Halloween Re-Read: Daughter of Smoke and Bone by Laini Taylor

13 Oct

In honor of Halloween I decided to re-read a book that I truly enjoyed last year but that I sort of rushed through because of things like work, college, toddler…the usual stuff that makes you start reading at 1 am. Now that I have a bit more time on my hands with college being finished and my son about to be in preschool, I decided to give this book another shot. Here’s the thing: I liked Daughter of Smoke and Bone when I originally read it but I didn’t love it…or so I thought. A few months ago I started getting that itch to read it again out of the blue and as it turns out, the story really did stick with me more than I had thought. I found myself wanting to go back to those Gothic, winding streets of Prague in winter which give way to jewel shaped buildings and portals to another world…Elsewhere. I found myself really, really wanting to travel back to Elsewhere where an angel and a demon fell in love.

If you haven’t before heard of Daughter of Smoke and Bone, you need to get yourself on board sister! Upon my re-reading of it, the story bloomed again before me with new life and felt more real than it had the first time (I blame my statistics class for squashing my poor, day-dreaming soul). This is one of those books that you just need to read to understand as the premise is so broad and strange but also completely addictive.

The big question of the book is “Who Is The Daughter Of Smoke And Bone?”

Karou is a young art student (with natural jewel-toned blue hair and a plethora of tattoos) living in modern day Prague. All her life she has felt a deep emptiness, struggling to understand who she is in the absence of a ‘normal’ family. A human girl, Karou has been ‘raised’ by monster-like devils or demons who exist in some strange, other-worldly portal between lands (ours and their own). Brimstone is a half man, half ram being  who has been as much a father to Karou as possible though his stern nature and elusive answers to her questions have always made him more of a mystery than a true parent. But despite her strange upbringing, Karou loves her Chimera family (Brimstone, Issa, Usari, Twiga and Kishmish: all variations of mixed animal and human parts) even if their existence makes no sense in her own, human world. She spent her childhood in Brimstone’s shop, watching him select, study and string teeth on necklaces as various poachers and nefarious characters came and went through the portal that connects Elsewhere to the human world. But as Karou grows up, she soon learns that the door of Brimston’es shop can open anywhere in the world whether that’s Prague, Paris or Florida and she now finds herself being sent on mysterious missions by Brimstone to collect, of all things, teeth. Now 17, Karou no longer lives in the shop but in her own loft apartment in Prague as she tries to create some semblance of a normal life.

Then one day, strange sightings start appearing all over the world, strangers whose wings are invisible to the naked eye but appear in their shadow, begin marking Brimstone’s portals with a hand print that cannot be removed. Somewhere, Elsewhere, a war is raging, one that will have a profound affect on Karou, the family that she loves, and a mysterious angel who is the enemy of her very blood but with whom she is irrevocably connected.

 

What I loved about this book (besides the stunning imagery and drool-worthy settings!) was they way Taylor created such rich and full back-stories for the characters. She didn’t just stuff them in here and there as fluff but rather wove them into the storyline so that when things finally came together at the end of the book, you feel like you have a truly deep understanding of characters and their motives. Karou is a kick-ass heroine but she’s not so tough-shelled that she’s impossible to relate to. She has a deep emotional emptiness, a longing for family and a strong desire to protect the ones she loves at any cost. I also love that her connection and romance with Akiva is a lot deeper than it first appears. I don’t want to spoil any parts of the story but let’s just say that if you have any contempt for insta-love (aka 90% of YA books out there these days) you’ll find this book to be refreshing and inspiring. On the surface, it’s a YA fantasy novel but once you get into it, you find that it is about so much more. Daughter of Smoke and Bone has that unique quality of not only good vs. evil but also the ramifications of war and the questioning of moral and obligatory responsibilities

Like I said, strange premise right? But trust me, you’ll fall in love with Taylor’s poetic writing style and her ability to keep you guessing until the very end! I don’t want to give away any more of the story because it’s just too good and you have to discover its magic for yourself!

The highly anticipated sequel title, Days of Blood and Starlight, comes out in November and I for one, cannot wait! Have you Read DOSAB? What do you think about it?

x0

Rachael

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18th Century Celebrity: Mary Wollstonecroft

15 Jul

1759-1797

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This saucy lady was the mother to famed author Mary Shelly (Frankenstein anyone?) and well-known writer of her time. She was also a political advocate for women’s rights and wrote several books including A Vindication of the Rights of Woman.

