BOOK REVIEW: The English Wife, by Lauren Willig

BOOK REVIEW: The English Wife, by Lauren WilligTitle: The English Wife by Lauren Willig
Published by St. Martin's Press
Published: January 9th 2018
Genres: Fiction, Historical
Pages: 376
Format: Hardcover, ARC
Source: Purchased, Netgalley
Goodreads

From the New York Times bestselling author, Lauren Willig, comes this scandalous New York Gilded Age novel full of family secrets, affairs, and even murder.

Annabelle and Bayard Van Duyvil live a charmed life: he’s the scion of an old Knickerbocker family, she grew up in a Tudor manor in England, they had a whirlwind romance in London, they have three year old twins on whom they dote, and he’s recreated her family home on the banks of the Hudson and renamed it Illyria. Yes, there are rumors that she’s having an affair with the architect, but rumors are rumors and people will gossip. But then Bayard is found dead with a knife in his chest on the night of their Twelfth Night Ball, Annabelle goes missing, presumed drowned, and the papers go mad. Bay’s sister, Janie, forms an unlikely alliance with a reporter to uncover the truth, convinced that Bay would never have killed his wife, that it must be a third party, but the more she learns about her brother and his wife, the more everything she thought she knew about them starts to unravel. Who were her brother and his wife, really? And why did her brother die with the name George on his lips?

I was looking through my Netgalley queue deciding on my next read, and Lauren Willig’s The English Wife caught my eye. It was one of those I started reading a long time ago, set it aside for whatever reason, and ended up purchasing a copy of the book for myself because look at that cover? It’s gorgeous. So with it being October and with me being in the mood for some historical fiction, I decided to pick this up again. This took a little bit of time to get into, but by the time I got through the first quarter of the book, I was hooked and I needed to know how the story got to its end. There’s nothing entirely new about the plot or the types of characters and once I was clued into a certain character’s behaviors, I did begin to put together the pieces of the narrative and very nearly guess whodunit, and that’s completely fine. It felt both familiar and new, I was entertained, and I loved the insights to and development of each of the four main characters.

One of the things I loved the most about The English Wife was the Gilded Age setting. I’m such a sucker for it, especially when it’s done well, and this novel felt incredibly atmospheric in just the right ways. I don’t think I’ve ever read anything by Willig before, but this certainly makes me want to go back and see what I’ve missed! After being in a reading slump for a while, Willig’s novel was exactly what I needed. Something a little familiar, something a little new, something that reminded me how fun reading could be. I absolutely devoured this within a twenty-four hour period, and it felt like it had been a while since a book was able to captivate me like that from the get-go.

This was a perfect mid-October read, and I’m glad I finally picked it up. If you like historical fiction with a heavier lean on romance, do look into this!

Thank you to Netgalley and St. Martin’s Press for the digital galley! All opinions are my own.

BOOK REVIEW: Rouge, by Richard Kirshenbaum

BOOK REVIEW: Rouge, by Richard KirshenbaumTitle: Rouge by Richard Kirshenbaum
Published by St. Martin's Press
Published: June 25th 2019
Genres: Fiction
Pages: 320
Format: Hardcover
Source: Publisher
Goodreads

Like Swans of Fifth Avenue and Truman Capote’s Answered Prayers, Richard Kirshenbaum's Rouge gives readers a rare front row seat into the world of high society and business through the rivalry of two beauty industry icons (think Helena Rubenstein and Elizabeth Arden), by the master marketer and chronicler of the over-moneyed. Rouge is a sexy, glamorous journey into the rivalry of the pioneers of powder, mascara and rouge.

This fast-paced novel examines the lives, loves, and sacrifices of the visionaries who invented the modern cosmetics industry: Josiah Herzenstein, born in a Polish Jewish Shtlel, the entrepreneur who transforms herself into a global style icon and the richest woman in the world, Josephine Herz; Constance Gardiner, her rival, the ultimate society woman who invents the door-to-door business and its female workforce but whose deepest secret threatens everything; CeeCee Lopez, the bi-racial beauty and founder of the first African American woman’s hair relaxer business, who overcomes prejudice and heartbreak to become her community’s first female millionaire. The cast of characters is rounded out by Mickey Heron, a dashing, sexy ladies' man whose cosmetics business is founded in a Hollywood brothel. All are bound in a struggle to be number one, doing anything to get there…including murder.

Kirshenbaum’s Rouge follows the fictional lives of Josiah Herzenstein, who reinvents herself as Josephine Herz, and Constance Gardiner who are vying for the limelight in the booming cosmetics industry in the 1920s,1930s, and beyond. In chapters of alternating perspectives, we get glimpses into the lives of Herz, Gardiner, Cee Cee, and Mickey. Kirshenbaum’s knowledge of business and the ruthless behind-the-scenes behavior between Herz and Gardiner are spot on and engaging. I liked the history woven into the story, illuminating the financial and personal struggles of the women and their businesses and showing how they persevered through the ups and downs of life.

