What are you reading for the long weekend? weekend? This Labor Day reading list for the end of summer is chock full of new releases that will make you want to cancel all of your plans.Read More
THE GOWN: THE NOVEL OF THE ROYAL WEDDING BY JENNIFER ROBSON
Paperback: 400 pages
Publisher: William Morrow
Publication Date: December 31, 2018
Why I read it: I'm a big fan of books set in London, especially if they have something to do with the royal family.
First Sentence: “It was dark when Ann left work at a quarter to six, and darker still when she reached home.”
Synopsis: London, 1947: Besieged by the harshest winter in living memory, burdened by onerous shortages and rationing, the people of postwar Britain are enduring lives of quiet desperation despite their nation’s recent victory. Among them are Ann Hughes and Miriam Dassin, embroiderers at the famed Mayfair fashion house of Norman Hartnell. Together they forge an unlikely friendship, but their nascent hopes for a brighter future are tested when they are chosen for a once-in-a-lifetime honor: taking part in the creation of Princess Elizabeth’s wedding gown.
Toronto, 2016: More than half a century later, Heather Mackenzie seeks to unravel the mystery of a set of embroidered flowers, a legacy from her late grandmother. How did her beloved Nan, a woman who never spoke of her old life in Britain, come to possess the priceless embroideries that so closely resemble the motifs on the stunning gown worn by Queen Elizabeth II at her wedding almost seventy years before? And what was her Nan’s connection to the celebrated textile artist and holocaust survivor Miriam Dassin?
With The Gown, Jennifer Robson takes us inside the workrooms where one of the most famous wedding gowns in history was created. Balancing behind-the-scenes details with a sweeping portrait of a society left reeling by the calamitous costs of victory, she introduces readers to three unforgettable heroines, their points of view alternating and intersecting throughout its pages, whose lives are woven together by the pain of survival, the bonds of friendship, and the redemptive power of love.
My Thoughts: If you like books that are about the unknown people that help orchestrate a big, well known event, this one is for you. It's the story of the embroiderers who helped create Queen (then Princess) Elizabeth’s wedding dress. It focuses on the friendship between Miriam, a French woman who's left her home county after she lost everything during WWII, and Anne, who lost her brother and parents. An alternate story line takes us to modern day Toronto, where a grieving granddaughter receives a mysterious heirloom after her grandmother's passing. She takes off to London to uncover details of how her grandmother came into possession of the item and to try and get information about the woman's early life. It is a book about the Royals, but moreso about the bonds of friendship and learning to start over after you've lost everything. I also loved how the author Incorporated real people into the story, as the embroiders worked for Mr. Hartwell, the Queen's actual dressmaker. It does have It's dark parts- there's a reason Heather doesn't know much about her grandmother's early life, but it's also a story about hope, friendship, and starting anew.
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Publication Date: June 26th, 2018
Publisher: St. Martin's Press
Page Count: 405
Why I Picked It Up: It was sent to me for free as a part of #SRC2018!
Synopsis: From Goodreads-
Mackenzie Cooper took her eyes off the road for just a moment but the resulting collision was enough to rob her not only of her beloved daughter but ultimately of her marriage, family, and friends―and thanks to the nonstop media coverage, even her privacy. Now she lives in Vermont under the name Maggie Reid, in a small house with her cats and dog. She’s thankful for the new friends she’s made―though she can’t risk telling them too much. And she takes satisfaction in working as a makeup artist at the luxurious local spa, helping clients hide the visible outward signs of their weariness, illnesses, and injuries. Covering up scars is a skill she has mastered.
Her only goal is to stay under the radar and make it through her remaining probation. But she isn’t the only one in this peaceful town with secrets. When a friend’s teenage son is thrust into the national spotlight, accused of hacking a powerful man’s Twitter account, Maggie is torn between pulling away and protecting herself―or stepping into the glare to be at their side. As the stunning truth behind their case is slowly revealed, Maggie’s own carefully constructed story begins to unravel as well. She knows all too well that what we need from each other in this difficult world is comfort. But to provide it, sometimes we need to travel far outside our comfort zones.
Opening Sentence: "Mackenzie Cooper had no idea where she was or, more critically, why she hadn't already arrived."
