Posts Tagged weekend reads

book review: The Ambassador’s Wife

ambassadors wife

The Ambassador’s Wife By Jennifer Steil.
Doubleday| July 2015|389 pages |$26.95| ISBN: 978-0-385-53902-9

Rating: ***/5*

When I first heard about this novel I knew I wanted to read it: ambassador’s wife in a Middle Eastern country who gets kidnapped sounded both riveting and exciting. Unfortunately, it’s disappointing because the novel doesn’t delve far enough into the ambassador’s wife as the independent bohemian artist prior to meeting and marrying the ambassador. The basic storyline is that Miranda, an American, married British national Finn who serves as ambassador in a fictional Middle Eastern country. Prior to the marriage, Miranda lived a bohemian lifestyle and dated a woman.

“In the past, only with a woman had she felt her body truly unclench, the result of her politics falling in line with her heart. With men she had always been wary, monitoring her every interaction for signs of a power imbalance.”

Now with Finn, they have round-the-clock protection, servants and bodyguards. For Miranda, she’s given up much of her freedom and also pursuing her art in order to be a steadfast ambassador’s wife. She remains naïve about the dangers associated with being the ambassador’s wife. She thinks she can function just like she did as a single woman in this country. One day hiking with a group of women, she’s kidnapped and it’s an unbearable month-long ordeal that changes everything.

“Despite the tragedies, the restrictions felt slightly absurd to Miranda. She has been hiking in this country for three years without incident, and no one she has encountered on her journeys has ever been less than hospitable. In fact, she has been treated more like royalty in this country than she has been anywhere else in the world.”

There’s not enough color, depth and strength in the details. Steil explains Miranda like this: “In fact, she felt a reflexive and guilty condescension toward such domestic ambitions. Her conscience wrestled with this prejudice, meanness not sitting comfortably in her psyche. Who was she to judge anyone else’s choices? Just because traditional wifely duties were not for her did not make them less worthy.” However, Steil fails to show Miranda as this independent spirit. There are mentions of her teaching her Arab students and encouraging them to paint provocatively but the reader fails to truly feel the power and emotion which art can provoke.

Instead the author turns it into somewhat predictable fodder when she’s kidnapped. Instead of being this cool creative, Miranda is a devoted mom whose child to engulf every aspect of her life instead of remaining that vibrant independent. She truly loses her sense of self by being a mother. In addition, it becomes bogged down in unnecessary detail and for a thriller-esque novel it travels at a snail’s pace. Not good in any way. I applaud author Jennifer Steil’s ability to shape this middle Eastern country and provide readers with an idea what it would be like to be an American navigating such an unusual culture.

I kept reading so that’s the bonus. I would like to read a novel from a female ambassador’s point-of-view. The two novels I’ve read have been from the wives’ perspective. The wives tend to serve as hostesses and do some volunteer work; nothing nearly as challenging as their spouses. Author Jennifer Steil worked as a reporter in Yemen and is currently an ambassador’s wife. I expected way more detail. I’m sure she didn’t want to offend any country but I could certainly recognize either Yemen or Libya in her descriptions. I’m not sure why she chose to fictionalize the country. To me that falls flat. Either create a completely different country or city or don’t faintly hide it and think that no one will figure it out.

–review by Amy Steele–if you like my reviews and interviews please donate so I can continue to write.

FTC Disclosure: I received this book for review from Doubleday.

purchase at Amazon: The Ambassador’s Wife: A Novel


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book review: The Dressmaker


The Dressmaker By Rosalie Ham.
Penguin Books Original| August 11, 2015|256 pages |$16.00| ISBN: 978-0-14-312906-6

rating: ****/5*

“The stranger went back to her room to smoke her cigarettes. She wondered how Paris had found its way to the dilapidated confines and neglected torsos of banal housewives in a rural provence.”

