2017 Reviews · Book club · women's fiction

Double Feature Book Club Review: The Duchess and The Apartment by Danielle Steel

danielle steelFor our book club this month both we were tasked with the opportunity to select our own Danielle Steel novel to report back to the group. Mrs B chose a very new Danielle Steel release, The Duchess, attracted to the stunning cover and historical based storyline.  Mrs R also selected a recent release, published last year, a contemporary chick lit style book from Steel, titled The Apartment. The other members of the group read the following titles; Happy Birthday (published 2011), His Bright Light (published 1998) and Daddy (published 1989). With a mixture of fresh and older novels, as well as fiction and non fiction titles from one of the publishing world’s most enduring authors, our common feelings seemed to focus on how quick and easy our selected titles were to read. For two detailed Danielle Steel reviews from Mrs B and Mrs R read on.

happy birthday small                 his bright light            daddy

Mrs B’s review of The Duchess:

the duchess small

My book club read this month was a Danielle Steel book of our choice. I selected a recent release from the worldwide bestselling author, The Duchess. I was quite taken in by the beautiful cover that features an aristocratic woman in an eye-catching hat. I was also in the mood for a historical fiction novel and The Duchess seemed to fulfil my needs.

Belgrave Castle, owned by the Duke of Westerfield in Hertfordshire, is the home to Angelique Latham. The daughter of a Duke and an aristocratic French mother, Angelique is the product of a second marriage for the Duke. When her beloved father dies, despite being schooled in managing the family estate and being her father’s protégée, Angelique is soon cast away from her childhood home by her cruel half brothers. British law in the nineteenth century prevented female offspring and younger siblings from inheriting the family fortune. Instead, Angelique leaves Belgrave Castle with a secret stash of money her father gifted to her. She is quickly forced into a position in service as a nanny to one of her brother’s friends. Work as a nanny is far removed from the life Angelique has known but she takes it in her stride. At first difficult, Angelique soon becomes quite attached to her new role. The children seem to adore her and her new employer is impressed by their new charge. However, an attempted assault at the hands of a friend of Angelique’s employer ruins everything. Angelique’s employer believes the story of the man who tried to attack her and immediately banishes her from service, with no reference. With no references, Angelique is unable to gain employment in England. Angelique decides to draw on her mother’s French roots and makes the crossing over the channel to seek employment in France. Again, Angelique is faced with the same dilemma, no employer will take her on without a reference. By chance, Angelique falls upon a young French prostitute, who has almost been beaten to death. While caring for this young woman, Angelique has an enterprising idea. Using her father’s money, Angelique establishes a business  that is very unconventional for a young woman of Angelique’s background but it soon becomes lucrative and profitable. When a tragic accident occurs at Angelique’s establishment, she must cut ties and is forced to flee to the US. When love eventually comes her way, Angelique must fend off the scandal that threatens her future happiness.

The chance to read a Danielle Steel book of my personal choice via my book club this month was a welcome one and I am pleased with my selection. The Duchess is one of the best books I have read by Danielle Steel, as a few selections I have made in the past have given me mixed reactions to this author. The Duchess was a book that helped this reader see why Steel holds such long-lasting and international appeal.

I liked the historical grounding for this novel. The Duchess is set in the nineteenth century and spans a number of tumultuous years and continents (Britain, France and the United States) for the daughter of a Duke. The title is perhaps a little misleading, as the main character Angelique is never truly bestowed the title of ‘Duchess’. It is robbed from her by her unfeeling half brothers and is loosely given to her as a nickname in the business Angelique establishes for herself in the latter parts of the story. Although there is not a huge focus on specific period detail and language, I did find The Duchess a very accessible historical fiction novel. There were a few references to the shifts in royalty both in Britain and France that gave this novel some historical backdrop.

Angelique is a strong, determined and enterprising young woman. Steel puts her heroine in a situation often faced by young women of this time. Steel focuses her energies in highlighting the plight of women in this era. They were often placed in a bind, unable to inherit their family estates in the case of death, with all monies going to their elder male siblings.  Steel draws our attention the problems faced by those directly impacted by these inheritance laws through her novel. In Angelique’s case, she is tossed aside by her jealous older half brother and is cruelly sent to work below the stairs, as a Nanny, at a friend’s estate. To add further insult, Angelique is given the new identity of a ‘poor distant cousin’, so all ties between the siblings are severed. Angelique must sit back and watch as her brother,his wife and family alter her family’s estate, ultimately sending it into financial ruin. This is a huge point of frustration for a young girl, who under her father’s devoted tutelage was given the skill set to manage the family estate.  Steel also uses this angle of the narrative to show how desperate these situations make those subjected to it become. In Angelique’s situation, her strength of spirit and enterprising mind help get her through the bad times, despite her moves being quite unconventional.