My Thoughts: I have complicated feelings about this book. I thought it had a fantastic premise- Mackenzie Cooper is publicly shamed for having taken her eyes off the road for a minute to check her GPS. Her 5 year old daughter is killed, as was the other driver, and her name was dragged through the mud. So much so that her name is now synonymous with distracted driving and the Mackenzie Cooper law is created. She loses everything- her child, her husband Edward, and reputation and moves to Devon, a small town in Connecticut to start over. She's working as an artist and a makeup artist and things are going well, until she sees her ex-husband in town. He, along with her best friend's son who just got into major, public, trouble, threaten to destroy everything she's worked to rebuild.
I liked Mackenzie (Maggie). She was an everyday person who was facing the impossible. This story was very character driven and I feel like we got to know Mackenzie well. Her decisions sometimes irritated me (some decisions that seem obvious to the reader take her for-ev-er to realize) but I walked away being invested into her story. The character that I didn't feel invested in was Grace. Grace is Mackenzie's best friend and the mother of the son who has been accused of hacking. The plot of the story hinges on her being this damaged yet lovable character, but I didn't get any of that from her. We eventually find out why she comes across as erratic and what happened in her life before Devon, but that comes so late into the book it felt rushed and thrown in as an afterthought.
My biggest problem with this book was that it was LONG. Over 400 pages, and there is not that much going on. The author takes her time going places and adds a ton of information that I didn't think was necessary to the characters or the plot. In one section, it took us 3 pages for Mackenzie to travel to the post office. In another we meet a character from Mackenzie's past and talk about his clothing for two pages. It does give you a very vivid picture of the town of Devon and its residents, but in places I found myself fighting the temptation to skim. What dialogue there was was realistic, but there were a lot of internal musings in between. I debated putting the book down about 30% in, but I found I was too interested in knowing how things were going to work out for Grace's son and with Mackenzie and Edward to let go. Their relationship was what saved the book for me.
Read Alike: Little Fires Everywhere
Quote: "My fear was irrational. But that didn't mean it wasn't real."
TL:DR: If you like character driven stories that make you question what you would do in the terrible situations and don't need a ton of action, then you might like this. Trigger warning for anyone who has lost a child. I can't speak to how reading this would feel from personal experience, but the characters' grief was palpable and parts really did make me sad.
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Thank you to TLC Book Tours and the Publisher for my free copy!
Publication Date: June 27th, 2017
Publisher: William Morrow Paperbacks
Page Count: 400
Synopsis: From the publisher-
The New York Times bestselling author of A Certain Age transports readers to sunny Florida in this lush and enthralling historical novel—an enchanting blend of love, suspense, betrayal, and redemption set among the rumrunners and scoundrels of Prohibition-era Cocoa Beach.
Burdened by a dark family secret, Virginia Fortescue flees her oppressive home in New York City for the battlefields of World War I France. While an ambulance driver for the Red Cross, she meets a charismatic British army surgeon whose persistent charm opens her heart to the possibility of love. As the war rages, Virginia falls into a passionate affair with the dashing Captain Simon Fitzwilliam, only to discover that his past has its own dark secrets—secrets that will damage their eventual marriage and propel her back across the Atlantic to the sister and father she left behind.
Five years later, in the early days of Prohibition, the newly widowed Virginia Fitzwilliam arrives in the tropical boomtown of Cocoa Beach, Florida, to settle her husband’s estate. Despite the evidence, Virginia does not believe Simon perished in the fire that destroyed the seaside home he built for her and their young daughter. Separated from her husband since the early days of their marriage, the headstrong Virginia plans to uncover the truth, for the sake of the daughter Simon never met.
Simon’s brother and sister welcome her with open arms and introduce her to a dazzling new world of citrus groves, white beaches, bootleggers, and Prohibition agents. But Virginia senses a predatory presence lurking beneath the irresistible, hedonistic surface of this coastal oasis. The more she learns about Simon and his mysterious business interests, the more she fears that the dangers that surrounded Simon now threaten her and their daughter’s life as well.
Opening Sentence: ""My dear wife, let me tell you about this pen.”