Mary never knew her daughter for she died in 1797 due to childbirth complications but her daughter grew up knowing all about her famous mother and was an adamant reader of her mother’s writings and journals that she kept while abroad.

Mary Wollstonecroft was an advocate for women’s travel abroad not only to seek the same ventures as men but also to learn and educate themselves and engage in their world. In an age when so many women never left their own countries, Wollstonecroft blazed her own trails and expected other women to do the same. The belief of the time that women were somehow inferior to men, Wollstonecroft argued, was due not to their mental capacity or ability, but to the lack of education available to them and the small scope in which they were ‘set’ to live their lives.

When the French Revolution broke out in France in 1789, Wollstonecraft traveled there on purpose to witness the action and the rebellion first class. She was passionate about the ideals that the French Revolution was being fought for and wished to witness their history first hand. While in France, Mary met American Gilbert Imlay with whom she had her first child, a daughter named Fanny. Their relationship set to the backdrop of the French Revolution, was passionate and daring but in the end, Imlay never really wanted to marry. However, once Briton declared war on France, Wollstonecroft and other British expatriates in France now faced great dangers as citizens abroad. It was because of this that Gilbert Imlay claimed Wollstonecroft as his wife on paper, though the two were never actually legally wed. Imlay left Wollstonecroft in Le Havre, France (a busy port town where many British tourists and visitors came through when they first arrived in France) promising to return but he never did. She was alone in a foreign country with a newborn baby…in the middle of a Revolution.

Wollstonecroft went on later in life to wed William Godwin, an acquaintance in her circle of activist friends back in England. After a long time spent lamenting over Imlay (including two suicide attempts and trip on his behalf to Sweden), Wollstonecroft fell in love Godwin and they lived happily though their marriage was cut short when Mary passed in 1797.

The legacy of Mary Wollstonecroft is that of a woman who had ambition beyond hearth and home in a time when few women traveled or explored their rights. She was a philosopher, writer, mother and traveler and she’s our 18th century celebrity of the day!

18th Century Papparazzi Profile: Lady Elizabeth Webster Holland

13 Jul

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Lady Elizabeth (nee. Vessall) was born in 1771 and was married young to a much older man, Sir Godfrey Webster. They were married in 1786 when Elizabeth was only 15! Can you even imagine?! Her marriage was a most unhappy one and she often lamented of her poor marital circumstances in her letters to her friends or in her private journal entries.

In order to spend as little time with her husband as possible (or so many have speculated) Lady Webster spent most of her time traveling abroad throughout Europe. Sir Godfrey very rarely accompanied his wife on these travels and when he did, according to Lady Webster, he was most unpleasant. It was while she was abroad that she took Thomas Pelham as a lover though she did not marry him once her marriage to Sir Godfrey ended.

After her (scandalous!) divorce from Sir Godfrey, Lady Elizabeth went on to wed Henry Richard Fox, 3rd Holland. This marriage was much more amiable and she spent the rest of her days traveling around Europe with Fox. Lady Holland and her husband were active members in the Whig Party (a party made fashionable during the time by Georgiana, The Duchess of Devonshire). It was also said that Lady Elizabeth was jealous of Georgiana’s popularity both with the people and her fellow aristocratic friends and she sought to make Holland House in London, just as popular as Devonshire House, though she never succeeded.

Not only did Lady Elizabeth defy 18th century norms by getting a divorce (a very difficult thing for a woman of this period to do) but she also dared to venture abroad, an activity that made many men uncomfortable and that many women were terrified to do themselves.

18th Century Life In Georgia’s Golden Isles

14 Jun

I just returned from a great week at the beach with my whole family (well…great in that we were all together, not so great in that I had a boot on my foot and couldn’t walk but, oh well) where we stayed on Saint Simons Island in Georgia. Saint Simons is truly a beautiful and hidden island off the coast of Georgia with towering live oaks drapped with Spanish moss dating back thousands (yes, thousands!) of years and secluded beaches that are something out of a painting. Seriously, if you haven’t heard of Saint Simons, you need to check it out.

