I recently saw a great review of, Greenlights, by Matthew McConaughey, just as I was looking for my next Audible. I like McConaughey’s movies, and I have a place in the Austin area, too. So, I thought I’d give it a go – see what this Texas celebrity has to say about his life. At first, it sounded like a self help book, and I worried I had downloaded it too soon. There is a preacher-like intro that had me on the fence about continuing to listen, but I am glad I did. Matthew, at fifty, has a lot to say and an impressive resume of thought provoking philosophies and an abundance of life experience. He’s funny, down to earth, someone who takes dedication to succeeding to a whole different level, but the average Joe can learn something from the stories Matthew tells. Not afraid to laugh at himself or confront his flaws, I found myself appreciating his talents even more than I did in, True Detective, one of my favorites shows to this day. If you don’t like the book in the first 30 min, keep listening! You will laugh, be amused, envious and even impressed by this celebrity memoir. I thoroughly enjoyed this audio, written and narrated by Matthew McConaughey. 

A Murder of Principal, by award winning author, Saralyn Richard, has all the drama, intrigue and suspense needed to pull off this intense, inner-city high school mystery. Lincoln High is struggling with the usual issues surrounding students and faculty, even before the new principal, R.J. Stoker, shakes things up. Gangs, grievances, sexual harassment, and other tensions cause conflicts and rivalries. Stoker makes waves, and his new right-hand assistant struggles to balance the schedule before faculty grievances sink their maiden voyage. Just who has put a target on Stoker’s back? Plenty of characters have motives, but this suspense-filled mystery will keep you guessing who done it until the very end. Lots of clues and a few scattered red herrings will keep you engaged and trying to identify the killer. A Murder of Principal, is a nostalgic page turner that you won’t want to miss.

Wonderfully written and fantastically portrayed, The Chanel Sisters, is truly one of those books I didn’t want to put down or to end. Even better than Little’s debut novel, Wickwythe Hall, which was a masterpiece in itself, this story holds a bit of scandal and intrigue that has you routing for the women’s suffrage movement. I’ve never been more intrigued about the life of Coco Chanel. I highly recommend the Audible version. The reader had an amazing French accent that put me right in the center of early 1900’s France. With the story telling ability of Sara Waters and Philippa Gregory, Judith Little takes a fictional turn at spinning the life of Coco Chanel through the eyes of her younger sister, Antoinette. Impoverished, struggling, with the desire to be ‘better’, the Chanel sisters are the true winners against the societal rules of their time. Romance has never been so poignant. I can hardly wait to see what page in history this author turns to next! I can’t recommend The Chanel Sisters enough. Delightfully BBC material.   (So far, I haven’t found official questions for this book, so I formulated a few for my neighborhood book club.)