Rouge is a fast-paced read that carries you along from start to finish. I read it in a single day, and lately it’s been rare that I’ve been compelled to start and finish something within the same day. The novel covers a lot of ground and manages to tie the lives of these two rivals together in a breezy narrative perfect for a summer beach read.

Because the novel covered so much history of the women and the business empires they created, I felt like I wanted more of the women’s personal spheres: how they felt wearing their creations, how they felt when they noticed other women wearing their creations, their private moments, and something a bit more grounded in the day-to-day. I think having more of those personal, intimate moments of some gravity would have added a lot more enjoyable weight to the story.

If you are interested in the intersection of business and creativity, especially in the beauty industry, definitely look into this book!

Thank you to St. Martin’s Press for sending me a review copy! All opinions are my own.

BOOK REVIEW: The Italian Party, by Christina Lynch

BOOK REVIEW: The Italian Party, by Christina LynchTitle: The Italian Party by Christina Lynch
Published by St. Martin's Press
Published: March 20th 2018
Genres: Historical, Fiction
Pages: 336
Format: Hardcover
Source: Publisher
Goodreads

A delicious and sharply funny page-turner about "innocent" Americans abroad in 1950s Siena, Italy. Newly married, Scottie and Michael are seduced by Tuscany's famous beauty. But the secrets they are keeping from each other force them beneath the splendid surface to a more complex view of ltaly, America and each other.

When Scottie's Italian teacher--a teenager with secrets of his own--disappears, her search for him leads her to discover other, darker truths about herself, her husband and her country. Michael's dedication to saving the world from communism crumbles as he begins to see that he is a pawn in a much different game. Driven apart by lies, Michael and Scottie must find their way through a maze of history, memory, hate and love to a new kind of complicated truth.

Half glamorous fun, half an examination of America's role in the world, and filled with sun-dappled pasta lunches, prosecco, charming spies and horse racing, The Italian Party is a smart pleasure.

As soon as I began reading The Italian Party, I was swept away to post-WWII Italy and enveloped in a domestic spy thriller that captivated me from the first page to the final sentence. Scottie and Michael are newlyweds moving to Siena, Italy, to start their new lives as husband and wife. Michael’s been sent to Italy to sell the Italians some American tractors to propel Italy to more “modern” industrialization, or so Scottie thinks. Scottie appears to be the perfect person to fulfill Michael’s want and need for a wife, or so Michael thinks. Each of them have secrets upon secrets of their own, and the book deftly explores and unravels these secrets as the story progresses.

Michael has been sent to Italy with orders from the CIA to stop the Communist candidate from winning an election. His Ford office in Siena is merely a cover for his actual work. Without spoiling too much of the novel itself, Lynch explores one facet of the post-WWII/Cold War fears of the rise of communism and the fears from America about that rise. Little struggles throughout the book, including the “favored” American dessert of a can of peaches topped with whipped cream and a maraschino cherry over delicious Italian gelato, showcased the “rightness” and “righteousness” of American idealism over anything else.

The Italian Party is probably going to end up on my favorites of the year list. I loved the secrets weaving themselves through Scottie and Michael’s marriage and life outside their marriage. I love the development of the characters from beginning to end, and I love how both of them choose to support each other after all of these secrets between them come to the surface. The 1950s were mostly a different time and place compared to now, but Lynch shows that even then, people struggled with and faced the same difficulties in a relationship that people do today. So much of this novel reflects the current time, and it’s eye-opening to see history begin to repeat itself.

Christina Lynch weaves in domestic life with a spy thriller incredibly well, and the pacing of the book was excellent. I loved how the chapters themselves were divided into small sections, and somehow that made it even easier to zip right through and enjoy this book. Lynch’s sparkling prose makes you feel as if you are a fly on the wall in Scottie and Michael’s life in Italy, and it’s the perfect spring escape.

Many thanks to St. Martin’s Press for sending me a free copy to review; all opinions are my own!

BOOK REVIEW: It’s Always the Husband, by Michele Campbell

BOOK REVIEW: It’s Always the Husband, by Michele CampbellTitle: It's Always the Husband by Michele Campbell
Published by St. Martin's Press
Published: May 16th 2017
Genres: Fiction
Pages: 320
Format: Hardcover
Source: Book Sparks
Goodreads

Kate, Aubrey, and Jenny. They first met as college roommates and soon became inseparable, even though they are as different as three women can be. Twenty years later, one of them is standing at the edge of a bridge . . and someone else is urging her to jump.

How did things come to this?

As the novel cuts back and forth between their college years and their adult years, you see the exact reasons why these women love and hate each other—but can feelings that strong lead to murder? Or will everyone assume, as is often the case, that it’s always the husband?