This is my second time visiting this incredible Island and I’m so glad that this time I was able to really learn more about its incredible history. Last time we visited in March and we were only there for two days. This time, we went in the summer and had a whole week to explore (the island is only a few miles long but trust me, there’s lots to see!). If you’re looking to get your 18th century history lesson while you’re there, then you have to stop by Fort Frederica on the Northern part of the island.

Fort Frederica is an English military town and settlement that dates back to 1736 when it was settled by James Oglethorpe in the hopes that the Georgia fort would be able to protect the ‘debatable land’ in the American Colonies between Florida and South Carolina, from invading Spanish troops. Situated on the banks of the Frederica River, the fort was built to have a vantage point that could scan the river for any enemy ships before the ships could spot them. Saint Simons Island is not far from Savannah, another one of Georgia’s famous port cities, and the town of Frederica did most of its trading with Savannah via ships which followed the river to the Savannah port.

When the Spanish finally did invade the Georgia coast in 1742, the fort served is purpose and defended the American colonies in the famous Battle of the Bloody Marsh which was fought on Saint Simons island.

After the victory against the Spanish, the Garrison at Fort Frederica was disbanded (having served its purpose) and the town slowly dissolved as colonists moved elsewhere. The people who settled on the colony came from all over Briton, Germany and Scotland with a great many of the Scottish settlers being Highlanders. These Highlanders went on to establish the town of Darien (also in Georgia) which still stands today. All that remains today of the town of Frederica are the foundations of the homes that once were filled with the citizens of Frederica. constructed of ‘tabby’ (a sand and oyster shell cement-like mixture) and brick (for the wealthier citizens), the homes today show us the incredibly small size of the houses in which the colonists lived.

Walking under the large oaks with their rope-like vines and swaying Spanish moss, you almost feel like you can hear the voices and sounds of the past. I honestly thought I was going to see a British soldier pass me by at any moment (but I guess we can call that an active imagination too!). Archeologists have excavated much of the town so that you can actually walk down the same streets that were walked on over 200 years ago. The people who settled at Fort Frederica came to a jungle wilderness full of strange creatures (alligators, for one!) and carved a life for themselves out of the dense Georgia Maritime forest (half woodland, half tropical: think live oaks mixed with palm tress and dirt and sand soil).

I’m such a huge fan of colonial history and true, this site at Frederica is no Williamsburg with its full reenactments and in-tact town, but it has its own charm and beauty and it is a piece of history that I had never even heard about until I moved to Atlanta. I’m so glad I discovered this incredible island and I hope that some day, you can visit it too!

Happy History Hunting!

Rachael

Your Guide To 18th Century Personal Shoppers

29 Feb

In today’s times, if you have the money, then you can have a personal closet delivered to your house where you can browse through and try on the latest fashions deciding which ones to buy and which to send back with your personal shopper. This process is actually very similar to the way that most upper class Parisian men and women (mainly women) shopped for their clothing during the 18th century. Purchasing and shopping for clothing for the aristocratic class  (namely in France) used this method with some minor adjustments.

The dressmakers and milliners would arrive  along with a collection of minture dolls known as poupees de mode made of either wood or plaster. These dolls were dressed in small versions of the latest Parisian fashions, like tiny manequines, so that clients could get a full picture of the style of dress. Well-dressed Parisians could then choose the type of fabric, the embroiderry, ribbons and other accessories to complete their ensamble. (A popular look of the day was the robe a la francaise which was a ‘cleaner’ look from the traditional court dress, slightly smaller in the hips and with an adjusted neckline.)

These little fashion dolls were protected with high levels of security, often having their own carriage for transport during long journeys to their clients. The poupees were also known as Pandoras and they would model everything from morning dress to evening and court wear. They were, in a sense, the ambassadors of fashion. Take a look at some of some of these surviving mini trend-setters below!

Isn’t the detail amazing? The same level of care in construction was used on these dolls as it would have been used on the life-sized ensembles of the Parisian elite.

 

(The heavy cheek rouge shown on the dolls above also reflects the makeup styles of Paris during the 18th century. They preferred white powdered faces with heavy cheek and lip rouge in red or pink, often leaving their eyelids bare but their eyebrows heavy and dark. More on makeup to come!)

The Milliner, François Boucher, 1746. Oil on canvas. Nationalmuseum, Stockholm. Photo © Erik Cornelius – Hans Thorwid (courtesy of The Getty Museum)

A Paris Breakfast in the 18th Century

29 Feb

Ahh, to be a posh Parisian in the 18th century! Breakfast would have been a time of leisure in which food was eaten slowly and savored and fashion choices were made with the utmost care.

