Mothers & Daughters by Rae Meadows – Book Review

Mothers & Daughters by Rae Meadows
Published by Henry Holt & Co, an imprint of Macmillan

Motherhood has changed Samantha. Her life is consumed by her baby daughter and, quite frankly, Samantha likes it like that. Part of it is her fear that motherhood has so changed her that she will no longer be able to create her art, but she also just can’t bear to leave her daughter. Complicating this dance of early motherhood is Samantha’s grief over the death of her mother Iris, just a short time before the birth of her daughter. When Samantha’s brother sends her a box of Iris’s things, she begins to learn truths about her family that have been long hidden.

Mothers and Daughters is told from the perspective of Samantha, Iris, and Iris’s mother Violet. I found Violet’s story to be both the most compelling and the most disconnected from the rest of the book – which sounds like a negative comment, but isn’t. Violet grew up in New York with a spoiled, dissolute mother who could not – or would not – care for her properly, and who ended up putting her on an orphan train. (Side note: I was more than a little shocked to learn about the orphan trains. After reading Mothers and Daughters I did more research on them and understand the sentiments behind them a bit better, but I was furious for large portions of Violet’s story). It makes perfect sense, really, that Violet’s story seems so disconnected from those of Iris and Samantha, because the life she lived as Iris’s mother in the Midwest was worlds apart from the one she lived growing up in New York City in the early 20th century.

I loved Meadows’s writing, and the way her story was constructed, but perhaps the most stunning thing about Mothers & Daughters is just how quickly I connected with the characters. The narration was done on a rotating basis, so the first three chapters contained one chapter in each woman’s voice, and each of them gave me something in their first chapter that made their stories compelling. Often when the points of view switch in a novel like this, a reader will have a favorite character to narrate, but I can honestly say that I did not. I could connect with each woman, even Iris whose story took place in such a different stage of life than my own. Not only was each woman compelling in her own right, their interactions and influences upon one another were fascinating and meaningful, without ever feeling contrived.

Just one teeny tiny thing: I really, really wanted Samantha to have a flower name, with her mother and grandmother named Iris and Violet. Either that, or I wanted for one of them to not have a flower name. I know, I have a weird thing about names, which is particularly odd since if a character’s name doesn’t bother me for some reason, I likely won’t even notice what it is. I know which character is which because of their characterization and am often hard pressed to remember names even upon looking up from the book for a moment.

Overall, I adored Mothers & Daughters. Highly recommended!

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Source: Author’s agent.
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13 rue Therese by Elena Mauli Shapiro – Book Review

13 rue Therese by Elena Mauli Shapiro
Published by Reagan Arthur Books, an imprint of Hachette

Josianne has a box, the contents of which can induce fevers. Since she received the box, she has gifted it to a variety of men, scholars, but the box always makes its way home to Josianne. Her latest find is Trevor Stratton, an American translator of French who has come to work for her university. She hides the box in a file cabinet in his office, letting him believe he has discovered a hidden gem. And, indeed, the box has a fabulous cache of historical material, surrounding Louise Bruent, a French woman living at 13, rue Therese between World War I and World War II. As Trevor dives deeper into the artifacts in the box, he finds himself increasingly pulled into Lousie’s world.

I cannot decide whether the writing or the illustrations of 13, rue Therese are more striking. The author, Elena Mauli Shapiro, actually lived in an apartment below the real Louise Brunet in Paris and was left with a box of her possessions when the older woman died, many of the contents of which are reproduced in color right in the pages of the book, in line with the text. For example, from page 77:

Despite his horrid spelling and his atrocious punctuation, you can see Camille is clever: he has punned. If you look very closely at the front side of the card, you can just make out that he has rubbed off the manufactured greeting that was previously there and written in his own hand, “Thoughts of the absent.” The French word for “thought” (pensée) is also the French word for “pansy,” which is the flower pictured therein. So, he is giving her flower/thoughts, on paper.

All of the illustrations from the book can actually be found on the book’s website, along with their accompanying text, and even a clip of the audio book.

Shapiro has written an incredibly creative book. Not only has she reimagined and recreated in vivid detail the life of a real woman, illustrating it with real artifacts, but she has also given us a novel that plays with the constraints of time in amazing ways. Trevor becomes obsessed with the Louise and the contents of the box to the extent where he – and the reader – is unsure of where or when he is at time. History and the present collide in a puzzling, but ultimately fascinating way.

You must be ready to think and be immersed when you pick up 13 rue Therese, but for the reader who is prepared for this, it is well worth the read. Highly recommended.

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Check out the 13, rue Therese website, very interactive and cool.

Source: publisher.
* These links are all affiliate links. If you buy your book here I’ll make a very small amount of money that goes towards hosting, giveaways, etc.