The Collector’s Apprentice – B.A. Shapiro

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Photo Courtesy of Algonquin Books

The Collector’s Apprentice takes readers into the whirling world of art collecting in the 1920s. Paulien Mertens is only nineteen when she meets the dashing George Everard, but when things mysteriously fall to pieces she finds herself exiled to Paris alone and nearly penniless. Drawing on her education and previous work in the art world, Paulien pieces together a new life as the assistant to Edwin Bradley, an up and coming American art collector who seeks to open a museum near Philadelphia. As she weaves her way through Parisian society, Paulien meets wonderful people like Gertrude Stein, Henri Matisse, and Zelda and Scott Fitzgerald. When George finally turns up, things are not as they seem, and Paulien is sent into a tailspin that nearly ruins everything she has built.

Shapiro’s new work tells the story of how one girl came back from the brink stronger, smarter, and braver than ever. It is part coming-of-age, part mystery, part heist novel. Paulien and George provide intriguing lenses through which we discover the events of the story. Indeed, all of the characters’s colorful descriptions paint a picture of Europe and America in the 1920s that is lush and many-layered. The plot thickens gradually, and the shocking finish does not disappoint.

I thoroughly enjoyed this foray into the art world and adored returning to 1920’s Paris, which, if you’ve read my reviews for Therese Anne Fowler’s Z: A Novel of Zelda Fitzgerald or Paula McLain’s The Paris Wife, you’ll know I have a bit of an obsession with. While it did not always grip me the way Z and The Paris Wife did, I simultaneously identified and sympathized with Shapiro’s characters, and her storytelling is top notch. The nuggets of information are there for you to guess the ending, though I must confess that I did not, which a refreshing turn of events! I would recommend The Collector’s Apprentice to anyone who enjoys a good historical coming-of-age story or enjoys con artists as main characters.

HHC Rating: 4.75 Stars

The Collector’s Apprentice hits shelves today, and Shapiro will be on tour through December promoting it. You can find the local stops on her tour schedule below, and find the book on Goodreads as well. A huge thanks to Brittani at Algonquin books for thinking of me when it came time for reviews and provided me with an e-ARC to read in exchange for my honest opinions. I loved it! But don’t just take my word for it. Here are some of the advanced praises for The Collector’s Apprentice:

“Shapiro delivers a clever and complex tale of art fraud, theft, scandal, murder, and revenge. [Her] portrayal of the 1920s art scene in Paris and Philadelphia is vibrant, and is populated by figures like Alice B. Toklas and Thornton Wilder; readers will be swept away by this thoroughly rewarding novel.”

Publishers Weekly

“Dazzling and seductive, The Collector’s Apprentice is a tour de force—an exhilarating tale of shifting identities, desire, and intrigue set between 1920s Paris and Philadelphia. Shapiro is a master at melding historical and fictional characters to bring the past alive on the page, and in The Collector’s Apprentice she has forged an exquisite, multilayered story that maps the cogent and singular fire of a young woman’s ambition and the risks she will take for the sake of art.”

—Dawn Tripp, bestselling author of Georgia

“I was engrossed in every twist and turn in this compulsively captivating page-turner, all the way until its astonishing denouement. Shapiro has done it again!”

—Thrity Umrigar, bestselling author of The Space Between Us

Shapiro, Barbara (c) Lynn Wayne_HR

B. A. Shapiro is the New York Times bestselling author of The Muralist and The Art Forger, which won the New England Book Award for Fiction and the Boston Authors Society Award for Fiction, among other honors. Her books have been selected as Community Reads in numerous cities and have been translated into over ten languages. Shapiro has taught sociology at Tufts University and creative writing at Northeastern University. She divides her time between Boston and Florida along with her husband, Dan, and their dog, Sagan. Her website is www.bashapirobooks.com.