Michele Campbell’s It’s Always the Husband has a blurb on the cover that compares it to one of my favorite books of all time, Donna Tartt’s The Secret History, so that was one of the big excitement draws from me toward the book. I like campus stories, especially involving societies on campus and the terrible things that end up happening as a result of their collective behaviors because let’s face it, going to college and living on campus is one of the first times a lot of us experience living on our own without our parents to help guide the way. And a lot of the time, that innocence and lack of experience translates into some pretty catastrophic stuff.

This is a hard one to review, because I think I expected too much by having that comparison given to me from the get-go, and usually I’m pretty good about being wary of such comparisons because very few things do actually compare. Anyway, it’s very obvious from the beginning that Campbell knows her stuff. She’s very familiar with the ins and outs of prestigious schools and established, wealthy families. She’s done her research on twisted murder cases and the lengths people go for self-preservation. Campbell’s history as a federal prosecutor gives her that knowledge and makes this story seem entirely plausible.

But. I didn’t really connect with any of the characters or feel sympathy for them. I thought the title was a bit of a misnomer, because it’s not always the husband (and if that’s the joke, I feel like it’s a little off the mark). It seems like this could have been two separate stories, or even a fully-developed college story, and then a sequel of what comes after. It’s odd because it felt both drawn out and really rushed, depending on what was going on. I either would have liked everything to have taken place on campus or have had a shorter flashback sequence with more focused on who the women became in the present.The writing is taut and sharp and kept me reading even though the plot was a little heavy-handed at times; but based on the advertising and blurbs and comparisons to Tartt, Flynn, and Ware, I was expecting a thriller, and instead I got a thrilling character-driven novel. Not a bad thing, but not what I was ultimately expecting or hoping for.

A copy of this book was provided to me for review by Book Sparks and the publisher. All opinions are my own.

BOOK REVIEW: The Best of Adam Sharp, by Graeme Simsion

BOOK REVIEW: The Best of Adam Sharp, by Graeme SimsionTitle: The Best of Adam Sharp by Graeme Simsion
Published by St. Martin's Press
Published: May 2nd 2017
Genres: Fiction
Pages: 314
Format: Hardcover
Source: Book Sparks
Goodreads

From the #1 bestselling author of The Rosie Project and The Rosie Effect, an unforgettable new novel about lost love and second chances

On the cusp of turning fifty, Adam Sharp likes his life. He’s happy with his partner Claire, he excels in music trivia at quiz night at the local pub, he looks after his mother, and he does the occasional consulting job in IT.

But he can never quite shake off his nostalgia for what might have been: his blazing affair more than twenty years ago with an intelligent and strong-willed actress named Angelina Brown who taught him for the first time what it means to find—and then lose—love. How different might his life have been if he hadn’t let her walk away?

And then, out of nowhere, from the other side of the world, Angelina gets in touch. What does she want? Does Adam dare to live dangerously?

 The Best of Adam Sharp is the latest by Graeme Simsion, the author of the highly-acclaimed The Rosie ProjectThe Best of Adam Sharp follows the life of a British man at fifty-something reminiscing about a relationship he had twenty years ago with Angelina Brown, an intelligent and beautiful actress. When the two had a chance to be something more than just a passionate fling, Sharp doesn’t take the chance and the two part ways. Twenty years after the two part ways, Adam receives a message from Angelina, and it causes him to wonder about the stability of everything in his life.

Unable to stop thinking about what might have been, Adam takes the chance and reconnects with Angelina, only to find out that it’s probably better to let what happened in the past and what fizzled out in the past remain in the past because it’s never going to be what you think and hope it will be, because Angelina is with someone else and really has no intention of ultimately shaking up her own life just to have a taste of that “what could have been.”

As I was reading this, I kept thinking I am not the target audience for this book. I’m about twenty years too young to really relate to anything that’s going on in the story, except for the flashbacks to Adam and Angelina’s initial romance. I think this would be a better read for someone who is a bit older than I am, someone who has had the chance to love and let go in this kind of way or for someone who is a little bit more of a romantic than I am. I also found it interesting that it played with the idea of polyamory and extra people in a relationship for a bit, and that’s the first time I’ve seen it in commercial fiction in a somewhat positive light. Then again, I don’t always gravitate toward commercial fiction with a romantic bent, so I might be completely off the mark in that! However, the writing made this a highly compulsive read, and I definitely wanted to see how everything played out for Adam and how it resolved itself. In the end, I felt that Adam got what he wanted and what he deserved as fairly as the universe could possibly present it to him. It’s never easy coming to terms with a lost love and the chance and failure of reconciliation, but sometimes it’s the journey that really matters.

I received this book from Book Sparks and the publisher for review! All opinions are my own.