It’s quite possible that I still would have read The Dressmaker by Rosalie Ham at some point. However, knowing that Kate Winslet would star in the feature film based on the novel piqued my interest. That’s good and bad. Kate Winslet happens to be one of, if not my all-time favorite actress and not for Titanic. I’ll see anything that she stars in. She’s such an immense talent. Here’s the thing with The Dressmaker: I can’t picture Kate Winslet and Liam Hemsworth together in the lead roles, not only because she’s 15 years older than him and they’re supposed to be close in age [which frequently happens in Hollywood].

After studying dressmaking and fashion design in couture houses throughout Paris, Myrtle “Tilly” Dunnage returns to the small Australian town in which she grew up. Not only did Tilly grow up in Dungatar but she faced much harassment and was basically banished as a child following a false murder accusation. The townspeople find themselves titillated by Tilly’s sewing talents—she can reproduce anything from a fashion magazine and makes lovely outfits to suit any figure—and wary due to her reputation around town.

“Sergeant Farrat said love was as strong as hate and that as much as they themselves could hate someone, they could also love an outcast. Teddy was an outcast until he proved himself an asset and he’d loved an outcast—little Myrtle Dunnage. He loved her so much he asked her to marry him.”

While her fashion business blooms, Tilly finds friendship with cross-dressing police sergeant Farrat and love with Teddy, yet she mostly desires revenge. Tilly proves to be an intriguing character. She’s independent, outspoken and strong despite her past. Her dressmaking and style superb. Is it just provincial pettiness that drove Tilly away and envy that keeps fueling the battle? Ham’s descriptions of the townspeople and fashion burst from the pages and this is a fun, quick summer/weekend read.

–review by Amy Steele

FTC Disclosure: I received this book for review from Penguin Books.

purchase at Amazon: The Dressmaker: A Novel


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book review: Sweet Forgiveness

sweet forgiveness

Sweet Forgiveness By Lori Nelson Spielman.
Plume| June 2, 2015| 355 pages |$16.00| ISBN: 978-0-14-751676-3

Rating: ****/5*

An engrossing read that’ll keep you busy at the beach, during a quiet weekend in the woods or in a café drinking ice coffee. Whatever your summer plans, take this fast-paced, creative novel with you. It’s not predictable and contains wonderful, strong characters. It centers on New Orleans local news reporter Hannah Farr and the Forgiveness Stone craze, started by someone who bullied her in school. Hannah received the stones from the Forgiveness Stone creator Fiona Knowles but she’s yet to return a stone to Fiona or send a stone on to someone else.

When her job hits a low spot and she’s interviewing at a station in Denver, she decides that the forgiveness stones might make a good story and allow her to reconcile with her mother who she’s not seen in decades. For years, Hannah’s been involved with New Orleans Mayor who seems to have no desire to be with Hannah full-time. When Hannah decides to head home to see her mother as research for the story it sets many components in motion. Will she be able to come to terms with a dark secret in her past and move on to a happy and productive life?

“The first Monday in July, I load my suitcase in my trunk, struck again by the almost nonexistent footprint I leave these days. I still talk with Dorothy and Jade every day, but I have no job, no boyfriend, or husband or child to kiss good-bye or worry about. It’s both liberating and horrifying, knowing how easily I can disappear. I put the key in the ignition and buckle my seat belt, hoping to drive the ache from my heart.”

Hannah proves resilient and empathetic as she goes through much trauma in re-visiting her past. Her mom is happy to see her. Her mayor boyfriend fears ruining his own reputation and chances for election. He’s not interested in Hannah’s personal despair and makes that quite clear. Finally Hannah understands that he’s been using her as a showpiece, a date to bring around to charity events and political fundraisers. Perhaps he never truly loved her as she loved him. As Hannah faces fall-out from this relationship and her collapsing career at the news station when a segment about the Forgiveness Stones ends up going terribly amiss, she must pick herself up and reinvent herself in another capacity. It’s a quick read and you’ll instantly become invested in Hannah’s challenges and triumphs.

–review by Amy Steele

FTC Disclosure: I received this book for review from Penguin Random House.

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purchase at Amazon: Sweet Forgiveness: A Novel

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