Book Review of The Last, by Hanna Jameson | Dystopian, post-apocalyptic contemporary fiction.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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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: 5.1.18 (U.S.)
Publisher: William Morrow Paperbacks #parter
Page Count: 353
Why I read it: The publisher sent me a free copy for review, and I was happy to do so because I loved Simsion's first novel, The Rosie Project, and wanted to read more from the author.
Synopsis: From Amazon-
From the New York Times bestselling author of The Rosie Project comes a story of taking chances and learning to love again as two people, one mourning her husband and the other recovering from divorce, cross paths on the centuries-old Camino pilgrimage from France to Spain.
“The Chemin will change you. It changes everyone…”
The Chemin, also known as the Camino de Santiago, is a centuries-old pilgrim route that ends in Santiago de Compostela in northwest Spain. Every year, thousands of walkers—some devout, many not—follow the route that wends through quaint small villages and along busy highways alike, a journey unlike any other.
Zoe, an artist from California who’s still reeling from her husband’s sudden death, has impulsively decided to walk the Camino, hoping to find solace and direction. Martin, an engineer from England, is road-testing a cart of his own design…and recovering from a messy divorce. They begin in the same French town, each uncertain of what the future holds. Zoe has anticipated the physical difficulties of her trek, but she is less prepared for other challenges, as strangers and circumstances force her to confront not just recent loss, but long-held beliefs. For Martin, the pilgrimage is a test of his skills and endurance but also, as he and Zoe grow closer, of his willingness to trust others—and himself—again.
Opening Sentence: "Fate took the form of a silver scallop shell in the window of an antique store in the medieval French town of Cluny."
My Thoughts: I was pleasantly surprised by this! I'll admit, I went into it with some reservations. The comparisons between this and Wild by Sheryl Strayed are inevitable, and I didn't enjoy Wild. However, I was immediately sucked into the story of Zoe and Martin and thought the book was so well done. There are two authors in this book, but the story lines are integrated in a seamless way. Both characters are searching for ways to cope with their problems. They're both dealing with relationships that have ended and grown up children. They are trying to make their way in this new phase of their lives and I enjoyed reading about characters of that age. The authors did not spend a lot of time on build up and jump in, and we get to know more about the pair as they go along. This has a romance element, but it is not cheesy and is not the central arc of the story. The characters were well written and authentic and I genuinely cared about Martin and his wagon and Zoe's ability to face her husband's passing.The characters are flawed and frustrating, but that made them all the more real.
This was also an inspiring book- I learned a lot about pilgrims and the various reasons people have for walking and the ways people go about travel. The authors walked the trail several times in real life, and while there were some passages where I found myself skimming over in the mundane detail it didn't feel like they wrote this to relive their own experiences. I really liked the ending- you'll find the characters showed growth but weren't hit with a 'bolt of lightning' from out of left field to help solve all of their worldly problems.
About halfway through my reading, I noticed the book was available on Hoopla so I listened to the rest on audio. The narration was decent, although I did prefer Martin's narrator to Zoe's. Overall, I thought this was well done. I'd recommend it to people who love to travel, want to feel inspired, or for anyone interested in books with middle aged characters.
Quote: "'We cheat on many things in life,'" said Fabiana. 'But some things matter more than others.'"
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Many thanks to Berkley for sending me a copy of Let Me Lie! #prhpartner
Publication Date: 3/13/18
Page Count: 382
Why I read it: It's Clare Mackintosh! I loved the last book I read from her- I Let You Go - and jumped at the chance to pick up her new one.
First Sentence: "Death does not suit me."
Synopsis: From Amazon-
The police say it was suicide.
Anna says it was murder.
They're both wrong.
Last year, Tom and Caroline Johnson chose to end their lives, one seemingly unable to live without the other. Their daughter, Anna, is struggling to come to terms with her parents' deaths, unwilling to accept the verdict of suicide.
Now with a baby herself, Anna feels her mother's absence keenly and is determined to find out what really happened to her parents. But as she digs up the past, someone is trying to stop her.
Sometimes it's safer to let things lie....
We start out meeting Anna, a young woman who is learning how to be a mother while simultaneously mourning the loss of her parents. It seems that her father committed suicide, and, overcome by grief, her mother follows suit. Her partner, Mark, is supportive but he is getting used to his role as a first time father while also still getting to know Anna. The two weren't dating long when she got pregnant and their relationship got off to a strange start, seeing as he's her former grief counselor.
I started off uncomfortable. This was a slow build and the beginning starts off so heavy. Anna's grief is palpable and the whole situation feels off. Then, on the anniversary of her mother's death she gets a card in the mail that says suggests that her parents' deaths may not be suicide after all. Panic-stricken, she takes the card to her beloved uncle, who immediately dismisses it. The police have long ago ruled out any signs of foul play, but she takes the card to them anyway and we meet Murray.
Murray is a retired detective who still works at the station on civilian duty. He's still working because while he loves his wife and would like nothing more than to spend all of his time with her, she suffers from borderline personality disorder and is often in the hospital. He works as a distraction and because he can't quite walk away entirely. I loved reading about Murray and his struggle with transitioning out of the job. Murray and Sarah were my favorite characters by far. Mackintosh was so careful with her description of mental illness and I can tell Sarah's condition was added thoughtfully and with purpose and she discusses her mental illness with frankness and respect.
Clare Mackintosh is a master at creating tension and crafting a compelling police procedural narrative. She's also a master at alternating viewpoints and creating shocking twists and I found myself flying through the book to get to the end. I was questioning everybody. Just as I thought I knew what was going on, another piece of the puzzle would fall into place and I'd be left guessing again. I will say, this is a slow burn that felt rambling in sections and by the end it felt like the characters got backed into a corner. I can't say much more than that without spoilers, if I'm being objective this wasn't my favorite by the author. Still, I would recommend you give it a try because of Murray and the cliffhangers, especially if you're a fan of the author or crime thrillers. It's entirely possible that my expectations have been set too high by her other books!
Favorite Quote: "People liked boxes...You were ill or you were well. Mad or sane. Sarah's problem was that she climbed in and out of a box, and people didn't know how to deal with that."
Have you read this? What do you think? Of course I love reading new books from my favorite authors but sometimes I struggle with writing reviews, especially if it's not a 5 star!
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