Thursday, February 9, 2012

The Academie

Book: The Academie
Author: Susannne Dunlap

The year is 1799 and Eliza Monroe has just been unceremoniously deposited by her mother at a prestigious boarding school in France. Instead of the Parisian holiday she expected, Eliza must now undertake the difficult task of befriending members of the young French upper class, including Caroline Bonaparte, sister to the great Napoleon, and Hortense de Beauharnais, the daughter of Josephine Bonaparte, Napoleon’s wife.  Eliza was hoping for adventure and romance in Paris, will she find it while trying to deal with the intrigues and manipulations of Caroline and Hortense?

Hortense is growing fatigued by Caroline’s attempts to ruin her family and reputation. She wants to fall in love, to be caught up in a great romance, and the son of her music teacher just might do the trick.  Can Hortense find love on her own terms or will she be forever bowing to her controlling mother’s will?

Madeleine wants to be rescued from her life as the serving girl to her mother, an abusive, narcissistic actress.  Madeleine’s  lover, Eugene de Beauharnais, has promised to take her away and marry her.  Will he fulfill his vow or leave her to fend for herself with a mother who grows more unhinged by the day?

I had mixed feelings about this title. As a whole, this was a decent read set in a very interesting period in French history. The years following the French Revolution were uncertain and fraught with potential conflict, particularly for members of the upper class. One of the main reasons I enjoyed this title is because the author captured the precarious atmosphere of this period so well. This aspect of the book was fascinating. 

The Academie switches narration between Eliza, Hortense and Madeleine which builds suspense in some instances but in others only serves to unnecessarily replay particular scenes. I really enjoyed the character of Hortense. I actually wish the entire story would have been about her life before the events of this book. She must have had a fascinating upbringing which would have made for a better story than the one here. The character of Eliza seemed a little inconsistent. She did grow throughout the events of the book, but her development seemed forced. The character of Madeleine was simply a wasted opportunity. As an aspiring singer and actress, she could have been extremely interesting. In the end, she did little more than move the action forward which again, made for another inconsistent character.

I have to say, I wish this book had been better. I enjoyed it for the first half simply because the time period was represented so well and the characters held my interest. In the second half the story became tedious and the characters began to feel very underdeveloped and capricious. If you enjoy historical fiction, you may like this one, but the ending will probably disappoint most readers.  For better spins on this genre, try The Luxe Series by Anna Godberson and for the French Revolution with a supernatural twist try The Red Necklace by Sally Gardner.

The Bottom Line:  This is a book set in a fully realized time period with a disappointingly mediocre plot. I had no idea that life with the Bonaparte clan would ever seem this uneventful. If you like historical fiction, particularly the period after and around the French Revolution, give this one a try. For other books with similar themes, look to The Luxe by Anna Godberson or The Red Necklace by Sally Gardner.

The Publisher provided me with an advanced copy, through netgalley, for this review. The Academie will be released on April 10, 2012

Thursday, February 2, 2012

11 Birthdays

Title: 11 Birthdays
Author: Wendy Mass
Level: 9-12 Years
Location: J Mass

It's Amanda's 11th birthday and she is super excited -- after all, 11 is so different from 10. But from the start, everything goes wrong. The worst part of it all is that she and her best friend, Leo, with whom she's shared every birthday, are on the outs and this will be the first birthday they haven't shared together. When Amanda turns in for the night, glad to have her birthday behind her, she wakes up happy for a new day. Or is it? Her birthday seems to be repeating itself. What is going on?! And how can she fix it? Only time, friendship, and a little luck will tell...

Bottomline:  This was a fun quick read about true friends who need to mend their wounded friendship and it takes a repeating birthday to get things right.  The main characters are endearing and when they become selfless and start helping others is when they really shine.  I love a story when everyone is better off in the end!  Great story and written well for the younger reader.