The Duchess divides its time and location three ways and I enjoyed the scandal and intrigue that followed each one. We begin with Angelique’s upbringing in the family castle of Belgrave, through to her father’s sad passing and her cruel banishment from the only home she has known. Steel then moves the action to another opulent estate in Britain as we learn about the occupation of a nanny to a wealthy family in Britain during the 1800’s. The novel moves to France after Angelique’s unfair dismissal from service. In France, the novel makes a real shift and I found this change a little confusing, especially in keeping with Angelique’s character. I couldn’t quite get my head around the fact that a young woman of Angelique’s breeding and refinement would so readily place herself at  a brothel. For a virgin and woman who so fiercely protected her honour when faced with more than one sexually motivated attack, I felt a bit slighted by Angelique’s career move. On the other hand, this story does work to highlight the pure desperation faced by those placed in these situations. When the action of the novel moves to its third and final different location, New York, Steel chooses this section of the narrative to incorporate a fairytale style romance.  The Duchess builds up to a fitting ending and I liked the final turn of events.

Steel has cast a memorable heroine in her 2017 release, The Duchess. This was the perfect choice for my book club read as it offered up plenty to discuss in the form of inheritance laws and the treatment of women in this era. The scandals and difficult binds lead protagonist Angelique finds herself faced with was both interesting and provided enough material for our book club to consider. Fans old and new will be sure to appreciate this light historical fiction based read from renowned storyteller, Danielle Steel.

The Duchess by Danielle Steel was published on June 27th 2017 by Pan Macmillan. Details on how to purchase the book can be found here.

Mrs R’s review of The Apartment:

the aprtment small

Danielle Steel is a prolific American author of over 160 books. While I have always seen her books in the shops, I have never read them as lifestyles of the rich and the famous has never appealed to me. So when my book club decided that we would read any Danielle Steel book for the month of September, I jumped at the chance to find a book I could relate to. The Apartment, an exploration of female friendship in Hell’s Kitchen and much more, found me in a charity shop.

The apartment is home to four friends; Claire, Abby, Morgan and Sasha. Told in third person, I got to know each character  personally. Often I prefer the first person but as each person had equal time in the spotlight I grew to know them well. I didn’t really have any favourites but they brought out various emotions in me. I appreciated and understood Morgan as I could relate to the situation she finds herself in. On the other hand, Abby’s innocence was annoying so I liked her more when she finally saw the light. As much as Sasha loved her job, I thought she was a workaholic who would later regret it in life. Lastly, the green eyed monster hit with Claire as I wished I could be just as creative.      

Set in the present time, the women became flatmates in their late teens and early 20’s. Ten years later, not a lot has changed except to say that they are all best friends ‘The exchanges were always good humoured, there was no jealousy between them, they were just good friends with no ax to grind.’ As I read this, and the first half of the book, all I could think was how unrealistic, how fairytale like, this all was. I appreciated the strong female bonds the four had formed but the theme of friendship needs to be about more than just the good times.

Underneath their strong friendship, these women are all affected by various dysfunctional backgrounds and it came across strongly. Danielle goes to great detail to explain how the women have been shaped by their parents marriages, usually bad ones at that. All of them crave not to repeat the mistakes of their mother or parents, seeking independence. Perhaps too strongly as at times I wanted to yell at all of them at one time or another ‘Get over it!’ Without positive role models, everyone is wary of relationships. There’s Abby with her older man, workaholics Claire and Sasha, long-term relationship queen Sasha and Morgan’s gay brother who all allow Danielle to delve into the many different relationships people have. With all this going on, I thought The Apartment would be a steamy read but it was pleasantly PG.    

Despite everything, each of them have fallen on their feet with barely a care in the world. I kept on reading to see what was going to go wrong. After all, every story has a problem right? About half through the book Claire has the guts to look for work outside her current job, Abby starts to discover the truth about her lover ‘George was magic’ (puke), Morgan’s boss is looking a little shady and Sasha starts an unexpected relationship. From here it all snowballs and I felt that here was a story worth reading. If only Danielle had cut the fairytale short much, much earlier.    

The Apartment by Danielle Steel was published on May 2nd 2016 by Penguin Books Australia. Details on how to purchase the book can be found here.

To learn more about the Danielle Steel visit here.

 

 

6 thoughts on “Double Feature Book Club Review: The Duchess and The Apartment by Danielle Steel

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