My Thoughts: Beatriz Williams has recently become one of my favorite authors. I started reading her via the Schuyler Sister Series, and fell in love with her world building and ability to tell a story. Cocoa Beach provides an interesting angle traditional historical fiction- here, we also have mystery. What really happened to Captain Simon Fitzwilliam? Was the fire an accident, as his family is saying, or is there something more sinister at play? And are Virginia and her daughter truly safe? I read the prequel, A Certain Age, and found myself more intreguied by Virginia than the protagonist of that one, Sophie. She is a tough woman who stood against the standards that were set for women from a certain pedigree during that era. I enjoyed getting to read about her time in France as an ambulance driver- in fact, I would have liked to hear more about that than the budding romance. The characters were complex and the mystery as to what really happened to Simon drew me through the plot. The research is there- just read the author’s introduction to the Maitland Citrus plantation- and I have always appreciated the details Williams provides. That said, I think you’ll appreciate Cocoa Beach more if you’ve read the other two, as there are character tie ins. If you are not in for that kind of commitment I’d recommend my favorite standalone of hers, A Hundred Summers. I’ve nearly read all of her books at this point, and while Cocoa Beach wasn’t my favorite (That distinction going to The Secret Life of Violet Grant, Tiny Little Thing, and A Hundred Summers for 3 way tie), this did rank higher for me than either of the other two books in this series, The Wicked City and A Certain Age. If you like a book with a strong setting with family drama and a dash of mystery and romance, then this might do the trick for you.
Quote: "Long ago, I had learned that you could imagine anything you wanted, that the space inside your head belonged to you. Furnished and decorated and inhabited only by you, so that your insides teemed and seethed while your outward aspect remained serene.”
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Publication Date: August 22nd, 2017
Publisher: Algonquin Books
Page Count: 294
Why I read it: Saw it on MMD's Quick Lit for September
First Sentence: "My dear friend Roz Horowitz met her new husband online dating, and Roz is three years older and fifty pounds heavier than I am, and people have said that she is generally not well preserved, and so i thought i would try it even though I avoid going online too much."
Synopsis: Aviva Grossman, an ambitious congressional intern in Florida, makes the mistake of having an affair with her boss--and blogging about it. When the affair comes to light, the beloved congressman doesn’t take the fall. But Aviva does, and her life is over before it hardly begins: slut-shamed, she becomes a late-night talk show punch line, anathema to politics.
She sees no way out but to change her name and move to a remote town in Maine. This time, she tries to be smarter about her life and strives to raise her daughter, Ruby, to be strong and confident. But when, at the urging of others, Aviva decides to run for public office herself, that long-ago mistake trails her via the Internet and catches up--an inescapable scarlet A. In the digital age, the past is never, ever, truly past. And it’s only a matter of time until Ruby finds out who her mother was and is forced to reconcile that person with the one she knows.
Young Jane Young is a smart, funny, and moving novel about what it means to be a woman of any age, and captures not just the mood of our recent highly charged political season, but also the double standards alive and well in every aspect of life for women.
My Thoughts: Wow, has it been awhile since I read a book in a day! I think the last book that I took down in one day was After You, the (undeserving) sequel to Me Before You, and I had food poisoning that day. Young Jane Young was a very compelling book. Our girl Jane was a young 20 something intern who ends up having an affair with a congressman. It's the same story- he's in a marriage of convenience, he's going to leave her soon, she must keep this secret- only this time, they get caught because of a car accident, and evidence has been left behind in the form of a not-so-secret blog. My favorite part of this book was the way in which the story was told. We get to hear from several narrators, including the protagonist's mother, her daughter, the cheating congressman's wife, and the protagonist herself. The author had an unconventional way of storytelling- much of the story is told via emails, blog posts, and "Choose Your Own Adventure" style narration. There were a few things that I didn't understand and I totally disagreed with some of the actions of the protagonist, but I will say it makes very good points about slut shaming. What happens to the women who've been publicly shamed after a sex scandal? Why does the man get to walk away with his dignity and career in tact, while the woman has to endure a veritable public stoning? There were some cliché's (the men were SO swine-y) and I hated some of the character's actions, but the woman were so endearing that I still enjoyed myself. Ruby (and El Mete) were my favorites. It's a story about scandal, the choices that we make when we're young, resilience, and feminism. It could almost be YA... except for the blog part. I don't know that we needed THAT detail.
Favorite Quote: "Just because I am sixty-four and a woman, people think I should be happy to be with anyone. But I would rather be alone than be with a bastard like the glass guy, may he rest in peace, or a blowhard who insulted my daughter."
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