she can draw her first breath. On that same cold and snowy night, Ursula Todd is born, lets out a lusty wail, and embarks upon a life that will be, to say the least, unusual. 

For as she grows, she also dies, repeatedly, in any number of ways. Clearly history (and Kate Atkinson) have plans for her: In Ursula rests nothing less than the fate of civilization.

Wildly inventive, darkly comic, startlingly poignant — this is Kate Atkinson at her absolute best, playing with time and history, telling a story that is breathtaking for both its audacity and its endless satisfactions.


Equal parts depressing and fascinating, Life After Life was as difficult to read as it was to put down. It reminded me in some ways of a modern day Tess of the D’Ubervilles in that Ursula seemed to be completely out of control of her own destiny, as well as unaware of what was happening to her. Plus, you know, the sheer number of terrible things that happened to her. But the concept of this book is what makes it truly unique. It’s like a mix between time travel and reincarnation. And while the ending left me with more questions than answers, they are questions I am more than willing to ask myself again and again. While I probably won’t read Life After Life a second time, mainly due to the many unnecessary (and graphic) reminders of how terrible WWII was for ALL parties involved, it is a book I will surely be discussing and thinking about for many years to come. I strongly recommend to anyone who loves history or who just loves to think.

Review: The Book Thief

51LK1NgAk6L._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_The Book Thief by Markus Zusak

Genres: Historical Fiction, Young Adult
Maturity Level: 4
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Rating: ⋆⋆⋆⋆


It’s just a small story really, about among other things: a girl, some words, an accordionist, some fanatical Germans, a Jewish fist-fighter, and quite a lot of thievery. . . .

Set during World War II in Germany, Markus Zusak’s groundbreaking new novel is the story of Liesel Meminger, a foster girl living outside of Munich. Liesel scratches out a meager existence for herself by stealing when she encounters something she can’t resist–books. With the help of her accordion-playing foster father, she learns to read and shares her stolen books with her neighbors during bombing raids as well as with the Jewish man hidden in her basement before he is marched to Dachau.

This is an unforgettable story about the ability of books to feed the soul.


The Book Thief was not at all what I was expecting. I don’t know what I thought I was getting myself into, but the oddities and the grittiness took me completely by surprise. Continue reading “Review: The Book Thief”