Book review: The Chanel Sisters by Judithe Little

On the morning of my engagement, I walked down Yonge Street from my husband’s condo in downtown Toronto to the Eaton Centre to kill some time before we announced the big news to our parents. The first place I walked into was the Chanel makeup counter at the Hudson’s Bay on Queen Street. As that was all what I could really afford from Chanel, I wanted a small token to remember that precious moment. The beautician recommended a red shade of the Rouge Allure lip stick along with a complimentary lip liner and cream eye shadow. How exhilarating that feeling was! I still have that very lipstick to this day as a reminder of that exciting period in my life. There is certainly something special when one mentions the name Chanel.

Women who carry the iconic Chanel 2.55 bag are both equally admired and envied. Fragrances such as Chanel No. 5 and Coco Mademoiselle are considered to be some of the most celebrated perfumes of all time. In Judithe Little’s novel “The Chanel Sisters,” she explores the beginnings of the House or Chanel. This story is told through the eyes of Antoinette, Coco Chanel’s youngest sister. In this historical fictional novel, we learn about the difficulties Coco Chanel and her sisters endured and how those experiences shaped her future.

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The novel takes place during Gabrielle “Coco” Chanel’s formative years. She and her siblings were left as orphans in the care of Catholic nuns. During their time in the convent, the Chanel sisters learned how to sew and create with what little they had. Through Antoinette, we learn about the life of Coco Chanel from the perspective of a supportive and loving sister.

During that time in France, women weren’t supposed to be independent, free-thinkers, but Little illustrates how the Chanel sisters chose to play by their own rules. Lacking a father figure, Antoinette describes their difficult beginnings in the convent as young girls who worked very hard and overcame the odds. Despite many challenges that they faced- poverty, abandonment, war, to name a few, the sisters overcame all odds. Little eloquently ties these themes of love, independence and success together. Through Antoinette, Little takes us through the sisters’ romantic relationships and demonstrates that despite the men they had in their lives, their greatest love and devotion was towards one another.

Many historical figures are also discussed in the novel, such as Coco Chanel’s partners Boy Capel, who invested in Chanel’s business and Etienne Balsan. However, some characters were added by Little which was done for effect. The story also depicts a Windsor, Ontario connection, which I personally found quite surprising considering I am from Windsor. Although I hoped for more for Antoinette and quite frankly, they way the book ended surprised me (in a positive sense), Little demonstrates that the story of the Chanel Sisters is simply one of unconditional love.

Overall, Judithe Little eloquently tells the story of the Chanel Sisters in this latest novel. Little delivers the fact that Chanel is more than just a fashion house, but a story of success and hope. An excellent read specifically from a historical perspective, the story of the Chanel Sisters by Judith Little left me intrigued and yearning to learn more about the House of Chanel. This is a book I highly recommend for both fashionistas and history bluffs alike.

Book review: the alice network by kate quinn

War. Espionage. Feminism. Need I say more?

The Alice Network by Kate Quinn is a historical fictional novel, losely based on the pursuits of Louise de Bettignies, a female spy in World War I. The novel intertwines the courageous story of two women, Eve and Charlie, who essentially live parallel lives to one another. Their experiences in upholding justice and finding the truth are intertwined when the latter is searching for her missing cousin in a post-World War II era. The novel addresses topics that were considered taboo for women of that era, specifically pregnancy before marriage and a women’s role in society and war. Deliciously written, Quinn eloquently ties together themes of war, espionage and feminism all in one book. A novel that I could not put down, its no surprise to me why this is a New York Times Best Seller and a Heather’s Pick at Chapter’s Indigo. I highly recommend reading this book, especially if you are searching for something with a sense of purpose.

Book review: The Grace Kelly Dress by Brenda Janowitz

As a young bride-to-be back in 2012, the inspiration behind my dress was the lace detailing from Princess Grace of Monaco’s wedding dress. I remember being captivated by the idea of having a lace wedding dress as it reflects my personal style of classical elegance. Next to Audrey Hepburn, Grace Kelly’s style is one of the most iconic styles in history and this was a look I wanted to emulate when I got married.