The Chanel Sisters, by Judithe Little

BOOK CLUB QUESTIONS AND DISCUSSION by Minette Lauren

(Spoiler alert! Don’t read the questions until you have read the book!) 1.The story starts in Aubazine France, after the death of the mother, when all three girls (Gabrielle (Coco), Antoinette, and Julia) are abandoned at the orphanage by their father. How do you think you would have fared in the shoes of the Chanel sisters, being separated from their two brothers? The boys were given to a peasant family as free laborers. Who do you think fared better in that situation — the males or the females? 2.Gabrielle (Coco) Chanel’s story is told through the eyes of Antoinette, but Julia is also her sister. What happens to Julia and why do you think Antoinette’s vision was more appealing to the author/reader? What do you think about Gabrielle statement, that she wanted to be something better? 3.Where do you see early impressions that possibly led Gabrielle Chanel down the path to fashion? What did she really longed to be? Their aunt, Adrienne, was only a year older than Coco and made a big impression on them. When their paternal grandmother took them for a visit, do you think their time in the park, watching the “Elegante” might have driven the girls in a certain direction? 4.Raised in a convent in Aubazine, why were Gabrielle and Antoinette moved to another convent in Moulins? What do you think their impressions were of the uniforms for the wealthy verses the poor? In an attempt to blend in, the girls tailored their own uniforms. Gabrielle was very particular about how clothes fit, and the nuns were impressed. Do you think this experience made Gabriella understand how people judged importance by attire? Was this possibly the first instance where we see her need to be recognized? Isn’t it interesting that she resists her artistic talents as a means of success and only uses it as a means to get by? 5.Coco wanted to be a singer and paid for lessons while she was a seamstress. It was at this time she met Etienne who encouraged her to sing. After spending all her money on lessons, and trying hard for years to get a role that might shoot her to stardom, what do you think about her giving up and leaving Antoinette? At twenty-three Coco became Etienne Balsan’s mistress. Do you think she loved him? Was there anything else she could have done at the time to escape poverty?
  1. Joining Balsan at his estate near Compiègne, she took time off to think about her life and where she was going. She needed a vacation from trying to be famous and failing. Coco borrowed clothing from him and altered it for herself. She rode horses and thought a lot about comfort, even in polite society. Do you think her ‘Dress to live,’ ideology was what made her brand transcend through the ages?
  2. What do you think of Antoinette’s shop keeper beau and how after being seen at the opera with Adrienne and her intended, she was shunned by her peers?
  3. During WWI, Coco used fabrics that no one had ever worn before. Jersey was usually used for men’s underwear, and suddenly she was making women’s clothes out of the soft fabric. During the war, she also used rabbit instead of chinchilla. Gabrielle was a wizard at using what she could afford. Do you think this is a trait she learned early on at the orphanage? Why do you think these cheaper fabrics appealed to the wealthy? What about the expensive feather hat gift to a celebrity? Antoinette was supposed to be better at business, but she was worried. Do you think Coco knew the benefits of spending money to make money?
 
  1. Boy Capel was the love of Coco’s life. He helped her to make her brand by fronting the store financially for a long time. In the book, it portrayed part of her popularity as a source of entertainment. Women wanted to see Capel’s lover, so they went to Chanel to see Coco. How did you feel when he could finally marry her, but didn’t?
  2. Coco didn’t take her business seriously for a long time. She had to exhaust the possibility of stardom and realize that marriage to Boy Capel would never come. What role did Antoinette play in her success? What did you think about the newspaper posts to tell people where they were?
  3. Antoinette finally gives up on her dashing Argentinian’s return and falls for a young Canadian soldier, leaving Coco behind in her world of glamor and time of need. What did you think about Antoinette finally getting married and leaving Europe, and then the way she left Canada?
  4. Influences from the orphanage were sewn into Chanel’s design. From the little black dress to Black and white stripes, believe it or not, the black nun’s habits played a part in her fashions. Chanel’s Logo was catchy, but most people don’t know that it came from the orphanage where the sister’s grew up. The overlapping circular windows created the Chanel emblem/logo we know today. The chain belts Coco created are reminiscent of the rosery beads that the nuns wore around their waists. Around 1930, Gabrielle even built a staircase in her home that was an exact replica from the orphanage. She begged Antoinette to forget their past and to never speak of it to others. Coco told everyone that they were raised by old maid aunts in the country. After she’d proven a success, why did her past matter so much?
  5. Do you think Coco spent her whole life looking for adoration and trying to find love? Did the abandonment issues make her feel unworthy of love?
  6. Not much is known about the real Antoinette. In the book, was her death a murder-suicide?
    Trivia: (answers not in the book) 1.Why did the author, Judithe Little, name the book The Chanel Sisters? 2.How old was Antoinette when she died? 3.True or False: Did Coco Chanel die as Gabrielle Bonheur Chanel?
  1. Coco’s parents were married, but was she born out of wedlock?
  2. Was Coco Chanel a Nazi spy?
  ***The author of this book suggested another great read— The Woman Before Wallis, by Bryn Turnbull…it’s about famous influential people such as the Vanderbilts and Prince of Wales.       Answers: 1.It was what she called the book as she was writing it. This is often the case while an author writes a story. Little said that they couldn’t come up with a better name, so they stuck with the name she’d been using since the beginning. The title tells the reader that it’s not just another Coco Chanel story.
  1. Antoinette was only 33
  2. False, when she was born, her mother was sick, and her father was away. No one was there to correct the misspelling of Chasnel. Coco was too embarrassed to ever correct it, because doing so would reveal the poverty of her birth.
  3. Yes, she was born in a poor house and it was later that her father, Albert Chanel, married their mother.
  4. Coco was a friend of Churchill, but she had a Nazi lover. It is said that she was on the German side from the beginning of the war, and she resided at the Ritz, where Nazi headquarters was located.
  Questions for this book club discussion were formulated by reading, The Chanel Sisters, listening to an interview with Judithe Little, and resourcing Wikipedia.            