The morning was the time in which a day was carefully planned and prepared for and a typical breakfast could often last several hours. Dressing was something of a science in Paris and it was not to be done quickly. The morning routine or toilette , encompassed dining, clothing choices, plans for the day and yes, sometimes even politics and local gossip. And here I thought that checking my e-mail while I make scrambled eggs is multi-tasking!

Only those with considerable wealth had the means (and the time!) for such an ordeal which began first in the royal court of Versailles and then was adopted by France’s nobility and aristocratic class. Never ones to be left out of the latest fashions, the morning ritual quickly caught on and was revered by those who partook in it as somewhat of an art form (perhaps this was a way of suggesting even further status above the lower classes, i.e. ‘I can take as much time as I want for I have no work to do and those who want to see me will just have to wait’).

Lady Fastening Her Garter (also known as La Toilette), François Boucher, 1742. Oil on canvas. Image courtesy of and © Museo Thyssen-Bornemisza, Madrid

The ritual of the toilette was done both in private and in public. One would first awaken and refresh by a brief sponge bath or other form brief cleansing. Then a servant would arrive, during which time hair would be styled and make up would be applied (makeup concoctions varied as well as did the forms of hair accessories depending on what was currently en vogue: ribbons, lace, jewels, feathers). Jewelry would be chosen as well, though these choices could change depending on what outfit was decided upon.

A Parisian aristocrat then needed assitance in dressing which was also provided by a maid or other servant. However, by this point in the morning, it was customary to receive visitors which could range from visiting guests to members of the family and household. Personally, I don’t know how I would feel about my friends or my mother-in-law just casually strolling in my bathroom for a chat while  I have rollers in my hair and am attempting to prefect my liquid eyeliner for the dozenth time but, to each his own right?

Charles-Joseph Natoire, Psyche at her Toilette, 1745

So now that you have successful been dressed, visited with dear friends, shown off your luxorious home, dined like a king (or queen), played with your children and secured a valuable political alliance, you were now (finally!) able to greet the day (or very likely, the early evening, but that’s when all the fun starts anyway right?).

(A modern dressing table, so popularly created and used by those 18th century minxes!)

The Real Secret Garden

27 Feb

I don’t know if there is a book more dear or magical to me than Frances Hodgson Burnett’s The Secret Garden. I first read it when I was in the second grade (it was the children’s version and I’m pretty sure I got it at the dollar store but none the less) and proceeded to do every subsequent book report on it through 5th grade (miraculously, none of my teachers ever caught on). I remember staying up late with my mom making shoebox diaramas of the garden with mintures of Mary, Colin and Dicken and the little sheep and flowers. In fith grade I finally read the full version of the book and it was no less than wonderful to me.

Now at 25, The Secret Garden is still my favorite book of all time. I recently bought a children’s copy to read to my two year old son who, like his mommy, can’t get enough of books regardless of their subject matter (I read him Madeline E’ngel’s A Wrinkle In Time when I was pregnant). Also, to my joy, Chick-fil-a has recently started giving children’s classics with their kid’s meals (so now we have a chick-fil-a version of TSG as well!).

I was doing some research a few months back for my upcoming trip to England (I have around 50 cousins there along with some scattered relatvies in Scotland that I’ve mostly never met) and came across the actual, real-life garden that inspired Mrs. Burnett!! Obviously, this will be a stop on our itenierary and…I’ll secretly move my things in when no one is looking.

Mrs. Burnett apparently got the idea for the book while staying at the home between 1898 and 1907. She spent hours wandering through the gardens and observing its inhabitants. The little red robin that shows Mary Lennox the way to the hidden garden door actually appeared in real-life to Frances who found a hidden door of her own, giving her the idea for the story! (I’d like to meet this clever robin!)

This place made me instantly swoon and I think I’ll just have to take up perment residency there! (Hey, you can actually buy the apartments within the home!) The house is called Great Maytham HallTake a look at its breath-taking beauty below.

You can also (swoon!) get married there. What do you think? Can’t you just see The Secret Garden coming to life here? I personally want to buy a white cotton dress and giant garden hat and spend my days writing and sleeping among the flowers…but maybe that’s just me.