Me as a young bride in October 2012.
Photo credit: Signature Design & Photography

Back in August, while pursuing the shelves of Indigo, the title of Brenda Janowitz’s seventh novel, “The Grace Kelly Dress,” caught my eye. When I first picked up the novel, I thought it would be about the actual Grace Kelly wedding dress, but to my surprise, it was not. To be honest, it took me a few chapters to get into this book. At one point, I would say maybe a couple of chapters in, the plot thickened! The stories of three different women from the same family were intertwined: Rocky, an unconventional bride-to-be; Joanie, a young college girl questioning her purpose in life and finally, Rose, a struggling French seamstress. The story’s main themes revolve around love, loss and the importance of family tradition.

On a broader scale, the book was just more than about a dress. It was about three women, spanning from three different generations, and their experiences with loss, love and discovery of self. It was about how the dress made each one of them question their purpose in life and look deeper into themselves. In general, the book made me think about what traditions in my family that I value and want to pass onto my children. It also made me think more about how traditions can adapt with ever changing norms and conventions.

The book had a wonderful ending, although I personally felt as if some questions left unanswered for me, specifically with Joanie, Rocky’s mother.

I could definitely see this book becoming a film at some point. This book is definitely a weekend reader over a glass of wine! Despite a slow start, I highly recommend reading this novel as it will leave you curious to learn more about the dress that bonds three generations of women together.

Wine pairing: I enjoyed reading this book it over a glass of Peller Estates Private Reserve Gamay Noir 2018. You can find this at your local Wine Shop.

Book Review: The Woman Before Wallis by Bryn Turnbull

Long before Meghan, Duchess of Sussex and Diana, Princess of Wales, there was another controversial Royal that caused a stir within the house of Windsor: Wallis Simpson, also known as the Duchess of Windsor. Wallis’ relationship with Edward VIII (also known as David,) led to his abdication to the British throne and in the words of David himself, had no choice but to “discharge my duties as king as I would wish to do without the help and support of the woman I love.” David’s abdication prevented a constitutional crisis from occurring in Britain and was a story that rocked the entire world.

However, this particular novel is not about Wallis, but the woman who introduced David (then the Prince of Wales) to Wallis: Thelma Morgan, the Lady Furness, who is the protagonist in Bryn Turnbull’s debut novel “The Woman Before Wallis.” Thelma was a American socialite, and twin sister of Gloria Vanderbilt, who was married to Marmaduke Furness, the 1st Viscount Furness, at the time. Through the Viscount Furness, Thelma met many prominent figures within British high society, including some members of the British Royal Family such as Edward, the Prince of Wales.

The book highlights the many scandals that rocked the house of Windsor throughout the 1930’s and high-class society at that time. It discusses topics that were considered controversial during that period of history, such as divorce, homosexual relationships and extramarital affairs. The story is loosely based on Lady Furness’ life and goes into detail about her relationship with the Prince of Wales. During this period, her twin sister, Gloria, was also entangled in her own scandal as her relationship with Nadejda Mikhailovna Mountbatten, the Marchioness of Milford Haven, was up front and centre during her custody battle over her daughter, “Little Gloria” in New York. The trial is known as one of the biggest and most scandalous custody battles in U.S. court history.

Some of the prominent themes throughout the novel are the need to be accepted and loved; the balance of rank and power within high society and the importance of family. Thelma in my view, is a strong character of principle who is completely devoted towards her family and makes all her choices by following her heart. Author Bryn Turnbull describes her quite exquisitely and does not miss a beat. Turnbull proliferates the importance of family throughout the novel, as made evident between the relationship with her twin sister, Gloria, and devotion towards her ex-step-daughter, Averill. Finally, Thelma’s previous marriages heavily influenced her decisions regarding her journey towards finding true love by which the author describes very eloquently all throughout the novel.

An excellent debut for author Bryn Turnbull, I could not put this novel down. If you enjoy reading about royal history with a bit of a twist, then this book is just for you.

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