The Collector’s Apprentice Press Tour
Stops in New England

Tuesday, October 16 — 7:00pm
Brookline Booksmith
279 Harvard St.
Brookline, MA 02446

Wednesday, October 17 — 7:00pm
Odyssey Bookshop
9 College St.
South Hadley, MA 01075

Thursday, October 18 — 6:00pm
Northshire Bookstore
4869 Main Street
Manchester Center, VT 05255

Friday, October 19 — 7:00pm
Wellesley Books
82 Central St
Wellesley, MA 02482

Wednesday, November 7 — 7:00pm
RJ Julia Booksellers
768 Boston Post Rd
Madison, CT 06443

Thursday, November 8 — 7:00pm
Print Bookstore
273 Congress St.
Portland, ME 04101

Tuesday, November 20 — 7:00pm
Point Street Reading Series
Alchemy
71 Richmond St, 2nd Floor
Providence, RI 02903

Monday, November 26 — 3:00pm
Titcombs Bookshop
432 Route 6A
East Sandwich, MA 02537

Tuesday, November 27 — 7:00pm
An Unlikely Story
111 South Street
Plainville, MA 02762

Wednesday, November 28 — 7:00pm
Savoy Bookshop & Café
10 Canal St.
Westerly, RI 02891

Thursday, November 29 — 7:00pm
Belmont Books
79 Leonard St
Belmont, MA 02478

–Author Bio, Advanced Blurbs, and tour dates courtesy of Michael McKenzie and Brittani Hilles at Algonquin Books.

A Morning with Estelle – Short Fiction #1

Estelle awoke to the sound of one of her neighbors clattering down the stairs. She rubbed her eyes, trying to think of a reason someone would make such a noise upon descending a perfectly normal staircase, before realizing that it must have been David and his dog, Roger. Two sets of feet, one large, the other small, could definitely have made the racket which dragged her out of her dreams. She finished ridding her eyes of sleep and pulled back the duvet.

 

Coffee was a wondrous thing. Some days the only thing that got her out of bed was coffee. Not today though, she thought as she sipped from a steaming mug while gazing into her closet. It was smaller than the one at her last place, but she hadn’t decided yet how to pare down her wardrobe. The mountain of laundry peaking out from the bottom of the closet pointed to there being a hefty donation to the secondhand shop in her future. She sighed, choosing to put off the decision until the weekend, and pulled out a pair of grey slacks and a forest green sweater.

 

Hair, check. Makeup, check. Estelle picked out a set of simple pearl earrings and spritzed on her favorite perfume before giving herself a final once-over in the hall mirror. They had hung it on the outside of the bathroom door so they would stop fighting over the actual bathroom, and the arrangement had worked out remarkably well. Estelle shuffled back into her room to grab her shoulder bag and pick out shoes. Low, chunky, everyday black heels made the outfit complete, and she smiled knowing her mother would approve of the choice. Her mother insisted that flats made her walk like a duck. The image was unattractive enough that Estelle almost always chose heels when she had the opportunity to do so. Running with Miles tomorrow would hurt when her achilles was all scrunched up from today, but occasionally a little beauty was worth a little pain. She slid her bag onto her shoulder, called goodbye to her roommates, and headed for the stairs, turning the lock behind her.

 

 

A Morning with Estelle – Short Fiction by Amanda Woods

The Diviners (The Diviners, #1) – Libba Bray

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Source: Goodreads

 

Evangeline O’Neill has special powers. She can see important moments in a person’s life just by holding something that belongs to them. This talent, of course, is not accepted in Zenith, Ohio. After a particularly bad evening of illegal drinking, the seventeen-year-old is shipped off to New York City to live with her bachelor uncle, William Fitzgerald, who runs The Museum of Creepy Crawlies, and his mysterious assistant, Jericho. Evie reunites with her childhood friend and the daughter of revolutionists, Mabel, as well as some new friends including Theta, a showgirl, and her brother Henry, a piano player, a thief named Sam, and a numbers runner named Memphis who might just be magical himself. Life can’t be the berries forever though, and before long Evie is called upon to use her powers to help stop a murderer before he raises the antichrist and wipes out all of man kind. Just another summer in 1920s New York, right?

 

I’ve heard about this book on and off since it came out in 2012, and I finally picked it up from the library in August of 2017. Definitely not disappointing! While the writing is easy to follow (except for the 20s slang, which I had to look up) and the chapters are short, the gruesomeness and maturity of the plot and characters’ thoughts definitely put this book squarely in the Young Adult category. If the reading level were a little higher I might even put it in adult, even though over half of the characters are ages 17-19.