  The Rendezvous in Paris (The Blue Coat) is the first book in an intriguing new series that holds all the mysticism of time travel, romance that spans generations and historical details of World War II. Author of the award winning Out of Time Series, Belle Ami has crafted a well told story with an intricate plot and rich characters. When Rose loses her dear grandmother to cancer and is bequeathed all her worldly treasures, she has no idea about the true value of the possessions she inherits. A tattered coat doesn’t seem like much, but paired with a beautifully crafted heirloom, its energy is more than transforming. Taken in by a league of sisterly Holocaust survivors and friends of her belated grandmother, Rose is asked to assume the position her grandmother held in fighting anti-Semitism and a new rising world order. Though she doesn’t understand her role or the cryptic dreams that call her to take a stand, she can’t ignore what must be done. A mysterious stranger appears on her grandmother’s stoop on the first day of shiva, making a lasting impression on Rose and fueling her mother’s distrust. Though she hardly knows the handsome, young man that says he knew her grandmother, Rose is compelled to reach out to him when she needs help. A trip across the world will shed light on the past and the future, but will it be enough to stop the evil that targets the Jewish population and covers the world in a blanket of hate once more. If you enjoyed The Girl Who Loved Da Vinci or The Girl who loved Caravaggio, don’t miss this trip back in time to the siege against The Third Reich in The Blue Coat Saga. The Rendezvous in Paris is the first book in Belle Ami’s brave new series that captures the reader’s imagination and instills hope in humanity.
I bought this book as an audio for my book club. When I read the blurb, I thought, ugh! It sounded like one of my grandpa’s old westerns, and I thought I would be bored to tears, but I also read that Tom Hanks was due to play Captain Kidd’s part, and so away I listened…. I was intrigued from the very first paragraph as the history of Texas unfolded through the eyes of the older gentleman and war veteran, Captain Kidd. Traveling around from town to town reading the news, this old-timer was the equivalent of today’s social media. Picking and choosing newsworthy stories to tell the people from near and far, he brought more to the patrons than what news he read from the papers. Kidd was recognized as entertainment and enlightenment for rural populations, that were still trying to find their footing during a post civil war Texas. He read to people of all classes, and the fee was only a dime. After losing his print shop and taking to the road, he finds himself burdened with the task of helping a young ten-year-old girl return to her German family near San Antonio. The journey is long and the trials of their travels are many. I thought the description of the night sky, the Irish woman’s explanation of the girl’s psyche, and the way the captain assessed his role as a messenger in life are wonderful highlights in the book, showcasing the authors talents. Her ability to balance history, story and description of the landscape and it’s inhabitants was five star!
I first picked this series based on the beautiful cover and the reincarnation premise of the book. The profound historical aspect and the travel to exotic locations was a bonus for me. Alex and Angela share a love that transcends many lives and a passion for art that might be their Achilleas heal. Angela’s talents place her under the FBI’s radar when a Rembrandt painting goes missing, but Alex and his family are right by her side. The masterpiece is tied to one of Angela’s prior lives, but what role does Alex play in Rembrandt’s history? With a mystery to solve and a wedding to plan, they are again swept up in their timeless love affair. In book two, Angela predicts the theft of a valuable painting that belongs to Alex’s family friends. In the third book, the famous work is absconded to Mexico and is placed in the hands of a notorious drug lord. While Alex and Angela explore the history of Rembrandt’s stolen painting in Amsterdam, the thief is weaving his own past, present, and future in Mexico, but love always complicates things. Does he share a part of the provenance and has his deed to please his uncle opened up Pandora’s box? I appreciate the historical and descriptive details given by the author. The dedication she has to place the reader in the right environment to understand art history is an art in itself. With a splash of detail here and a snippet of description there, Belle Ami paints an exciting story, spinning just the right amount of facts to weave into the steamy plot. This book is romantic, mind-opening, and a great adventure to right the wrongs of the past. Don’t miss this riveting third book in Belle Ami’s Out of Time Series and learn how the future is tied to the past.

