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: October 9th, 2018
Publisher: William Morrow
Why I Read This: I’m a sucker for any story that even loosely includes the JFK assassination. Thank you to TLC Book Tours for the free copy and for having me on the book tour!
Page Count: 300
Synopsis: Frank Guidry’s luck has finally run out.
A loyal street lieutenant to New Orleans’ mob boss Carlos Marcello, Guidry has learned that everybody is expendable. But now it’s his turn—he knows too much about the crime of the century: the assassination of President John F. Kennedy.
Within hours of JFK’s murder, everyone with ties to Marcello is turning up dead, and Guidry suspects he’s next: he was in Dallas on an errand for the boss less than two weeks before the president was shot. With few good options, Guidry hits the road to Las Vegas, to see an old associate—a dangerous man who hates Marcello enough to help Guidry vanish.
Guidry knows that the first rule of running is “don’t stop,” but when he sees a beautiful housewife on the side of the road with a broken-down car, two little daughters and a dog in the back seat, he sees the perfect disguise to cover his tracks from the hit men on his tail. Posing as an insurance man, Guidry offers to help Charlotte reach her destination, California. If she accompanies him to Vegas, he can help her get a new car.
For her, it’s more than a car— it’s an escape. She’s on the run too, from a stifling existence in small-town Oklahoma and a kindly husband who’s a hopeless drunk.
It’s an American story: two strangers meet to share the open road west, a dream, a hope—and find each other on the way.
Charlotte sees that he’s strong and kind; Guidry discovers that she’s smart and funny. He learns that’s she determined to give herself and her kids a new life; she can’t know that he’s desperate to leave his old one behind.
Another rule—fugitives shouldn’t fall in love, especially with each other. A road isn’t just a road, it’s a trail, and Guidry’s ruthless and relentless hunters are closing in on him. But now Guidry doesn’t want to just survive, he wants to really live, maybe for the first time.
Everyone’s expendable, or they should be, but now Guidry just can’t throw away the woman he’s come to love.
And it might get them both killed.
Opening Sentence: “Behold! The Big Easy in all its wicked splendor!”
My Thoughts: Friends, I loved this book, but not for the reasons I expected to. When I read in the marketing blurb that this was a cat and mouse crime novel set against the backdrop of the JFK assassination, I was hooked. However, the JFK connection was very loose, to the point where the author could have chosen to have Frank involved in any other high profile crime for a similar effect. (Although I will say, it was fun to see the author’s interpretation of the events that took place on 11/22/63.)
Instead, we get the story of Frank Guidry, a charming man who loves life, who until very recently was a go-to guy in the New Orleans mob. He realizes that he has now become expendable to the organization and takes off. He’s constantly trying to stay one step ahead of his ex- employers, guessing their next move and trying to outsmart them. He meets Charlotte, her two girls, and their epileptic dog and figures they’re the best chance he has for a disguise. Against his better judgment, he finds himself genuinely starting to care for them and wonders what he’s gotten them all into.
The author does a great job with pacing and building tension. Our anti hero was consistently backed up against the wall but I found myself rooting for him. I also really loved the other narrator, Charlotte. She is a young woman who has a strong sense of self that had been previously stifled by her husband, her family, and the culture around her. I could feel her desperation to get out of the life she was living while also providing the best she can to her girls. There were some supremely violent parts, but there was a lot of heart, too. It’s a story about coming into ones own, family, starting over, and redemption. I’d definitely check out more by this author down the line.
Quote: “With every decision, we create a new future. We destroy all other futures.”
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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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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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