If you can’t stand gore in your books, don’t read this. About half of the murders are detailed, and all of the bodies are described once they are discovered. If I was close to stopping my reading more the night and I knew a murder chapter was imminent, I would stop before it so I didn’t have it running around my brain all night long. Not that it really helped, because I still knew it was coming, so my brain usually decided to try and guess how it would go down *facepalm*. In that regard, I’m glad I’ve finished the book. At the same time, I’m sad to let the world go for a while until I get the next book. Bray’s version of 1920s New York City positively shines. I found myself wishing I could visit for the weekend (sans murders) to visit the theatres and clubs she describes in such vibrant detail. The buildings and the city are just as much characters as the human (and not so human) population.

If I were a cry-in-the-corner type of person, my horror-hating-soul would be doing that, because I don’t like being terrified of what’s coming, but I’m a bloody Gryffindor, and we don’t show fear, so I just marched on and kept reading. Overall, I think the horror aspects were very well balanced with the daily life in the 1920s and the mystery parts, which made me quite enjoy myself despite the demons lurking in the shadows.

Definitely pick this up if you have any interest in America’s supernatural history (I’m personally hoping one of the books in this quartet focuses on the witch trials), or if you adore 1920s period fiction, or if you liked Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, because this book is pos-i-tute-ly for you. Also, this cover is magic. I love it.

 

HHC Rating: 5 Stars

 

Other reviews in this series:
Book #2 – Lair of Dreams
Book #3 – Before The Devil Breaks You
Book #4 – Untitled – TBD

A Dark and Stormy Murder (Writer’s Apprentice Mysteries, #1) – Julia Buckley

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Source: Goodreads

Struggling writer Lena London is handed the opportunity of a lifetime when her best friend sets her up with a job as the assistant and ghostwriter to her favorite author of all time, Camilla Graham. As an added bonus, Lena gets to live in Camilla’s beautiful Gothic home overlooking the quiet town of Blue Lake, Indiana.

No town stays quiet for long, however, when you write mysteries and have an alleged murderer for a next door neighbor. Before long, a body appears on the lake shore near Camilla’s home and the ladies become embroiled in solving the case before the wrong person ends up behind bars.

 

 

Full disclosure, this story takes place in the autumn, which just makes the scenery that much more wonderful. The rich mix of scenery, characters, and plot make this a delightful read that sucks you in from the first chapter.

Lena is lovely and has just the right amount of admiration for her esteemed new boss. I identify with Lena. She loves books. She has a degree in writing. She is in her middle twenties and trying to find her place in the world amid the ever shifting relationships between parents, friends, bosses, and significant others.  I just wish I had a few good looking romantic options in my life – because a cozy mystery wouldn’t be a cozy mystery without a dash of romance, am I right?

A Dark and Stormy Murder has plenty of layers. There is the book that Lena and Camilla are writing, the mystery of Sam West’s missing wife, the body on the beach, the various budding relationships between characters, and Lena’s attempts to settle into her new hometown. I love everything about this book, and I can’t wait to read more in the Writer’s Apprentice Mysteries series!

 

HHC Rating: 5 Stars.

 

Other Books In This Series:
Book #2 – Murder in Dark Blue (Review coming in September!)
Book #3 – A Dark and Twisting Path
Book #4 – Death Waits in the Dark

 

 

The Bear and The Nightingale (Winternight, #1) – Katherine Arden

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Photo: Goodreads

As if you all didn’t already know of my love for fairytale retellings based on my reaction to Uprooted last year, let this be a testament. In this version of the classic Russian tale Vasilisa the Beautiful, Katherine Arden reimagines Vasya as the youngest child of a wealthy trader and his late wife, who herself was the daughter of the late ruler.

Vasya is indeed beautiful, but with a wild streak. As her elder sister begins preparing to marry, Vasya’s father Pyotr realizes that there will be no women to run Vasya’s life and makes the decision to remarry himself. At his brother-in-law’s insistence, he marries a woman whose faith dictates her life, and who is nearly as young as his sons.

About this time a young priest is rising to prominence in Moscow, threatening the power of the grand duke and the tentative peace across Russia. The grand duke decrees that the priest will travel with Pyotr when he returns to the north and to serve as the regional priest.

Vasya’s new stepmother and the new priest begin implementing Christian values in place of the old traditions, threatening the ancient spirits that protect Vasya’s homeland. As the townsfolks’ faith in the old ways waivers so do the life forces of their protectors. Vasya can see and communicate with the mysterious creatures, and soon finds herself the protector of the protectors. But a greater evil lurks in the forest, and it is only a matter of time – as the old ones weaken – until it wakes and comes for it’s due.