I was told I should read this book years ago, but somehow I never got around to it. I think it seems fitting that I should discover it now with Covid and heated politics at its height. The book is a little depressing, since it is about the oppression of women and freedom in society. It’s set in the future, which correlates with today. Toxic waste and other environmental and social variables have made men impotent and women barren. With the population declining and modern technology making things simpler to abscond freedom, Ofred finds herself as a Handmaid to a prominent couple, who can’t have children. Separated from her husband and child, since all first marriages are considered null and void, Ofred has few other choices under the new regime. Chilling and thought provoking, it’s a must read for the philosophical mind.

Belle Ami’s, Escape, Tip of the Spear Thriller Series is action packed, sexy, and will leave the reader thrilled that they picked it! I love that this author does her research. Steeped in political espionage that feels like the stuff of Tom Clancy, mixed with the heat and romance of her Out of Time Series, Belle Ami spins a tale deep in the Middle East that will have you sitting on the edge of your seat. Layla Wallace is an intelligent, young university student who fancies herself on the brink of first love. Ignoring her father’s warnings about the turbulent waters of the region, she finds herself swept away by her Middle Eastern young admirer to Dubai. Meeting his parents might feel important, but the opulence of the much-awaited trip leaves Layla feeling empty and flat. Because of her hosts wealth, Layla and her boyfriend are targeted and kidnapped by an Iranian faction to raise money. It’s only afterward that she is identified as the daughter of a renown nuclear scientist and professor, Aleck Wallace. Terrified and worried for her own safety as well as her boyfriend, she is horrified to find out that she’s been abandoned in an Iranian prison. Captured by one political group and then taken by a higher faction just before things come to the point of no return, Layla doesn’t know how to feel about her abductor and savior. Is she suffering from some sort of Stockholm syndrome, or is Cyrus Hassani more than he’s telling her? I have to say, I was taken in by the intrigue of the story and the careful plotting of the author. There is nothing left untold and the weaving of the many threads from beginning to end will make you want to hold on to your seat and enjoy another ride. The twist and turns make you think things are finished just when they start again. Pay close attention to the lead in to this book because it will surprise you in the final wrap. I love the chemistry of Layla and Cyrus. Starting book two in the series now!

Eleanor Oliphant Is Completely Fine: A Novel

  This book was recommended by a friend who absolutely loved it. I loved Eleanor’s quirky character and elusive background. At first, I thought this was women’s fiction leaning toward romance, but really it’s a self discovery book. Though Eleanor is thirty, it’s a coming of age story set in Scotland. Due to the life experiences of this strong, no-nonsense young woman, she is driven to explore the boundaries of her inner confines. Without giving anything away, you will laugh, cry, relate in so many ways to the explorations of Eleanor (Some you probably wouldn’t share openly.) Checking the inspirational, heartfelt, and a great ‘day in the life of’ boxes, Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine, is a perfect example of a good book. Wonderfully written and recorded, I loved listening to the audio.

  Level up brings college romance to an all new level. The characters are real the situations are steamy and there is a fun plot filled with teasing banter. Admittedly, I am not a gamer, but even so, this was a real page turner. Taking me back to the days of first love or infatuation. College exploration and learning how to level up is what it’s all about. Don’t miss this sexy series by Alexa Sommers.
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Jan
2021

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Greenlights, by Matthew McConaughey

I recently saw a great review of, Greenlights, by Matthew McConaughey, just as I was looking for my next Audible. I like McConaughey’s movies, and I have a place in the Austin area, too. So, I thought I’d give...

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