 

Much like Uprooted did last year, The Bear and the Nightingale transported me to another realm,  another time. The twists and turns! The intricacy of the plot! The landscape itself was so beautifully depicted that it took my breath away. Arden has succeeded in creating a future classic with a permanent place on my shelf. And it’s a series! The second book, The Girl in the Tower, was released last year and the final book in the trilogy has been announced for release sometime early next year. I cannot wait to dive back into Vasya’s world: magical, dangerous, and filled with religion and court intrigue.

 

HHC Rating: 5 Stars.

 

Other books in this series:
Book #2 – The Girl in the Tower
Book #3 – The Winter of the Witch

 

 

The Summer Before the War – Helen Simonson

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Source: Goodreads

 

Accepting the position of smalltown Latin teacher was a no-brainer for Beatrice Nash. Finally on her own, she can’t wait to make her own money and get out from under her stifling family’s thumb and her father’s shadow. But war is looming. A great, big, world war, the likes of which have never been seen. With men signing up left and right, it’s only a matter of time before Beatrice’s students and colleagues start to head for the continent, closely followed by the new officers comprised mostly of the lesser gentry. A young surgeon and a poet, a Romani and a scholar, the war keeps its distance from no one. And so beings the summer before the war.

 

Helen Simonson does it again. The author of Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand – one of my favorite reads of 2017 – is back with another well-developed look at England’s less viewed history, and hits her mark. The characters are well developed and engaging, as well as incredibly refreshing. A book about an Edwardian surgeon! The first women authors! Single women living alone and working a respectable job! POETS. and so, so many underlying narratives about race and sexuality. Absolutely wonderful. 10/10 would read again.

I would like a prequel about Beatrice’s life with her father and then with her Aunt. Also, a novel purely about Aunt Agatha and her husband who works for the foreign office and who I am sure does spy things. I think they’re all just so interesting!

The book itself starts out relatively lighthearted, following the main premise of Beatrice settling into the town and her interactions with the townsfolk. About 3/4 of the way through, the war is finally upon us, with dire consequences for many. Simonson wraps everything up neatly, but not before she rips our hearts out and forces us to acknowledge that not everyone can live happily ever after.

 

HHC Rating: 5 Stars

 

Other reviews for works by this author:
Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand

Ready Player One – Ernest Cline

 

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Source: Goodreads

 

It is 2044 and the world is dying. Rather than confront the global issues at their doorstep, humanity has retreated into the virtual reality universe known as The Oasis. Wade Watts lives in a tower of mobile homes somewhere in Ohio, his only refuge the virtual high school he attends in The Oasis. The sudden death of Oasis creator James Halliday forever alters the lives of Oasis users when it is announced that Halliday has hidden the key to his massive inheritance – and the ownership rights to The Oasis – inside his own game as an easter egg. Now with Halliday’s biggest rivals like IOI closing in, it is up to a few good egg hunters – known as gunters – to reach Halliday’s egg first and keep The Oasis free and accessible to all.

 

I had heard about this book in passing numerous times, and it always popped up on my radar, but I ignored it. Maybe I wasn’t in the mood to read about video games. Maybe I thought I would miss too many of the 80s references, and the book wouldn’t make sense as a result of this inherent failing on my part. Maybe a lot of things.

It surfaced on my radar again three years ago when my sister’s university had to read it as part of their one-book-one-campus initiative. She loved it, but I was in the middle of rereading Harry Potter. It’s been high on my list since then, and I finally picked it up from the library last month.

 

This book is awesome. The 80s references are great, and since I was blessed with a mother who loves science fiction and fantasy, I understood at least eighty-five percent of the references and jokes.

Wade and his cohorts develope well as characters, and IOI makes for an intimidating enemy. The Oasis itself steals the spotlight. Its MMORPG (Massively-Multiplayer-Online-Role-Playing-Game) meets space opera structure is as beautiful and thoughtfully created as the book’s plot.

This journey through games, film, and music from one of the most iconic (in my opinion, at least) eras of history is not to be missed. And with a film version of the book hitting theatres next month, there’s no time like the present to pick up a copy. **Just a friendly heads-up that this book does contain some not-safe-for-child-consumption bits, so maybe save this one for the 15+ crowd. I’m assuming they’ll just pull these bits from the film script to get a PG13 for violence rating instead of pushing the edge of R for a pointless m*****b****n scene.**

 

HHC Rating: 4.5 Stars